Monday, 30 April 2012

‘Blood Ocean’ – Weston Ochse (Abaddon Books)

Abaddon Books have developed a rather nice line in shared universes filled up with writers telling their own stories. It’s an approach that works particularly well for me as if I find myself falling behind with one series, in a setting, then there will always be another series coming along that I can jump straight into.
Take the ‘Afterblight Chronicles’ for example. I’m actually not doing too badly with the series overall but have found myself lagging behind with Paul Kane’s ‘Robin Hood’ trilogy, a crying shame as it’s proved to be a series well worth the read. At the risk of repeating myself, there’s only so much time in the day to read. I’ll catch up eventually (just need to read ‘Arrowland’) but that doesn’t mean I have to miss out on the ‘post cull’ setting in the meantime, not when writers like Weston Ochse are on hand to add to it.
Weston Ochse will be a familiar name to fans of Abaddon’s ‘Tomes of the Dead’ series with his book ‘Empire of Salt’ apparently being very well received. I say ‘apparently’ as I never got to read it myself. I was still intrigued though and that bumped ‘Blood Ocean’ up the pile a little further.
It was a bit of a shame then that ‘Blood Ocean’ turned out to be a disappointing read…

Kavika Kamalani is a Pali Boy, member of an ancient Hawaiian warrior tradition that has survived the plague and now makes its way in a post apocalyptic landscape. A Pali Boy overcomes death by embracing his fears and living large; if Kavika and his friends are to survive then that is exactly what he must do.
Kavika lives on a floating city where life is harsh at the best of time but when a friend of Kavika’s dies (harvested for his blood) the quest to find his killer makes things harsher still. There is a hidden agenda at work to make sure that life in the city stays exactly as it is and Kavika is about to bring it all crashing down but not before he undergoes a horrifying transformation…

It’s a really obvious thing to say but you can tell how well a book works, for you, by how much of it you want to read in a single sitting. For example, Ian Tregillis’ ‘Bitter Seeds’ was a book where I would read huge chunks of it and only stop when I absolutely had to.
‘Blood Ocean’ though was a book that took me a good couple of weeks to read through the first three quarters of the book. When you take into account that ‘Blood Ocean’ is only two hundred and eighty six pages long, in total, that’s really saying something. The last quarter was finished off a lot quicker but by then the damage had already been done.

The big issue that I had with the book was that a large chunk of it appeared to be all about scene setting. That’s not so bad in itself, you’ve got to have a little scene setting, but if it’s taken too far then it can be overpowering to say the least.
‘Blood Ocean’s’ scene setting (and character building come to think of it) was not only overpowering but didn’t seem to have anything to do with the story itself (when the plot was finally allowed to surface and do its thing). It felt more like Ochse was giving us a guided tour of the floating city in order to show us that he’d covered all the bases in terms of setting up a post-apocalyptic setting. Look, there are the cannibals! And look, I’ve got water dwelling scavengers as well! It all felt atmospheric enough but also detached from the plot at the same time. Not that there was a lot of room for the plot with this approach. Kavika was on a mission but it kept stopping in order to take in some new detail of his surroundings. So that was the flow of the book obstructed as well then… You could make an argument that elements of the plot are revealed gradually so as to keep an air of mystery. I’d say that if this was the case then Ochse needed to be a little more on the ball instead of getting lost in his surroundings… The overall picture is revealed but it’s torturous waiting for it to happen.

When things finally do start to happen, Ochse shows us what he is really capable of with Kavika’s transformation making for some very uncomfortable reading (in just the right kind of way). Don’t get too involved though as Ochse brings things to a halt again, having his cast discuss whether anything should be happening at all… It turns out that this is a deliberate ploy, aimed at pushing a central character into making changes. This works in terms of pushing the plot to a final climax but is a little too similar to Ochse’s ‘scene setting’ approach to be really effective.

The final scenes do go a long way towards making up for the interminable slowness of the preceding chapters but it felt like ‘too little too late’ for me. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the closing sequences though, a mixture of all out action set against a post-apocalyptic backdrop with intriguing hints of a wider world. These moments actually had a bearing on the direction of the plot as well which was a welcome development. If Ochse’s other work has more moments like this then I’d be more than happy to check them out but I’m a little dubious having read ‘Blood Ocean’. Has anyone else read anything else by Weston Ochse?

‘Blood Ocean’ is full of atmosphere and you’re left with a really clear picture of where you are in the setting. It’s just a shame then that you have to really fight past that if you want to find out what’s actually happening…

Six and a Half out of Ten

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Giveaway! 'Rage of the Dragon' (Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman)

Thanks to Tor Books I have five copies of 'Rage of the Dragon' to give away on the blog (this might be one for those who have read the preceding book...), here's the blurb...

Skylan Ivorson is the gods-chosen Chief of all Vindras clans. But the gods from whom the Vindrasi draw their earthdwelling power are besieged by a new generation of gods who are challenging them for the powers of creation. The only way to stop these brash interlopers lies within the Five Bones of the Vektia Dragon—the primal dragon forged during the creation of the world—which have been lost for generations.

With the Gods of the New Dawn amassing a vast army, Skylan finds allies in former enemies. Calling upon the ogres to fight their common foes, the Vindrasi soon find themselves in the middle of an even larger war. Skylan and his Vindrasi clan must sail the Sea of Tears into the heart of the Forbidden Empire of the Cyclops, to implement a cunning yet delicate plan that risks his life and leadership at every corner. But a new enemy lies deep in the sea, one who draws upon powers never harnessed by land dwellers.

Does this sound like your kind of thing? Entering is as easy as ever (although this is a competition for US residents only, sorry everyone else...) 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. The subject header should be 'Rage!' and the judge (me!) reserves the right to disqualify entries that use more than one exclamation mark in the subject header. That's just how I roll today :o)


I'll let this competition run until the 6th of May and will aim to announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Saturday, 28 April 2012

‘Butcher’s Nails’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

Don’t get me wrong, as much as I enjoyed being at home these last few months I was really pleased and actually quite grateful to have the chance to get back into a job. It’s tough to find work right now, really tough, so I wasn’t shy about grabbing the opportunity when it came my way. So yeah, very glad to find work but I’d totally forgotten about what an absolute nightmare commuting in London can be (and I’ve got one of the easier commutes!) I’m sure all the commuters that I come across are lovely people when they leave the house in the morning; they’re just entirely different people by the time they get on the train… It’s a good job then that I’ve got audio books to numb the worst of the pain :o)

Aaron Dembski-Bowden has become one of my favourite Black Library authors and I’ll take almost any chance I get to read his work (I say ‘almost’, still can’t quite afford a Kindle…) The arrival of one of his audio books (and set in the Horus Heresy no less) felt like a real treat, especially with the rain hammering down outside and a dull air of negativity in the train carriage. The story itself was a good one, it was just a bit of a shame about the rest of the whole audio book experience…

Of all the Primarchs, Angron was ever the most bloody and warlike. With the Heresy casting the shadow of warfare over the galaxy Angron is now free to indulge in his brutal conquests, all in the Warmaster’s name. The Primarch and his World Eaters are tasked with a secretive mission alongside the Word Bearers and their Primarch Lorgar; secrecy that is constantly endangered by the World Eaters’ violent excesses. Tensions run high between the two Legions then, especially with what is at stake. Things are about to get a lot worse though as the alien Eldar take an interest in the World Eaters and their Primarch, a warrior destined to become ‘the Blood God’s son’…

If you pick up a work by Aaron Dembski-Bowden you are more or less guaranteed a thoughtful yet gripping affair that does a lot to remove the stigma of ‘bolter porn’ that surrounds Black Library fiction. Dembski-Bowden is not afraid to unload serious amounts of ammunition, over the course of the book, but he’s far more interested in telling a good story and I’m happy with that :o) ‘Butcher’s Nails’ is another good example of this with Dembski-Bowden cramming far more into the run time (seventy five minutes) than most other Black Library authors are capable of.

‘Butcher’s Nails’ is a tale of dark deeds carried out in the dark spaces between the stars and how such enforced isolation can play on a mind. It’s a story then of the conflict between doing ones duty and the urge to let loose and be true to what you are and this conflict is especially evident within Angon, a Primarch barely able to keep himself under control as it is. What a character to use to examine this conflict! Angron will quite happily jeopardise everything if there is a good fight to be had, full on combat (and cybernetic enhancements) being the only way to soothe a pain wracked mind. Not only does Dembski-Bowden give us a really clear view of what’s going on inside Angron’s head but he also leaves us with no real idea of what Angron will do next, only that it will involve blood and lots of it. This certainly kept me interested in finding out what happened next and I couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for Angron at the same time. Here is a man forced to combat agonizing pain with a method that will eventually kill him, what’s not to feel sorry about? I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the rest of his Legion though, having to adopt that very same method… And why was the Equerry Kharn able to deal with it better than his Lord…?
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You never really find out what Angron and Lorgar’s mission involves, only that they must be quiet about it, but I think this will be fully covered later along the line in the ‘Horus Heresy’ series. That’s not a big deal here though as there is plenty to keep you occupied in the meantime. The sense of tension between Angron and Lorgar is palpable and I liked the way that this tension slowly began to trickle down to their Legions. The mystery of the Eldar unfolds at a decent pace, culminating in some awesome scenes of warfare both in space and up close. Again, there is no real closure here with events set up to play out at a later date. ‘Butcher’s Nails’ is self contained but is also very much a tale of transition that should sit nicely within the overall series. Just bear that in mind…

A great tale then but one that is marred, ever so slightly, by the actor playing Angron himself (I couldn’t tell who this was). Angron is supposed to be the embodiment of sheer rage and I have to wonder whether this is something that can only really be captured on the page rather than in an audio book. The actor playing Angron didn’t capture this at all, coming across as quite pissed off rather than consumed by rage (sounded like one of my old bosses in fact). This made it really difficult for me to take the character seriously when he spoke, not so good when you’re talking about the main character of the piece. Lorgar was a much more interesting character to follow in this respect.

