Thursday, 30 June 2011

'Dark War' - Tim Waggoner

Dark War is the third Matt Richter novel by Tim Waggoner. Having read, and enjoyed the previous two made it an easy decision to read this one. Angry Robot kindly enough provided me with a review copy of Dark War.

400 years ago the world was a hard place. It was a time when the monsters and creatures of legend still walked among us. Us humans knew about them. And we fought them. And we were winning. To save themselves from annihilation, the most powerful of the Darkfolk, old gods, demons and ancient vampires used their magic to escape along with their brethren to another dimension. Thus, Nekropolis was born. Nekropolis is divided into five Dominions, each ruled by a different Darklord. The Nightspire stands in the centre. It's the home of Father Dis, the ultimate ruler of Nekropolis.

Matt Richter was a homicide detective back Cleveland, Earth. A case brought him and his partner, through to Nekropolis. They were both killed saving the day, but Matt Richter came back from the dead. He is now Nekropolis only self-willed zombie. All other zombies are stinky, shuffling automatons that can only obey the whims of their master. Matt is just stinky.

Being a zombie made it difficult for Matt to move back to Earth. He constantly needs magic to preserve and repair his decaying body. That kind of magic is only available in Nekropolis so that is where Matt is staying. Being an ex-copper Matt has built up a reputation as a problem solver. The kind of problem that requires more brain power than brawn. He's also knocked up a half-vampire girl, Devona. She happens to be the daughter of Lord Galm, one of the rulers of Nekropolis.

We are dropped into the middle of one of Matt's cases. His mate Darius needs his help. A Nekropolis in an alternative reality is in danger and only Matt can help. Together with Devona's security team, she runs a private security business, they travel to the new dimension. Thanks to a versatile team, some fancy gadgets, some cheeky one-liners they save the day. They don't escape without a few scratches though, and Devona collapses from pain. Fearing for their children she is rushed to the Fever House, vampire hospital, for examination. Everything appears to be fine. However, Lord Galm makes a surprise visit where he is suspiciously concerned for Devona and her children.

Matt needs to take care of his battered body. Papa Chatha, a voodoo priest, is the man he turns to for repairs. Only problem is that he is not him answering his door. A girl in her early teens opens the door and introduces herself as Shamika, Papa Chatha's niece. He has gone missing and she is worried about him. Matt has never known Papa Chatha to go missing for such a long time and is concerned. There is a rumour that several skilled low-profile magic users have gone missing. The leader of the magic users blames it all on the demon queen. Nekropolis is on the brink of a civil war.

You save the damn city a couple times, and suddenly everyone expects miracles from you. - Matt Richter

Dark War, along with the other Matt Richter novels, is a great read. It's pretty much like a bungee jump. Exciting from start to finish and almost over as quickly. I love the world building by Tim Waggoner. Nekropolis is such a great place filled to the brim with awesomeness. It's all a bit tongue in cheek as well. Tim Waggoner has given everything and everyone terrific names. Biggest hospital is Fever House. Daily Atrocity is of course a newspaper. The inhabitants have equally fun names, Suicide King, Patchwork and Sally O'Sorrows. Just like Terry Pratchett, Tim Waggoner has invented his own alternatives to every day gadgets. Having the original Franekstein's monster working as the industrial designer, most gadgets are flesh made and alive. The gadgets are often grotesque and a little kinky.

I pulled out my hand vox, flipped open the lid, and pressed Papa's number. I hated using the damned thing - the tiny ear you speak into is weird enough, but the small mouth you press your own ear against is just plain gross, especially when it gets a little sloppy with its tongue. - Matt Richter

Each book is trying to out do the last one with new weird places and gruesome characters. There is also a lot of familiar faces from the old books. Lazlo, the grotesque demon cabbie, is a great example of one. He shows up every time Matt needs a ride. They swap jokes, the cab eats someone that's annoying and Matt runs off to save the day.
Matt Richter himself is very likeable. He is a cliche cop, loner, consumed by his work and just does not know when to shut up. His single greatest power is being able to insult beings of great power without being annihilated on the spot. Always gets the last word in a conversation.
The other supporting characters are also great. They have very different personalities and range of powers, which guarantees that every new problem they encounter will have a new solution. Always fun.

