Tuesday, 30 June 2009

‘Lords of Misrule’ & ‘Strange Great Sins’ – M. John Harrison


It was at this point, when I last read the ‘Viriconium’ collection, that I came pretty much unstuck. I was expecting something a little out of the ordinary but these two stories seemed to have no link to the preceding ones at all! Even though I eventually finished the book I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had missed something important and that cast a pall over the whole affair...
I’m back though and hopefully a little more savvy than the last time round. I’m not looking for a connection between all the stories so much as what’s in the stories themselves. I’m still not sure what they’re meant to be telling us but they both made for some interesting reading.

‘Lords of Misrule’ takes us on Lord Cromis’ patrol of the outlying regions around the city of Viriconium, stopping off at the beleaguered homestead of the Yule Greave to inspect their defences and also to satisfy Cromis’ curiosity about the buildings themselves. The interesting thing is that we’re never really told who these invaders are. To begin with, I wondered if the Yule Greave was making a stand against the Northmen mentioned in ‘The Pastel City’ but as I read on I found myself wondering if the encroaching enemies were the ravages of time and entropy. The overall tone of the story lends a bit of weight to this. Everything is slowly falling apart and both the citizens of Viriconium and the homestead have given up trying to hold it together. An enemy camp is mentioned but it’s too far away to see anyone there, I wondered if the Yule Greave was being a little flowery in his descriptions of a world where time was running down.
Cromis declares, to his men, that “... the walls have already been breached” in a downbeat ending to a very downbeat tale. It appears that no matter what facet of fractured reality (of Viriconium) that the reader is introduced to, the common element is that hope is a pointless luxury that people cannot afford to have...

‘Strange Great Sins’ is just as downbeat but has a little more life to it in it’s tale of a Sin Eater who feels compelled to tell his life story over the course of a vigil held for a recently deceased little girl. It seemed to me that this tale wasn’t so much about the people (although it was interesting that the good seemed to die while the mentally infirm and other broken people were left to carry on) rather than the setting of Viriconium itself. The Viricionium of ‘Strange Great Sins’ is a place of darkness and swirling mists where it’s all to easy to get lost by the Aqualate Pond and the wharves, by the Yser Canal, are ‘ruined’... It’s very much a place where I was happy to visit, and see the remnants of humanity rail at the inevitability of fate through the arts, but pleased to leave afterwards. The Sin Eater’s life is found to be predestined, through the machinations of the deceased, and his optimism in the face of this is overshadowed by his calling and the strange streets that he must follow. I really got into this story but, in a way, I was also glad to put it down at the end!

There is a link between these two stories (maybe throughout the rest of the book, I don’t know yet...) in the recurring appearance of the ‘Mari’ horse and its religious/spiritual significance. I couldn’t quite make out why these two stories were linked but the overall effect was pretty sinister and unsettling!

The ‘Viriconium’ stories certainly aren’t a light read but I’ve found them to be worthwhile reading so far. Next up is ‘A Storm of Wings’...

Competition Winners! 'Burning Skies' & 'The House of Lost Souls'...


This post was a little late in coming but I got there in the end! :o)

Thanks to everyone who entered these two competitions! The winners were...

'Burning Skies'

Jeanette Jackson, Ontario, Canada
Maarten Bouwman, Milan, Italy
Josephine Marie, San Francisco, USA

'The House of Lost Souls'

Pat Neal, Florida, USA
Edithanne Fritz, North Carolina, USA
Ben Stanley, North Carolina, USA

Well done guys, your books will be on their way very soon! Better luck next time everyone else...

Monday, 29 June 2009

‘The Goon: A Place of Heartache and Grief’ – Eric Powell (Dark Horse Comics)


You know how life can be; sometimes it’s not just content to knock you over, it has to rub your face in the dirt as well... It’s not like that all the time though. Sometimes life will knock you off your feet but will then proceed to not only help you back up but also send you on your way with a nice ice cream to make you feel better :o)
It’s not as if life has been particularly harsh, to me, just recently but I had spent ages trying to track down a copy of ‘Zombieworld: Winter’s Dregs’ only to find that the one place where I was positive it would be had somehow contrived to lose their only copy and had no idea where it was. That was ok though for not only did I get hold of a copy of ‘The Complete Zombies vs. Robots’ (more on that another time) but I also picked up a copy of the latest ‘Goon’ trade paperback. I didn’t even realise it was out (shame on me)... I picked that bad boy up faster than my debit card could say, “what the f...?!”

It’s been three months since the Zombie Priest’s demonic creations (‘Chug-Heads’, the offspring of Mother Corpse) made their appearance on Lonely Street, swinging things back in favour of the Zombie Priest and against the Goon and Franky. Our unlikely heroes have got their work cut out for them but so has the Zombie Priest as his determination to win has pushed things way too far, even for his own kind.
The Goon and Franky still manage to find time to hunt down missing people, and deal with a giant transvestite but the reappearance of old foes (and an old friend) is a sign of something big is brewing on Lonely Street. Things are never going to be the same again...

Powell is still playing for laughs and there are plenty of them in ‘A Place of Heartache and Grief’. The Goon’s treatment of Franky, over the bird women incident, had the guy sat next to me asking why I was laughing out loud for no apparent reason. Likewise any part of the book where the Little Unholy Bastards make an appearance. Franky is always good for a chuckle as well, especially when we get to see what he dreams about as well as learning the important lesson of not eating anything that a zombie has cooked (especially coconut cake)...

The laughs take second place though to the big event that this book is heralding. Things are different now. The Goon has been used to relying on brute force to power his way through everything but the stuff happening now has him totally foxed especially when an old face, from his past, returns. This approach adds a new twist to things that injects the story with a new burst of freshness whilst, at the same time, giving us all the familiar stuff that I love. We get to hear a lot more of what the Goon is thinking and this opens another window into the mind of a character that is becoming ever more complex.

The dialogue is as sharp and quirky as ever but this time round it was the panels with no dialogue at all that were particularly intense and emotional. I’m a big fan of Powell’s artwork (especially in the later ‘Goon’ books) but the facial expressions he draws here really tugged at me with the rawness on display. The death of Norton’s mother, Goon’s first glimpse of Labrazio and the subsequent trip to the graveyard are the stand out moments for me.

‘A Place of Heartache and Grief’ sees ‘The Goon’ overtake ‘The Walking Dead’ as my favourite comic book series. It’s essential reading as far as I’m concerned...

Updates...


No competition winners today I'm afraid, the weekend was filled up drinking with mates and reading comic books. Always good :o) When I got back home last night, most of the evening was spent trying to figure out why Blogger hadn't posted the stuff that I had scheduled (the only problem I've had with Blogger so far, fingers crossed there won't be any more and this issue gets sorted before I go on holiday...)

I'll be picking some winners tonight to announce tomorrow. The 'Burning Skies' and 'House of Lost Souls Competitions' are now closed so don't even think about trying to sneak an entry in! What you can do though is scroll down a couple of posts and enter the 'Midnight Never Come'/'In Ashes Lie' competition that should have gone up on Saturday but was posted yesterday instead...

As far as reading goes... I've got a few bits and pieces on the go including the latest 'Goon' trade paperback (I'll be posting my thoughts this afternoon) and 'The Best of Michael Moorcock'. I've also been giving 'The Strange Adventures of H.P. Lovecraft' a go and I'll probably post more on this once I've picked up more of the comics...

Sunday, 28 June 2009

A Reminder for Myself...


In the midst of all the books I have on the go, some fall through the cracks. This is my attempt to remind myself of some of the stuff I should be reading (the miracle of post scheduling means not only am I writing this on Friday afternoon but it will also be waiting for me when I get home on Sunday morning)...

I'm always on the lookout for new comics to try and 'Olympus' looks like it's worth a shot. Here's the blurb from the Olympus Blog...



In ancient Greece, Zeus granted eternal life to two brothers, and bound them to his service. 3,000 years later, they are hunting an exiled god, only in their hunt they release onto earth one of Hades' most dangerous prisoners. With a fresh, compelling visual style and original storytelling, OLYMPUS #1 is a rebirth of classical mythology into action and intrigue.

Have any of you guys picked this up? What do you think?

Edited to add: I thought the pictures were going to be a lot bigger than that, sorry...

Edited to also add: Does anyone know why blogger refused to schedule my posts, for this weekend, when it promised me it would...?

Giveaway! 'Midnight Never Come' & 'In Ashes Lie' (Marie Brennan)


To mark the release of Marie Brennan's 'In Ashes Lie', Orbit have very kindly offered two sets of 'Midnight Never Come' and 'In Ashes Lie' for me to give away to two lucky readers. Here's the Amazon blurb for 'In Ashes Lie'...

