Sunday, 31 July 2011

Who Won?: Restoration

Just my luck that the person living the furthest away from me would win. I will do my very best to travel down to the post office and send the book on it's merry way.

Congratulations to: Alex Glehis, Tasmania, Australia

Now I have to choose a book for my next giveaway...

Thursday, 28 July 2011

'A Writer's Life' - Eric Brown

I have read several books by Eric Brown so I know that his books are worth picking up. I was people browsing on Twitter when I came across Infinity Plus, a publisher aiming to bring back books that are out of print. A Writer’s Life caught my eye straight away. The blurb reminded me of Eric Brown's more recent book, Kings of Eternity, which I liked a lot. A Writer's Life was first published in 2001, but has now been republished in a digital format. Infinity Plus kindly provided me with a review copy of A Writer's Life.

Daniel Ellis is a writer, not a famous one, but good enough to make a comfortable living. His latest novel however was not successful enough for his publisher to grant him an advance for another book. His agent still believes in him and has secured some hack work for him: writing articles, book reviews and even novelising a computer game. Anyway, he does not feel like writing just now so these smaller jobs are perfect.

He lives together with his partner, Mina Pratt, and every other week her children comes to stay with them. They both love books, and when they have time they like exploring shops for old books together. It's on one of these book hunts that he first came across a book by Vaughan Edwards. Ever since he had read that entry in the encyclopedia about Edwards he had felt a kinship with the man. The man was a romantic like himself, capable of seeing the tragedy in the veneer of everyday life. Edwards had written many books with a trait of the supernatural, something his publisher and reviewers criticised him for.

After having finally read one of Edwards' books the feeling of kinship is intensified. To his disappointment Mina does not like the book as much. He wants to read more of Edwards' books and makes several enquires to book stores. He cannot quite explain why, but the connection he feels to Edwards and his work needs to be explored. Nothing could prepare him for what he is about to discover.

Eric Brown has created a very strong character, someone easy to sympathise with. Daniel Ellis is an ordinary man, just like you and me. Work is not going great and he does not feel his relationship is as good as it could be. Mina does not open up to him, it's always him that takes the initiative to intimacy and affection. She had a very difficult ex, but surely she could make more of an effort. Eric Brown makes a very convincing case with his protagonist. Carefully written descriptions brings the world to life around the characters. While reading I could see the bleak country side, wreathed in mists. There is a stillness to this story, with a hint of eeriness.

A Writer's Life is a beautifully written book about a man who is on a journey of self discovery. A journey down a long winded path through his own soul. He struggles to find himself, his inspiration for writing is gone. Mostly it is about love. What does it mean to really love some?

I enjoyed reading A Writer's Life and I hope you will too.

A Writer's Life weighs in at an unknown number of pages and is published by Infinity Plus.

Recommendation: must read

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

'Fables from the Fountain' - Ian Whates

Fables from the Fountain is a collection of short stories dedicated to the memory of Arthur C Clarke. I don't read enough short stories so when I first heard about it I decided to take a closer look. The list of contributing authors is impressive: Ian Whates, Stephen Baxter and Neil Gaiman to name a few. My only concern really was how to approach the review. In the end I decided that it would be worth to stray outside of my reviewing comfort zone and I bought a copy.

The stories in Fables of the Fountain all share a common format based on the same concept that Arthur C Clarke used himself in his collection of short stories from 1957 in Tales from the White Hart. A group of authors meet regularly to swap stories over a pint or two. The pub featured in this version is the fictional The Fountain. It's supposed to be not far away from Chancery Lane, located in one of those little side streets you usually end up on when you try to walk down to Fleet Street. Funny thing is, no one is quite sure exactly where the pub is. You will either find it or not. When you find it you will discover a traditional pub. A pub where you are meant to socialise, not listen to loud music.
"Kareoke?" spluttered the Professor, his facial expression that of a Pontiff who had just stumbled upon a condom machine operating in the Sistine Chapel.
Every Tuesday a group of friends meet up at The Fountain. Most of them are writers, but not all. The group also include: academics, IT, and medics. The one thing they all have in common, apart from the love of a pint of Bodgers, is the love for the extraordinary. Each week a new story is told, and each week something extraordinary is revealed.