I'm very enthusiastic about Dark War and I can easily overlook the weaker sides of the book. Matt Richter solely relies on friends and favours. Without them and a lot luck he would be long gone. It's not very convincing that someone that is so weak compared to the monsters roaming the streets of Nekropolis would last more than five minutes. The jokes and dialogue can on occasion be a little cheesy.

Just accept Dark War for what it is, and what's it not, and you will enjoy it. Non stop action, cheeky one liners and zombiliciousness, all in a great setting.

Dark War weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot.

Recommendation: read

Monday, 27 June 2011

'The Office of Lost and Found' - Vincent Holland-Keen

I was people browsing on twitter one evening when I stumbled upon Vincent Holland-Keen’s profile. A quick look at his profile revealed he had just written a book soon to be published by Anarchy Books. The blurb seemed really interesting and compared itself to Douglas Adam's Dirk Gently. The detective in The Office of Lost and Found whose name is Thomas Locke. This guy can find anything. He even found the butterfly that started that hurricane we all heard about. Apart from fun, it promised a dark and twisted reality where pretty much anything can happen. Armed with my biggest puppy eyes I asked Anarchy Books for a review copy.

“Did you really find the butterfly that started that hurricane?” asked Veronica. “I found a butterfly,” replied Locke, “turned out it had an alibi”.

A man wakes up in a room with nothing but a cat figurine next to him. He does not know who he is. A piece of paper flutters in front of him which reads 'Your name is Thomas Locke. You work for me now.'

That's how the Office of Lost and Found starts. Thomas Locke waking up in a room. At first he thinks he’s alone, but soon discovers his new partner Lafarge is there as well. Lafarge is a mysterious shadow wearing a trenchcoat and a hat. The notes are his way of communicating. They seem to have a life of their own and find Thomas Locke wherever he is. Sometimes they land straight into his hand, or the hand of whoever is their intended recipient. While Thomas Locke has the ability to find anything, Lafarge specializes in losing things.

This book has a different structure than the books I have reviewed previously. It reads more like a collection of novellas than a normal novel. Don't worry though, it all comes together in the end. Every chapter deals with a new case for Thomas Locke. The first chapter introduces us to Veronica Drysdale, a femme fatale who has lost her husband and needs Locke to find him, but only to make sure she managed to kill him. Veronica's husband controlled her utterly. She lacked free will and their marriage was a mockery. Once in control of her own mind, Veronica acted violently and shot her husband. The police are now after her and Thomas Locke is the only one willing to help. It turns out her husband has been selling body snatching insurances. When people die, their bodies are taken over by other spirits. Another chapter deals with a woman has hired Thomas Locke to find her missing husband, Leonard. The poor man has been reincarnated as a toaster, but his place has been taken by a malevolent soul. Together Locke and Veronica embark on a roller coaster ride to set things right.

That's just the beginning of the book. Locke and Veronica have a number of strange cases to solve ahead of them. The cases actually escalate in weirdness and mayhem further into the story. They start out normal enough with helping a young woman to find a man that loves her or Billy, a small boy who has problems with nightmares and monsters under his bed. He comes to The Office of Lost and Found for Locke’s help. The outcome is often unexpected and sometimes not quite what the clients wanted. The same could be said for the plot as well. Unlike other books, there is no grand plan given to us at the start. There is no catch the killer, find the tome, rescue the girl. No, none of that. We’re just asked to follow where the book leads us. There is no map. Vincent Holland-Keen carefully adds another layer to the plot with each chapter. New events are connected to past events, subtly building upon each other.

Most of the time the story is told from the perspective of Veronica. Pretty much every character in the book gets to tell part of the story from their point of view. After reading the blurb I certainly expected Locke to be the one telling the story. My only gripe with The Office of Lost and Found was that sometimes it was a bit difficult to follow what was going on. A lot of events are implied rather than acted out. When the event is of importance I was caught off guard and found myself going back a couple of pages to try and find out when it happened. It does not help that the storyline dabbles with alternative realities and events are not always in chronological order. On a couple of occasions it was like trying to follow a tube map drawn by M.C. Escher.

Holland-Keen has created some really good characters. Thomas Locke is excellent as the bumbling detective. A very likeable guy and I wish we had seen more of him. He does know what he is doing even though it certainly does not seem like that at times. When the storm hits, Thomas Locke is a rock. Veronica is a feisty cynical women with a grudge. She often delivers the one liners or a knee to the balls. Whatever works best for the occasion. You never know what she will do next. She can go from a purring kitty to stone cold killer in a second. Lafarge is also great. Mysterious, powerful and neither Locke nor Victoria know if he can be trusted.