September, 1666 - The mortal civil war is over. But the war among the fae is still raging, and London is its battleground. There are forces that despise the Onyx Court, and will do anything to destroy it. But now a greater threat has come, one that could destroy everything. In the house of a sleeping baker, a spark leaps free of the oven - and ignites a blaze that will burn London to the ground. For three harrowing days, the mortals and fae of the city will fight to save their home. While the humans struggle to halt the conflagration that is devouring London street by street, the fae pit themselves against a less tangible foe: the spirit of the fire itself, powerful enough to annihilate everything in its path. Neither side can win on its own - but can they find a way to fight together?

You can also read my review of 'Midnight Never Come' over Here.

How does that all sound to you? I had some reservations about 'Midnight Never Come' but enjoyed it enough to start on 'In Ashes Lie' (which is proving to be a superior read so far...) Fancy entering? (This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter where you live!) Then read on...

All you need to do to enter 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 ;o)

I'll let this one run until July 4th and announce the winners on the 5th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 26 June 2009

‘Orphan’s Triumph’ – Robert Buettner (Orbit)


I have been so forgetful over last couple of weeks that it’s a wonder I made it into work this morning! The only reason that I’ve remembered to write this review is that I’ve got the book sat on my desk staring me right in the face...
Talking of which, I was really pleased when my copy of ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ arrived in the post. While ‘Orphanage’ was a touch too similar to ‘Starship Troopers’, for my liking, it was still an entertaining read with a character that I was interested to see grow and develop. Also, I’m always keen on reading tales of humanity fighting intergalactic slugs! :o) If only my forgetful brain hadn’t forgotten that there are three other books that nestle comfortably in between ‘Orphanage’ and ‘Orphan’s Triumph’...

Jason Wander’s fortunes have risen and fallen with the changing tides of a forty year war against the Slugs. No matter whether they’ve changed for better or worse the price he has paid has always been a heavy one with friends and family dying along the way. Wander is currently a garrison commander, on one of the emerging allied planets, but the vagaries of command (and an enemy still capable of throwing up the odd surprise) will propel him straight into events that will decide the outcome of the war and possibly the fate of humanity. It’s at this critical juncture that Wander will have to face what he has become under the pressures of constant warfare and what he is prepared to do about this...

It is not the book’s fault that I initially had trouble getting back up to speed with what has been happening over the course of the series, I will quite happily take the blame there. However, it was almost as if Buettner knew what I was going to do as a series of handy little info-dumps (fairly unobtrusive and tastefully arranged as recollection rather than a ‘straight up in your face info-dump) were on hand to get me back into the swing of things. ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ could be read on its own, if you really wanted to, but I don’t see why anyone would want to. Get the best out of the series and start at the beginning... ;o)

The war is winding down and a result of this, as far as I was concerned, was that the book felt more than a little choppy in terms of pace. Moments of extreme action (which are very good, I loved the shootout on Weichsel) are followed by drawn out passages on Earth which although good for fleshing out Wander’s character really jar the flow of the book. The nature of war is such that there will be periods of inactivity (that punctuate the action) but this inescapable fact didn’t come across so well in terms of a book that needed to have a consistent flow to it.

When I read ‘Orphanage’ I noted that it was almost too similar to ‘Starship Troopers’; the chapters where Wander returns to Earth (after years away) read like an incredibly watered down version of ‘The Forever War’. Things have changed just enough that Wander feels ever so slightly out of place but not enough for the fact that he has spent such a long time away to be explored in the depth that perhaps it needed.

This isn’t to say that ‘Orphan’s Triumph’ is a bad read (although I wasn’t convinced by the ending, more on that in a minute...) If you’re after a good dose of military sci-fi where the aliens are particularly ‘alien’ and the ensuing space battles suitably heroic then this book (and the series as a whole) is for you. Buettner really gets inside the head of Wander and shows the reader in no uncertain terms what war is all about. Every shot fired has a consequence and no consequence goes unremarked... I’m also a fan of the military structure that Buettner adheres to over the course of the book. There’s a good mix of present day military hierarchy and future warfare (starships etc) that gives the reader something to be grounded in whilst freeing their imagination up for the rigours of war in space.

Without giving too much away, I really wasn’t so sure about the ending however. The ‘Orphanage’ series is Wander’s tale; he kicks things off so it’s only right that it ends with him as well. It all seemed a bit contrived though with a series of events that just happened to coincide to propel him into the final confrontation with the Slug Overlord (sorry, Pseudocephalopod!) That particular confrontation has still got me wondering if it works or not. While it works very well in terms of the ‘what it means to be human’ subplot, I was left wondering whether a soldier in that situation would really do what Wander ends up doing. Suspension of disbelief was not achieved here...

‘Orphan’s Triumph’ is a fun read but didn’t really stand up to the scrutiny that I ended up putting it through. Maybe I should have accepted it for what it was but I felt it could have been a bit more...

Seven out of Ten

Thursday, 25 June 2009

‘Bring Down the Sun’ – Judith Tarr (Tor)


Every so often I go through phases where, as much as I want to read something, nothing on the shelves inspires me to pick it up and give it a go. Do you get this? How do you work through it? What I’ve been trying to do recently (when I have this problem) is to pick something up that I wouldn’t normally read otherwise. This approach gets me out of a rut (or out of my comfort zone, are they both the same thing?) and I’m always bound to discover at least one hidden gem for every five or six books that don’t work out.
You all know by now that I’m no fan of books where the plot is left to one side in favour of plenty of sex, this just doesn’t work for me at all. I still pick these books up though in the hope that I will find a story where sex and plot live together in perfect harmony. That was the plan when ‘Bring Down the Sun’ arrived in the post and I’m pleased to say that, for once, things worked out just the way I wanted them to...

A young priestess serves in the temple of the Goddess but, deep down, knows that she is destined for greater things. Her feelings (and portentous dreams) are proved to be correct when a trip to the Mysteries of Samothrace leads her to meet Philip, King of Macedon. They are soon married but this is only the start of a journey for our former priestess who will find that there is more to prophecy than sitting there and waiting for it to happen. Not only must the Queen’s throne be won but shadowy powers watch and wait for a child to be conceived. If a son is born then the world may never be the same...

I’ll be honest and admit that the other reason I picked up ‘Bring Down the Sun’ is that it’s a short read (only two hundred and twenty pages long) that looked just the right length for a commute to and from work. Appearances can be deceptive as this proved to be a book that I got lost in for hours, even staying up late last night to finish it.

If you know the story of Alexander the Great then you will know how the tale of Polyxena (our priestess) will end. That’s the problem with works of a historical nature, you know how they will end and that certainly robs ‘Bring Down the Sun’ of some of its tension. The stakes are high but at times I was left wondering what the point was of making them out to be so high when the ending is never in doubt. It also makes the story feel linear; our main character starts at the beginning and whatever obstacles are thrown in her path are not enough to prevent her reaching the end. Tarr gets round this in a couple of ways...

‘Bring Down the Sun’ is a historical novel with a vein of fantasy running through it, magic exists and is fully utilised by priestesses and witches alike. Although the outcome of the story is never in doubt, this element of the unknown was enough to give the story the uncertainty that it needed for events to carry on flowing.
Tarr also gives the reader a captivating main character (Polyxena) for the story, and history itself, to hinge upon. Although Polyxena’s single-mindedness can make her come across as being as one dimensional as the plot; Tarr’s thorough exploration of her psyche more than makes up for this. You come away with a really clear picture of why Polyxena is who she is...

Sex is a really big deal in ‘Bring Down the Sun’ but the beautiful thing (for me!) is that it has a definite part to play other than decoration. Sex is a weapon and it also has its links to the magic that runs throughout the book. Above all though, I found that it complemented the romantic element of the novel in just the right way. There is romance here but it doesn’t get in the way of the fact that both Polyxena and Philip are both individuals with their own agenda for their relationship (just like real life) and this makes it all the more interesting to follow.

I found that although ‘Bring Down the Sun’ had its fair share of problems it more than made up for this through its strong characters and liberal use of magic to keep the ball rolling. I didn’t expect to enjoy this one as much as I did.

Eight and a half out of Ten

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

‘Nekropolis’ – Tim Waggoner (Angry Robot)


Whether it’s an urban fantasy or hard boiled crime thriller, there’s something about the concept of the ‘world weary detective’ that means I keep coming back each time no matter how similar the plot is. There’s something inherently noble about these guys, the world is constantly weighing heavy on them but they keep on putting one foot in front of the other in a quest to do the right thing. Zombies are kind of the same when you think about it. No, seriously! Ok, maybe you can take nobility out of the equation but the rest of it fits. Think about it, have you ever seen anything more world weary than a zombie? I don’t think you have. The world is constantly weighing heavy on these guys but they keep on putting one foot in front of the other in a quest to... eat people. Yeah, the similarity does end there but zombies and private eyes do share that single minded approach, both looking for their own definition of the truth...
It makes sense then to combine the two groups and see what happens when you have a zombie private eye on the case. Al Ewing has done it already with ‘I, Zombie’ and now it’s Tim Waggoner’s turn with one of the opening shots from new imprint Angry Robot...