I'm pleased with my purchase of Fables from the Fountain. The authors managed to cover everything from sinister to fun, somber to silly. The quality of the stories is high and they are all fastidiously written and a pleasure to read.

Fables from the Fountain weighs in at 256 pages and is published by NewCon Press.

Recommendation: read

Monday, 25 July 2011

Interview with Tim Akers

SF and fantasy author Tim Akers has agreed to answer some questions for my first interview. Tim has written the Burn Cycle series and also The Horns of Ruin, featuring Eva Forge. Tim can be found on his blog

Firstly, many thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. To kick things off, could you tell me a little about yourself and your work, and why you choose steampunk/fantasy/sf as your genre?
There's not much interesting about me. I grew up in an extremely small town in Western North Carolina, moved to Chicago for college, and here I still am. I'm a classically trained literary author, but F/SF is my native language, it's what I grew up reading and dreaming about writing. I don't think there was ever a conscious choice to go into F/SF.

When did you start writing? Is it something you have always been doing? Were there any books you read as a child that inspired you to take up writing?
The first time I remember writing something out of a sense of joy and creation was in fifth grade. By the time I got to middle school I was carrying around wads of paper in the pocket of my jacket, and writing between classes. I made my first pass at a novel the summer after seventh grade. That said, I kind of went into hibernation after college. Got busy with life, I guess. I talked a lot about being a writer, and one day achieving that goal of publication, but I did very little about it. When I turned 30, that's when I realized I had to get serious. It makes for a nice milestone.

Your resume says you split your time between databases and fountain pens. How do you juggle a day time job with writing?
It's difficult. You have to prioritize everything, from work life to family life to writing time to just plain old down time. I had to learn to not beat myself up for the days when I could be writing but I'm just too burned out, or the Saturdays when I spend the entire day playing videogames rather than churning out the word count. You really need to relax, I've learned, or the whole process falls apart. That said, every day I make a conscious effort to sit down for an hour or two and try to get some writing done. You just have to develop the discipline to produce on command. A lot of writers fetishize this concept of the muse, they develop certain crutches that "help" them write, and then they end up not writing just because some little aspect of their writing habit is missing. I'm guilty of this, too. I find it much easier to write first drafts long hand. But you just can't do that. It takes too long, and then you have to type it in and make corrections. Basically I've learned to write when I can, however I can. I write at work at lunch, I write at home in my office or on the porch or wherever I can be that it's quiet. I write in coffeshops, and I write in notebooks or on desktops or standing up or on my netbook. Whatever it takes. Mostly, though, I write. Every. Damn. Day.

Could you tell us more about your writing routine? When is the best time for you, are there any rituals involved, favorite pen, writing robe, lucky eraser?
I think I kind of answered this above, but I think it's important to reiterate. Developing fetishes that empower your writing don't do anything but limit the activation keys to your writing time. If you have to smoke when you write, then you can't write on the plane on a business trip. If you have to have a drink to write, you're going to have a limited period of time between when you're just drunk enough to write and too drunk to make sense. Writing with a certain fountain pen or at a certain time, all that does is prevent you from writing with different tools or at different times should they present themselves. The key to writing successfully is internal discipline. Grind it out.

Do you have any hobbies? Do they help or inspire you with your writing?
Many hobbies, none of which I have time for anymore. Well. Not all of them. I used to play Magic:The Gathering competitively, but that was just absorbing an enormous amount of my creative and analytical thinking energy. Plus it was expensive. I'll still do the occasional draft, but mostly I've had to put Magic behind me. I used to play Warhammer a fair amount. Now I mostly just buy figures to paint. My current work is medieval in nature, so I'm painting knights and such. That's been very helpful with the internal aesthetic of the book. My only consistent hobby these days is World of Warcraft. That's kind of like a third job, but it also counts as family time since my wife plays, too. That's just such a deeply immersive world. I have to remember that they have a team of writers coming up with that backstory, because it's just all so huge.

How do you approach writing a new book? Do you develop character profiles, map out the major plot events, or does it just come to you as you write?
I develop a loose idea of the central problem, draw up a cast of characters related to the problem, give them motivations and then set them loose. As I write I'll stop and plot out a couple moves. Sometimes things go the way I plan, sometimes they don't. Sometimes I add in some plot element that I haven't necessarily resolved, just to see how the characters react.