I really enjoyed reading The Office of Lost and Found. It's fun, scary, surprising and bizarre. The book kept surprising me and just when I thought things could not get more weird they did. Vincent Holland-Keen writes like a cocktail of Douglas Adams and A Lee Martinez with a twist of James Herbert. A very solid first novel from Vincent Holland-Keen and I'll have to keep my eyes open for more books from him.

The Office of Lost and Found weighs in at 520 pages and is published by Anarchy Books. July 2011 is the month to look forward to.

Recommedation: read

Thursday, 23 June 2011

'Tome of the Undergates' - Sam Sykes

When Tome of the Undergates was first released I decided to give it a miss. Then not long ago I stumbled across a review of it which led me to look it up on Amazon UK. Tome of the Undergates garnered quite a few mixed reviews. I was intrigued that people either seem to love it or hate it. There was lot of talk about a battle at the start of the book which lasted for 200 pages, give or take. I decided I needed to form my own opinion. Buy button clicked!

Tome of the Undergates tells the story of Lenk and his motley crew of adventurers. Lenk is a human warrior. Katriana a shict, think elf archer. Denaos is a human rogue. Dreadaeleon a young human wizard. Gariath is a dragonman, capable of ripping the limbs of a person. Asper, a human healer and priestess of Talanas. It sort of reminds of me of my RPG days and how we bickered about who had to play the boring cleric, Cure-Light-Wounds-dispenser.

Here are the players:

Lenk - The leader of the group. A rather short man who fights with a sword and is stronger than he looks. Silver coloured hair. Sykes does not give up much of Lenk’s past, but his village was destroyed along with his family. He keeps the secret that often during melees he hears a voice telling him what to do.

Kataria - The archer and hunter of the group. No one can match her for speed or marksmanship. Very brave and usually the first to follow Lenk into battle. Shicts hate humans and the two races have fought many wars against each other. She has long flexible ears and excellent hearing. Her prominent canines give her a savage look, but her athletic body and bare midriff still earns her many a look from her male companions. She is fighting herself and her heritage. She knows hanging out with humans is just wrong since she should be killing them. Even worse, she does not know what to do about Lenk, shag him or kill him. Possibly both.

Gariath - A 400-pound bipedal reptile with a terrible dislike for everyone and everything. Fights without a weapons, but his incredible strength makes him very dangerous. He prefers to start off with charging on all four like a bull and tear into a enemy with his horns. Searching for a glorious death to escape the pain he carries with him. (Our DM never let us play as something as powerful as Gariath.)

Dreadaeleon - A young student of magic with the classic powers of burning shit up or freezing it. He is desperate for acknowledgement and feels unappreciated. He has a crush on Asper and follows her around like a puppy hoping she will notice him and that he will perform some heroic feat to gain her affection.

Deanos - Described as a very tall dark man. The knife is his weapon of choice and he never charges into battle. He prefers to hide while the others take care of business. If he has to fight it will be on his terms. A knife in the back or a slit throat is his favoured approach.

Asper - The lawful good priestess with a heart of gold who’s not in it for money or fame. She is starting to feel there must be more to life than just cleaning up other people's mess. Healing people so they can go out and kill or be killed is not good enough. She also carries a terrible curse.

We are not given much explanation as to why they are all together or even how they met, but this does not seem important. What is important is that they have been given a mission to escort Miron Evenhands, Lord Emissary of the Church of Talanas. As the story open, they are on a ship, the Riptide, which is about to be attacked by pirates. Lenk and his group are the only trained fighters aboard as the sailors are mostly armed with staffs and whatever sharp or blunt implement have on hand.

Thanks to Kataria’s archery, the first probing attack of the pirates is rebutted and the comrades can rest. It struck me as funny that the pirates might be tattooed and armed to the teeth murderers but they are certainly well spoken.

'Astounding congratulations should be proffered for so ruby a sport, good sir!'

The Riptide cannot escape, however, as the pirates have anchored an enormous grappling hook into the deck of The Riptide. When the pirates attack again Gariath finally joins the fray. Only he has the strength required to dislodge the grappling hook. Dreadaelon uses his magic to give Gariath enough time to free them from the massive chain so The Riptide can make its escape.