‘Butcher’s Nails’ is an absorbing tale then, spoilt by an actor who didn’t (couldn’t?) meet the demands of the character whom he was playing. It made for some good listening but felt like a bit of a shame at the same time…

Eight and Half out of Ten

Friday, 27 April 2012

‘Autumn: Purification’ – David Moody (Gollancz)

It’s been a while since I last delved into David Moody’s ‘Autumn’ series, long enough for ‘Purification’ to make it’s debut as a Gollancz hardback and then be released in paperback format. Like any good zombie though, I’m happy to take things real slow in the knowledge that I’ll get there in the end… :o)
The ‘Autumn’ series hasn’t been without it’s issues but, on the whole, has made for an engrossing and very ‘British’ take on the zombie apocalypse (with survivors being more about dull acceptance and getting on with it rather than mass hysterics). Have a click on the links to read my reviews of ‘Autumn’ and ‘Autumn: The City’ if you like. I think there’s one more book to come after ‘Autumn: Purification’ (a collection of short stories?) but my understanding was that this was the book that would round things off for characters that we’ve come to know very well over the course of the series. There is a sense of closure although not what you might think from an initial look at the back of the book…

The dead walk the face of the earth. Underneath the earth though, a small group of survivors huddle in an underground hangar, sheltering from the dead outside but prevented from going any deeper by armed soldiers scared of contamination.
The dead are massing outside though, drawn by the heat of the underground base. Vents are clogged up by dead bodies and the base is slowly starved of oxygen; the only option is to send soldiers outside to clear the vents if the occupants of the base are to survive. No-one realised just how many walking corpses were waiting outside though…

I normally give my own version of the blurb just to let people know what the book is about. This time round I’m including some blurb to let you know that there’s actually a lot more to ‘Purification’ than you might think. Anyone looking at the blurb would think that the book ends with a full scale battle (a la ‘Day of the Dead’) that leaves you gasping. Read ‘Purification’ though and you’ll see that this battle takes place very early on in the book; there is lot more for our cast to get through before the end. While there is closure (of a kind) it’s not what you’d expect and I think the blurb is a little misleading in that regard. You might want to bear that in mind when picking ‘Purification’ up…

I’d definitely recommend you pick it up though although having said that, the way in which the plot unfolds means that you really need to have read ‘Autumn’ and ‘Autumn: The City’ first. I guess you could read ‘Purification’ on its own but you would be missing out on a more in-depth examination of ‘zombie evolution’ that Moody has bought to the series. This is what has proved to be the highlight of the series for me; Moody has taken a well established trope and made it his own almost without the reader realising it. The dead have a real motivation for acting the way that they do and it’s a motivation that evokes some degree of sympathy from the reader given what Moody tells. Without giving too much away, I’d challenge any reader to put themselves in a similar position and not react in the same way.

This revelation also casts the actions of the survivors in an entirely new light, especially as certain characters begin to work out just what is happening. A notion of ethics has always been part of zombie fiction, with the whole ‘Would you kill a family member if they turned?’ kind of question popping up regularly. Moody’s treatment of his zombies adds a whole new level to this approach though with questions facing the survivors that can only be answered in the long term. The big question, which Moody cleverly leaves unanswered, is that if the zombies are evolving then what will they evolve into next…?

‘Autumn: Purification’ is another short novel in the series, weighing in at a ‘slightly underfed’ looking two hundred and seventy two pages. This is a kind of ‘trademark’ for Moody’s work, a writer who likes to keep things fairly simple and just tell it exactly how he sees it.
With ‘Purification’, I’m not sure that the approach works quite so well as it has in the past. Don’t get me wrong, keeping it short and sweet gives the reader a real flavour for just how bleak and deserted this new world is. If Moody is only showing us what he can see then there can’t be an awful lot left… I was unconvinced overall though and a large chunk of this is down to Moody’s decision to finally introduce a reason behind the disease outbreak that led to the dead returning to life in the first place. What we’re given is essentially conjecture (no-one knows if it is true or not) and this is completely at odds with Moody’s policy of just reporting the facts. This sequence judders while the rest of the book flows as normal. I was also left wondering just what the point of this information was; it doesn’t advance the plot in any way and comes across as if Moody forgot to include it in the first book and wanted to get it down before the very end.

The relative paucity of pages also left me wondering if Moody left himself with enough room to give us more insight into what is going on for our characters. While climactic scenes are treated with a greater degree of gusto and spectacle (you get an unnerving feel for what it’s like to be at the wrong end of a zombie swarm…) you don’t really know what it’s like for the characters in the midst of it all. The notable exception here is the treatment of the soldiers trapped inside their survival suits and slowly dying, that was nasty in all the right ways. Zombie fiction is all about the survivors and maybe if Moody had given himself a few more pages to work with then we really could have seen what it was like for them here.

The ending is sufficiently sombre but with an element of hope that is in keeping with what Moody has been saying over the course of the series; humanity can survive but it will take a hell of a lot of hard work...
I did have issues with ‘Autumn: Purification’ but none of them stopped me from finishing the book and I’m looking forward to seeing what ‘Autumn: Disintegration’ has to offer.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Pat Mills & Simon Bisley signing 'Slaine: The Horned God' (at Forbidden Planet)

I saw this over at the Forbidden Planet website the other day…

Pat Mills and  Simon Bisley will be signing the new hardcover of the classic SLAINE THE HORNED GOD at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Saturday 23rd June 1 – 2pm.

I love ‘The Horned God’ (read my review Here) so am totally all over this one :o) I haven’t read the later 'Slaine' books but would recommend reading up to ‘The Horned God’ at the very least. There’s a lot here for fans of fantasy in general and Celtic mythology in particular (surprised that it didn't make Ryan's list of fantasy comics worth checking out over at The Speculative Scotsman but there you go...)

Hopefully I’ll see some of you at the signing?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

An Extract from China Mieville's 'Railsea'

I was sent a link to an extract from 'Railsea', this afternoon, and thought it would be rude not to share ;o) I haven't read it yet myself but don't let that stop you! Click Here for the extract and let me know what you think!

I still haven't been able to read 'Embassytown', not without giving myself a massive headache, so might use 'Railsea' as a way if easing myself back into the game...

TOR/Forge to go DRM free

From the press release,

Tom Doherty Associates, publishers of Tor, Forge, Orb, Starscape, and Tor Teen, today announced that by early July 2012, their entire list of e-books will be available DRM-free.


“Our authors and readers have been asking for this for a long time,” said president and publisher Tom Doherty. “They’re a technically sophisticated bunch, and DRM is a constant annoyance to them. It prevents them from using legitimately-purchased e-books in perfectly legal ways, like moving them from one kind of e-reader to another.”

DRM-free titles from Tom Doherty Associates will be available from the same range of retailers that currently that currently sell their e-books. In addition, the company expects to begin selling titles through retailers that sell only DRM-free books.

What little I do know about DRM has put me off buying an e-reader so news like this is more than welcome in my house :o) Lets hope a few more publishers follow suit...

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Which Cover Would You Go For? (GRRM Edition)

The 'Game of Thrones' TV show is doing very well for itself so publishers across the land race to find anything GRRM wrote that they can publish. I don't blame them at all :o) I'm looking forward to reading my copy of 'The Armageddon Rag', at some point, but it was the Del Rey edition of 'Fevre Dream' that caught my eye with some lovely artwork on the cover. I used to have a copy of the Fantasy Masterworks edition and I thought, 'why not have a look at the cover art for both of them?' The Del Rey cover can go first :o)

I'm not too keen on the moody vampire (who could really do with a haircut) but what I do love is how it slowly dawns on you just how much blood there is in the picture. Really evocative and perhaps a timely reminder not to store your spare blood in a street lamp, especially not one that leaks...

A very creepy cover then, far creepier than...

There's a nice foreboding sunset but not a lot else, just a river boat plodding along. Not a lot else you can say really...

The Del Rey cover is the clear winner here, as far as I'm concerned anyway. Would you agree? Or are you a fan of the Fantasy Masterworks cover? Comments please!

Monday, 23 April 2012

The ‘Starting a new job tomorrow…’ Competition Winner’s Post!