I often hear that characters have their own will and sometimes even surprise the author. Is this something that you have experienced?
I would say that the narrative often goes in ways that I don't expect, but if the characters are doing things I don't expect them to then they're probably not acting in character. Then again, I have "Characters" on the top of my list of things that need improvement, so maybe not having characters that live outside my head is just a sign of writerly weakness. Beats me. But I think that's one of those writerly excuses for undisciplined narrative.

There has been a lot of press cover of Steph Swainston who wants to leave her publisher due to pressure from them and the fans to write a book a year. Do you feel pressured to be prolific and if so how do you handle that?
Funny story, and I don't know how appropriate this is. I really enjoyed her first two books, but when I read this question I had to go look up if she'd written anything else. I had lost track of her. If I was a better fan (and I'm a terrible fan) I might have known better, but I didn't. So it might do her career some good to keep those books coming.

I feel no external pressure to be prolific, but a great deal of internal pressure. Like I said earlier, I have a full time job, a WoW addiction, a family and a social life. And I produce a book a year. Maybe free time is a curse, or something, but if this was all I was doing for money I can't imagine delivering fewer that two books a year, and I'd probably aim to do three. There are publishing realities that, with few exceptions, require constant market presence. You can be a writer and not recognize these forces but there are consequences. And yes, there are exceptions, and no, there are no absolutes. But there are reasons publishers ask that of you.

My favorite character of yours is Eva Forge from The Horns of Ruin. In my review of The Horns of Ruin I compared Eva Forge to Modesty Blaise, where did you find your inspiration for her?
Vic Mackey, from the TV series The Shield, and Mary Shannon from In Plain Sight. Not as broken as Vic, and not as dependent on family as Mary, but those are the two compass points. She's a painfully simple character, I'm afraid. I wish I could have done more with her.

Your Burn Cycles series protagonist is Jacob Burn. Which character do you like writing about the most Jacob Burn or Eva Forge? Do you share any traits with your characters?
After the first Burn book, there seemed a very real possibility that there wouldn't be any more Jacob Burn books. When I got the offer to write The Horns of Ruin, I felt like there was a lot in that style that I still wanted to do, so I imported a lot of Jacob into Eva. They're of the same template, I would say. Noir Brutal. But their backgrounds are radically different, and their worlds and experiences are radically different.

That said, Jacob is a dark mind. I don't like writing him as much as I used to. I've changed a lot in the last several years, both in my ability as a writer and fundamentally in who I am. There's a lot in Jacob's world that I'd like to tap into, but I'm not sure that's going to happen anytime soon. Same with Eva. If I go back to the world of Eva Forge it's going to be a radically different experience for everyone involved.

What books are you currently reading and are there any must reads you would like to recommend?
I love Daryl Gregory's books. He gets a fair amount of attention, but it's not enough. Daniel Abraham's Long Price Quartet was the best piece of fantasy to hit the shelves in the last twenty years. There's a real movement in fantasy to challenge the genre's traditional tropes and rethink it. Lots of people try, and they succeed to different degrees, but Daniel does it best. The Long Price is deeply involved, deeply beautiful... it's just amazing. I very rarely read a book and wish I had written. I wish I had written that book.

Most importantly, are you working on something at the moment, and will there be another Eva Forge novel?
Like I said above, I don't know about future Forge novels. There are commercial reasons for that, but mostly there are writerly reasons. After I finished Dead of Veridon I sat down and looked at what I had done with my catalog and, most importantly, why I had done it. I was still writing according to a form that I had created when I first started out in my career. I'm better now than I was then, but I was keeping myself constrained by that template. I wanted to do something radically different. So that's what I'm doing. Something else.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Book Giveaway: Restoration

It's time for my first book giveaway. Angry Robot has provided me with an extra copy of Guy Adams' Restoration. It is one of the best books that I have read so far in 2011, and I wish that everyone could read it. Unfortunately, they only gave me one copy.

To participate you have to do two things:
1) Figure out the email, here is a clue: winabook at iwillreadbooks dot com
2) Which character in the book did I like the most? (review)

You have until midnight (GMT) on Friday the 29th to send me your answer. Don't forget to include your post address as well.