Matt Richter was a Cleveland cop prepared to go to any lengths to crack a case, little did he know that his tenacious approach would land him in the closest place to Hell that he would ever come across. I say ‘ever come across’ as he’s not going anywhere soon, Matt Richter is a zombie.
Even zombies have to make a living and Matt’s police background makes detective work an easy choice. He’s never had to walk the mean streets of Nekropolis though; a place where all the monsters of the world ended up when humanity stopped being so scared of them. Every day is all about survival for Richter, especially as the preservative spells holding him together are starting to fail, but a new case puts this in the shade. Nekropolis may not be a great place to live but while Richter’s living there it’s his town and he’s not going to let it come to harm...

On the surface, ‘Nekropolis’ is an engaging read that had plenty to recommend it to me. I like detective tales and ‘Nekropolis’ has all the elements this and uses them effectively. There’s a mystery to be solved and every question is answered with another question, just the thing to keep me reading (which it did). I wanted to find out what happened next and although this proved to be fairly easy to work out (a little too easy with hindsight) I kept reading as Richter is a great character to spend time with.

Richter has all the elements of a classic private eye, right down to the cynical (yet noble) attitude that propels him through daily ‘life’. He’s also a zombie though and this puts an interesting spin on the whole case. How can you get away from trouble if your top speed is a determined shamble? How can you lay some hurt on an assailant if you’re in more danger of hurting from it than they are? Waggoner also uses Richter’s zombie body as a means of injecting some sense of urgency into the plot. You may not care what happens to a city full of monsters but you will care that Richter has to solve the case before his body falls to pieces on him...

I found it hard to have sympathy for what’s basically an evil city, that’s in danger of being crushed by a greater evil, but I liked the concept and how it was executed on the page. To a point.
Nekropolis is a thriving metropolis of pretty much every bogey man you can think of and a few more that you probably can’t, full of little incidental descriptions that bring the place to life in the best possible way (I particularly loved the juke boxes and the library...) However, I came away with the impression that it could have been portrayed as being a lot more evil, than it was, and that it was in Waggoner’s power to make this so. This is a guy who’s not afraid to use certain swear words in his work (which I’m not going to repeat here!) but then chooses to go for an ‘evil lite’ atmosphere, this didn’t quite gel for me...

I also found it grating that every part of Nekropolis had to be visited over the course of the book. While I get that authors like to show off their creations, it felt here that the plot was taking second place to a need to visit every street just so the reader could see it. Sometimes you can get more of an atmosphere by keeping things mysterious...

‘Nekropolis’ is a solid and enjoyable read that, for me, fell short of being great. I don’t regret picking it up though and if you’re a fan of detectives or zombies then you’ll get something out of it too.

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

‘Retribution Falls’ – Chris Wooding (Gollancz)


If you’re anything like me then sometimes all it takes is some gorgeous cover art to make you want to pick up a book and give it a go. ‘Retribution Falls’ is one of the books. Have a look at that cover; don’t you think it’s great? Anyway… It wasn’t just the cover that had me interested though; a blurb crammed full of pirates, airships and bounty hunters was just what I was looking for in my next read. I’ve never seen an episode of ‘Firefly’ (I know, I’ll be surrendering my geek card very soon…) but I do like the concept and seeing that other reviewers have noted the similarity with ‘Retribution Falls’, albeit with differing opinions, was the final thing I needed to get me going…

Darian Frey is the captain of the ‘Ketty Jay’ and makes his living through smuggling and other acts of piracy, constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the Coalition Navy. Frey is after an easy life and it doesn’t come much easier than a simple raid on a cargo freighter, all Frey has to do is bring back the diamonds and he is set up for life. He should have listened to those nagging doubts though; before he knows it Frey has been framed and him and his crew is on the run from Navy forces and hired bounty hunters. Who framed him and why? Frey is going to have use all the tricks of his dubious trade to stay alive long enough to find out…

‘Retribution Falls’ isn’t a perfect read but it is one that I had a lot of fun with. From the very opening page I was thrust (literally at gunpoint) into a seedy world of smugglers and pirates where the life of a crewman is cheap but an airship is irreplaceable. It’s also a world where magic and science co-exist, albeit uneasily. The ‘Ketty Jay’s’ latest passenger hasn’t let on all there is to know about the golem that he keeps in the hold… Confrontations simmer with tension and there’s crackling dialogue to match, I really enjoyed these moments!


While Wooding provides us with a seamy underworld setting, that has an air of magic about it, he doesn’t give us much else outside that. This is ok when the reader is taken to see an information broker, or views a stand off between rogues, but I found myself wanting to know more about the world of the ‘Ketty Jay’ and this kind of information wasn’t forthcoming. To be fair, there is a sequel in the works (due out next year), where questions may well be answered, but that didn’t stop me wanting my worldbuilding fix right now! Wooding is a victim of his own success here as he doesn’t match the brilliance (in my opinion) of his ‘underworld scenes’ over the course of the whole book…

‘Retribution Falls’ is very much a ‘pulp style’ affair with plenty of gunfights, stand-offs and daring feats to keep the reader occupied. It also has characters well drawn enough to make me want to find out if the bullet at the end of one chapter had their name on it at the beginning of the next. I love a good ‘pulp read’ but the problem with books of this nature is that if you’ve read one then you’ve probably read them all. There’s a certain ebb and flow to pulp fiction that means you can sometimes tell when the cliff-hangers are going to happen and this robs the book of it’s surprises. The plot is also not as ‘twisty turny’ as it would have you believe, it’s very much a linear ‘we’ve found what we need at point A so lets head on to point B’ deal. This is balanced out by the fast pace (and action packed confrontations) but can get very repetitive if you’re after something a little more involved.

I may have had a few issues with ‘Retribution Falls’ but that didn’t stop it from being a thoroughly enjoyable read that I’d recommend to anyone who’s after a does of rip roaring adventure. There’s enough here for me to want to pick up the next book and see what Wooding has in store for us.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten

Monday, 22 June 2009

Manga Monday!

Coming at you a little later than normal today, I ate something that disagreed with me last night (and got absolutely no sleep because of it…) so spent today in bed! Anyway, here we go…

‘Burst Angel #1’ – Gonzo and Minoru Muaro



One thing that I really love about Manga is how all of life’s problems can be solved by the introduction of leggy blondes with guns. In this book, bullied school kid Takeru begins to overcome his issues once he meets the two leggy blonde mercenaries that are holed up in his bedroom. Jo is the crack shot and Meg is the one who keeps getting kidnapped by mistake, facing down bullies at school is one hell of a lot easier once you’ve faced down gun toting cyborgs on the mean streets…
I loved reading this book, it’s action packed and laugh out loud funny the whole way through. ‘Burst Angel’ is also a really touching read on more than one occasion. The artwork is very clearly laid out on the page and you’re never in any doubt as to what is going on. I’ll be reading more of these :o)

‘Peace Maker #1’ – Nanae Chrono



This one has been sat in the pile for far too long and the arrival of ‘Peace Maker Kurogane #1’ made me decide to give both of them a go together. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that but more on that later…
Tetsunosuke is the orphaned son of a diplomat who wants to gain revenge on his parent’s killers by joining the Shinsengumi, the unofficial police force of the Shogunate. When their secret is revealed though, Tetsunosuke has a decision to make. Will he allow his rage to send him on the path to demonhood or will he be able to set it to one side and pursue through more honourable means…?
You never get to find out the answer to this question as #1 is very much a scene setting piece where you are introduced to all the main players and their motivations. There are a number of characters to get to know, perhaps too many for me to keep track of. I certainly had trouble keeping them all separate in my mind (especially when the artwork isn’t clear who’s who…) but the story is an engrossing one that demands your attention. I think I’ll give this one at least a couple more books to see how it turns out…

‘Peace Maker Kurogane #1’ – Nanae Chrono



I completely missed the bit that said ‘Kurogane’ and read this as a continuation on the ‘Peace Maker’ story. Big mistake to make, I was propelled three months into the future and found out more about the ‘Peace Maker’ series than I really wanted to know without having read it first! I’m not going to give too much away here, in case you want to go ahead and read ‘Peace Maker’, but suffice it to say that there is a new threat for the Shinsengumi to face. ‘Kurogane’ is another scene setting piece and, as such, suffered from the same problems that I had with ‘Peace Maker’. There’s enough going on here to make this a series that I want to read more of but I’m going to see how ‘Peace Maker’ turns out before tackling this series…

Competition Winners!

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Harry and the Pirates' and 'Dragonbone Chair' competitions! The winners were...