And I think I’ve just about done everything I need to get ready, apart from iron a shirt that is. Talk about saving the worst job until last, oh well… I really must remember to pack a book in my bag as well (‘Kingdom of Dust’ or ‘The White Luck Warrior’, both of which are being read at the moment).

A much shorter competition winner’s post than normal then. Not that you need an awful lot else in a competition winner’s post than a ‘well done’ to the winners. Oh yes, and a ‘better luck next time’ to everyone else :o)

So, competition winners then. These lucky folks win copies of ‘A Game of Thrones’ and ‘A Clash of Kings’…

Nicole Simmons (who hasn’t read the books yet), Canada
Paul Sparks (lent his copies out and never saw them again…), Milwaukee, US
Brian Bedard (loves the TV show and has been meaning to get into the books), Massachusetts, US


Nice going there folks, you’ve got some great reading ahead of you. Better luck next time everyone else ;o) And I’m off to iron that shirt… See you all tomorrow!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Didn’t Finish It… ‘Thief’s Covenant’ – Ari Marmell (Pyr)

The plan is that you won’t be seeing so many of these posts in the future; well, hopefully… The impending daily commute means that I’ll more than likely be forced to finish whatever comes to work with me for the day (which isn’t a bad thing) instead of just going to the bookshelf to find something more appealing. A book is going to have to be truly awful to make me put it down and share a train with early morning commuters! I’ll guess we'll just have to see how that one goes.

In the meantime… Certain books don’t seem to work for me, for a number of reasons, and I want the blog to reflect that a little bit more. A book may be badly written, it might just be the wrong book at the wrong time. Or it might be a book like Ari Marmell’s ‘Thief’s Covenant’. Here’s the blurb…

Once she was Adrienne Satti. An orphan of Davillon, she had somehow escaped destitution and climbed to the ranks of the city's aristocracy in a rags-to-riches story straight from an ancient fairy tale. Until one horrid night, when a conspiracy of forces—human and other—stole it all away in a flurry of blood and murder.

Today she is Widdershins, a thief making her way through Davillon's underbelly with a sharp blade, a sharper wit, and the mystical aid of Olgun, a foreign god with no other worshippers but Widdershins herself. It's not a great life, certainly nothing compared to the one she once had, but it's hers.

But now, in the midst of Davillon's political turmoil, an array of hands are once again rising up against her, prepared to tear down all that she's built. The City Guard wants her in prison. Members of her own Guild want her dead. And something horrid, something dark, something ancient is reaching out for her, a past that refuses to let her go. Widdershins and Olgun are going to find answers, and justice, for what happened to her—but only if those who almost destroyed her in those years gone by don't finish the job first.

I was really looking forward to reading ‘Thief’s Covenant’. Not only did a number of other bloggers (that I read reguarly) enjoy it but I’d already enjoyed Marmell’s ‘The Conqueror’s Shadow’ and ‘The Warlord’s Legacy’ and planned to read more of his stuff. I’ll probably still do that but the anticipation will now be tempered somewhat.

The big problem for me was that after a hundred and eight pages, of a two hundred and seventy two page book, nothing actually seemed to be happening. It was all about the build up and I couldn’t help but think that Marmell was running out of time to stop building up and start doing something.
This approach wouldn’t have been too bad but there wasn’t a lot about the lead character, Widdershins, to get me interested in her story let alone keep reading it. There was no spark that would have made Widdershins stand out in her own right; if I’d dropped her in a room full of teenage thieves (from fantasy novels) then I don’t think I would have ever been able to tell her apart from all the others…

So, a book where nothing seemed to be happening with a dull lead character… Never a good combination for me and, despite my best attempts, not a book that I’ll be continuing with. Pyr have a very nice line in fantasy fiction but I guess there always has to be an exception to prove the rule…

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Cover Art! 'Girl Genius Volume One: Agatha Awakens'

Because I've got a pounding headache starting to surface behind my eyeballs and I don't want to be in front of the computer monitor for too long... Check it out,

I'm not sure that I think too much of the characters here, it's like someone is trying to draw Manga but make it look like they're not drawing Manga all at the same time. Just stick with one or the other, seriously. What I do love though is the whole Steampunk vibe that's coming across, that would have sold the book on it's own but the 'Book Smuggler' quote on the back sealed the deal :o) There'll be a review either this coming week or the week after but here's some blurb in the meantime...

The Industrial Revolution has become all-out war! Mad Scientists, gifted with the Spark of genius, unleash insane inventions on an unprepared Europe. For centuries, the Heterodyne family of inventors kept the peace, but the last Heterodyne disappeared twenty years ago, leaving their ally Baron Klaus Wulfenbach to maintain order with his fleet of airships and army of unstoppable, if not very bright, Jaeger Monsters.
 
At Transylvania Polygnostic University, Agatha Clay dreams of being a scientist herself, but her trouble concentrating dooms her to be a lowly minion at best. When her locket, a family heirloom, is stolen, Agatha shows signs of having the Spark in a spectacular, destructive fashion and captures the attention of the Baron—and the Baron’s handsome young son, Gilgamesh.
 
Swept up to the Baron's Airship City, Agatha finds herself in the midst of the greatest minds of her generation, as well as palace intrigue, dashing heroes, and an imperial cat. Agatha may be the most brilliant mind of her generation and the key to control of the continent, but first, she just has to survive.
 
Apparently 'Girl Genius' is a web-comic and that's not a medium that I've really been able to get into (even I couldn't get away with that at work!) Has anyone here read the series? Any good?

Friday, 20 April 2012

‘Plague Town’ – Dana Fredsti (Titan Books)

This is going to be a much shorter review, than normal, as I’ve spent a large chunk of today sorting out bits of paperwork for the new job that I’ll be starting next Tuesday. Go me :o)

Do you remember the days when monsters used to be, well… you know… scary? I do. Werewolves used to prowl deserted moors and prey on hapless hitchhikers. Vampires used to lurk in the dark and climb through your bedroom window if you were stupid enough to leave it open. Other monsters quietly got on with doing what they did best, usually at a great cost in human life…
Then Urban Fantasy came along and everything changed. The werewolves came off the moors and became night-club bouncers for clubs owned by the vampires. Monsters still got on with what they did best but it all was tempered by deep and meaningful conversations with heroines looking for the humanity in creatures that hadn’t been human for an awfully long time. Thanks a lot Urban Fantasy, thanks for making vampires and werewolves (and even some demons) far less scary than they’ve ever been.

But that’s ok though. I mean, we’ve still got zombies right? The living dead, creatures that would rather eat the heroine than talk with her. There was still one last bastion of ‘monsterhood’ that Urban Fantasy couldn’t storm… could it? Well, I didn’t think so until a copy of ‘Plague Town’ arrived in the post. Look at that cover, have a read of the blurb in a paragraph's time. It was a long siege but Urban Fantasy won through in the end.
Of course I was going to read ‘Plague Town’ though, it promised to be full of zombies so how could I not? I picked up the book with a heavy heart though, not really that keen to see how Urban Fantasy treated my favourite monsters. Turns out that I needn’t have worried all that much. There’s a lot to ‘Plague Town’ that feels familiar but there’s a lot that’s different at the same time.

The people of Redwood Grove are dying of the flu but they’re not staying dead for long though… Student Ashley Parker finds herself on the wrong end of a zombie outbreak but also finds herself in a unique position, one that will let her fight back.
It turns out that Ashley is a ‘Wild Card’, someone who is not only immune to a zombie’s bite but can also heal from such a bite incredibly quickly. Recruited by an organisation that deals with this specific kind of threat, Ashley now has the chance to fight back. Will her small team of fellow ‘Wild Cards’ be enough to turn the tide though? Time is running out…

‘Plague Town’ is a bit of an odd one, at least it was for me. What I found difficult to get my head around will probably be what attracts a lot of people to the series. I’ll certainly be checking out the next book at least.

You see, ‘Plague Town’ is very much a ‘by the numbers’ Urban Fantasy. Take one feisty heroine with issues, open her eyes up to a world that she never knew existed and add a love interest that is destined to be a bumpy ride (in more ways than one) and what have you got? You’ve got ‘Plague Town’ of course but you’ve also got any number of other books doing exactly the same thing. It’s not original, not any more, not when the core tropes are just being rolled out instead of having a little care and attention paid to them. Actually that’s not quite true here.  The love interest does feel a little contrived but Fredsti does give you something new to ponder and that was cool as far as I was concerned.

I kept reading though, as I really will finish a book if it has zombies in it, and I’m glad that I did.

‘Plague Town’ may be ‘by the numbers Urban Fantasy’ in many ways but it redeems itself by also being a very nasty little horror novel at the same time. You may know what’s coming but Fredsti plays on your nerves and still manages to make you jump, sending her characters down some dark alleyways where anything could happen. There are plenty of ‘zombie surprises’ but there’s also a very interesting spin on the zombie epidemic that bodes well for future instalments (although if it’s used to solve the ‘love interest problem’ then I don’t know what I’ll do…) As it is, it’s certainly a moment that puts you right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse and shows you what people are capable of when the chips are down. If that wasn’t enough, Fredsti shows that she has absolutely no problems putting her readers right in the middle of a zombie swarm and leaving them to it. There’s a real surge of adrenaline in these sequences that makes you feel like you’re there experiencing it for real.