Good luck

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

'Reality 36' - Guy Haley

Reality 36 is the debut novel of Guy Haley. What attracted me to it was its terrific blurb. Richards and Klein are described as the Holmes and Watson of the 22nd century. Anyone that has read my blog is probably aware of that I am a sucker for crime fiction when it's mixed with Sci-Fi or fantasy. So what's special about Richards and Klein then? Well to start with Richards is not even human, he is an AI. That should make him the brains of the operation, which leaves Klein as the muscle. Otto Klein is an ex-military specials operations cyborg, so yes plenty of muscle there. Angry Robot has once again kindly enough provided me with a review copy.

Lately, I have read a lot of books set in a grim and far too realistic future. Reality 36 is a great example of such a book. Global warming and war have ravaged our planet. Conditions are improving under the guidance of the AIs who have been given control. Europe and the US have given AIs human rights whereas China have forbidden them completely. Along with the amendment of rights of artificial sentients the 36 Reality Realm online game is made off limits to humans. Even orcs and goblins have rights, but enough with the exposition, let's get down to business.

Inside Reality 36 safety protocols have been activated. An intrusion from the outside has been detected and the realm's guardians are summoned.

Veronique Valdaire is sleeping. Or trying to sleep at least. Her digital companion, Chloe, is doing her best to wake her up. She has several missed calls from her boss, the professor, it's urgent and they need to talk. The chirpy bombardment of wakeup calls from Chloe is finally enough to get her out of bed. Wearily, she makes her way down to the office. The professor is nowhere to be found and the building's AI complains over a malfunction, it has been disconnected from parts of the building. He did however leave a message for her, but it is not good news. Then the reception informs her that VIA spooks, agency that protects and monitors AIs, are on their way up to see her. Not good news.

Richards is in a lovely garden, talking to his old friend Hughie. Hughie is one of the most powerful AIs in the world and he hates being called Hughie. Which is why Richards has given him that nickname, he needs to be taken down a peg or two. Today Richards is looking for a favor. Hughie is responsible for the European internal security and he owes Richards a favor. In return for a favor Hughie only asks that Richards performs one small task for him. A high profile person has been murdered on a yacht, but Hughie's investigators have not found anything. The yacht is still quarantined at sea pending further investigation, no one has been allowed on or off.

It all turns out to be more than just a simple favour and Richards and Kleins will be stretched to the limit of their abilities.

Reality 36 is the kind of book that seems to have been written with me as the target audience. Guy Haley is the new author I have been waiting for. It has the intense action of a Neal Asher book, you can almost feel the shockwave of explosions and the impact of blows. There is a great dynamic between Richards and Otto. Richards is enthusiastic, full of life, cheeky and always offers a interesting opinion on events. He loves taking the piss out of those in high places, and especially his friend Hughie. I love it how Guy Haley choose to dress him in trench coat and hat like a chirpy alternative to Sam Spade.
For a man without genitals, he was an enormous penis, but he was also the finest virtual horticulturalist, and a great baker. - Richards describing Hughie while having tea in Hughie's garden
Otto, he is the opposite side of the coin. Jaded, serious and a no nonsense person. He does not play around. There is also a gentle side to Otto, something you might not expect from a half metal, half flesh killing machine. Together, Richards and Otto are really great and good fun. I found it easy to engage with the characters and feel sympathetic to them.

Another strong point of Reality 36 is the world building. A lot of thought and detail has gone into Haley's scarred version of earth. Throughout the book we are given more and more information about the state of the world and how it ended up this way. This careful drip-feed of information is great, the plot never takes second place to the exposition and pace is maintained at all times. Speaking of the plot, it's complex enough to keep you interested and guessing what is going to happen next, without getting confusing.

Guy Haley has adopted a Gibsonesque version of cyberspace. A user is required to 'jack-in', and once 'in there' the dangers are very real. The feedback from a death in cyberspace can, and has, kill a person. No mentions of Black Ice, but there are some equally dangerous counter measures deployed in Reality 36.
The eels were ugly, ribbons of nothing undulating through the blaze and fury of the web.
Unless you hate fun, stop what you are doing and pick up Reality 36. It's an action packed book, riddled with armour piercing wit and incredibly entertaining. On a more serious note, Reality 36 does a big think on the issues raised by the existence of Articial Intelligence in society. I cannot wait to read the next Richards and Klein case, Omega Point, due to be released in 2012.