They won’t get away that easily, though. Pale shapes are spotted beneath the waves and they are fast closing in on the Riptide. Whatever they are, they disable the ship allowing the pirates to catch up. The pale creatures climb aboard launching themselves at the crew with long knives. They are Humanoid but with frog-like heads, a mouth full of sharp teeth and black pin-prick eyes.

I did not like Tome of the Undergates as much as I wanted to. There are two main problems. First, lack of pacing, both during combat and when trying to move the plot forward. I prefer my fight scenes to be quick and fluid. I do not need to know much about a character's inner thoughts or having the flight path of a droplet of blood described to me. I lost all sense of urgency during these times. This is not the time to think of why you were bullied as a child. There is a flipping sword being thrust at your head!

When it came to moving the plot forward it all got a bit sluggish again. There were several rather long interludes where each character would have a moment to his-or-herself to think deep thoughts about their past and future. It felt like in Big Brother when a contestant would walk into a room with a camera and talk nonsense. I think Sam Sykes’ intention here was to try and explain why and how the characters are troubled by events in their past but I thought it all got into the way of the actual story. Surely it could have been explained a little quicker and in fewer pages.

Second, the interaction between the characters really bothered me. They argued constantly. It's not the kind of banter and jibes between comrades that Steven Erikson and Glen Cook so successfully use in their books. This is more menacing, often followed by threats and even fighting. There seemed to be no reason for them to react the way they did. It went too far and you cannot help but think it was unrealistic.

Let’s not forget about the infamous 200-page battle that was criticised so much in reviews. It’s not actually 200 pages of fighting at all. What it turns out to be is a series of skirmishes with the pirates that have captured their ship. There is enough interaction between characters interspersed with the melees that I did not have a problem with the length of the scenes at all.

Luckily, there are many redeeming qualities to be found. Sykes has put all the right ingredients in the pot, he just got the measurements wrong. I read an interview with him where he said he started writing this book when he was 17. He was around 25 when it was published and maybe that’s part of the problem. Too much polishing by adding things trying to achieve a fantasy book of epic length. The banter might feel too brutal and sharp, but there are times when he gets it right and it's funny and edgy.

'Hold that thought. This sounds like the kind of conversation I'll need pants for.'

Another good thing with Tome of the Undergates is the characters themselves. They are actually quite interesting and likable. I have a thing for characters with a tortured past and dark secrets. (Must be all those crime novels I've read.) It's not all just angry arguments and fights. Sam Sykes explores every character’s past and how they struggle to come to terms with whatever haunts them. At times this was actually very touching. I was somewhat surprised at the end of the book by how much I liked them. My curiosity was not yet satisfied and I want to pick up the second book, Black Halo, to find out more about them.

The story works as well. It's a pretty standard RPG quest. Item is lost and our heroes need to find said item. It brings me back to the Dungeons & Dragons books I used to read in my teens. It is worth noting is that Sam Sykes really does not see his characters as heroes. The characters themselves agree. It's more Joe Abercombie in that there is nothing glorious about what they do. They are not here for the greater good, they want money and power. There is nothing glorious about battle. It's just scary as hell and you are lucky if you are still standing afterwards.

In the end, the good things about Tome of the Undergates outweigh the bad. Sam Sykes shows potential with his first novel. Not a must read as it does suffer from being over the top, but good enough for me to keep my eyes open for more books from Sykes.

Tome of the Undergates weighs in at 704 pages and is published by Gollancz.

Verdict: read

Monday, 20 June 2011

'Leviathan Wakes' - James S.A. Corey

Several other reviews have heaped praise on Leviathan Wakes, the first book in the Expanse series by James S. A. Corey, pseudonym of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck. The promising blurb made me want to find out if this book might be of similar calibre to Alistair Reynolds.

In Leviathan Wakes, humanity has spread across the solar system. When Jim Holden, journeying in his ice miner, stumbles across a deserted ship in the middle of nowhere, Jim and his crew uncover a secret that threatens to bring destruction by pitting opposing human factions against one another. The mining vessel is attacked by stealth ships, and Holden has to uncover the motive for the aggression to stop a war that could mean the death of billions.

Human civilisation has not yet sprawled beyond the edge of the solar system. Three factions have emerged, competing for financial and martial power: those residing on Mars, the first planet to be colonised, have a smaller fleet but hold the technological advantage over those on Earth. The Belters occupy regions of plentiful resources so have great potential wealth, and due to growing up in low gravity environments, are physically very tall.