‘Plague Town’ is a novel then where short bursts of horror offset the fact that it isn’t doing a lot else that is new. There was enough to it though that I’d check out any sequels to see which way the balance swings in the future, definitely a series with potential.

Eight out of Ten

Thursday, 19 April 2012

‘Bitter Seeds’ – Ian Tregillis (Tor/Orbit)

I don’t know about you but my reading seems to be as much (if more) about catching up with last years books as it is about reading this years crop. I do aim to keep up with current releases but, what with one thing and another, this is an aim that often sadly falls short of being a reality. There’s only so much room in the day after all, what I wouldn’t give for more time to read. Oh well…

This review then very much falls into the category of ‘books that I really should have read last year’. ‘Bitter Seeds’ was a book where all the feedback and reviews were overwhelmingly positive, a book that I just knew I’d be reading sooner or later. However, in a twist of ‘publishing fate’, ‘Bitter Seeds’ also falls into the category of ‘books to be published in 2012’. Tor initially published the book in the US and Orbit will be doing the honours in the UK later on this year (and possibly a little earlier than we think, we’ll see). In one fell swoop then I get to catch up on last year’s reading and be a little ahead of the game in 2012. Having read ‘Bitter Seeds’ I can now say that I really should have read it last year, what the hell was I doing not picking it up sooner? If you’re in a similar position then don’t hang around, pick up a copy of ‘Bitter Seeds’ and get reading right away. Seriously…

It’s 1939 and war is about to break out in Europe, a war that Germany is all set to win with their ‘supermen’, field operatives that can carry out missions by walking through walls and setting their targets on fire (amongst other things). British agent Raybould Marsh has seen evidence of this new threat at first hand with a contact bursting into flames as he is about to pass on vital information. Marsh knows the full extent of this threat and knows that there might only be one way of stopping it… Will Beauclerk is not only a good friend of Marsh’s but is also a warlock with access to a network of similar men across Britain. Super powered Nazism is about to come face to face with British occultism allied with powers that not of this dimension. Victory is uncertain for either side with the only certainty being that sacrifices will be asked of everyone. Can Raybould, Will or even the Nazi supermen meet the demands that are made of them?

I seem to be saying this an awful lot just recently (and I’ll admit that not having to commute means that I’m not stuck with books that I don’t enjoy) but ‘Bitter Seeds’ was yet another book that I couldn’t put down. Housework wasn’t done, my wife was stuck with a lot more kitchen stuff than she normally has to do. Sorry about that, I was reading ‘Bitter Seeds’ and didn’t want to stop. If that wasn’t bad enough, an advance copy of ‘The Coldest War’ arrived and I really did have to finish ‘Bitter Seeds’ so I could start reading that as well (there’ll be a review here fairly soon).
‘Enthralling’, ‘engrossing’, ‘thrilling’… These were a few of the words going through my head as I read ‘Bitter Seeds’. Let me tell you just why…

First of all, we’re talking about a book where super powered Nazis (with wires sticking out of their heads) are going up against Lovecraftian beings doing the bidding of British Warlocks. Tell me you didn’t just read that sentence and think, ‘wow, cool…’ Sounds like the sort of thing that Hellboy would be involved in doesn’t it?
Well, there’s no Hellboy here but everything else is set in place for bone crunching confrontations between enhanced humans and extra-dimensional beings, all set against the backdrop of a Europe at war. Going off at a slight tangent, I particularly enjoyed the way that Tregillis not only weaves his story into the historical background (making it all sound very plausible and part of events) but uses it to send the path of history running in a slightly different direction at times. It’s ‘alternate history’ done so cleverly that you don’t even realise you’re running down a different track.

Back to the supermen and their otherworldly opponents. Tregillis shows that he has an eye for the spectacular, on more than one level, with scenes that show just what the clever use of a relatively minor ability can do to a tank, a group of enemy combatants and even the entire Maginot Line. The beauty of it all lies in the fact that powers like being able to walk through a wall aren’t really that spectacular are they? Not when compared to what you see in comic books every day. Well that’s where you’re wrong, Tregillis constantly surprises you with what the Nazis can do and it makes for gripping reading.
Same deal with the Eidolons (Britain’s otherworldly allies); they are perhaps not as awe inspiring but you can’t help but hold your breath when they enter the field.
It’s not just the fight scenes that make for compulsive reading. The use of these powers sends the plot in some very interesting directions with the march to victory switching between parties on a regular basis. Things move so quickly that you have to keep reading to follow it all, you don’t dare miss a word.

It would be doing the book a real disservice though to paint it as a straight fight between powers though, no matter how well it is done on the page. For me, the real strength of ‘Bitter Seeds’ (and maybe where this title was born) lies in it’s exploration of occult warfare and the price that must be paid for victory. The Eidolons demand blood sacrifice, for their assistance, and this places a great deal of stress on Beauclerk in particular as he goes to ever greater lengths to give what has been asked for. This brings Will into constant conflict with Raybould’s view that anything that helps the war effort is a good thing. It’s not going to end well but I want to see how this plays out.
Even the Nazis have to make sacrifices of one kind or another, namely their humanity in the face of the changes that they have undergone. They are above the rest of humanity but that comes at the price of their freedom and the machinations of the psychopath pre-cog Gretel. It doesn’t matter if you can set fire to a man with your mind, you’re still not safe and Tregillis does well to feed this into the air of insecurity that surrounds the plot. No-one is safe and it seems that could still be worse to come…

‘Bitter Seeds’ is nothing short of an awesome read as far as I’m concerned. It’s a testament to what Tregillis has done here that I’m already of the opinion that he keeps writing then I’ll keep reading his work. Can you tell I’m excited? Read ‘Bitter Seeds’ and you’ll see why.

Ten out of Ten

P.S. I'm using the US mass market cover art here, Orbit have yet to release the cover art for their edition (although I've seen it already and it does look rather fine).

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

‘The Hammer and The Blade’ – Paul S. Kemp (Angry Robot)

‘Sword & Sorcery’ seems to be making a bit of a comeback in fantasy fiction, these days, although I can’t help but wondering if it was ever really away long enough to actually ‘come back’ as it were. Lets just say that the sub-genre is making a return in its own right but elements of ‘Sword & Sorcery’ can be found in most fantasy books that you pick up; whether they’re ‘epic’, ‘high’, ‘weird’ or whatever. Not that this really bothers me either way :o) I enjoy reading most fantasy fiction and I’ve really been enjoying what ‘Sword & Sorcery’ I’ve managed to get my hands on just recently. It’s all good :o)

If I had a list of ‘favourite writers that I want to write original Sword & Sorcery’ then Paul S. Kemp would have featured very highly on that list before he went out and wrote ‘The Hammer and The Blade’. He’s already done very well for himself with the ‘Erevis Cale’ D&D tie-in books (three of which are reviewed here on the blog) and I was really keen to see how he would fare once he was free of any ‘tie-in fiction constraints’. The end result? Kemp writes a lovely slice of ‘Sword & Sorcery’ but I really wasn’t sure about the way it ended…

Warrior Priest Egil and master thief Nix have made a tidy sum of money, over the years, stealing treasure from any number of haunted tombs in far off places and now they are ready to retire and enjoy the fruits of almost being killed more times than they can remember. If only life were that simple…
Egil and Nix thought their troubles were over when they managed to kill the demon trying to stop them looting that final tomb; turns out their troubles were only just beginning… That one demon had one particular worshipper who really didn’t need two grave robbers putting a large dent in his own plans. Now Egil and Nix find themselves on one last quest; if they can’t help a vengeful sorcerer raise another demon then their lives will be very painful and very short…

I read ‘The Hammer and The Blade’ last week and couldn’t get enough of it, certain things were left undone and unfinished just so I could keep reading and find out what happened at the end. And then I got to that ending and found myself thinking, ‘hang on a moment… that doesn’t feel right at all…’ Or does it?

I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit though. ‘The Hammer and The Blade’ is a lot of fun to read, no doubt about it. Kemp comes up with a quest that is positively brimming over with all sorts of danger and puts it in the hands of the only two people that you would want to see attempt it. I know that I’m going out on a bit of a limb with that statement but Egil and Nix had that affect on me and I think they’ll have a similar affect on you too.
Kemp’s portrayal of our two leads had me feeling like I’d known Egil and Nix for years. There are no long introductory pieces (although both of their pasts are delicately hinted at and I’m sure there will be more revealed in the future); you’re just thrown straight into the lives of two guys who are best friends and happen to loot ancient crypts at the same time. There’s laughter, lots of it, with Egil and Nix taking the boredom out of some of the more tedious parts of their job by poking fun at each other. There’s also really intense moments where you’re left in no doubt as to what their friendship means to each other. The overall picture hits the target; whether the friendship endures over future books remains to be seen but you know that it has already endured long enough not for that to matter too much.