Harry and the Pirates

David Lateiner, Millburn, New Jersey
Lacy Butler, Stephenville, Texas

The Dragonbone Chair

Ben Duffield, Gloucestershire, UK
Ole Imsen, Norway
Teresa Faverani, Italy

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

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Giveaway! 'The House of Lost Souls' - F.G. Cottam


I had a great time reading this the other day (scroll down a bit to see what I thought) and wanted to spread the love a little! :o) Thanks to the good folk at Thomas Dunne Books, I have three copies of 'The House of Lost Souls' to give away to three lucky readers (US entries only though I'm afraid, sorry everyone else...)

All you have to do to enter is drop me an email (address at the top right hand of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest ;o)

I'll let this one run until the 28th of June and will announce the winners on the 29th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Giveaway! 'Burning Skies' (Signed) - David Williams


If you've been around in the last week or so then you will know that I absolutely loved reading David Williams' follow up to 'The Mirrored Heavens', 'Burning Skies'... It was so great that when David got in touch, to ask if I'd fancy running a 'Burning Skies' competition on the blog, I said yes straight away! :o)

So here it is... Three lucky winners will win a signed copy of 'Burning Skies' courtesy of David Williams and Bantam Spectra. This competition is open to everyone, it doesn't matter you live!

What do you need to do? It's simple, just drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and where you live. I'll do the rest ;o)

I'll let this one run until the 28th of June and will announce the winners on the 29th...

Good Luck!

Friday, 19 June 2009

‘The House of Lost Souls’ – F.G. Cottam (Thomas Dunne Books)


I can read pretty much any horror novel with only the occasional raising of the eyebrows and a muttered ‘bloody hell, that’s got to hurt...’; ghost stories are a different deal though... If the horror is right up there in my face, where I can see it happening, then I’m fine but a steadily increasing dose of terror and haunting (that you can only just catch a glimpse of from the corner of your eye) is a little too much, even for me! It all goes back to when I was at primary school and I read a short story about a creature called The Eater of Souls... but that’s another story.
As a result you won’t normally catch me reading very many ghost stories but this blog is all about me trying out new stuff, and the blurb for ‘House of Lost Souls’ looked very interesting, so here we are!

Just weeks after crossing the threshold of the old Fischer house one student has committed suicide and the other three are slowly going insane. One of the students is Nick Mason’s sister and he is not prepared to let her go without a fight. In order to save her, Nick must join forces with Paul Seaton who ventured inside the Fischer house (a decade ago) and experienced similar things. Seaton is not prepared to risk losing an already tenuous grip on sanity by revisiting the ghosts of his past but Mason is desperate. Photographer Pandora Gibson-Hoare’s secret journal sheds light on the act of evil that took place in the Fischer House back in the 1920s and will provide the clues to what Seaton and Mason must do to fight the evil that still lurks there...

If you go back over some of my reviews you’ll see that, every now and then, I pick up a book (almost at random) and end up discovering a real gem. The bottom line is that this is exactly what happened with ‘The House of Lost Souls’; it’s a flawed diamond but a diamond nevertheless...

‘The House of Lost Souls’ begins with a mystery in a graveyard, a mystery that manifests itself in a very unsettling manner. Cottam’s description of what happened had my spine tingling in just the way that a decent ghost story should and that was only a precursor to what was to come...

Cottam is of the belief that if a character doesn’t know why an unplugged radio suddenly starts playing ragtime music then the reader shouldn’t know either, at least not until the time is right. What the reader gets, as a result, is a series of ghostly happenings that always come as a sinister and deeply unsettling surprise. If this wasn’t bad enough, Cottam doesn’t let you get into the habit of expecting these things to happen. Sometimes an occurrence will be easily explained, sometimes it won’t. You never know until you get there and this enhances the air of uncertainty and the ability of the book to make you jump when you least expect it...

The mystery behind the Fischer House is gradually revealed over the course of the book and the final picture you are given is not the one that you are expecting it to be. I liked the tangent the book went off on towards the end; I’m also a big fan of the ambiguous ending that will have you wondering what happened next... The mystery of the Fischer House is never anything less than intriguing and is drawn out in an expert manner that kept my interest throughout.
However, the manner in which the mystery is revealed is also the Achilles heel for ‘House of Lost Souls’ and a potentially brilliant book suffers as a result...

Three separate stories come together to make up ‘House of Lost Souls’ and all credit to Cottam for weaving these stories in such a way that everything ties together at the end. Nick Mason is the catalyst for events in the present day and sets the ball rolling at an urgent pace. Pandora Gibson-Hoare’s journal fills in the gaps and is a compelling story all by itself; Cottam had me really feeling for her as she got into events way over her head...
As the main character of the piece, Seaton’s tale had to include his previous visit to the Fischer House in order to give some credence to his behaviour in the present. His experience in the house was suitably terrifying but the build up to it... well, it didn’t put me off the book entirely but it was a real struggle to get through.
While the events, leading up to Seaton going into the house, all fit together and make sense (there’s also a real feeling of tragedy around them), Cottam’s portrayal of London in the early nineteen eighties came across to me as too heavily done with loads of descriptive prose drowning out the story itself. It certainly didn’t feel to me as if this was Seaton’s London, I wondered if Cottam himself was reminiscing about his life there...

This overindulgence made for heavy going reading, at just the wrong time, but is a minor quibble about a ‘more than just promising’ debut. ‘The House of Lost Souls’ is a gripping, intense and un-nerving read that I think will appeal to any fan of the supernatural. I hope that F.G. Cottam writes more books like this.

Nine out of Ten

P.S. Look out for 'The House of Lost Souls' at the beginning of July. If you fancy your chances at winning a copy then stop by here on Sunday... ;o)

Thursday, 18 June 2009

‘Emperor’s Mercy’ – Henry Zou (Black Library)


While Space Marines and the Imperial Guard fight on the front lines of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the Imperium itself ticks along in the background but can be just as dangerous a place as the frontiers. Cultists and other heretics seek to bring chaos to Imperial space, rogue psykers are a danger that cannot be left unchecked and certain alien races can be particularly insidious in how they infiltrate human worlds. A hitherto secure world can become the front line, for humanity’s survival, all too quickly unless stern measures are taken. Enter the agents of the Imperial Inquisition. Tasked with rooting out the threats within the Imperium, Inquisitors will do whatever it takes to ensure that the God Emperor’s rule is maintained. Dan Abnett’s ‘Eisenhorn’ and ‘Ravenor’ books are the most well known of the Black Library’s ‘Inquisition’ books but I don’t have the time to get stuck into the weighty omnibus editions. I thought I’d start with something a little bit smaller and Black Library newcomer Henry Zou’s book looked like a very good place to start...

Somewhere on the ancient worlds of the Medina Corridor lie the Old Kings of Medina, ancient relics that (according to myth) harbour unimaginable power. The forces of Chaos want these relics and declare all out war on the Medina Corridor. As planets fall to the rampaging hordes, Inquisitor Obodiah Roth is tasked with discovering and securing the Old Kings. Roth has no idea what the relics look like or where they are based, the only thing that he does know is that they must not fall into the wrong hands...

Do you ever find yourself reading a book where, just as you’ve decided not to bother reading any more, it gives you enough to be going on with but not enough to really enjoy yourself with? That’s how I found ‘Emperor’s Mercy’, an entertaining read that had flashes of the fact that it could have been a lot more...

If you’ve ever read Games Workshop’s ‘White Dwarf’ magazine then you’ll know all about the battle reports that the magazine covers of tabletop games played in the Warhammer 40,000 universe; pages of troop movements, tactics and an eventual outcome. For me, this was how a lot of ‘Emperor’s Mercy’ read and this wasn’t something that I was too happy about. Fans of the game (and books) will probably get a lot out of the scenes of massed warfare but what I got was a dry recounting of various battles. Zou provides a great level of detail to events, and obviously knows what he is talking about, but there’s very little there for the reader to connect to.


I’ve been racking my brains for a WH40K author to compare Zou to and I came up with Dan Abnett. Here is a guy who builds his wars from the ground up and gives his readers an unfolding picture through the eyes of a select band of soldiers. This approach gives me something to hold onto, an emotional connection with what’s happening,
Zou, on the other hand, approaches the description of warfare in exactly the opposite way. He gives his reader an overview of a pitched battle and then zooms in to focus on individuals. For me there was no connection to events, just a massed scrum of bodies with the occasional name thrown in to try and make things personal. This lack of connection made the ensuing descriptions all the more dry.
It might well work for you but it didn’t for me...

This approach is all the more infuriating as when Zou takes a step back from it the story gets one hell of a lot more interesting. This is what kept me going through the bad times...
Zou paints a compelling picture of the Imperium, behind the front lines, and it’s an Imperium that’s as devious and backstabbing as the aliens they are fighting. No one can be trusted, even in the face of a threat that should be bringing everyone together! This raises some interesting questions, and makes for some interesting moments in a book where the plot can sometimes come across as a little linear (the relics aren’t on Planet A or Planet B, lets try Planet C!) Events are usually fast paced and flow in such a style that makes the book easier to read.