Jim Holden, executive officer on board the ice hauler Canterbury, has served five years in Earth’s navy. When the Canterbury encounters an emergency signal from the Callisto it is required by law to stop and render assistance in any way it can. Holden, of course, is assigned to lead the small shuttle team that investigates, and is warned by his captains to retreat at the first sign of danger.

Holden and his crew immediately realise that all is not normal aboard the Callisto: a gaping hole in the side of the ship is evidence that someone used breaching charges to infiltrate the hull. They begin to explore but are soon contacted by the Canterbury and warned by the captain that they’ve spotted something weird. Unless Holden and his team want to miss their ride home, they must return to the Canterbury immediately. The investigation is aborted and Holden grabs the Callisto’s emergency transponder, found lying on the deck.

As the team races back, the captain contacts them again. A ship nearby, suspected to be a pirate vessel, has uncloaked and is firing missiles to disable the Canterbury. Holden can do nothing but watch helplessly as the Canterbury is not just incapacitated, but entirely obliterated.

Leviathan Wakes is written from the point of view of two characters. Alongside Holden’s viewpoint, the reader follows Detective Miller, a Belter born and raised on Ceres station. Miller, struggling with drink and personal problems, has been assigned a non-Belter partner. Havelock is a good cop, but he does not fit in, struggling to understand the hand gestures or dialect spoken by the less-educated Belters. The grim monotony of working on Ceres with Havelock is broken when their boss assigns them a job outside their usual duties and professional expertise: to find the daughter of a rich family, kidnapped after she went rogue, fleeing and leaving her family and money behind.

When Miller and Havelock are drinking in a cop bar, phones begin going off all around them. The chief is making an announcement, and it’s dire news: Jim Holden has just broadcast to anyone listening that his ship was destroyed and most of his crew killed. Moreover, the personnel of another ship are missing, and on board that ship a transmitter of Mars manufacture was found. This event could not be closer to a declaration of war from Mars without an outright invasion of the Belters. Old tensions spring to life, and everyone is suspicious of everyone else. Miller is forced to work crowd control instead of hunting for the missing girl, but there’s something about her that makes him continue to look for her, ignoring the order to let it go.

For Holden and his crew, things go from bad to worse. Abandoned by their company, they find themselves being handed over to Mars. A flagship from the Mars navy is on its way, but they soon discover that other, unknown ships, are also on an intercept course. Who thinks they can challenge the might of a flagship? And why would Mars have attacked the Callisto and the Canterbury?

Detective Miller is my favourite character. Corey has done a very good job in portraying the tortured detective. Miller becomes obsessed with the missing girl and she is the catalyst that brings about a few realisations about himself, and I really felt for him when it dawned on him what he had become. He is a fighter, though, and the reader never doubts that he would do the right thing.

I was less impressed with the creation of Jim Holden and I hope that his character develops in the second book. He is described as a righteous person and his crew adore him, but the reader is never really shown why. In my mind this evokes David Weber’s Honour Harrington: the reader is repeatedly told how amazing she is, but in the book her actions pale in comparison to the portrayal of her. Jim Holden is not quite that bad, but he does seem naïve and far less interesting than Detective Miller.

The supporting characters are strong. Especially so Holden’s surviving crew members, who are all compelling and fun. Of these, my favourite is Amos, an engineer from Earth. He’s a big brute of a man with army experience, and he is a lot more subtle than you might expect from a character who first appears to be a simple bruiser.

I detest waiting for the next book in a series, but alas, what choice do us readers have? I enjoyed Leviathan Wakes. It is a somewhat low-tech space opera that takes place within the confines of one solar system, with faster-than-light-travel not yet invented. This is not a problem, but readers seeking a world similar to those created by Alistair Reynolds may not find what they seek. There’s no mind-boggling technology or genetically altered humans here. Fortunately, the action and plot are of comparable quality to Reynolds. Leviathan Wakes was a real page-turner and I just had to find out what the hell was going on. There are enough plot twists to maintain interest, but not too many that they cause confusion.

Leviathan Wakes is a strong novel from James S. A. Corey, and fans of space opera science fiction will surely like it.

Leviathan Wakes weighs in at 576 pages and is published by Orbit.