Kemp fleshes things out further with a world that’s really easy to find your feet in, a world where you know the alleyways are dangerous but you can’t help but want to see what’s at the end of them. I’m looking forward to exploring Egil and Nix’s world a lot more and part of the reason why is that Kemp keeps the focus very much on what is in front of our two heroes, leaving the rest of the world tantalisingly blurred. There’s a lot more out there and I want to be around when it comes into focus.

When things heat up. Kemp gives us sequences that wouldn’t look out of place in an Indiana Jones film with the undead and vengeful wraiths only proving to be half of the fun. There is always something happening and that’s just what a ‘Sword & Sorcery’ novel needs to be all about. Kemp really delivers the goods on that score.

But that ending though…

It’s a tough one to talk about as I’m referring not only to the ending but the whole point of the rest of the plot (so bear with me). I liked the plot by the way, how it is gradually teased out and revealed to be so much more than you think, even if the message is a little heavy handed.
Given how heavy handed that message was then, it was surprising (to say the least) to see our heroes turn around and dish out a punishment that they had been fighting to stop for the preceding pages. At the very least it was out of character and totally at odds with what Kemp had been saying. It was an ending that jarred when things should have been rolling smoothly towards the final pages. Were Egil and Nix condoning a certain punishment just because it was happening to the bad guy? I hope not.

‘The Hammer and The Blade’ is a rip roaring example of what ‘Sword & Sorcery’ should be all about and this bodes well for future works in the series. I’m really not sure what was going on with that ending though and that’s why I’m not giving it a score this time. Give me a little while longer to think about that one…

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A few books that have caught my eye.

Yep, today was meant to be about a review of some book or another. What today ended up being about though was being told that I didn't get another job that I interviewed for (dammit) and then saying the hell with it and catching newts with Hope/watching some Doctor Who. I was not in the mood for thinking too hard about what I've been reading, hopefully tomorrow will be different :o)

In the meantime, a few books have been coming through the door and I thought a quick post was in order about some of the ones that have caught my eye. Check em' out...

Ashley was just trying to get through a tough day when the world turned upside down.
A terrifying virus appears, quickly becoming a pandemic that leaves its victims, not dead, but far worse. Attacked by zombies, Ashley discovers that she is a 'Wild-Card' -- immune to the virus -- and she is recruited to fight back and try to control the outbreak.


My first thought, when I saw the cover, was 'has Urban Fantasy just stormed the last bastion of monsters actually being scary instead of the object of a feisty heroines affection?' The answer is that I'm about a hundred, or so, pages in and the jury is still out on that one. 'Plague Town' is a lot of fun though. Don't let the cover put you off (too much)...

I've never read 'Hyperion', didn't even realise that there was such a book until I went looking for some cover art for this post (I know nothing about sci-fi sometimes) Perhaps a visit to 'Amazon New & Used' is in order. I asked for a copy of 'Fall of Hyperion' as I don't think I've heard a bad word said about it and wanted to see what the fuss was about. Have any of you read it?

You all know that I'm a fan of Alex Bledsoe and his 'Eddie LaCrosse' books don't you...? Just do a search on the blog if you didn't know already. I've been waiting to get my hands on this for a while now and today was the day that an advance copy chose to come through the door. As soon as 'Plague Town', and a couple of others, are done then I'll be getting into 'Wake'.

Any of these three books grab your eye? Anyone want to tell me that I really need to read 'Hyperion' first? Anyone want to tell me that the job wasn't right for me...? ;o) All comments welcome :o)

Monday, 16 April 2012

Cover Art! 'The Goon #39'

Because it made me laugh and it's true... Sometimes that's all you can ask of a Monday morning :o)

Covers like this are the reason I buy comics :o) Reviews will kick off again tomorrow, it's very likely that I'm on a train as you're reading this...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Shawn Speakman announces 'Unfettered' anthology

Aidan announced this first but I figured I'd lend my voice as well. 'Unfettered' is an amazing project on so many levels and deserves all the noise it can generate. Check out the press release,

GRIM OAK PRESS TO PUBLISH UNFETTERED FANTASY ANTHOLOGY

SEATTLE, WA — Grim Oak Press, a new publishing company formed by webmaster and freelance writer Shawn Speakman, will be producing Unfettered, a fantasy short story anthology by some of the best writers in the genre, for a very good cause.

In 2011, Speakman was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He completed the recommended chemotherapy, but lacking health insurance, the treatment left him with almost $200,000 of financial debt. At the suggestion of New York Times bestselling author Terry Brooks, and with the help of nearly two dozen authors who call Speakman a friend, Grim Oak Press will publish the short story anthology Unfettered, with the proceeds helping to alleviate the medical bills.


Authors contributing include: Terry Brooks, Patrick Rothfuss, Naomi Novik, Brandon Sanderson, RA Salvatore, Tad Williams, Jacqueline Carey, Daniel Abraham, Peter V.Brett, Robert VS Redick, Peter Orullian, Todd Lockwood, Carrie Vaughn, Blake Charlton, Kevin Hearne, Mark Lawrence, David Anthony Durham, Jennifer Bosworth, Lev Grossman, Steven Erikson, and Shawn Speakman


Some of the authors will be writing short stories set in the fantasy worlds that made them famous. Other writers will be creating entirely new tales. The contribution by so many noteworthy authors of bestselling titles speaks to the generosity found within the science fiction and fantasy communities.

Unfettered will be published as a trade hardcover as well as a leather-bound, signed and numbered edition limited to 500 copies and autographed by all contributors. Speakman will also publish his full-length urban/high fantasy novel, The Dark Thorn, through Grim Oak Press to further offset treatment expenses.

Orders are currently being accepted for The Dark Thorn, which is tentatively scheduled to publish in August 2012. Unfettered will be released by early 2013.

I challenge you not to be able to find at least one favourite author in that list (Steven Erikson, Tad Williams, Daniel Abraham for me)... I'll be ordering a copy and I think you should too, that's all there is to it :o)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Giveaway! 'A Game of Thrones' & 'A Clash of Kings'

To mark a certain TV show that's doing very well at the moment (thank you very much) Del Rey have very kindly given me three 'Packs' of the tie-in editions of 'A Game of Thrones' & 'A Clash of Kings' to give away here on the blog.

I'm actually very interested to see what kind of response I'll be getting as we've all read the books, haven't we? What, you haven't read the books? And you want to win a set for your friend who loves the show? And you just fancy winning some books...? Maybe this could work after all...

If you want in (and it's US and Canada only in terms of who can enter) then drop me an email telling me who you are and what your postal address is. My email address is at the top right hand side of the screen, the subject header needs to be 'ASOIAF'. And while you're writing that email, take a second to tell me why you're entering. Like I said, I'm really interested :o) It of course goes without saying that if you haven't read the books then you really should...

I'll let this one run until the 22nd of April and will announce the winners as soon as possible afterwards.

Good Luck!

Friday, 13 April 2012

‘The Chronicles of Kull Volume Five: Dead Men of the Deep and Other Stories’ – Various (Dark Horse Books)

Now I did say that there would be quite a bit of ‘Kull’ this week, sometimes that’s just the way the reading pile operates… Not that I’m complaining mind you. We’ve had a few nice sunny days that have been particularly conducive to reading, especially when there’s a nice comfortable chair that likes to beckon me in its direction :o) You can’t ask for a lot more than that really, can you? Are you just a little bit jealous right now…? ;o)

So ‘Kull’ it was then but this time round I took a bit of a step back from more recent adaptations and took a trip back in time to… well, I’m not sure actually. This Dark Horse edition collects the final few comics in Marvel’s ‘Kull the Conqueror’ series but I don’t know when this series actually ran (and have little time to go and ask Wikipedia). I could hazard a guess but saying it was some time over a ten year period isn’t really a guess is it? If any of you know when ‘Kull the Conqueror’ ran then a comment below this post would be appreciated, thanks very much! My limited knowledge of ‘Kull’ also suggests that these stories are further adaptations rather than the original works of Robert E. Howard.

It doesn’t really matter when the original comics were published though (other than to satisfy my curiosity). The important thing was that I enjoyed reading the book over the last couple of days; I might even have to find the other four volumes in this series if this one was anything to go by.

The big difference between ‘The Chronicles of Kull Volume Five’ and the book that I reviewed yesterday is the size; some two hundred and fifty pages compared to the hundred contained within ‘The Hate Witch’. I guess that’s to be expected as ‘The Hate Witch’ collected a four issues mini-series whereas this book is part of a series collecting an entire run of comics. The upshot though is that there’s a lot more space for stories to be told at great length. Not only that but these stories run into (and on from) each other, referencing back to events that happened maybe a hundred pages ago. I love this approach as it offers something far more immersive than the ‘quick hit’ of a mini-series; I guess there is something to be said after all for continuity in comics (and that’s saying something given my experiences with ‘X-Men’ continuity…)

The stories themselves focus, as always seems to be the case, on Kull’s struggle to impose his rule over Valusia. This is no small task given that there always seems to be a Count or two seeking to supplant him. Kull’s prowess in battle means that all plots against him are a lot more subtle than a mere military coup. Such schemes rely on Kull’s lack of civilisation but his barbarian cunning is often up to the task of keeping Kull’s head on his shoulders.

What I like about these tales is that Kull never faces the same plot twice and the reader is kept on his toes just as much as Kull is himself. You’re never too sure quite what is going to happen next and the cliff-hangers we face aren’t as jarring as you might think given that tales are told over the course of individual comic books. Everything flows very smoothly and it was a real pleasure to read in that respect.

It’s not just the machinations of his subjects either; Kull has to face up to any number of supernatural menaces all of which are lovingly rendered by the contributing artists. John Buscema appears to be the man to go to if you want a nasty looking monster drawn; the man comes up with vicious looking goblins, snake men and something really nasty that crawls out of a long forgotten tomb. This all makes for some great reading, the lion’s share of which seems to be provided by Alan Zelenetz. Here’s a man who the gift of writing fantasy comics appears to come to quite naturally. To be fair, any writer would be onto a winner using Robert E. Howard’s characters as a springboard for their own work but Zelenetz really comes across as paying both the character and setting the respect that they’re due. The stories really shine as a result.

The comics collected within this volume don’t consistently reach the high standards that I’ve mentioned. ‘A Season of Black Death’ didn’t work for me for example; I just couldn’t buy the premise that the story is based around. On the whole though, ‘Kull Volume Five’ made for an engrossing read that I’m sure will reveal new details (in the story and the artwork) every time I revisit it. Worth a shot if you ever come across a copy.
Nine and a Half out of Ten

Thursday, 12 April 2012

‘Kull: The Hate Witch’ – Lapham, Guzman & Jackson (Dark Horse Books)

My ‘Kull’ reading, so far, is limited to two short stories and a poem (from the ‘Conan’s Brethren’ collection) along with the comic book adaptation of one of these tales. Not really a lot to be going on with then and it’s not a title that seems to be on the bookshelves either… I’m pretty sure there is more to ‘Kull’ than this. I need to try and get my hands on the Del Rey collections...

In the meantime, comic books have once again proved to be my friends with a little dose of ‘Kull’ action to keep me ticking over. What I’ve got in front of me isn’t original ‘Kull’ though, we’re in the territory of putting Robert E. Howard’s name in front of the title just to show the reader who had the original idea. In a week where stressy phone interviews and a near constant headache has ground me down a bit (headaches always feel like they’ve been around forever don’t they?) I’m after a little ‘comfort sword and sorcery’ and I couldn’t care less whether it’s straight from the source or not.
‘The Hate Witch’ fitted the bill on that front and ended up being just what I was looking for to while away an evening…

Kull’s hold on the throne of Valusia has always been tenuous to say the least with his own nobles conspiring to topple him. Now things are about to get even worse with the arrival of an evil out of the past of Atlantis itself. The Hate Witch is the last of an old race that originally enslaved humanity long ago; now she wants to do it all over again with the unwitting aid of Kull, a man prophesied to bring about a great cataclysm and the fall of mankind.
Kull must hunt the Hate Witch down through the wilds of Atlantis if he is to stop her plans from coming to fruition. Is the chase just another part of her scheming though? Is Kull actually plunging headlong into a trap…?

‘The Hate Witch’ collects issues one to four of the original comic book min-series and is quite a slim volume as a result, weighing in at only a hundred pages. We’re talking about a book where if you turn it sideways on you’ll have trouble seeing it (seriously, try it if you have a copy to hand)! That counts for very little though when you open the book and get reading. I was spellbound to say the least, there is so much going on in ‘The Hate Witch’ that I think any other reader would be too.

There’s the plot with the arrival of the Hate Witch and the spell of terror that she casts over the city. There’s another plot focussing in the rumbling of malcontent nobles and how this affects Kull’s reign. If that wasn’t enough, the reader also gets to go back to Atlantis with Kull and see the past that he had thought to leave behind him. There’s plenty there to get your teeth into with Lapham and Guzman combining well to come up with a tale that kept me more than occupied.

Lapham juggles three plots with equal care and attention; throwing up twists, turns and nasty surprises around dark corners and mountain pathways. Certain cliff hangers may come across as a little contrived but there really isn’t that much room to build up to them to be fair (although you might wonder how much of a fair excuse this is, I did…) You can’t deny the excitement and adrenalin that builds up over the course of the tale though and that’s the main thing. Hunting the Hate Witch through the streets of the city (following a trail of fresh corpses), in particular, makes for some really tense reading; especially as we know better than Kull what awaits him by the fountain.

And this is where Gabriel Guzman comes in with artwork that more than complements such a thrilling tale. Guzman displays a real skill at capturing the mood in a sequence of events, whether it’s the aforementioned hunt in the city or the horror of a friend ensnared in the clutches of the Hate Witch’s scheming. Guzman’s art is never anything less than striking in these instances and you get a real feeling not only for what Guzman wants to convey but Lapham also. Guzman also employs a similar approach to capturing the experience of Kull holding a throne and slowly finding out that he is not suited to it. The shot of the tiger, right at the start, is a memory of Kull’s past but also shows us that the throne is a leash holding Kull back, from his natural urges, as much as it is a prize.
The level of detail, in Guzman’s art, isn’t consistent over the course of the book but when it really hits the spot then you almost find yourself shrugging that off and just enjoying the ride.

‘The Hate Witch’ may not be an original Howard story but Lapham and Guzman have done well to capture the essence of Kull and work it into a tale that wouldn’t look too out of place in the original canon. This is a book that I will be reading over and over again, no doubt about it.

Nine out of Ten

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

The 'Just had a phone interview' Competition Winner's Post!

So you might have to excuse my being a little full of adrenalin and general 'hypedupness' (it's a word, look it up...) The job sounds like a good one so I've got my fingers crossed. If your fingers aren't doing anything right now then I'd appreciate you crossing them for me as well ;o)

Before I get started on me and what books I'm reading right now, I ought to get the 'competition winner' bit of the post done and dusted. Thanks, by the way, to everyone who entered the 'Pax Omega' competiton. Even if you don't win here, I'd recommend you go and pick it up anyway along with 'Gods of Manhattan' and 'El Sombra'. Now there is an omnibus just begging to be published...
But yeah, winners. Our three lucky winners were...

Rich Jary, Peterborough, UK
Nick Holmes, Fife, UK
Mark Barker, Norwich, UK

Nice one chaps! Your books will be headed your way very shortly if not already :o) Better luck next time everyone else.

So, what can you expect to see here over what's left of the week? Definitely a lot of Kull, more than likely some 'The Hammer and the Blade' (looking very good so far) and possibly even some 'Swords and Deviltry'. 'The Wise Man's Fear' really wasn't working for me, I'll go into just why some other time, so I thought 'the hell with what I agreed to read' and picked up 'The White Luck Warrior'. I can't see myself finishing it this week but a review is definitely on the horizon.

Have a great Wednesday!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

'Red Harvest' (Joe Schreiber) - UK Cover Art

I know I said that I'd had it with cover art posts but I couldn't help myself when my copy of 'Red Harvest' came through the post this morning :o) I also wanted to give a little extra shout out to a book that I really enjoyed back at the end of 2010. Look, here's my Review... Anyway, check out the cover art,

If you're going to write a Star Wars zombie novel then this is what the cover should look like. It's like 'Evil Dead' but with lightsabers! Take note American cover, you didn't do a bad job but this is what you should have been aiming for ;o)

The UK edition of 'Red Harvest' is on sale right now and you could do a lot worse than pick it up if you like zombies and/or Star Wars. Seriously.

EDITED TO ADD: Turns out this is the US mass market cover as well, serves me right for assuming that they would just stick with the cover art for the US hardback... :o)

Monday, 9 April 2012

Now this is the kind of thing that I like to hear...

I'm not going to lie, I wouldn't be posting this if I hadn't seen Mihai post about it first. Thanks for being so on the ball Mihai! :o)

I loved Alden Bell's 'The Reapers are the Angels', absolutely loved it, but never thought I'd see another book in the same setting (given how it all ended...) Shows how wrong I can be... September will see Tor UK release 'Exit Kingdom', a prequel to 'The Reapers are the Angels' that focuses on the story of a main character from that book. I'm in and you should be too. Check out the blurb,

In a world where the undead outnumber the living, Moses Todd roams the post-apocalyptic plains of America. His reprobate brother, Abraham - his only companion - has known little else. Together, they journey because they have to; because they have nowhere to go, and no one to answer to other than themselves. Travelling the bloody wastelands of this ruined world, Moses is looking for a kernel of truth, and a reason to keep going. And a chance encounter presents him with the Vestal Amata, a beguiling and mysterious woman who may hold the key to salvation. But he is not the only one seeking the Vestal. For the Vestal has a gift: a gift that might help save what is left of humanity. And it may take everything he has to free her from the clutches of those who most desire her.

Publication is a few months off but that gives everyone who hasn't read 'Reapers' time to get all caught up with the rest of us. The month of September just got even better than it already is... :o)

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Happy Easter!

I hope you have a good one :o)

I don't really have the time to post about what I'm reading right now as there's all sorts of cooking and cleaning to be done before friends arrive this afternoon. I've also just about had it with cover art posts here (feel like I've done too many recently) and wanted to try something different so...

You tell me, what are you reading right now and why should I give it a go if I haven't already? It's easy for me to get enthusiastic about what I've got on the go; now I want to get all enthusiastic about what you're reading (and maybe even check it out myself). Sell it to me people! :o)

Extra points go to anyone who can get me to pick up a paranormal romance, generic urban fantasy or... erm... one of the 'Eragon' books ;o)

Comments in the usual place please...

'SLA Industries' RPG Film Rights Acquired

Not being a role playing type at all (apart from a couple of years at 6th Form, happy days..) I've never heard of 'SLA Industries', have you? Sounds quite cool.
Here's the press release anyway,

Romark Entertainment has acquired the film and television rights to the critically acclaimed Role-Playing Game, "SLA Industries," from publisher Nightfall Games.  As part of the acquisition, Romark and “SLA” creators Dave Allsop and Jared Earle are also announcing a partnership that will see the two sides come together under one banner to focus exclusively on the expansion of the 20-year running series into the comic book, video game and art worlds.
 
Independently released in 1993, SLA Industries is set in a futuristic dystopia where players, wielding advanced weaponry and arcane abilities, take on the roles of Operatives working for an omnipresent and ruthless corporation hellbent on controlling the universe.  In the game, appearance, style and branding are emphasized just as much as combat, politics and subterfuge.  After the overwhelming success of their first year on the market, the franchise was picked up by "Magic: The Gathering" creators, Wizards of the Coast and was intended to be their follow up franchise before the focus at “Wizards” shifted away from role-playing games and into collectible card games.  In 1997 Allsop and Earle reacquired the series from “Wizards” and returned to the independent market, releasing another 10 books over the following decade, and allowing “SLA” to become one of the longest-running, and most resilient role-playing franchises in history.

"We are really pleased to have found a new home for SLA Industries that can push our distinctive style into markets we could only have dreamed of," added Dave Allsop, original creator of the game, from his Scottish home. Jared Earle, Nightfall's managing director, added "with the expansion of ‘SLA’ and our partnering with Romark, we are excited to be able to expand our distribution arm so that will be able to begin re-releasing all of our original books in new printed and digital formats, as we move toward a return to the franchise, and the relaunch of all things ‘SLA’.”

Rock Shaink, founder of Romark Entertainment, said "We’re really excited about the opportunity to be bringing such an original and imaginative world to a whole new generation of fans,” and are eager to begin broadening the franchise into other mediums. “Having been a fan of SLA since its original publication, I’m honored and thrilled to have a chance to bring the series to life as a film” said Benjamin Jackendoff, who will produce the film alongside Shaink.

For more information and links, visit http://sla-industries.com/ where news and other information will be presented as this venture progresses.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

‘The Return of the Mutant Worms’ – Peter F. Hamilton

So it turns out that there were a lot more anthologies hiding on my shelves than I ever realised… I have no idea what I was looking for, when I was browsing the other day, but it certainly wasn’t the copy of ‘Solaris Rising’ that was nestled amongst the hardbacks.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again… I don’t have the time to write the kind of anthology reviews that I’ve written in the past (although that could change with a couple of books that I hope to read very soon) What I do have though is the time to write fairly quick reviews on short stories that I’ve happened to come across when dipping into a collection. Like ‘The Return of the Mutant Worms’ for example.

It was the title that initially caught my eye, don’t tell me that it didn’t catch yours… :o) What really piqued my interest though is that ‘The Return of the Mutant Worms’ is only four and a half pages long. We’ve all seen Peter F. Hamilton’s books on the shelves, I know that his short story ‘The Forever Kitten’ weighs in at just under a thousand words but I still can’t get my head around the fact that Hamilton can write short stuff as well as long. I had to give ‘The Return of the Mutant Worms’ a go and… It was completely different to what I had been expecting.

Yep; that title is a great way of hooking the reader, giving them something very different and hooking them all over again. Hamilton steps back from the realms of sci-fi that we all know and love to give us a story from the other side of the fence (as it were). A tale of a former science fiction writer about to get a nasty surprise from his past on the eve of his new (far more literary adventure).

It’s a clever tale, in some ways, although I suspect not as clever as it wanted to be. I like the premise, which is very tightly drawn, but it’s over far too quickly for the reader to get much more than the vaguest of feelings for the situation or either of the characters involved. I found myself getting to the end of the story and wondering what happened next… but not in a good way. What was meant to be a killer final line just left things feeling rather unfinished.

What I did like though were the moments where Hamilton bought himself to the fore of the story, injecting a note of humour on occasion that was more than welcome. References to ‘The Day’s Twilight’ trilogy were a little obvious but still definitely good for a chuckle. More than that though, these moments really got me thinking about why Hamilton wrote ‘Return of the Mutant Worms’ in the first place (especially when you read the little author bio at the beginning of the story).Is Hamilton merely commenting about the unsavoury practices of the small press or is this about something hitting a little closer to home? It has to be the former… doesn’t it? Of course it does but it does make for some interesting idle speculation.

‘The Return of the Mutant Worms’ surprised me with its direction but didn’t quite do the job it set out to do, not as far as I was concerned anyway. Definitely an entertaining read though, even if it wasn’t for the right reasons… or were they? ;o)

Eight out of Ten

Friday, 6 April 2012

‘Void Stalker’ – Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

Finally, here is the review that should have gone up on either Tuesday or Thursday this week. This past week has thrown a bucket full of stuff at my attempts to post some thoughts about ‘Void Stalker’. I didn’t even get the job that I interviewed for yesterday. Oh well… Anyway, back to the matter at hand.
I’ve been waiting for ‘Void Stalker’ to hit the shelves since, oh… the 8th of April last year. That was the date my review for ‘Blood Reaver’ was posted and, once I’d got my head around just how good that novel was, all that was left for me to do was wait for things to be concluded in ‘Void Stalker’. My copy finally arrived a couple of weeks ago and pretty much immediately elbowed its way to the very front of the reading queue (which explains why my review of ‘Caine’s Law’ was a little late in appearing, seems to be the story of my life as far as the blog is concerned). That’s the way it goes, some books demand you read them straight away :o)

One of the things that I hate about reviewing any kind of series is the danger of repeating myself the further a series goes on. I mean, how many times would you want to hear me say that the writer in question is brilliant at exactly the same things he was brilliant at in the last book? Doesn’t exactly make for interesting reading…
Sometimes though, a writer is on top of his game and you’ve got to acknowledge that by saying that he has all the bases covered and came up with something superb as a result. That’s what Aaron Dembski-Bowden has done, yet again, with ‘Void Stalker’…

The final days, of a war played out over the course of thousands of years, are coming for the Night Lord Traitor Marine Talos and his comrades. Longstanding divisions in Talos’ war band could become something far worse but that is such a common occurrence as to be beneath any Night Lord’s notice. What is a far more pressing concern is the relentless pursuit of the Night Lords by the Eldar of Craftworld Ulthwe, alien beings desperate to stop mere prophecy becoming stark reality.
Talos and his comrades eager to take the fight to their enemies though and that means all of them. By the time an Eldar God made flesh faces Talos for the last time entire worlds will have been left burning in his wake…

Before we get going here, I ought to say that I’ve been a huge fan of Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s work since I first got my hands on a copy of ‘Cadian Blood’ a few years ago. You might want to bear that in mind as you read the rest of the review. Having said that though, ‘Void Stalker’ more than deserves all the good stuff that I am about to say about it. We’re talking about a book that I couldn’t stand to be apart from for too long; even though Dembski-Bowden drops a pretty big hint about the ending (right at the beginning) I still had to see how it turned out.

Dembski-Bowden’s big strength as a writer is to consistently give his readers characters that you can get behind without even realising that it’s happening. Even here, even with characters who have spent ten thousand years indulging their basest emotions at the expense of a dying Imperium. ‘Void Stalker’ is full of accounts of vicious deeds that will make your blood run cold but you read them and think, ‘nasty stuff but I can understand why they’re doing it.’

And you do. Dembski-Bowden leaves us in no doubt that, despite their actions, the Night Lords have been betrayed by the Imperium and left directionless by a Primarch who saw nothing but futility. If that wasn’t enough, the Night Lords cannot even trust their own kin with each and every one of them either seeking more power or slowly falling to the whims of the Ruinous Powers. Can you blame them for falling back on the one thing they were good at, lurking in the shadows and striking whenever the opportunity for terror arises. Like I said, you may not like what they do but you can get just why they do it.

‘Void Stalker’ is crammed full of moments like these with Talos’ Night Lords seeking to punish innocent settlers, of the Night Lords’ homeworld, and then using that world as a base to carry out an act of terror against the Imperium that is vast in scope. These moments are extremely well executed to say the least, both in terms of what happens on the page and how the reader is invited to observe what follows. We know something is coming and it’s not going to be pretty. The thing is though, we only know a little more than the people that the Night Lords are about to fall on and attack do. It’s always a really nasty surprise when things finally kick off and it gets nastier as Dembski-Bowden shows us just what a Traitor Legion is capable of when it takes the field. I’m talking about events on the world of Tsagualsa and Xarl’s fight with the Champion of the Genesis Chapter (I don’t know about Xarl but I felt bruised after reading that fight…).

All the while this is happening though, we get to see it through the eyes of a man who is essentially human and trying to deal with a veneer of super humanity. It’s a constant struggle for Talos to use his gene enhanced abilities without them killing him and even when everything works he is essentially lost without a father figure to guide. A great choice to lead a war band brimming over with mistrust and rivalry. You would be forgiven for thinking that the rest of the Night Lords didn’t realise there was a wider war going on as they’re all trying to get one over on each other first. As a result, ‘Void Stalker’ is a novel of contrasts vying with stagnation of the humanity of the far future; the humanity at the heart of darkness and more or less eternal war.

And all of that is before the Eldar arrive.

Dembski-Bowden ties everything else up by those last chapters (although he leaves one massive surprise right until the very end, that one floored me) and what we’re left with is one final chance for the Night Lords to spit in their enemy’s eye before the inevitable end. Being told how things turn out, right at the beginning of the book, may take away some of the surprise but this is more than balanced out by the heroism shown in the face of what is to come. The one thing that Traitor Marines and Loyalists have in common is that they all die well. It’s awe-inspiring stuff and a tremendous way to sign off the trilogy.

‘Void Stalker’ is another example of not only essential Warhammer 40K fiction but also essential reading for those who like their sci-fi dark and horrific in general. If you fall into either of these camps then you really do need to pick this one up.

Ten out of Ten

Thursday, 5 April 2012

An Unexpected Cover Art Post

Because I really try not to do this kind of post too often, I really do... The thing is though, I've got a toddler that won't go to sleep (yep, I'm writing this on Wednesday night...) and a job interview tomorrow that I need to prepare for. There will be no review written tonight! (In case you were wondering, I was going to talk about Aaron Dembski-Bowden's 'Voidstalker'. Go and read Civilian Reader's review in the meantime).

It's a good job then that a package from Angry Robot arrived earlier; three books with some lovely cover art to show off here. Well, two out of the three books have lovely cover art but it's the third one that will be picked up first. What do you know... Sometimes it takes more than a well drawn cover to get me to pick a book up ;o)

Check em' out...

Isn't that cover lovely? The kind of detail that I could spend hours poring over (maybe not hours but you know what I mean) but, unfortunately, it's on the third book in a series and I haven't read the first two. Never say 'never', I might pick this one up at some point but I've just done that kind of thing with 'Caine's Law' and I'm not up for jumping into the end stages of a series just yet. Here's some blurb... Actually, no there isn't! Far too many spoilers there ;o)

Brilliant, just brilliant. It's like 'The Matrix' and that 'Terminator' TV show got together and had some weird cyber-organic baby just for the cover of 'vN'. That isn't what has shoved this book into a nice position on the reading pile though. No, check out the blurb excerpt...

Amy Peterson is a self-replicating humanoid robot.

For the past five years, she has been grown slowly as part of a mixed organic/synthetic family. She knows very little about her android mother’s past, so when her grandmother arrives and attacks her mother, little Amy wastes no time: she eats her alive.


I was sold just on those four words. That is some gutsy blurb and I want to read on and see if the rest of the book lives up to it. 'vN' will be published in August but I'll be reviewing it a lot sooner than that :o)

And here's the cover for the book that has forced its way to the front of the queue...

Totally generic fantasy guys who haven't really been drawn that well. Well that's a great start... It's the name on the cover that saves the day though. I really enjoyed Kemp's 'Erevis Cale' books and no poorly drawn cover is going to stop me cracking this one open. Expect a review as soon as... well, maybe not next week but certainly the week after :o)

Not the best cover of the three by any means but at least I don't feel like a Jackdaw going after all the shiny stuff! Having said that though, had anyone here read Mike Shevdon's books? Are they any good?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

‘Caine’s Law’ – Matthew Stover (Del Rey)

The plan for this blog has always been to read series in order. I mean, why bother otherwise? There’s a reason why series are written in a particular order after all… ;o) Sometimes though, things don’t quite work out that way…
Every now and then I get the urge to jump on board in the middle of a series, just to see how well a particular book stands on its own. This approach actually works more often than you would think although there are exceptions (of course there are going to be exceptions if you start reading a series at book three…) On other occasions you come across a series like the ‘Caine’ books…

I’d heard a lot of good things about the ‘Caine’ books so when a copy of ‘Caine Black Knife’ landed on my doorstep (reviewed Here) there was no doubt that I’d be reading it; I just wasn’t sure that starting on the third book of a series really made sense here. It turns out that I eventually had no choice in the matter with ‘Heroes Die’ proving difficult to get hold of and ‘Blades of Tyshalle’ selling (second hand) for far more money than my poor wallet could ever hope to hold. To cut a long, and really not that interesting, story short I managed to track down copies of both books in the end but didn’t manage to read either of them by the time my copy of ‘Caine’s Law’ arrived. But that was ok though, wasn’t it? I’d read ‘Caine Black Knife’ so surely it wouldn’t be too hard to read ‘Caine’s Law’ and follow on from there. Wouldn’t it? Well, that’s what I thought at the time. Shows how wrong I was…

Caine has made violence an art form in his life as an Actor in the alternate reality of Overworld but is paying the price for this back on Earth (having made enemies of a number of very powerful people). He has one final chance to make but will it be enough for him though? This is Caine we’re talking about here and even a Caine that is crippled and locked away in the most secure facility on Earth is a man who it’s not wise to take your eyes off, not even for a second.
Caine has plans of his own and these plans will not only take him back to Overworld but also to it’s past and an increasingly uncertain future. Caine has personal demons to exorcise and true love to find but what state will the universe be in by the time he has finished with it? Not even Caine knows but sometimes you just have to press on and get the job done.

I’m going to get to the bottom line straight away and say that, despite just how good ‘Caine’s Law’ is (and it is), it’s really one for hardcore, long established fans of the series. I’m talking about the people who have already read the first three books and are all geared up for this one. I’ve only read ‘Caine Black Knife’ and I had real trouble keeping up with a book that appears to reference events from ‘Heroes Die’ and ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (as well as ‘Caine Black Knife’). If my experience was anything to go by you really need to have read all the books before picking up this one (not having a go here, just laying things out as they are). Long time fans won’t have a problem here but newcomers might have a little trouble tracking down certain books in the series in their preferred format (I really need to let this one go, sorry…)

For the relatively uninitiated then (like me), ‘Caine’s Law’ can be a confusing novel that jumps backwards and forwards, along more than one timeline I think, telling more than one story. A little patience here is rewarded as things do become a lot clearer as the book nears its end. The final chapters, in particular, are nothing short of awesome as Stover lets you see the whole picture for the first time. What a picture it is, especially when you realise just how many people Caine has managed to fool over the course of an entire book. Caine’s reputation is built on violence but here, Stover displays a razor sharp intelligence and a fierce drive to get the job done no matter what the cost. There is a lot at stake here for Caine and he is up against it right from the start.

It’s this treatment of Caine, a man already crippled by past encounters, that ultimately kept me reading ‘Caine’s Law’ instead of doing the sensible thing and starting off with ‘Heroes Die’. Stover puts Caine through absolute hell (almost literally) and the guy still keeps standing. You can’t help but admire a man like that, even though he is a real bastard. Caine is beginning to regret how some of his actions have harmed complete innocents (even though some of these events took place in realities that have subsequently ‘unhappened’) and his worst enemy, in situations like this, is very much himself. There’s a real search for redemption here that is even more compelling than some of the conflicts that Caine ends up in.

Talking of which, what’s interesting here is that Stover really lets Caine’s repuation for uber-violence do all of the leg work over the course of the book. Certain confrontations are glossed over entirely but this works incredibly well as Caine’s reputation backs up the outcome. You don’t need to know exactly how the fight went as Caine was always going to win. This makes the fights that are described even more awesome as not only do you know that Caine is really up against it this time but he will still win through.

Stover balances these moments out with a romantic side plot that helps Caine come to terms with his past and sets him up to be able to deal with what is to come. Caine is damaged and needs to heal but doesn’t have the time until he meets the Horse Witch. Every grim anti-hero could do with meeting the Horse Witch if Caine is anything to go by. It makes for some really touching moments watching Caine learn to love again; we all know he can but he isn’t so sure (knowing who he really is deep down). When you feed these moments into an ongoing narrative full of explosive moments and monumental confrontations… It’s worth sticking around even if you’re not entirely sure what’s going on.

‘Caine’s Law’ is a book then where you really need to have spent time with the series beforehand if you’re going to get the most out of it. Having said that though, ‘Caine’s Law’ is also a book that will get you on board with its raw energy and characterisation that is second to none. Not a bad book then to pick up for the first time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a copy of ‘Heroes Die’ that I really need to read…

Nine out of Ten