It’s also a shame that there wasn’t more time to spend with the characters themselves, all of whom merit further attention. Roth’s gradual decline, in the face of the mission, is an interesting study in the pressures of warfare and I was particularly impressed by Zou’s ability to keep my hopes up for Silverstein’s safety until right at the end when... The universe of the fortieth millennium is certainly an unforgiving place!

‘Emperor’s Mercy’ had it’s problems, as far as I was concerned, but there was still plenty there to suggest that Henry Zou is a name to look out for in the future if you’re a fan of Warhammer 40,000. I’d certainly pick up his next book to see what he comes up with next.

Seven and a Quarter out of Ten

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

‘Omen (Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi)’ – Christie Golden (Del Rey)


I wasn’t too keen on the opening book, ‘Outcast’, in the new ‘Fate of the Jedi’ sequence. Have a look at my Review to see what I thought. Despite all my misgivings though, I had to say at the end of the review that...

‘Having said that though, I’ll more than likely be back for the next book to see how that one goes. It is Star Wars after all... ;o)’

Star Wars has been such a big part of my life that it’s impossible for one dodgy book to put me off entirely and this means that I ended up coming back to give the next book a go. I’m glad I did, ‘Omen’ has many of the same problems that I found in ‘Outcast’ but ended up being a far more entertaining read...

The events of ‘Outcast’ have left the Galactic Alliance in crisis. The rise of Darth Cadeus means that the Jedi are viewed with suspicion and this is made worse by the psychosis that is striking down Jedi at random. Luke Skywalker’s exile from Coruscant is also a chance for him to find out the truth behind this illness and clear the Jedi’s name. His next port of call is the Kathol Rift and a race of aliens that are just as likely to kill him as offer their help...
However, the real danger to the alliance has yet to reveal itself. Five thousand years ago, a Sith star ship crashed and was marooned on a remote planet. The ensuing millennia have seen the Sith grown in numbers and they are now ready to take back a galaxy that is rightfully theirs. The only thing in their way is one Luke Skywalker...

The Star Wars universe is vast, full of alien races and the resulting stories that interaction (between races) brings. However, I’m sometimes left wondering if the sheer size of this universe works against itself in that whenever one threat is neutralised it’s easy to find another one lurking in some forgotten corner of the galaxy. It’s almost like pulling a rabbit out of a hat! We’ve had various Imperial weapons of mass destruction posing a threat to the Alliance (I’m looking at the Sun Crusher and at least two Death Star prototypes that I’m aware of) and the latest race to threaten galactic stability is a planet full of Sith that no-one has noticed in five thousand years. This stretched my willingness to suspend disbelief to its very limit...

Not only has another threat conveniently come to light but no-one even knew they were there. Not the Jedi who you would have thought would have learnt some serious lessons about Sith hiding in plain sight. Not the Galactic Alliance who you would have thought would have had information about the planets either within their jurisdiction or just outside it. Even the Imperial Remnant (who have had connections to the Sith in the past) were unaware of the Sith’s presence. I’m sorry but I just don’t buy it...

This is a real shame as this lost colony of Sith are drawn beautifully by Golden and she makes this very interesting reading for readers like me who want to find out more about how the Sith live and how this contrasts with the Jedi. There are obviously big things in store for the Sith Vestara and I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out...

One of the problems that I had with ‘Outcast’ was the lack of urgency to the plot, big things are afoot but there is never any doubt that Luke, Han and Leia will deal with it all and come out smiling. It’s a well established fact now that this is what these guys do, there’s no question of them failing and this is going to make things difficult if you want to write a Star Wars books where the readers can believe how serious the stakes are. While there is more of the same problem in ‘Omen’, Golden does balance things out a bit by placing more of an emphasis on the mystery behind what is going on. You may know that Han et al will get there in the end but their sense of helplessness, in the meantime, really freshened things up for me and made me want to keep reading. This detective approach is interspersed with moments of action in the true Star Wars manner with plenty of laser fire and close up confrontations with aliens that you wouldn’t want to get close to. A winning combination as far as I’m concerned!

‘Omen’ is still very much a ‘scene setting book’, in the same way that ‘Outcast’ was, but there are hints of so much more going on the background in a way that ‘Outcast’ didn’t manage. It feels like a more fleshed out book and the cliffhanger ending, on it’s own, has me wanting to see what happens next. Could my faith in Star Wars novels be wholly restored? It’s a little too early to tell but it’s starting to look that way...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

P.S. If you're interested in finding out more about the lost tribe of the Sith then you need to go to www.starwars.com where they will be publishing a series of short stories telling you exactly what happened...

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

‘Tide of Souls’ – Simon Bestwick (Abaddon Books)


As much as I love reading about the shambling undead I hate it when authors try and give an explanation to why the dead are rising. It sometimes feels as if a particular author doesn’t believe there’s enough to go with, using zombies, and has to bolster things up by giving them a ‘cool new spin’. I’ll admit that it worked for Brian Keene’s ‘The Rising’ and ‘City of the Dead’ but for every Brian Keene there’s a Joe McKinney (‘Dead City’) where you end up questioning whether the zombies are actually zombies at all! Zombies can work fine as just zombies, they really can...
Anyway, rant over. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m approaching zombie books with a degree of caution, these days, just in case they turn out not to be about zombies at all. This was the attitude that I had when I picked up ‘Tide of Souls’ and it soon became clear that it wasn’t a zombie book at all. It was still bloody good though...

The ice caps have melted and Britain is at the mercy of flash floods and violent storms. These aren’t as dangerous as what is under the water though; the dead are rising from the waves and hunting down the survivors...
Katja is finding post apocalyptic life to be no different than the year she has spent working as a prostitute for a brutal vice ring. McTarn is a former soldier who must fight the undead and his own demons to find the scientist who might just know what is going on. Stiles is that scientist, he might be insane but he knows exactly what is going on and what he must do to stop it.
Will they survive or will the dead eat them first...?

It doesn’t get a lot more apocalyptic than ‘Tide of Souls’; at least not as far as I’ve seen. What you’re getting for your money here is a brutal and intense ride on the waves at the end of the world. Bestwick doesn’t pull his punches in showing the reader what this means for the characters that we meet, what they must do and what is done to them. If you’re not up to this then... you’d probably be one of the first to go if something like this ever happened.

Bestwick paints an incredibly bleak picture of civilisation’s collapse; fully immersing the reader in a world that is sliding irrevocably downhill. Supplies are running out and people’s grasp on sanity is becoming ever more tenuous. There is no hope (although you’re lead to believe that there is) merely a stay of execution... This relentlessly grim atmosphere stayed with me long after I’d put the book down. In fact, it’s still hanging around in my head...

Such a backdrop drives certain characters mad but ‘Tide of Souls’ is also a study in heroism as our main characters step up to the plate to either make a stand or a sacrifice (and sometimes both...) These actions make for stirring and bittersweet moments in all the right places and although this can make things a little formulaic the overall effect was worth the price of entry as far as I was concerned.

The undead in the water may not be zombies but they do a fine job of ripping and tearing their way through the survivors in true visceral manner. There is an intelligence, of a sort, guiding them (I loved the concept but felt that the explanation was a little laboured) and this adds a whole new element to the attacks. These are undead capable of launching ambushes and this makes every scene especially tense.

Despite a couple of small niggles, I thoroughly enjoyed ‘Tide of Souls’ and am looking forward to seeing what Bestwick comes up with next, another horror story like this one hopefully! Definitely one for fans of Abaddon’s ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series.

Nine out of Ten

P.S. 'Tide of Souls' gets its UK release next month; I can't remember when the US release is though, probably the month after...

Monday, 15 June 2009

‘Heart of Rage’ – James Swallow (Black Library)


I can’t remember the last time I listened to an audio book (and I’m not counting those storybook tapes I used to get when I was a kid...), it may be that I’ve never listened to one at all... Until now that is.
In the spirit of trying out new things on the blog, I thought I’d start trying to include more audio books on here. Has anyone got any recommendations for audio books that are worth me giving a go? I’ve very much enjoyed Black Library’s ‘Warhammer 40,000’ series of books and the news that they had a new audio book coming out seemed like the best time to jump straight in...

The Imperial Navy Frigate ‘Emathia’ has discovered a half dead Tyranid (think Aliens but with a lot more teeth!) hive ship floating through space; such a discovery could prove invaluable to the Imperial war effort against this particular xenos threat... One boarding party has already gone missing but the prize at stake means that the Tyranid ship must be taken. Enter the Blood Angels Space Marines.
Brother Librarian Nord and Brother Sergeant Kale head up a squad of Space Marines tasked with locating the lost party and securing the Tyranid ship. However, there is more to this mission than there seems, what lies on board the alien vessel will threaten both their bodies and their very souls...