Verdict: read

edited by Joe Dawson at

Thursday, 16 June 2011

'The Shadow of the Soul' - Sarah Pinborough

The Shadow of the Soul is the second installment in The Dog-Faced Gods series by Sarah Pinborough. I loved the first book, A Matter of Blood and bought the second one shortly after I had finished reading it. The plan was to not dive into it immediately because I thought it would be boring to have two reviews of the same series one after the other but I couldn’t wait. I needed to know what The Network was up to, who they were, and why they were following Cass Jones and his family.

Roughly six months have passed since the last time we met Cass Jones in A Matter of Blood. No one is exactly calling him a hero for uncovering the rot within the Met. Paddington Green is a quieter station after the clean up operation. The trials for the officers who were caught are about to start and the brass expects Cass to stay out of trouble. The entire force has been ordered to stop taking 'harmless' bribes and this does not make Cass any friends. He is now being assigned cases of little importance and lots of paperwork. He has also has a new partner, Toby Armstrong. He has not had any more contact with the mysterious Castor Bright and his Network of conspirators. They are still out there watching him, however. Of that he is certain.

Josh Eagleton, the assistant ME, has at last recovered and is back at work albeit with a limp. Cass is still in touch with Charles Ramsey, the American DI, and they meet up for a pint once in a while. Thanks to his brother's life insurance he now has more money than he ever expected. Small comfort for the loss of his family.

Terrorists have attacked London. Bombs detonate across the capital, crippling the already overloaded transport network. No one claims responsibility for the attacks, but CCTV reveals a portly man at every site. Problem is that they all seem identical. How can one man be in several places at the same time.

Cass is called to a crime scene of a young woman who has slit her wrists. Josh Eagleton is already there and says it looks like suicide, but informs Cass of something odd. Moments before she killed herself, her boyfriend said she repeated the phrase 'Chaos in the darkness'. This is not the first time Josh has come across this. Two weeks ago another young student also slit her wrists and as she lay dying wrote the exact same words in blood on the wall.

In the midst of all this, another matter, more personal and pressing, is brought to light. A lawyer comes to the station saying he has something from Christian, Cass’s brother. That “something” is a note which reads, "They took Luke". Now, in addition to looking for a possible killer, Cass is also on the hunt to find out if his nephew is still alive.

I'm such a fan boy. After a few pages I was hooked yet again. The Shadow of the Soul is even better than A Matter of Blood. My bus got stuck in traffic for 20 minutes and I didn’t even notice until I arrived late for work. I find Sarah Pinborough's writing almost poetic at times. Even a scene of carnage can be oddly beautiful and tranquil.

Cass Jones is such a brilliant character. This guy used to take bribes yet Pinborough manges her shades of gray so well you understand Cass’s motives. He is not a bad man, he simply chose the lesser of two evils. It's also quite interesting how he is so gruff with his new partner, giving him a hard time and not telling him much. But at the same time, he keeps an eye on Toby and acknowledges, mostly to himself, he is actually quite good at his job.

The plot moves along smoothly and at just the right pace to keep you from putting the book down. My only criticism is that a few plot mechanisms from the first book appeared again. For a moment there was a certain feeling of "been there, done that". The enigmatic Castor Bright is featured often and we gain more insight into The Network and their origins. I assure you, though, there are a lot of questions still to be answered in the third book. The Shadow of the Soul was a fantastic read and I want the next one now!

The Shadow of the Soul weighs in at 400 pages and is published by Gollancz.

Read my review of A Matter of Blood.

Verdict: must read

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Publisher Special: Angry Robot

Looking back at my read pile I noticed that there were a lot of books coming from Angry Robot. I have been following them since the start and remember bombarding them with emails asking when they would make their catalog available as ebooks. This was probably just a couple of days after buying my iPad and I was very keen on giving up paper books completely. Lee Harris replied telling me that they were actually in the middle of doing this, but it would be a couple of more months before they were finished. I imagined an army of angry little robot furiously typing away on their little computers.

Unfortunately, I read most of the Angry Robot books before I started this blog. It's been too long since I read them to actually write full reviews of them, but I do want to mention my five favorite Angry Robot books so far.

While Angry Robot might have the most famous authors, the ones that I've read books from so far are all very solid. The five books in my list are all books that kept me entertained during my commute and this is my way of thanking both Angry Robot and their authors.

The World House - Guy Adams
My favorite book from the Angry Robot catalog. The World House is a fantastic creation, bizarre and quite scary. It's a garden with a house, full of dangers, and designed to keep something locked up for ever.

Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero
Dan Abnett has over and over proved himself writing Warhammer 40k books, but this is very different. It's set in England during Queen Elizabeth's reign and we follow Sir Ruper Triumff where he drinks and fights his way on a swashbuckling adventure. It's a jolly good read, funny and action packed.
Sir Rupert Triumff. Adventurer, Fighter, Drinker. Saviour?
Says it all really.

Winter Song - Colin Harvey
This is a story about a man, Karl Allman,  who crashes his space ship on a very unforgiving colony planet. Luckily Karl Allman is genetically enhanced and survives the crash and is slowly nursed back to health by the colonisers. It's been long since the planet had any contact with outsiders and by now even the knowledge of life outside of their cold and frozen planet is a legend.

It's a grim tale about someone who dearly wants to go home and to do so he has to overcome many obstacles.

Nekropolis - Tim Waggoner
Meet Matt Richer. Private eye. Zombie.
That's all it took to catch my attention. Nekropolis is the city of the dead and where all the undead and paranormal creatures have fled to from earth. Like any place it has crime and mysteries to solve so Matt Richter a former policeman has carved out a reputation as a problem solver.

It reminds me of an Urban Fantasy novel, where Matt Richter's greatest weapons are his intellect and bag of tricks.

City of Dreams & Nightmare - Ian Whates
Another Angry Robot book with good world building. Thaiburley is a city that was built in tiers, with the poor at the bottom and the very richest and powerful at the top. It's all powered by organic technology which is not really understood anymore.

Tom, a poor street kid, climbs to the highest tiers and witnesses a murder of a councilman. The murder is blamed on Tom and he needs to escape the men hunting him, but also to clear his name.

Lots of fighting, a little bit of magic and a lot of questions that need answers.

Here is one book that I am excited about and keeping my eye on. Should be released in September.

Roil - Trent Jamieson
I'm excited about this book from, at least to me, unknown author. The world is slowly being consumed by darkness, the roil, that is the home to monsters. Nothing has been able to stop the expansion and it is now up to some very unlikely heroes, a drug addict, an old man and a woman.

Monday, 6 June 2011

'The Damned Busters' - Matthew Hughes

I have previously seen The Damned Busters on the Angry Robot website but never had a closer look at it. The other day I came across a review of it on The Red Rook Review which made me realise that I had potentially missed a nugget of pure gold entertainment. The Damned Busters tells the story of Chesney Arnstruther who buy accident summons a demon, but refuses to sign away his soul for the promise of gold, buxom ladies and power. I hit the magic 1-click buy button and started reading.

It's Chesney Arnstruther's turn to host the poker night with the guys from work. His flat is quite small and he struggled to find a proper poker table that is small enough to fit into his flat so he decided to build a five-sided one on his own. The poker night is important to him so he wants it done right. It's all looking good when he accidentally hits himself with the hammer and blood splashes onto the table. Having been brought up by a religious and very strict mother he made his own swear words which are coming out in a steady stream. This unfortunate chain of events culminates in the summoning of a demon, a squat and toad-like creature.

When Chesney Arnstruther was younger he was diagnosed with having a condition similar to autism. He simply cannot focus his mind on things that does not interest him. In school you are often required to do a little bit of everything so he often got into trouble. He is only really interested in maths and numbers and when working on something that interests him, everything else disappears. Maybe it is his analytical and unique personality that helps him handle a demon summing so cooly without losing his head, or soul for that matter.

The demon, having been summoned, wants to know what Chesney wants in exchange for his soul. Chesney is not interested at all and tries to explain that it is all a mistake and that giving up his soul would be a foolish thing to do anyway. The demon cannot get time off work without a signed contract so he complains to his union rep and all of a sudden hell is on strike and this has interesting consequences.

Chesney has always had the feeling that he is destined for something and has just been waiting for that day. While waiting he has read a lot of comics and being a super hero seems like fun. I would have done the same. To resolve the strike hell offers him a deal to which he agrees. Chesney wants to don the tight fitting spandex and go out and fight crime, just like his favorite super hero, The Driver, a mild-mannered and bespectacled UPS courier. Chesney chooses to call his crime fighting alter-ego The Actionary, a pun on his job title, actuary, and the word action.

"Captain America was already taken." - Chesney Arnstruther on his crime fighting alias.