Reality 36 weighs in at 384 pages and is published by Angry Robot. The book will be available in stores from August 4th 2011.

Recommendation: must read

Monday, 18 July 2011

'Murder at Mansfield Park' - Lynn Shepherd

Murder at Mansfield Park is a retelling of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. Lynn Shepherd has turned the classic into a murder mystery. I really liked the blurb for the book, which promises passion and intrigue all set in the beautiful English country side. After all the fantasy and Sci-Fi I've been reading lately, it was time for something a little bit different. Beautiful Books kindly provided me with a review copy of Murder at Mansfield Park.

It all begins with three sisters. One after another, each sister marries a rich husband. Maria, the oldest sister, marries Sir Thomas Bertram of Mansfield Park.  Alas, the sisters’ lot in life is not to live happily ever after with their husbands. Only Maria is spared. One sister dies along with her husband and the husband of the youngest sister also passes away. The remaining sister, Mrs Norris, moves into Mansfield Park along with her son, Edmond Norris. When both her parents die, Fanny Price joins her cousins at Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is well aware of her beauty and wealth and the social status this grants her. The ambitious Mrs Norris immediately spots a kindred spirit in the young Fanny Price and takes her under her wing. Not out of any motherly feelings however.  She has plans for the young lady.

We leave Mansfield Park for many years and upon our return, much has happened. Mrs Norris has secured an engagement between her son and Fanny Price. William, the youngest son of Sir Thomas Bertram and Maria, is going away on a long sea voyage, much to the distress of his mother and sisters. To keep the family distracted, Sir Bertram has planned some major landscaping work for the grounds of Mansfield Park. As it happens the brother in law, Henry Crawford, of the reverend Dr. Grant has done this kind of work. Sir Thomas Bertram enquired about Henry Crawford's reputation and character and was very satisfied. Mr. Crawford and his sister Mary are both en-route to stay at the parsonage with Dr. Grant while Henry Crawford is busy with his work at Mansfield Park. This is really Mary’s story from now on. As the plot unfolds, she will play an increasingly important role, both in a social aspect and also in assisting with solving the murder.

Henry and Mary are both quite a lot lower on the social ladder than the other youngsters at Mansfield Park. Both however, are attractive and intelligent and their relation to the reverend gives them some access to the social life at Mansfield Park. With so many young and unmarried men and women in one place romance is, of course, inevitable. To further complicate the romantic intrigue, a young bachelor with more money than sense moves in to a neighbouring property. Fanny Price's true nature is becoming more obvious to her fiance, Edmond Norris, and her other cousins.

Hold on, I thought you said this was a murder mystery, not a romantic costume drama. Patience, young grasshopper. The first half of the book is indeed very lacking in murder, gore and general mayhem. However, it does a great job of introducing the characters and the relationships between them. Mary Crawford, our heroine, being of lesser social status, fights an uphill battle here. She is constantly being set upon by Fanny Price and has to suffer abuse. It's a lot of verbal fencing between the two and it makes it even more funny as Fanny Price does not take notice when Mary Crawford makes her verbal riposte. It does not occur to her that Mary would dare.

Lynn Shepherd has written the whole book using language that suits time period. It's all terribly charming. Ms. Shepherd has also done a good job with the characters' behaviour. The ladies swoon a lot and everybody in general seems very sensitive to bad news. Men with whom the women are not well acquainted with are usually introduced with how much money they have. The men, not being any better, talk about dowries. The characters clearly struggle against the social constraints at times. A person's reputation and character is very important and it's better to suffer a small slight than put one’s reputation in jeopardy.
Maddox smiled to himself - These fine ladies and gentlemen! It was not the first time that he had seen one of their class imprisoned by the iron constraints of politeness and decorum.
Murder at Mansfield Park was a real delight to read. It's such a quaint setting with some very charming characters. Lynn Shepherd has done a good job in capturing the ambiance of that era. Although she makes it clear that this time is really a man's world, I found the women of Mansfield Park to be the stronger characters. The men quickly took on supporting roles. They react to the actions of the women and help nudge the plot forward. This helped, as many of the characters were very quickly introduced at the start of the book and it was somewhat overwhelming.

It was a very refreshing read partly because it's so different from the books I normally enjoy. I can see now why another reviewer recommended I vary the genres, imprints and authors I read as much as possible. The actual murder mystery part of the book worked well, no great surprises really. It does the job, no more, no less. In the second part of the book, a thief taker is called in from London to assist in apprehending the murderer. The thief taker along with Mary Crawford apply their intellect and cunning to the problem. They go about it in a style that reminds of me of Holmes and Poirot. It's the sleuths that reveals the clues to the reader, not the narrative. One suspect after the other is eliminated and then the next is examined.

I'm not sure if I find it completely convincing how quickly Mary Crawford wins over everyone's trust. It was a little like we were simply being told she was amazing instead of her actually doing anything amazing. What I did find convincing though, was the emotions expressed by the characters and even I had a goosebumps moment. I'm a sucker for happiness.

Murder at Mansfield Park weighs in at 368 pages and is published by Beautiful Books.

Recommendation: read

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Change of address

Dear readers,

I splashed out on a domain to get rid of the blogspot part of the address. If you are subscribing to my blog please update to the new address:

During the transition period the old address should still work.

'Echo City' - Tim Lebbon

My first encounter with Tim Lebbon was his duology, Dusk and Dawn. I still get the shivers from the opening scene in Dusk where Red Monk slaughters the inhabitants of a village and the desperation with which the men fought to stop the him to protect their loved ones. It was all for nothing as the Red Monk just kept coming in spite of his wounds. I will always associate Tim Lebbon with an ability to create the kind of suspense necessary for a real page turner. In his case, it's about finding out just how bad things can get with no promise of anything getting better.

Echo City is the last bastion of life in a vast desert. For thousands of years, its inhabitants have accepted that the desert is all there is. If you are caught out in the desert during the day, the sun will literally burn your skin away. If you were to survive the sun, then the poisonous vapours that drift through the desert would melt your innards. Outside the walls there is just sand and the bones of the dead.

The Watchers are a loosely organised group that has always maintained a belief that there is something more than the desert. They have remained vigilant, keeping watch for that something which will give them their freedom. The Watchers are persecuted by the ruling Marcellans, who three years ago struck a hard blow against the Watchers.

Peer was one of the Watchers who was caught in the Marcellans' crack down. She was tortured but they let her live. A part Echo City, Skulk Canton, has been transformed into a prison for petty criminals, dissidents and others who have been deemed unwanted. This is where Peer has made a new life for herself and come to terms with the fact that her old life is gone forever. One evening, as she is watching the desert from the wall surrounding Echo City, the impossible happens. Someone is walking towards her from far out in the desert.

Peer now has a tough choice ahead of her. She might be free to go wherever she wants in Skulk Canton, but the rest of the city is off limits to her. The borders of Skulk Canton are heavily guarded by the cruel Border Spites. Anyone caught trying to escape usually ends up nailed to the wall.

There are three things that I associate with Tim Lebbon: world building, descriptions and suspense. Much like his previous books, he favours a dark and cruel world with hidden secrets and delivers that again in Echo City. For generations, Echo City has been expanded, each new generation building on top of the previous. Old parts are abandoned for new ones, the past is buried beneath the new. These Echoes of the past are a treasure trove for the brave explorer.

With Tim Lebbon holding the pen, the treasure is also very likely to rip your face off. HR Giger himself would have been scared by some of the things lurking in the dark.

With his worlds, Lebbon always creates something with a unique twist to it. He populates it with a new flora and fauna. Some authors goes overboard with their creation and add so many new things that it is hard to follow with all the new words. Lebbon’s balance is perfect and with enough context to understand what has been introduced. It's just a shame that he could not give us a few more answers by the end of the book. It's a fascinating world, with a lot of mystery surrounding it. By the end of the book we do have more information, but there could have been more.
Echo City has a little bit of a steam punk feel to it. Instead of magic there is 'chopping', which is the ability to shape living tissue and mix it with metal and glass. This is used to give humans extra arms, wings or create living machinery. It made me think of Tim Waggoner and his Matt Richter series with some of the creations equally as disturbing. Imagine if the tube carriage was a living creature and you entered through its mouth. Then consider paying £106 a month for a zone 1-2 travel card. No wonder it's not used.