This may seem like an incredibly obvious thing to say but I found there to be a big difference between listening to an audio book and reading a regular book. I read pretty quickly but this time I wasn’t going at my pace, I was being led at someone else’s... This meant that I had to hit rewind more than once as the story got away from me! Once I got used to the pace though I found ‘Heart of Rage’ fairly easy to keep up with.

Toby Longworth takes on the voices for all of the characters, as well as being the narrator, and I thought he did a good job all round. Longworth gives each character a voice and mannerisms of their own; they’re all very much individuals and you’re never in any doubt which character you are listening to.
I also loved the sound effects that went with each scene; while the prose is a little light on descriptive pieces this is more than made up for by the rattling of gunfire, the arcane noises of an Imperial Frigate and the underfoot squelching of alien organic matter. The makers of the audio book really went all out for atmosphere and got it bang on as far as I was concerned.

The story itself is a fairly simple ‘mission on a haunted star ship’ that has new light thrown on it by the Blood Angels’ genetic ‘taint’ and how this affects the confrontation right at the climax. I haven’t read a lot of stuff by James Swallow but it seems that whenever I pick his books up there’s always a deserted/haunted star ship involved. Can anyone tell me if he’s written anything that isn’t set in a deserted/haunted star ship? ‘Heart of Rage’ is no exception and I’m starting to get a little tired of this setting. As I mentioned, the descriptive passages are played down (in favour of the sound effects) and this gives the story a light weight feeling. I was also left wondering if the story was limited by the space available on the CD (seventy five minutes) of which there was only one in the case.
Having said all that though, none of this was enough to put me off the story itself. It ran at a good pace with plenty of tense moments followed by moments of all out action and combat, just the way I like it!

‘Heart of Rage’ should appeal to fans of James Swallow and fans of Warhammer 40,000 in general. It’s a very well presented audio book as well, in my opinion, it will be interesting to see what Black Library comes up with next in this vein...

Seven and Three Quarters out of Ten

Competition Winners! 'Urban Gothic' and 'Day of the Damned'

It's Monday morning and that can only mean one thing... I'm trying to wake up, at my desk, so I'll leave you with some competition winners while I sort myself out with a cup of coffee :o)

Thanks to everyone who entered the 'Urban Gothic' and 'Day of the Damned' competitions. The winners were...

'Urban Gothic'

Mark Beauchamp, Michigan, USA

'Day of the Damned'

Simon Swainson, Brighton, UK
Liam Talbot, Wellington, New Zealand
Maija Pohjalainen, Helsinki, Finland

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

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Giveaway! 'The Dragonbone Chair' - Tad Williams

Way, way back in the day when I picked up Tad Williams' 'The Dragonbone Chair' (for the first time) the cover looked like this...



Well... my book actually had a blue border but I couldn't find a decent picture to go here, you get the general idea though! ;o)

Orbit have given this series a brand new look and very nice it is too :o) If you pick up a copy of 'The Dragonbone Chair' these days then this is what you will be looking at...



I've got a nostalgic hankering for the old cover but it's still rather nice isn't it? :o) If I was asked to give a list of my favourite fantasy series then 'Memory, Sorrow and Thorn' would be right near the top of the pile. It's one that I think every fantasy fan should read if they haven't already. With that in mind I've got three copies of 'The Dragonbone Chair' to give away to people who either fancy giving it a go, for the first time, or who simply want to replace their old copy (UK and European entries only though, sorry everyone else!)



Do you want in? All you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest...

I'll let this one run until the 21st of June and announce the winners on the 22nd.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Giveaway! 'Harry and the Pirates' - Brian Lumley


Following on from my review of 'Harry and the Pirates' (scroll down and have a look) I'm pleased to announce that Tor have been very kind and offered two ARCs of the book for a giveaway, cheers guys!

This competition is only open to residents of the US and Canada though, sorry... Still here? Good! To be in with a chance of winning 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 where you live. I'll do the rest :o)

I'll let this one run until the 21st of June and announce the winners on the 22nd.

Good Luck!

P.S. UK and European readers shouldn't feel too left out, I've got something for you guys tomorrow... ;o)

Friday, 12 June 2009

‘Mark of the Demon’ – Diana Rowland (Bantam Books)


I know, I know... A few weeks ago I pretty much swore off reading urban fantasy after one pointless sexual encounter too many. What is that all about by the way? It doesn’t do anything for the plot that I can see. I don’t get it, can someone explain? Anyway... I was going to stick to my guns and not pick this up until I noticed two magic words, on the cover, that changed my mind completely. Next to the bit that said ‘urban fantasy’ were the words ‘police procedural’...
To me, ‘police procedural’ suggests hours of patient detective work that unearths clues when you least expect them. It also suggests at least one cunning twist in the plot and a hail of bullets that marks the final confrontation. This is just my kind of thing so I ignored my misgivings and gave ‘Mark of the Demon’ a go. I’m glad that I did...

Life has just got very interesting for Louisiana detective Kara Gillian. Outside work hours she summons demons (and is very good at it too) but has somehow managed to summon a lot more than she bargained for. Rhyzkhal isn’t just any old demon; he’s a Lord with his own schemes and plans for Kara. Turning up in her dreams is only the start... If that wasn’t bad enough Kara’s first case as a homicide detective is a big one. Serial killer the Symbol Man is back to pick up his work from where he left off three years ago, leaving mutilated corpses lying around for the police to find. Is Kara in over her head? Are the two big events in her life somehow linked? Only time will tell but time is one thing that Kara does not have...

‘Mark of the Demon’ is a slow starter that had me hooked before I knew it and this is despite the ‘demon sex’ passage right at the beginning. I groaned a bit, reading it, but it actually had a part to play in setting the stakes for Kara. Rowland’s demons are not angst ridden types looking for a relationship or someone to understand them, these guys are real nasty pieces of work who are only out for what they can get for themselves, not what they can give. Kara knows this and also knows that her demonic encounter can only end badly if she is not very careful. Every time Rhyzkhal makes an appearance it’s clear that Kara is walking on a knife edge and this makes for some very tense moments during the course of the book.

The book then goes on to become an intriguing mix of detective fiction and the supernatural that is balanced in just the right way to give the reader a mystery filled with moments that made me jump or had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. I also found it to be a compelling read in terms of a mystery that gradually unfolds and isn’t quite what you think. I had my misgivings about how the Symbol Man could have escaped his original fate to embark on his killing spree (read the book to see what I mean) but although that was a bit tenuous I completely bought his reasons for doing what he did. It all made sense.

That last sentence also applies to the book as a whole. The reader is fed bits of the jigsaw all the way through and the end result is a picture with no blurs or gaps in the plot. I wondered if perhaps everything fitted together a little too well... Rowland takes time to tie off every single loose end, of the mystery, and I wondered if it was all a little too neat; the signs are that there will be at least one more book and a slightly ambiguous ending to ‘Mark of the Demon’ would have had me more interested in seeing what happened next.

Having said that though, I do want to see what happens next. Kara Gillian was a fun character to get to know and the rest of the Beaulac Police Force all seemed to have their own little quirks that made them all stand out on the page. I didn’t get the hail of bullets I was hoping for but the climactic scenes were full on enough for it not to matter and that was what I really wanted.

‘Mark of the Demon’ is Diana Rowland’s debut work and, despite a couple of niggles, promises good things to come. I’m going to make sure that I’m around to see it happen.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 11 June 2009

‘The Pastel City’ – M. John Harrison


I seem to remember ‘The Pastel City’ being one of the more straightforward reads the last time I read through the ‘Viriconium’ stories. There’s a Queen whose kingdom needs saving and only the last remnants of the Old Guard stand any chance of doing the job. Kind of like one of those old war films where a team of commandoes are reformed for one last mission... On one level this is very much the case; the story starts at A and proceeds to Z (via all the letters in between) in a flurry of swordplay and forgotten magic. Good stuff if that’s what you’re after and I’m always partial to that when I’m reading fantasy. Having read ‘Viriconium Knights’ though, and seen what it had to say for itself, I figured that there had to be more to ‘The Pastel City’ than that...

‘The Pastel City’ opens with a brief history of the times leading up to Canna Moidart’s (the Queen of the North) march on the city of Viriconium. I say ‘brief’, a quick estimate sets the time of the Afternoon Cultures (preceding Viriconium) at a well over a hundred thousand years!

‘... it was the last of the Afternoon Cultures, and was followed by Evening, and by Viriconium.’

The only thing left to come after evening is nightfall and that’s where we find Viriconium, right on the cusp of the unknown. Has night already fallen? No-one really knows, only that time is running out... This has to be one of the more bleak openings to a book that I’ve come across. It does its job admirably though in that it sets a grim tone for the rest of the book and for the characters to act out their dramas to. What is the point of fighting if the end of the world is just around the corner? Are such fights a testament to human courage or an exercise in futility? Is it the end of the world at all or perhaps a new beginning?