All of a sudden he seems to attract trouble in every form, promotions, beautiful women, a mother who rediscovers love, crime, angels, demons and even a super villain.

The Damned Busters is a very funny book and I quite quickly finished it. Matthew Hughes has succeeded in creating a very likeable protagonist with Chesney. He is funny, but often also very insightful with his observations about life, relationships and religion. You cannot help want him to succeed and get the girl. His cigar smoking and rum drinking demon side kick is also a very funny and quirky character who is portrayed as a 50s gangster. I pretty much liked every character in this book even though a few were very stereotypical like his mom, but in spite of that they all deliver and add to a good story. The humour in The Damned Busters is its strongest point although it is not quite as funny as Jonathan L Howard's books about Johannes Cabal. I would also say that the it's a somewhat softer kind of humour. I laughed out loud on a couple of occasions which is a good thing. Although the demon side kick is funny and a great character it does weaken the story somewhat as he basically fulfils every wish of Chesney, took away some of the excitement. All in all a good book that you should pick up if you like super heroes or just want to read something that will make you smile.

The Damned Busters weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot.

Verdict: read

Thursday, 2 June 2011

'Amortals' - Matt Forbeck

I wanted to read another book by Matt Forbeck as I was quite critical of his book, Vegas Knights, and Amortals seemed like a good choice. I quite liked the blurb for this book which promised a science fiction thriller where we follow Secret Service agent Ronan "Metusaleh" Dooley on his hunt to catch his killer.

That's right, Ronan Dooley is hunting his own killer. Science has made a breakthrough in cloning where it is possible to clone a person and quuckly grow the body to maturity. Anyone with enough money can now "backup" their mind and if the worst happen, or they get old, they can be re-born into a new body without loosing too much of their memories. Ronan Dooley is by now almost 200 years old and was actually the first 'amortal' to be created after he was mortally wounded saving the life of a president. The CIA took a great risk performing the experiment on Ronan Dooley, but correctly judged the attitude of the public that they would not deny someone who died so heroically the chance to live again.

If you think this story sounds familiar, it's probably because you have read Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon which is an excellent science fiction thriller, featuring ex Envoy Takeshi Kovacs.  Any book that reminds me of Altered Carbon is a good thing and the two books don't have that much in common apart from cloning and mind back-ups. In Amortals for instance, there are no cybernetic implants to boost speed and strength. Matt Forbeck has instead opted for a virtual layer which is actually something we see being experimented with out in the real world. Ronan Dooley and the other 'amortals' have a nano server installed in his brain which connects him to the net and gives him the ability to access 'layers'. Each layer has a specific function, we have the identity layer which tries to identify anyone that Ronan Dooley can see and a trivia layer which gives trivia about things he can see and so on. Quite cool and hopefully something our mobile phones can do soon.

The story starts with Ronan Dooley having just been installed in a new body and is watching a recording of his own murder. It's a brutal murder where Ronan watches himself being first shot in the head and then being peppered with bullets until he cannot recognise himself.. The killer is quite clear that he thinks that 'amortals' are an abomination and that the practice has to be put a stop to.

After,  Ronan Dooley goes back to his office where he finds a smoking hot babe lounging in his chair. She tells him that she is his new partner. He is of course more the lone gun kind of guy and he wants to know which idiot assigned him a partner. He soon finds out he assigned her himself in case of his death. I like it when the protagonist plays hard to get when it comes to working relationships.

The only suspect in his murder are the Kalis, a crime organisation with Indian roots. The Kalis have their fingers in every pie, but have never tried going after a Secret Service agent before, which is worrying him.

I liked Amortals, the characters are a lot more interesting than in Vegas Knights which I made clear in my review. The story is told from Ronan Dooley's point of view and Matt Forbeck has managed to make him likeable which is what went wrong in Vegas Knights. In spite of having lived for 200 years Ronan Dooley still takes his job very seriously and definitely knows right from wrong and stands up for those that need protection. The world building is OK, but does not stand out. It has some interesting things like the virtual reality layers which are pretty cool, but I disagree with the consequences of Amortality. The avarage life span in the US has now dropped to roughly 40 years as all medical research has stopped. There is simply no financial interest in it as rich people are all amortal. I'm obviously no expert but there should still be money to be made from everyone else. The plot moves along well and have enough twists to keep you turning the pages. Anyway, Amortals is a entertaining read and if you are looking for some fun action you should read it.

Amortals weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot

Verdict: read