It's an interesting story as well. There are several factions involved, each fighting for their own end and when their interests intersect, blood is spilled. Each faction has its own players and they each have a story to tell. The characters are well written and have enough depth to make them feel realistic.  However, compared to the story itself and the world building, the characters don't stand out and are the weakest part of the book. The plot moves smoothly forward by having them make decisions instead of just reacting to events outside of their control.

It's definitely a book for adults. Tim Lebbon has a very raw and grim style of writing. Acts of violence and torture can be quite graphic. Joe Abercrombie and Steven Erikson spring to mind as a violence meter. When it comes to describing his world, its inhabitants, flora and fauna, Tim Lebbon is a master. Everything comes alive. It's more like watching a movie than reading a book. Echo City is a book I'm more than happy to recommend. Anyone looking for an action packed fantasy set in a unique world need look no further.

Echo City weighs in at 592 pages and is published by Orbit.

Recommendation: read

Thursday, 7 July 2011

'Hard Spell' - Justin Gustainis

Until Angry Robot announced a trailer for Hard Spell I had not heard of the book. The trailer was  2:30 minutes long with some animated text and a gruff voice-over. I had a closer look at the blurb which introduced Markowski, a cop in a small town. What sets him apart from other cops is that in his job he carries a gun loaded with silver bullets and a wooden stake. Markowski is a member of Scranton PD's Occult Crimes Unit. I do like the Matt Richter novel which does some similar genre blending so I thought I'd give Hard Spell a go. Angry Robot kindly enough provided me with a review copy.

In Justin Gustainis’ Hard Spell, the world is populated by more than just humans. Europe has long been plagued by monsters and the undead. After the second great war, many an American soldier came back infected by the bite of a werewolf or that of a vampire. With the birth of cheap airlines even more beings came across. America, being the land of freedom and opportunity, quickly adapted to its new citizens. They were given rights and were expected to follow the law. For the times they didn't, the Occult Crimes Unit stepped in.

Stan Markowski is called to a crime scene. A man has been found bound to a chair and appears to have been subjected to brutal torture before being killed. A tattoo on the palm of his hand marks the victim as a wizard. The dead man must have had remarkable will power to withstand the torture for so long. In another room a safe is found opened, its contents bared to the world. Tens of thousands of dollars are still left inside. Whatever the murderer took, it is more valuable than money.

Not much time passes until the next body is found. Another brutal killing. This time the victim is a vampire. Strange symbols have been carved into the body. Markowski is struggling to find any clues to pursue. If only the dead could speak. Luckily for Stan Markowski, with a little help from the Occult Crime Unit’s witch, maybe they can. Dabbling with black magic is dangerous stuff and an application has to be made, much like getting a search warrant. Due process needs to be considered. Paper work filed and stamped.

I quite like how Hard Spell starts with a narrative from Stan Markowski giving us the necessary background information to understand the setting. It certainly gave me that noir feeling of the gruff detective I have seen in films. Justin Gustainis' detective pretty much follows the template of a fictional detective. Consumed by his work, he neglected his family and the consequences have tortured him. Not one to follow rules, he has had run-ins with Internal Affairs, who like in any other book are a real nuisance. His chief is a reasonable fellow and has his back. It makes me wary when even the chief is on the wrong side so that some comfort.

The supporting characters work well, especially Markowski's new partner, Karl Renfer, a tall, gangly, young detective who's not as dumb as he looks. Together they produce some fun dialogue. Another good character is, Lacey Brennan, a detective from another district who starts every conversation with a rather lame and politically incorrect joke. Never really that funny, but they are not supposed to be. Markowski likes to point out what a hottie she is, and pretty much every other female character he comes across. A bit a of a lecher our detective. Justin Gustainis manages well creating the right chemistry between the characters. There is a pulpy detective feel to Hard Spell. It has just the right amount of hard talk balanced with some friendly banter.

As much as I liked certain characters, I just cannot get over the feeling there is something missing with the concept of an Occult Crimes Unit. I think I would have liked it more if Stan Markowski was maybe supernatural himself or something else to make him more special. It would almost justify why you would need an Occult Crimes Unit in the first place. To manage creatures that are far superior in many ways to ordinary humans, you would need staff it with people who really packs a punch. Stan Markowski lacks that edge.