‘Who can tell at which end of Time these places have their existence?’

What will happen next? Harrison leaves us to make our own mind up and I’m feeling depressed just writing this!

The hero of ‘The Pastel City’ is one tegeus-Cromis, a man who “imagined himself a better poet than a swordsman”. ‘Viriconium Knights’ has already set the scene of a world where time and reality are starting to lose their meaning and it’s interesting to see how this is examined in ‘The Pastel City’ (I’m going on the order the stories appear in this collection, the publication order is something quite different I think!)

‘The right fist rested on the pommel of his plain long sword, which, contrary to the fashion of the time, had no name. Cromis, whose lips were thin and bloodless, was more possessed by the essential qualities of things than by their names; concerned with the reality of Reality, rather than with the names men give it.’

Here’s a character who is trying desperately to impose his reality on a world in flux. I’m also left wondering if Harrison himself was making a point of his own with his mention of a sword with no name. It felt to me like he wanted to keep his fantasy grounded in comparison with another character, of the time, whose sword had a name and strode through a whole multi-verse. What is the reality of Reality though?
On the very next page we find out that he loved the beauty of the city more than,

‘... what it’s citizens chose to call it, which was often Viricon the Old and The Place Where The Roads Meet.’

Cromis concentrates on what he can see with his own eyes, rather than the names things are given, and finds his reality there. Is that approach any more valid though than the people who name their surroundings (even if the names change?) Again, Harrison isn’t saying one way or the other and I’m still wondering...

It’s interesting though that, right at the end of the book, Cromis sets a condition on his return that the true meaning of the Name Stars must remain hidden from him.

‘Alstath Fulthor the Reborn Man could tell you what it means, she said.
‘It is important to my nature’, he admitted, ‘that it remains a mystery to me. If you will command him to keep a close mouth, I will come back.’


Cromis is a man who places more importance on things than their names but he has the chance to learn the incontrovertible proof of something and turns it down... He’s sticking to his guns but I wonder if there’s a little more of the romantic in him than he cares to admit...

‘The Pastel City’ is an entertaining read that’s full of warfare and confrontation. It was the bleak setting and more thoughtful passages that kept my interest though (even if it depressed the hell out of me!) I think I’m in a better place now, to read these stories, than I was when I last read them. There will be more to follow.

BFI in July! One Giant Leap...


Just had this email come through from the British Film Institute and I thought that any sci-fi fans in London, during July, might find it interesting...

One Giant Leap

To coincide with the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing on 20 July 1969, BFI Southbank is collaborating with the Science Museum in hosting a season of documentaries, feature films, television and artworks focusing on the dream and reality of space travel, the Cold War space race, and the American space programme of the 1960s and 1970s. One Giant Leap will look at how factual and fictive approaches to making movies have articulated humankind's aspiration to colonise space, and investigate how our desire and ability to break free of the earth's gravitational field have stimulated some of the most creative thinkers from the worlds of cinema, television and the visual arts.


Sounds to me like a good way to see some sci-fi, on the big screen, that I haven't seen before! I've had a quick look at the Website and the ones that look good to me are '2001' (which I have never seen!), 'Doctor Who: The Moonbase' and 'First Men in the Moon'...

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

‘Chaos’ – Escober (Underland Press)


Underland Press hasn’t been around all that long but it has already developed a reputation, for me, as a publisher that I can rely on to give me something a little different when I get stuck in one of my infrequent ‘everything I’m reading all feels the same’ ruts. As much as I’ve enjoyed my recent reads, and I have enjoyed them, have a scroll down and see for yourselves, I’ve been feeling the need to break out and read something completely different. An email about the ‘Agent of Chaos’ competition reminded me that Escober’s ‘Chaos’ had been sat in the pile for far too long and that it was about time I gave it a go. I did just that; ‘Chaos’ didn’t quite work for me but (on the other hand) it was a book that I couldn’t put down until I’d finished it...

A tour of duty in Bosnia has left Alex Fisher with mental scars that have left his life in pieces; the only thing left for him to do is to go travelling and try to exorcise the demons in his head.
A chance encounter with a mysterious woman, in Mexico, turns out to be just what Fisher needed. What he doesn’t need though is a brutal beating (at the hands of the Mexican police) the following day. And then things get even stranger...
Fisher must sort through a flood of suppressed memories if he is to maintain his grip on reality enough to be able to come through a nest of schemes and betrayals in one piece...

Without giving too much away, I loved the concept that underpinned everything ‘Chaos’ did. It’s a story of one of those million to one chance occurrences actually taking place and what happens as a result. It’s far out enough to make for a plot that had me interested (even more so when I realised what was actually going on) and plausible enough that I didn’t have any trouble accepting that this could happen in real life. I’m no big expert on Chaos Theory but it strikes me that this kind of one in a million occurrence is just what they’re talking about. Also, like that butterfly flapping its wings, the smallest thing that Fisher does can have far reaching consequences...

Where it fell down for me though was the number of hoops that various characters had to jump through in order for Fisher to arrive at a certain location so that he could fulfil a certain role. I sometimes find that the more intricate a scheme is the more contrived it feels on the page and this was the case with ‘Chaos’. With hindsight, it felt like certain events were included to move Fisher along rather than add anything to the plot itself...

What this approach does do however is to give proceedings a real sense of uncertainty. Whether you think that the plot is needlessly convoluted or not, the bottom line is that anything can happen and this makes turning each page a bit of a treat. If you add the fact that Fisher has no idea what’s going on, even when he thinks that he does, then reading ‘Chaos’ becomes even more fun (especially when the stakes become clear). Alliances can change literally from one page to the next and it’s this constant fluctuation (chaos!) that keeps things fresh and interesting.

Fisher’s character proved really difficult for me to get my head round. While his circumstances led to me to feel a degree of sympathy for him, there is also a lot that he has brought on himself. Here is a loving family man with a dark side that has been thrust on him but was also there to begin with. He achieves some form of redemption but only through the fact that he has given himself nowhere else to turn to. Is that redemption? I’m still thinking about that one...

I found that while ‘Chaos’ did have it’s problems it was still a book that really made me think about what I was reading as well as being a thriller that did everything it set out to. I wouldn’t mind reading more of Escober’s work on the strength of the fun I had with this one.

Eight out of Ten

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

‘Necroscope: Harry and the Pirates’ – Brian Lumley (Tor)


One of the things that got me into fantasy, as a kid, were the absolutely gorgeous book covers that I would come across when I was on holiday. I’d go to the local shop for sweets but stick around for ages afterwards looking at book covers and blurbs. Fearsome looking dragons, mighty heroes and... What was this? Big thick looking books with vampire skulls on the front and mention of shadowy secret agencies on the back. This was the first time I came across Brian Lumley's 'Necroscope' series. Isn’t it funny though that a series can grab your eye but you never get round to picking it up and trying it out? That’s what happened with the Necroscope and I. For a whole number of reasons I never got round to trying Brian Lumley out until a couple of days ago when ‘Harry and the Pirates’ came through the door...

Harry Keogh is the Necroscope, a man who can talk to the dead in their graves. This wouldn’t be too bad if the dead weren’t aware of his powers; as it is Harry must put up with the teeming masses of the ‘Great Majority’ all trying to talk to him at once! The events in ‘Harry and the Pirates’ take place at a time when Harry is trying to track down his missing wife and child. This quest is Harry’s main focus but things have a habit of happening to the Necroscope when he least expects it...

The blurb on the back of the US edition of ‘Harry and the Pirates’ says that the book features three new Harry Keogh novellas (the Solaris edition has more stories but I’ve heard that some of these are repeated from other books...) Calling ‘Old Man with a Blade’ a novella is a bit of a stretch though as it’s only three pages long! (What’s the minimum word count for a novella by the way?) ‘Old Man’ also doesn’t gel with the other two stories particularly well as Harry only gets a fleeting mention and doesn’t come across as the main focus of the story at all. It’s not a bad story though (it just doesn’t seem to fit...) and gives the reader a hint of weird horizons beyond those that we know. It’s an unsettling read as well...

The real meat in this book can be found in the stories ‘For the Dead Travel Slowly’ and ‘Harry and the Pirates’. ‘For the Dead Travel Slowly’ opens the collection and was my first introduction to Brian Lumley’s writing. It was a shame then that such a dark and foreboding story (of a monstrous ‘Thing’ lurking in the woods near Harry’s childhood home) is weighed down by Lumley’s insistence on talking about things in far more detail than is perhaps needed. I can see how this might be useful for people being introduced to the Necroscope for the first time as Harry’s abilities do need expanding upon and his history needs to be told. What I don’t think was needed was the introspection that Harry goes into every time something happens to him. Harry spends a lot of time going over things in his head and I felt like the story was urging him to hurry up so things could keep moving... The climatic scenes are well worth sticking around for though as Harry must fight what feels like the whole forest before the ‘Thing’ can kill its prey...