The plot itself, while it works, is not very convincing either. I found it unrealistic in places. Such as why leave a defenceless wizard guarding valuable things? Later in the book, Markowski receives some unexpected help from someone and then begins giving that person confidential information about the case. It’s required to move the plot forward, or even have one in the first place, but it does feel choppy and forced.

Overall, I'm afraid Hard Spell does not work for me. While there are positives to it, the negatives outweigh them. Although it is far from a terrible book, I would not recommend you place it high on your reading list. There are just too many better books out there.

Hard Spell weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot.

Recommendation: don't read

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

'Restoration' - Guy Adams

Restoration is the much anticipated, by me anyway, sequel to The World House. If I had to choose one book from Angry Robot to rule them all it would The World House. A very exciting book, that left several questions unanswered. Very important questions, I need to have them answered. I don't think I have to explain my choice of reading Restoration any more. Angry Robot were kind enough to give me a copy of Restoration to review.

Here be spoilers from The World House... (read it and come back)

As the Prisoner made his escape, he damaged the House. This is not good as the House is connected to the very fabric of reality of our own world. Sophie is bound to the House and managed to stabilise it enough to save everything from immediate destruction. There is no time for the survivors to lick their wounds. The Prisoner needs to be stopped, no matter the cost.

Meanwhile, out in the sticks in Florida, Hughie is sitting on his porch and listening to the sounds of the swamp. A loud bang echoes through the night and Hughie is thrown from his chair. A fucking train has just appeared out thin air. A small man exits the train, a grey mouse of a man, much like an insurance salesmen. British looking. Without apparent effort he is carrying another man by his belt. He walks up to Hughie and raises his hat in greeting.

"Good evening," he said, the train's engine screeching into life again behind him as it prepared to leave, "What a splendid little world you appear to have here. Mind if I play with it a little?"

The survivors are faced with several problems. Not only does the Prisoner need to be stopped, someone must also stay and look after Sophie. She is close to being comatose, only mumbles the same phrase over and over again: 'build, not break'. It's decided that Alan and Penelope will stay to feed and keep Sophie safe. This turns out to be easier said then done. The House communicates through Sophie and they have to take her back to the library. The House is the sum of all nightmares and every room is a horror. They have to travel through it to reach their goal. The fate of the world is at stake.

Carruthers, Tom and Miles follow the Prisoner back into the real world to stop the Prisoner. They arrive in Florida, 1976. They are hot on the trail of the Prisoner. The atrocities committed by the Prisoner only strengthens their determination to stop him. Question is, how do you stop a god?

Ashe is the one that has to travel back into the past and deliver the box and ensure that their timeline happens. He has to locate and deliver the box to several of the survivors. The where and when is very different for each of the survivors. Carruthers was in Tibet in 1904 when the box was given to him by a friend, Walsingham, a botanist. Ashe needs to go there and make sure that Walsingham gives the box to Carruthers. This plot line answers a lot of the questions of the mysterious circumstances that the box was given to the survivors. Guy Adams does well with describing a complex and confusing matter as time travel. The plot moves smoothly forward in spite of different timelines and the occurrence of several versions of characters.

Restoration is a terrific book. I thought it all started very well with The World House, but Guy Adams has upped his game another level to deliver a flawless execution of Restoration. First of all, the book is very exciting, an electrifying read. Pretty much every chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you just have to keep reading to find out what happens next.

Second, the characters are simply amazingly well done. There is some serious witchcraft at work here. I have barely read the name of a character before I like them and want to take them for a pint. Guy Adams' characters just have a very genuine feel about them. Everything they do and say feels like something this person would really do. Restoration features quite a few character as well. We have the original survivors from The World House, but we also get to meet a few new faces. My favorite character, by far, is Carruthers. The British explorer ticks all the boxes. His sense of honor and constant politeness is just charming. He is a barrel of laughs when out in the modern world. Being a fearless explorer he is delighted with all the new experiences, but he also sets himself up for a few jokes on his expense. Miles and Carruthers camaraderie gives you hope and comfort, even with impending doom and constant threat from the Prisoner.

I cannot recommend Restoration and The World House enough. Guy Adams had me fascinated with the first book, but with the second one I was enthralled. It's a remarkable story, a fascinating setting. A book that you don't want to stop reading until you have reached the very end.

Restoration weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot. It will be released in july 2011.

Recommendation: must read