My favourite story of the three is ‘Harry and the Pirates’ and, looking back, it’s because Lumley takes Harry of centre stage (just a little bit) and concentrates on the stories told by two dead pirates, one of whom has an ulterior motive for getting the Necroscope hooked on his tale...
Harry’s rather dry narrative is swapped for an engaging tale of piracy on the high seas and the unexpected turn that events take when something falls from the sky. Both pirates involved have their own distinct voices and spin a yarn full of the crashing of cannon fire and the shivers of a ship where something isn’t quite right... I saw the ending coming but still had a lot of fun reading this tale.

I wondered if ‘Harry and the Pirates’ might be good place for new readers to jump on board (no pun intended) but I think it’s a book that’s more for long time readers who know Harry’s history and are familiar with Lumley’s writing style. This didn’t stop me enjoying it though and you might just find me searching out the other books in the series...

Seven and a Half out of Ten

Monday, 8 June 2009

‘Zombie World: Champion of the Worms’ – Mike Mignola & Pat McEown (Dark Horse Books)


When I first started buying comics, back at college, I was very much into superhero series until the day I realised that ‘crossover events’ were a cynical attempt by certain publishers to get me to spend more money on their books (you know who you are!) Funnily enough, it wasn’t long after that a browse through my local comic book shop turned up ‘Zombie World’, a series with no crossovers and featuring my favourite undead creatures! :o) I collected all of the series that I could get my hands on (I wish I still had them now, looks like I might have to track down the trade paperback collection) but was never able to find the first three comics that told you how it all began. Last Friday was my lucky day as a browse through the ‘Z’ section, in Forbidden Planet, turned up the ‘Zombie World: Champion of the Worms’ collection. I finally got to see how it all kicked off...

Forty two thousand years ago, the evil priest Azzul Gotha was imprisoned and buried alive before he could conclude his dealings with the worm gods. The present day sees strange goings on at the Whistler museum in Massachusetts where a certain sarcophagus is on display... Major Damson and his team arrive to investigate but are they too late to stop the events in progress? One bullet is about to herald the arrival of the darkest days of horror that the world will ever see...

Going back to read the beginning of a series, and fill in the gaps, is always a risky business. You’ll get the whole picture but if you already know how it ends then you have to wonder what the point was. Luckily this wasn’t the case with ‘Champion of the Worms’. While it does lead on to the events of ‘Zombie World’ it’s also a self contained story, in its own right, that has plenty to offer for horror fans. For an initial series that was only three issues long I found it really rich in background and it has me wanting to find out a lot more about Hyperborea in fantasy fiction. It had a hint of Lovecraft about it as well and I loved the dank and oppressive atmosphere that this resulted in. The artwork wasn’t quite to my liking (more on that in a bit) but I couldn’t deny the strange otherworldly atmosphere that made ‘Champion of the Worms’ such a delicious shivery read.

When the zombies make their appearance, the resulting action scenes are well drawn and give a good impression of fast and frantic combat. Eustace St. John’s ability to manifest himself on the psychic plane is also well rendered and just a little bit spooky. After having pored over the gorgeous Mignola cover though, it was a shame that he didn’t continue with the artwork inside. There’s nothing wrong with McEown’s artwork but it did remind me of Herge’s ‘Adventures of Tintin’ at inopportune moments... Not what I want to be looking at when I’m reading a horror comic!

Despite this though, I had a lot of fun reading ‘Champion of the Worms’ and it’s got me in the mood to either root around under the bed to see if I still have the other comics or to go out and find myself a copy of ‘Winter’s Dregs’...

Eight and a Half out of Ten

Competition Winners!!

Thanks to everyone who entered the Graham McNeil and Malazan competitions that I ran last weekend. As much as I'd like to give books to everyone who entered (how cool would that be?) I'm afraid that wasn't to be :o(
The lucky winners are...

The 'Big Fat Graham McNeil Giveaway'...

Ian Loh, Singapore
Peter Stoakes, Australia

'Gardens of the Moon' and 'Night of Knives' Giveaway...

Kim Bea, Minneapolis (who has never read them before)
Richard Murray, Halifax, Canada (not only will Richard and his wife be reading them but their whole apartment block will get a chance as well!)
Phillip Raynor, Greenville, USA (Phillip and his barber will be checking out the Malazan series for the first time...)

Well done guys, your books are on their way!

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Giveaway! 'Day of the Damned' - David Gunn


You've probably already ready my review further down the page (if you haven't then have a quick scroll down, I'll still be here when you get back!), how do you fancy a copy of your own? You do? Then read on...

Thanks to Transworld Books I have three copies of 'Day of the Damned' to give away to three lucky winners. Anyone can enter this competition, it doesn't matter where you live! To be in with a chance of winning 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 :o)

I'll let this one run until the 14th of June and announce the winners on the 15th.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Giveaway! 'Urban Gothic' - Brian Keene


This book totally rocks, as far as I'm concerned (read my review down the page), and my first thought after finishing it was to see if I could spread the love and give you guys the chance to get an early read. The nice lady at Leisure Fiction was up for this but she only had one ARC left...

Are you a fan of Brian Keene? Have you never tried his books before and want to give him a go? Do you live in America or Canada? (It's an America/Canada only competition I'm afraid, sorry everyone else...) If you answered yes to at least two of the three questions (and please tell me you answered 'yes' to the last one!) Then read on...

To be in with a chance of winning, all you need to do is drop me an email (address at the top right hand side of the screen) telling me who you are and what your mailing address is. I'll do the rest...

I'll let this one run until the 14th of June and announce the winner on the 15th.

Good Luck!

Friday, 5 June 2009

‘Death’s Head: Day of the Damned’ – David Gunn (Transworld/Del Rey)


One of the good things about running this blog, for me, is looking at series that started up at roughly the same time as the blog itself and seeing how they’ve developed. I’m not great at keeping up with these series (apologies to Tom Lloyd here...) but I find it interesting to write my thoughts down and then go back and see what I thought of the preceding books.
It wasn’t that long after I started the blog that I picked up David Gunn’s debut ‘Death’s Head’ for a flight home from Scotland. I absolutely loved it and was very much looking forward to reading the sequel ‘Maximum Offence’. I wasn’t too keen on that though; I mentioned that if you were a fan you would probably love it but cartoonish violence might not be to everyone’s taste...
So... one good book, one not so good book. The latest instalment, ‘Day of the Damned’, arrived a few days ago and it was this book that could sway the balance either way of what I thought of the series overall...

‘Not quite one hundred percent human but hard as nails nonetheless’ Sven Tveskoeg and his band of auxiliary militia are taking some well earned R&R on Farlight (capital of the Octovian Empire) that is about to end very abruptly. Civil war has come to Farlight and OctoV is in danger of losing the throne that he has held for thousands of years. Behind all the scheming and betrayals are the United Free, a galaxy spanning empire with designs on OctoV’s territory but all that is incidental to Sven. The only things that matter to him are a promise made to old friends and killing whatever is in front of him in the meantime...

‘Day of the Damned’ is where you get the answers to all the questions (except one, maybe that will come out in another book?) that you’ve been asking since ‘Death’s Head’. The only problem is that the plot flies by so quickly you may not notice that you’re being given the answers until it’s too late. Either way you’re onto a winner as you will either have it all laid out for you or you will be enjoying the full on riotous action that drives the plot onwards. There’s plenty of that in the midst of a world that is tearing itself apart in an orgy of carnage...



This is a book that gets right in your face and bombards you with all the horrors of a world at war. Gunn doesn’t hold back in showing us what it all means, the civilian cost as well as the stubborn last stands and last ditch heroism. It’s an exciting rollercoaster of a read but also surprisingly bleak at the same time. Gunn uses Sven to great effect as ‘the grunt on the front line’, philosophical about life but with no other option than to follow orders and not get himself killed in the process. Sven also has as much idea of what’s going on as we do and it’s all the more fun finding things out at the same time as he does.

The overabundance of violence can get repetitive with very few options for the characters to reflect on what is going on around them; everything is done on the fly. The way I saw it was that people aren’t necessarily going to be able to take a quick break, from the fighting, and sort themselves out; this is a war people! Readers who like a bit more introspection in their book, however, should bear in mind that ‘Day of the Damned’ is rather light in that respect...
All credit to Gunn though in that he seems to be more aware of the importance of not having Sven as the invulnerable character he could easily become. There’s more of a level playing field this time as Sven’s AI gun doesn’t feature as much and Sven also spends a lot of the time with only one arm. This raises the stakes for Sven, along with his allies, and this kept me reading.

The ending offers scope either for the series to branch out in new directions or for more of the same. After the slightly disappointing ‘Maximum Offence’, ‘Day of the Damned’ has got me interested again and I want to see what happens next... US readers are going to have to wait another month to get their hands on this book, people in the UK should be able to grab a copy in the next couple of weeks.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten