Tuesday, 30 August 2011

'Equations of Life' - Simon Morden

Equations of Life is another book I bought after reading the review by Jared of Pornokitsch. It's the first part in a series of three books all set in the Metrozone, the last city in England. There was an incident with a nuclear bomb, or two. Worth noting about this series, is that they were all published in the scope of three months. I have not even looked at the other two books yet, but part one features Samuil Petrovitch as the hero, a somewhat reluctant one. Against his better judgment he gets involved in a gang war by saving the daughter of one gang leader from the claws of the other. So how can a post graduate student in his early twenties take on gangs and the police? Curious? I know I was and that's why I bought the book to read for my own review.

Petrovitch is a Russian immigrant studying maths in the Metrozone. He wakes up in the morning to the sound of his phone. It's a courier with a package for him, something he has waited for and spent a lot of time and money in acquiring. He meets with the courier in his local greasy-spoon and manages to insult her much to the amusement of the cafe's owner. With his parcel under his arm, he is ejected from the cafe to make space for paying customers. Petrovitch braves the press of bodies on the underground and continues on his way until forced to go on by foot. That’s when he sees her, a woman, no a girl, on her own, cutting boldly through the crowd. She has that look about her that means she should not be alone, but is followed by a retinue of assistants and muscled men wearing shades.

Suddenly he spots the goons coming her way. From experience Petrovitch knows that these men have no friendly intentions. He recognises them too well, kidnappers. He is pushed out of the way and they grab the girl. Then everything goes horribly wrong. Instead of staying down and minding his own business, Petrovitch interferes. Together they flee on foot while the gunmen fire without remorse into the crowd.

This is only the beginning of a roller coaster ride through the Metrozone where Petrovitch is forced to deal with problem after problem. Luckily, he is a lot more resourceful than what you would expect and there is more to him than what first meets the eye. He is a man with secrets.

Equations of Life is a very good example of how to deal with the background information in a story. It's on a need to know basis and then barely that. All we are told is that there was a nuclear strike on the UK 20 years ago by terrorist for whatever misguided reason. London is now called Metrozone and it is still a bustling city with overcrowded public transport. That's pretty much all we need to know. Equations of Life has the least info dumping I've ever come across, which gives Simon Morden plenty of opportunity to move the plot forward at a high speed. Reading this book is like taking a train and watching the scenery through the window, it just flickers past you. There is no time for rest because there is always something going on. Gun fights, speeding trains or nuns with guns.
She was a nun, fully robed, white veil framing her broad, serious face. A silver crucifix dangled around her neck, and a rosary and a holster hung at her waist. She had the biggest automatic pistol Petrovitch had ever seen clasped in her righteous right hand.
Samuil Petrovitch, our protagonist, is a lot of fun as well. A young, intelligent man who like many other young, intelligent men, is quite full of himself. He is arrogant, rude and to make it worse, he is usually right as well. Simon Morden makes his personality work well. While I don’t sympathise with or relate to Petrovitch, he is certainly likeable. He is just too much fun with his grumpy ways. I did, however, find him a little too brilliant to make him fully convincing. He does have it a little to easy at times and people just fall in line behind him. I felt that someone who is much older would not necessarily take orders from a young whipper snapper, no matter how much sense he makes.

One good thing about Petrovitch being as capable as he is, was that Simon Morden could throw challenge after challenge at him. It's not a very predictable story and there was more than one occasion where I had to admit I had no idea what would happen next. There is a lot of stuff going on in Equations of Life, each event more and more remarkable. It's a fine line to balance upon but Simon Morden pulls it off and makes it convincing instead of ridiculous.

This book was pure jet fuel, relentless in its pace and you should strap in tightly before reading. Slick and efficient writing makes it a book well worth reading. Seriously, nuns with guns. If that's not enough to convince you to read it, I'm not sure what will.

Equations of Life weighs in at 400 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Recommendation: read

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Book Giveaway: Southern Gods

Recent World War II veteran Bull Ingram is working as muscle when a Memphis DJ hires him to find Ramblin' John Hastur. The mysterious blues man's dark, driving music--broadcast at ever-shifting frequencies by a phantom radio station--is said to make living men insane and dead men rise.

Disturbed and enraged by the bootleg recording the DJ plays for him, Ingram follows Hastur's trail into the strange, uncivilized backwoods of Arkansas, where he hears rumors the musician has sold his soul to the Devil.

But as Ingram closes in on Hastur and those who have crossed his path, he'll learn there are forces much more malevolent than the Devil and reckonings more painful than Hell . . .

In a masterful debut of Lovecraftian horror and Southern gothic menace, John Hornor Jacobs reveals the fragility of free will, the dangerous power of sacrifice, and the insidious strength of blood. 

I think we need something to cheer us up on this rainy day. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where it is not raining you can still participate. So this is what is up for grabs today, my spare copy of Southern Gods, by John Hornor Jacbos. Thanks to Night Shade Books for providing me with an extra copy.

If you are not satisfied by the blurb, take a look at my review.

This giveaway is open to anyone, no matter where you live in the world, just as long as Royal Mail delivers to your country.

Send an email to winabook at iwillreadbooks dot com, with the title: Southern Gods.

the competition is open until midnight Saturday 3rd of September.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

To-Read Pile: My Next 5 #2

Decided to change my approach for informing you of the very top of my to-read pile. I wont do a monthly one as I first thought, that will be too difficult to plan. Instead I will blog about the next 5 books when necessary. Speaking of which, here is my next five.

Monstrocity - Jeffrey Thomas

There are haunted places. Haunted houses. The metropolis of Punktown, on the planet Oasis, is a haunted city.

An unassuming young man perceives the city's dark tentacles in the lay of the streets, its roots in the labyrinth of subways, a polluted taint in the eyes of people around him. And this evil is building toward an apocalyptic culmination...

The city is not only haunted... maybe it's alive...

I love the cover of Monstrocity, totally spaced out and creepy. I have high hopes for this lovecraftian horror story set somewhere in space. It's a short book so it will be my amuse bouche, a little horror appetizer.

Monstrocity was sent to me for review by the publisher, Anarchy Books.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past - Asa Larsson

It is the first thaw of spring and the body of a young woman surfaces in the River Thorne in the far north of Sweden. Rebecka Martinsson is working as a prosecutor in nearby Karuna. Her sleep has been disturbed by haunting visions of a shadowy, accusing figure. Could the body belong to the ghost in her dreams? And where is the dead girl's boyfriend, also reported as missing the previous winter? 

Joining forces once again with Police Inspectors Anna-Maria Mella and Sven-Erik Stalnacke, Rebecka is drawn into an investigation that centres on old rumours about a plane carrying supplies for German troops in 1943 that never arrived. Shame and secrecy shroud the locals' memories of the war, with Sweden's early collaboration with the Nazis still a raw wound. And on the windswept shore of a frozen lake lurks a killer who will kill again to keep the past buried for ever beneath half a century's silent ice and snow.

I thought this book would be a good choice for me to read. So far I have not reviewed any pure breed crime books and when I saw Until Thy Wrath Be Past from fellow Swede Asa Larsson I knew I had to read it. Funnily enough I don't read much from Swedish authors. When I first moved to the UK it was difficult to find any translated into English, but that all changed rapidly after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I expect a very somber read, not too much action, but instead a intelligent plot.

Until Thy Wrath Be Past was sent to me for review by the publisher, Quercus Books.

The Goblin Corps - Ari Marmell

This is an epic action-fantasy full of adventure, excitement, and drama - and all from the bad guys' points of view!

Morthul, the dreaded Charnel King, has failed. Centuries of plotting from the heart of the Iron Keep - all for naught. Foiled at the last by the bumbling efforts of a laughable band of so-called heroes, brainless and over-muscled cretins without sense enough to recognize a hopeless cause when they take it on. But the so-called forces of Light have paid for their meddling with the life of Princess Amalia, the only child of the royal family of Shauntille.

Now, as winter deepens, disturbing news has reached the court of Morthul. King Dororam, enraged by the murder of his only child - and accompanied by that same group of delusional upstart 'heroes' is assembling all the Allied Kingdoms, fielding an army unlike any seen before. Still, after uncounted centuries of survival, the Dark Lord isn't about to go down without a fight, particularly in battle against a mere mortal! No, the Charnel King still has a few tricks up his fetid sleeves, but the only thing that can defeat him now may just be the inhuman soldiers on whom he's pinned his last hopes...

Welcome to the Goblin Corps, may the best man lose!

This book just looks like a lot of fun. Lately there has been quite a few books following the 'bad guys' view on things: Orcs, Goblin Hero and lets not forget all the Warhammer books. On purpose I have tried to avoid reading any reviews just to read it without any preconceptions. I honestly cant see how this book could be anything other than entertaining. I follow Ari Marmell on Twitter and Google+ and he comes up with the most absurd jokes and observations.

Goblin Corps was sent to me for review by the publisher, Pyr.

Rule 34 - Charles Stross

DI Liz Kavanaugh: You realise policing internet porn is your life and your career went down the pan five years ago. But when a fetishist dies on your watch, the Rule 34 Squad moves from low priority to worryingly high profile. Anwar: As an ex-con, you'd like to think your identity fraud days are over. Especially as you've landed a legit job (through a shady mate). Although now that you're Consul for a shiny new Eastern European Republic, you've no idea what comes next. The Toymaker: Your meds are wearing off and people are stalking you through Edinburgh's undergrowth. But that's ok, because as a distraction, you're project manager of a sophisticated criminal operation. But who's killing off potential recruits? So how do bizarre domestic fatalities, dodgy downloads and a European spamming network fit together? The more DI Kavanaugh learns, the less she wants to find out.

I really liked Charles Stross' Laundry series a lot more than Accelerando, so hopefully Rule 34 has more in common with the former. My wish list for Rule 34 include: fun, bizarre, great characters and everything should come in a slick package.

Rule 34 was sent to me for review by the publisher, Orbit Books.

A Serpent Uncoiled - Simon Spurrier

A missing mobster. A bizarre spiritualist society. And three deaths, linked by a chilling forensic detail.

Working as an enforcer in London's criminal underworld brought Dan Shaper to the edge of a breakdown. Now he's a private investigator, kept perilously afloat by a growing cocktail of drugs. He needs to straighten-up and rebuild his life, but instead gets the attention of his old gangland masters and a job-offer from Mr George Glass. The elderly eccentric claims to be a New Age Messiah, but now needs a saviour of his own. He's been marked for murder.

Adrift amidst liars and thugs, Shaper must push his capsizing mind to its limits: stalked not only by a unique and terrifying killer, but by the ghosts of his own brutal past.

Roughly a month ago I did see, and even read some, a lot of reviews for A Serpent Uncoiled and they were all very positive. When Headline announced on Twitter that they would give away review copies to anyone interested I pounced like a fat little boy on an abandoned snickers bar. This book will be violent, maybe even disturbingly so. It should also be a fresh, or at least different, approach to the noir detective. Maybe even a touch of China Mievelle's magical weirdness.

A Serpent Uncoiled was sent to me for review by the publisher, Headline.

Monday, 22 August 2011

'Roil' - Trent Jamieson

Roil is the first part of The Nightbound Land duology . Roil is Trent Jamieson's first book for the robot overlords, but not his first novel. He has a written a number of books prior to Roil, and it's from his Death Works series that I know of him, and although I have never read them they are books I would like to read one day. Let's focus on Roil though. Not sure about the cover for it, just a tad to mangaesque for me. The blurb was a different story though and it really caught my eye when the book was first announced back in January (2011). A vast cloud of darkness, the Roil, is spreading across the country. Inhabited by unspeakable horrors killing everything in their past. The armies of the world defeated. Only three very unlikely heroes are left to stop the spread of the Roil, a useless young man, a four thousand year old man and young woman. I've seen similar things before, but if it works why change it? Angry Robot very kindly sent me a book to review.

It starts with a murder. David watches as his father's throat is slit through a drug induced calm. His father's politics has finally crossed the line for what his opponents can tolerate when so much is at stake. More blood will be spilled before the night is over. David escapes with the killers hot on his heels. Hungry and lonely he hides and runs with very little hope of escaping the blades of his father's enemies.

Margaret is also making her escape, but from something even worse than assassins. Her parents are brilliant scientists and thanks to their efforts her city has managed to keep the creatures of the Roil at bay for twenty years now. Something has changed though, they are no longer simple beasts, now they move and kill with a purpose. Their eyes burn with intelligence and malice as they destroy her city. Margaret has been fighting these creatures all her life, her weapons are fully charged, her heart filled with fury. She will have her vengeance, she must reach the fabled Engines of the World and activate it to destroy the Roil. Problem is, no one really knows if the Engines of the World exist or how to operate them.

No one except Cadell. He is one of the Old Men, thousands of years old, shrouded in myths and legends. His release is the reason why David’s father was murdered. Together they have to stop the Roil and save the world.
The inconsolable heavens wept and lightning split the darkness, revealing a Quarg Hound, hunched down on the corner of the street, its broad back twisted with muscle. Saliva streamed, black and thick, from a mouth that was too wide, and a malicious gleam lit its huge eyes. More disconcerting was the intelligence David perceived within them, something lacking in any of the hounds David had encountered before.
I found quite a few things that I liked about Roil, first of all Trent Jamieson has done an incredible job with the world building. There are a number of different factions involved and working towards their own goals. They have all been given rich background and clear motivations. Each faction has their own agents with different capabilities, no mere humans here. Even though some factions work against the protagonist, they are not necessarily evil, it's more that they are doing the wrong thing for the right reasons. A lot of thought has gone into the world and its politics. Context and exposition is skilfully delivered without bloating and slowing down the plot. I really liked the small excerpts from historical books and private each chapter. I'm left with a sense of wonder, Trent Jamieson's world both captivated and fascinated me with all its layers of complexity.

The very same can be said about his characters who all have a very different range of abilities and personalities. I found them to be very engaging, creating rich plot with many different and interesting obstacles for them to overcome. The plot reminded me of Lord of the Rings, simple, just drop the ring in the volcano. What could possibly go wrong there? Roil has some similarities with an ancient and very powerful old man, a slightly useless young man and darkness spreading across the world. Luckily, Roil is quicker to read and a lot more pacy.

I feel I need to congratulate Angry Robot for yet another great signing in Trent Jamieson. After reading Roil I must pick up his other books. Roil seems to have it all, a rich world, characters that both engage and horrify you and a plot that makes you want to come back for more. It was a very difficult book to put down at night, the pages seemed to turn themselves. Roil also has greatness, so far no epic battles, but it's there, that feeling of something epic. It's hard to categorise and right now it's leaning towards a steampunk fantasy, but there are hints of more advanced SF technology. Anyone will enjoy this book.

Roil weighs in at 432 pages and is published by Angry Robot. UK release is the 1st of September 2011and US release is 30th of August.

Recommendation: must read

Friday, 19 August 2011

'Viking Dead' - Toby Venables

Viking Dead is a book I heard about from another book review blog, none other than Graeme's Fantasy Book Review. He did not actually review Viking Dead, just mentioned it in passing. I quite liked the cover, those zombie vikings look really menacing. Should not judge a book by its cover though, let's move on the the blurb. For some reason or another the crew of a viking ship find themselves stranded in a bleak and pestilent land. If that's not bad enough, their dead awake and turn on them, biting and gnashing! Then there is a rumour of a dark castle in a hidden fjord. Maybe I'm easily pleased, but that blurb is pleasing to the eye. Abaddon Books kindly sent me a book to review.

Atli, a boy, or young man, is out gathering fire wood. The mist is thick over the water and he cannot see much, but he can hear a rhythmic sound of something breaking the surface. The great head and neck of a dragon looms out of the mist. The vikings are here.

His father is a miserable drunk and life in the village seems rather dull and miserable right now. While the vikings are raiding, Alti decides he has had enough and stows away on their boat. The raid does not go as planned, someone has beaten them to the prize. Bjolf, the leader of the vikings, is then forced to make a tough decision. Grimmsson and his crew of raiders spot them and charge towards them, swords in hand. Bjolf has no choice but to flee back to their ship, there is no way they can beat a force twice as large. Once back on board their ship Bjolf discovers their stow away, Atli. First Bjolf is furious, but his second in command reminds him of that Bjolf was not much older himself when he left his home to join his uncle on a raid. The boy is accepted as a member of the crew. Atli is now a viking.

Bjolf is still not quite sure exactly where they are. There was a great storm raging while they made their escape and they have lost their bearings. After many days at sea a raven lands on the ship. This can only mean one thing, land is nearby. They make landfall close to a village with a wall around it. The place looks  desserted, not a trace of anyone outside the wall. The men could use to sleep on solid ground so Bjolf and his party make their presence known outside the gate. After some suspicion the gates are opened, but this is when it goes weird. There is no lord of the manor, instead it is a beautiful young woman who throws herself around Bjolf's neck and thanks him for finally coming. Something is clearly amiss, yet Bjolf and his crew decides to accept the hospitality of the village. A feast is being prepared, tonight they will feast on mead and beer.

During the feast Bjolf lets slip that he left some men on the boat to keep vigil of their dead. Halldis, the lady of the manor, appears shocked when she hears this. She demands that the dead must be burned. This not according to the viking custom and Bjolf in turn is shocked and outraged. He is not sure what to think when Halldis explains that there is a curse, and any deceased will rise again as a draugr, a living dead. He is however, about to become very convinced of their existence.

Toby Venables' Viking Dead is a stunningly well written book. This not so much a review, it’s more a report of the greatness of Viking Dead. I really liked the first part of the book, where the existence of zombies is still in doubt. Our heroes encounter sign after sign of the undead, but nothing concrete enough to convince Bjolf and the majority of the crew. During this part of the book, the suspense is built little by little until I found myself holding my breath in anticipation of the inevitable arrival of the zombie horde. This is long before they even do any zombie bashing! There will be plenty of that to come later on in the book.

Atli is my favorite character in the book. I wont describe him as the most important character in the book, but I found him the most interesting. Possibly because he has a different view of events. He is not quite part of the view, so he is watching it from the sidelines. It was great reading about how he step by step was accepted by the crew. Viking Dead is maybe surprisingly a great story about camaraderie and a tale of a boy becoming a man. Found it both convincing and endearing, as endearing as something can be in such a grim tale packed with the undead. The other characters are all well written and have that so important feel of life to them. I quickly started to feel attached to the different members of the crew.
"Ah, give the boy a proper weapom," called the giant with a laugh. "He's one of us now!" The words gave Atli an instant glow of pride - so much so that in his distraction he almost drove the knife into his palm. He hoped no one noticed.
The world building was another thing that impressed me in Viking Dead. He must have done research on vikings and even managed to avoid the biggest trope of all, the horned helmets. Toby Venables setting is a very grim and dark one. I almost shivered because of all the cold damp mist and stormy weather, then I really shivered when things got scary.
As Bjolf looked on, a strange feeling of disgust rising in him, the man's skin seemed to constantly shimmer and shift in the sunlight, as if it were bubbling.
The only negative I have regarding Viking Dead is that I don't know if there will be a second part. I will be most upset if there wont be another book. Or two.

Viking Dead charges with berseker fury straight to the top of my Best of 2011 list. The other books tries to resist, but with little regard for its own safety and some well aimed blows from its battle axe, there is no stopping Viking Dead. I'm truly impressed with Viking Dead and the goose bumps inspiring ending just blew me away, please let there be a second part.

Viking Dead weighs in at 352 pages and is published by Abaddon Books.

Recommendation: must read

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

'Cyber Circus' - Kim Lakin-Smith

Cyber Circus is a book I've been looking forward to reading ever since I first heard about it. See my "To-Read Pile: August" blog for some of the reasons. Not only does Kim Lakin-Smith seem like a great lady, but her book also has a interesting blurb. We are promised a collection of freaks and outcasts who have all joined a travelling circus. The romantic in me simply cannot resist a travelling circus. Not just anyone can join this circus. It is a show, after all. The performers are all ‘different’ in a way. One of them is an ex-soldier with cybernetic implants, who will be forced to fight to save one of the performers, Desirous Nim. I like the sound of that stage name. The other members of the crew will hopefully join in and dazzle us all with their strange abilities. Sounds rather fun, does it not? NewCon Press kindly sent me a copy of Cyber Circus to review.

It all starts with a show and a betrayal. Cyber Circus has set down in a grubby little mining town with a population of a few thousand. Wolf Girl is on stage, treating the crowd to a gruesome show. Her lank hair is clotted with blood from the big chunks of raw meet she is tearing into with her teeth. Her performance is meant to revolt and stun the crowd, but one spectator feels something very different, lust. He is the local pimp and he has come to reclaim what was once his, Desirous Nim. Why not claim another prize while he is there? The Wolf Girl would be a fine addition to his stable.
But all that carnality had done nothing to sate his deepest need. No matter how he mixed tears into their smiles with the lash, or how many of their mouths suckered him, he could not achieve a true, beautified sense of his own fleshness. He wanted to be properly devoured. To be feasted upon.
A fight breaks out and Hellequin, the ex-soldier, along with the crew of Cyber Circus has to fight for their lives and friends. They make their escape, but the pimp is not one to give up so easily. However, there are many dangers lurking out in the wastelands. The crew of Cyber Circus is in for the fight of their lives.

It's not a long book so the plot is simple and basically just a long flight from the pimp. The complexity and what makes it so interesting are the characters themselves. They have one thing in common, they have all been violated in one way or another. Their bodies were changed, circuitry inserted or remade into the shape of an animal. Desirous Nim glows like a neon sign in Las Vegas, Pig Heart has the heart and head of a pig and Hellequin's head is full of wires.

Kim Lakin-Smith has captured the essence of torment in her poor characters and reading about them made me sad, but I also felt a glimmer of hope for them. Maybe they could break free of their pasts and fears to evolve into something better. While I could not relate to their experiences I could feel sympathy for them. They have nothing left, except each other, and nowhere to go in the world except the circus. To a life of scrutiny and contempt for being different.

Her world building effort worked well. It all feels very gritty, like a spaghetti western. Unshaven, sweaty men with stubble, women in corsets and a lot grime and dust. We are dropped straight into that world. There is no background given. Instead Kim Lakin-Smith doles out information about her world and why it is in such a state whenever it fits with the story. This makes Cyber Circus feel genuine and the plot pace is smooth. Never did I get the feeling of info dumping. If anything, the way things were introduced made me more curious about the setting.

I did at times struggle to understand what happened. Her writing felt elusive and it was not immediately clear who said or did what. Luckily there is more to her writing than that. There is a touch of darkness to her prose and it's often raw and dirty which suits the world and its characters.

As far as I am concerned, Kim Lakin-Smith puts the 'punk' in steampunk. I wish there was more to read about Cyber Circus and its fabulous crew. A entertaining and engaging read, best enjoyed with a glass of bourbon to set the right mood. Any fan of dark fantasy or steampunk with a bit of bite will enjoy Cyber Circus. I certainly did. There was even a goosebumps moment.

Cyber Circus is published by NewCon Press and weighs in at 200 pages. Scheduled for release on the 30th of September 2011.

Recommendation: read

Monday, 15 August 2011

'Hell Ship' - Philip Palmer

Hell Ship has a very appealing blurb and we just hit it off straight away. The Hell Ship is an enormous vessel, filled with the slaves of conquered worlds. Sharrock is one the slaves, but he refuses to give up and swears that he will break his chains and bring down his masters. Against him is the leader of the slaves who will do anything to preserve the status quo she has worked so hard for. Unknown to the slaves the Hell Ship is also being hunted by a powerful ship and is in the control of a man whose mind was merged with the ship’s AI.
I expected a tongue in cheek story packed with heroic feats and monstrous aliens. I had high expectations on this book, which made me worried I’d be disappointed. I waited until the Orbit book signing at Forbidden Planet before treating myself to a signed copy of Hell Ship.
Aliens, invaders and pirates in space!
Sharrock is a champion of his people who is on his way home from a mission when he spots smoke on the horizon. His village was destroyed, his friends and family murdered. Burning bodies are everywhere but there is no sign of the enemy. He decides to take an aircraft and head toward the largest nearby city. Once in the air, he spots the enemy for the first time. Sharrock forces the bandit fighter to land. Now he can see his foe in the flesh. She is at least twice as large as him with bulging muscles and fiery red hair. He fights like he has never fought before, but no matter how much damage he does to the hulking woman, she does not die. Just as despair is crushing his spirit, the world erupts into flames. He feels his skin burning and his bones melting, then darkness.

When Sharrock awakes he finds himself locked in a cage. A giant tentacle monster is the only one there to greet him from his return from oblivion. The monster speaks with the beautiful voice of a woman and tries to soothe his anger and the pain he feels from losing his entire world. Sharrock is not one to negotiate or even talk to a creature capable of destroying a world without provocation. He refuses to believe she is a prisoner along with many other creatures who have all suffered the same fate as him. Sharrock might have lost the battle for his world, but he is not defeated and he vows to break free and utterly destroy his captors and avenge his world.

Jak is an Olaran male. Heartbroken, he has left his service as a trader to get away from the woman that broke his heart. To do this, he decides to join an explorer ship. Their job is to boldly go where no one has gone before. Sounds familiar doesn't it? If a planet has something worth trading then traders are sent there. If a species is deemed too aggressive, the whole planetary system is quarantined. The Olarans are the most technologically advanced species in their universe, almost godlike in their power. With the Hell Ship, the Orlaran explorer ship has met its match. Jak is the sole survivor of the crew but is grievously injured. The ship's AI, along with Jak, swear they will hunt down the Hell Ship and destroy it once and for all.

Hell Ship was written with me as the target audience. I knew I would love it after reading just a couple of pages. One of the reasons I enjoy science fiction is that I am fascinated by the unknown and whatever it hides. The more alien and bizarre it is, the better. This one of many reasons why I love Neal Asher's Spatteryjay series. Hell Ship also delivers the same creativity by the space freighter load. Nothing is ordinary here. We are taken on a joyride through a multitude of universes and Philip Palmer fills each and everyone with his wondrous and dreadful creations. I cannot help but associate the Hell Ship with the flying Dutchman. That is the kind of dread it invokes. Not that anyone survives to spin a yarn about it.

It's action packed as well. Like any other prison, there is pecking order. This is not something that's established over a cup of tea and a game of chess. It is, of course, settled with blood. Philip Palmer treats his reader to well written fights that are quick, brutal and feel convincing. There is something humorous about them as well. Fights often come to a unexpectedly abrupt endings.
"We want your deaths," said the FanTang leader, and took out a stick that was tied to his belt, and shook the stick so it became a sword, and struck off my head.
It's not all blood and gore. There are some more emotional moments. All of these prisoners have lost their home worlds and their stories were touching. The characters themselves are well written. I can't help but I love Sharrock. He is such a super soldier with a die hard spirit. Really full of himself, but in a very charming way. He feels like a parody of an action hero with his attitude and quite remarkable abilities. There is not much this guy is not capable of even though he does suffer a beating now and then.
And then Sharrock screamed: "Ha! I Jest! Sharrock? Defeated? Never!!" And he pounced.
The only complaints I have about this highly entertaining book is that it was too generous with cataloguing new species. A section at the end felt like reading a encyclopedia and should have been trimmed down. It was also a shame how Jak developed as a character. He starts out as a flippant and cocksure young man. He might have suffered a loss in love, but he is still at the top of his game. However, after the encounter with the Hell Ship, he changes. His experience leaves him broken in more than one way and he is a lot less interesting all of a sudden.

If like me you love to be amazed by new and mind boggling aliens, you should pick up Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Be prepared to fasten your seat belt and enjoy a roller coaster ride through space. You will be treated to an entertaining tale of heroics, tragedy and selfless sacrifice all written with a gleam in the eye.

Check out Philip Palmer's own moodboard for Hell Ship.

Hell Ship weighs in at 480 pages and is published by Orbit.

Recommendation: must read

Thursday, 11 August 2011

'Debris' - Jo Anderton

Debris is the debut novel of Jo Anderton. It's the first part in the Veiled Worlds series. I was immediately attracted to Debris thanks to Jo Anderton’s innovative magic system. Most people have the ability to see and manipulate pions which are subatomic particles. Not by brute force but more by coaxing them into doing your bidding. It sounds extremely powerful and I was already thinking epic magic battles in the style of Steven Erikson. Debris the story of a woman who is cast down to the very bottom of society, stripped of her powers and her friends. Sounds quite tasty, doesn't it? Angry Robot kindly provided me with a review copy.

Much has happened since Tanyana graduated from Proud Sunlight as an Architect with Distinction. She was even the head of her own nine point circle and mingled with the elite of society. Then it all went wrong. She was with her circle working on the 800 meter high statue of Grandeur.  She lost control. No, control was vested from her, someone sabotaged her work. She fell.

Broken and battered, she wakes up. It takes a while to realise just how far she fell. She can no longer see pions, their beauty is gone forever. What makes it worse is that she can now see debris instead. Debris is the waste product from manipulating pions and can be unstable in large quantities. It's ugly.

Strange men with expressionless features order the technician that is tending her to proceed. The technician's large eyes are full of sorrow as he apologises for what he must now do to her. Too weak to stop them, she is strapped down and operated on. Large needles filled with a silvery liquid hover around her like cobras waiting to strike. They plunge into her body, down to her very bones, before injecting her with the liquid silver. The technician is holding her hand and whispering words of comfort. Her already damaged body has metal grafted onto it. He stays by her side telling her how strong she is and how well her body is accepting the suit.

Now she is no longer an architect. She is now a debris collector. The surgery was necessary to fit her with the tools of her trade.

Jo Anderton's Debris feels like a breath of fresh air with her approach to magic. Lately, I've read books by well known authors who have tried new approaches, but have fallen short of the mark. Anything from uninspiring prismatic magic to gemstones charged by thunderstorms. Her pions manages to feel both magical and science-y at the same time. Jo Anderton brings it to life with her rich descriptions which make the magic feel both beautiful and dangerous. Pions are described as glowing particles, varying in color. Anyone that can see them will be treated to breathtaking visions of colours wherever they turn. Pions are mostly used for constructive things, heating water, creating light, powering transport or as digital displays. When I first read about her magic system, I had visions of the pions being used for epic battles but this never happened. She clearly did not have an epic fantasy in mind and I have to take my Steven Erikson abstinence somewhere else.

Jo Anderton has created a very compelling world that works well with the magic system. We are never given much information about the world as whole, but hints are dropped that we will see more of it in the next book. The story is played out in a large city ruled by ancients families. A totalitarian society and not at all the utopia I first expected. The brutality of the rulers is made perfectly clear after her fall and seems to come as a surprise to Tanyana as well. She is given no chance to defend herself, operated on against her will and forced into servitude.

Everything, and I mean everything, around the characters is fastidiously described. Their environment is instilled with a spark of life making it easy to imagine. I almost wished I could be there to see it. Her attention to detail is a blessing and a curse. The pacing of the plot suffers and some descriptions could probably have been left out to move the plot along.

Tanyana, the protagonist, is the strongest point of the book. At first I thought she would be hell bent on vengeance, like The Count of Monte Cristo. Luckily, she did not have to spend years in prison to harness that kind of lust for revenge. She is far more sensible and just want her life back and to clear her name. I found her likeable and easy to sympathise with. A strong and stubborn woman who tries very hard to build a shell around her to keep people at arm’s length. It's her vulnerability that won me over. In spite of her bravado and sharp tongue, she is lonely. Jo Anderton does very well in describing her loss and pain. The story is told from Tanyana's point o of view, which is perhaps why the other characters felt flat. They work well and assist in moving the plot forward, but they never invoked much sympathy.

As I said earlier, the details bog down the plot and this is most noticeable in the middle of the book when Tanyana is coming to grips with her new life. A lot of time is spent trying to win over her team of debris collectors, figuring out how her suit works. It’s nothing we have not seen before, unhelpful colleagues, people who dislike her for no apparent reason. Minor obstacles that turn up in every fantasy plot. The plot does not move forward in a convincing way. There is an occasion where she all of a sudden seems to remember a story told in university, which is actually a vital clue to what is going on with her. Another problem is her 'suit' which she seems to be unable to control. At critical times the suit acts for her, rendering her passive. I much prefer when the plot is moved forward because the protagonist is proactive.

Jo Anderton has written a lovely first novel. An innovative magic system in a world full of mystery and forgotten lore that is brought to life with her rich descriptions, a strong and interesting protagonist fighting to clear her name and a plot that raises many questions. Debris left most of them unanswered, but things are looking very promising for the next book, Suited.

Debris weighs in at 464 pages and is published by Angry Robot. It's scheduled for release in October 2011.

Recommendation: read

Monday, 8 August 2011

To-Read Pile: August

Been a busy last couple of weeks and reading has fallen behind. I feel the need to make up for the lack of book reviews the next week somehow. Hopefully, no one will notice it if I post about the books I am going to read in the very near future. Books are presented in the intended reading order. I know the title says for August, but no money back guarantee if I divert from the list or the ordering. Let's start.

Hell Ship - Philip Palmer
The Hell Ship hurtles through space. Inside the ship are thousands of slaves, each the last of their race. The Hell Ship and its infernal crew destroyed their homes, slaughtered their families and imprisoned them forever. But one champion refuses to succumb. Sharrock, reduced from hero to captive in one blow, has sworn vengeance. Although Sai-as, head of the alien slave horde, will ruthlessly enforce the status quo. But help is close. Jak has followed the Ship for years and their battles have left Jak broken, a mind in a starship’s body, focussed only on destroying the Ship. Together, can hunter and slave end this interstellar nightmare?
That's pure awesome sauce there. Sounds like a proper pulp action thriller to me. I'm thinking Kurt Russell and Snake Plisken here. A story of vengeance, aliens and violence. I expect a very intense read. I'm hoping this will be a real page turner. I will obviously be reading my SIGNED copy of Hell Ship.

Hell Ship is Published by Orbit Books.

Viking Dead - Toby Venables
Northern Europe, 976 AD. Bjólf and the viking crew of the ship Hrafn flee up an unknown river after a bitter battle, only to find themselves in a bleak land of pestilence. The dead don’t lie down, but become draugr – the undead – returning to feed on the flesh of their kin. Terrible stories are told of a dark castle in a hidden fjord, and of black ships that come raiding with invincible draugr berserkers. And no sooner has Bjólf resolved to leave, than the black ships appear... Now stranded, his men cursed by the contagion of walking death, Bjólf has one choice: fight his way through a forest teeming with zombies, invade the castle and find the secret of the horrific condition – or submit to an eternity of shambling, soulless undeath!
I'm Scandinavian so vikings have always been of great interest to me. As a kid I used to devour any viking related books I could get my hands on. Not much has changed really. This will be my first viking and zombie crossover though. I expect it to be a killer combo, like chips and mayo. Dark and gritty with characters dropping life flies, only to rise again.

Viking Dead is published by Abaddon Books, thank you for the review copy.

Cyborg Circus - Kim Lakin-Smith

Hellequin, last of the HawkEye military elite, is desperate to escape the legacy of Soul Food, the miraculous plant food that leeched the soil, destroyed his family, and instigated a bloody civil war. For a man awaiting the inevitable madness brought on by his enforced biomorph implant, there’s only one choice. Run away with the circus…
Drifting above a poisoned landscape, Cyber Circus and her exotic acrobats and bioengineered freaks bring a welcome splash of colour into folk’s drab lives. None more so than escaped courtesan turned-dancer Desirous Nim. When Nim’s freedom and her very life are threatened, Hellequin is forced to fight again. But, even united, will the weird troupe and their strange skills be enough to save Nim and keep their home aloft? That’s assuming, of course, that Zan City’s Blood Worms, mute stowaways, or the swarms don’t manage to bring them down first…
Welcome to the greatest show on Sore Earth!
Both excited and nervous about this book. I'll be gutted if I don't like it. Kim was one of the first people I followed on Twitter and who actually followed me back. She even commented on one of my first reviews! I have added time pressure for reading Cyborg Circus. I want to read it before the BSFA Event where Kim will be interviewed. From what I've seen so far of Kim's writing it will be bold and poetic. I dare not expect anything.

Cyborg Circus is published by NewCon Press, thank you for the review copy.

Roil - Trent Jamieson

Shale is in troubledying. A vast, chaotic, monster-bearing storm known only as the Roil is expanding, consuming the land.
Where once there were twelve great cities, now only four remain, and their borders are being threatened by the growing cloud of darkness. The last humans are fighting back with ever more bizarre new machines. But one by one the defences are failing. And the Roil continues to grow.
With the land in turmoil, it’s up to a decadent wastrel, a four thousand year-old man, and a young woman intent on revenge to try to save their city – and the world.

I've been waiting for this book for quite a while now. I do like my fantasy dark and gritty; unlikely heroes fighting against the odds. Which is exactly what I am expecting from Roil. I bet they won't get along to start with. A lot of bickering. Lots of secrets. Lots of fun.

Roil is published by Angry Robot, thank you for the review copy.

Equations of Life - Simon Morden
Samuil Petrovitch is a survivor. He survived the nuclear fallout in St. Petersburg and hid in the London Metrozone - the last city in England. He's lived this long because he's a man of rules and logic. For example: GETTING INVOLVED = A BAD IDEA. But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he's saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London. And clearly: SAVING THE GIRL = GETTING INVOLVED. Now, the equation of Petrovitch's life is looking increasingly complex: RUSSIAN MOBSTERS + YAKUZA + SOMETHING CALLED THE NEW MACHINE JIHAD = ONE DEAD PETROVITCH. But Petrovitch has a plan - he always has a plan - he's just not sure it's a good one.
I bought this book straight away after reading the review from Pornokitsch. Some days it feels like for enquires about what's on my reading pile I could just redirect to www.pornokitsch.com/reviews/ really. This is the book I have brought in to read something a little different. There is only so much gritty and dark fantasy you can read in a stretch without needing something to clear your palet. I expect this to be fun and full of pace. Petrovitch should stumble from straight from the ashes into the fire. I bet he gets smacked on the head a lot as he cant help his sharp tongue.

Equations of Life is published by Orbit Books.

I've only scratched the surface of my reading pile here. Think of this post as the tip of the ice berg. Whenever I next fall behind on my reading you can expect another post like this. Anyway, expect reviews of these books in the next four weeks.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Interview with Erik Lundqvist

No I did not go and interview myself, but my fellow blogger Spriteby did. She is doing a 'Meet the reader' where she interviews followers of her blog. Head over there to read her interview with me and others.

Spriteby interviews Erik Lundqvist

Thursday, 4 August 2011

'Past Tense' - Nick Marsh

Nick Marsh is another author that was recommended to me via Twitter. His website has a couple of reviews where his books are compared to the work of Douglas Adams and to a lesser extend Philip K Dick. That's not exactly bad so after some further investigation, on Amazon, I decided to ask Nick Marsh for a review copy of one of his books. He sent me a copy of Past Tense, the second part in his series about Alan Reece.

Alan is a veterinary, which is funnily enough exactly what Nick Marsh is as well. Alan is busier than most other veterinaries though, he also has to save the universe once in a while. Hopefully all that is over now and he can go back to just saving animals. He is attending a veterinary conference in Birmingham with his friend George. Alan wanted someone to take turns to drive with and George wanted to meet some hot nurses. Win-win for all parties involved. It's a rather boring lecture, surprisingly so, almost as if the lecturer is making an effort to be boring. Suddenly, reality shifts and Alan is no longer in the auditorium. The lecturer has been replaced by something inhuman. The creature is speaking in front of a large crowd and the crowd breaks out in a cheer and applause. Alan finds himself standing up and joining in, clapping his hands like his life depended on it. This is obviously the moment where reality shifts again, and Alan is back in Birmingham. He is also the only one standing up clapping his hands loudly. Hard to tell who is more embarrassed, Alan or the lecturer. At least George seems amused.

Alan decides to ignore what happened, hoping that things will stay normal from now on. He's had enough of the abnormal for a life time already. Unfortunately, fate does not cooperate. Alan and George are having a coffee in a cafe after the conference. Two strange looking men are waiting for him by the checkout. All of a sudden they are standing next to him. There is a smell of melted wires, or burned out electrical equipment in the air. The two strangers asks Alan to come with them.

That's only the beginning. From here on Alan and his friends will embark on some time travelling, remove bladder stones in Roman times, meet the undead and fight unspeakable horrors.

Past Tense follows Alan Reece and his two friends, George and Kate, on their quest to save the world as we know it. Alan, is the Chosen one. He is also a very reluctant hero, his flight response is a lot more developed than his fight response. His reluctance to step up is all done in a humorous way. Kate is strong and brave. George is the somewhat useless comic relief geek. They are all likeable, convincing, but somewhat stereotypical characters. There is not much character development to talk about.

There are two things that Nick Marsh does really well. The first is bringing his world alive and creating funny situations for his characters. Our 'heroes' travel back to Roman times and I was impressed with the level of detail that went into the descriptions of life in general during that period. The author must have a special interest in Roman history. I liked this, but unless you are interested in Roman history this could feel like a big info dump.
The humour feels very British. The poor British weather, along with the need for putting on the kettle takes the brunt of Nick Marsh's jokes. It's not rolling on the floor funny, but the jokes keeps coming, constantly probing your defences, trying to make your face break out into a smile.
Time travel is like air travel; uncomfortable, scary but relatively safe. More time travellers are killed on the way into work than they are on the time trip itself though; in fairness, there aren't many aeroplane journeys you can make where you accidentally erase yourself from history altogether. Even on the really cheap ones.
I enjoyed Past Tense. It does have that quirky and absurd humour I've come to associate with Douglas Adams. I left the book feeling a little bit left down. Alan Reece is hyped quite a lot early in the book as the chosen one. This made me expect someone along the lines of Donaldson's Thomas Covenant, but that level of awesomeness never delivers. Thankfully Alan Reece is a lot less annoying than Thomas Covenant and a lot more likeable. Past Tense should make a quick and fun read while we are waiting for the British weather to give us some sun between the showers.

Past Tense weighs in at 234 pages and is published by Immanion Press.

Recommendation: read

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

'Southern Gods' - John Hornor Jacobs

Twitter quickly seems to be turning into my best source for leads on good books. It was Adam Christopher, an Angry Robot author, who tipped me off about Southern Gods. The blurb promised deals with the devil, or worse, a Lovecraftian atmosphere and blues music all set in America in the 1950s. I usually don't read horror, but the last one I tried, the Ritual, was good. I admit being quite fond of the cover as well, not that I judge a book by that way. Almost never. Mr Jacobs kindly added me to the reviewers list and Night Shade Books sent me a review copy of Southern Gods.

Lewis "Bull" Ingram is World War II veteran who makes a living with his fists, collecting for a local moneylender. When you look like your mother mated with a bull, "persuading" people to hand over money is easy. Size is a good advantage. However, any thug worth his name can twist an arm. Bull's talent is finding people. This talent is what interests a record label. One of their promoters has gone missing and he is not the type to make a run for it. Something must have happened and they want Bull to find him. There is one more thing, though. They play a record for Bull. Never has he heard such music, he can barely restrain himself. The music invokes powerful feelings, feelings of rage and hate. He wants to hurt someone, hurt them real bad. The singer, Ramblin' John Hastur, is a local legend. He supposedly made a deal with the devil and his music can make people do things, terrible things. Bull needs to find the singer.

Sarah has had enough of her drunk of a husband. She won't let him hit her again. It's time she left with their, no her, daughter and went back to her family house. Franny is six years old, her golden haired bundle of joy, her everything. Franny will like living at the big house. Sarah's mom raises beautiful fowls and Alice, Sarah’s friend, still works as a housekeeper for her mother. Alice has two children who Franny will love playing with. For a while, it all looks well for Sarah and Franny. When she starts translating a book from her father's library, her view of reality is about to be challenged.

Southern Gods is a grim story about two people: Sarah and Bull. Two very different individuals with nothing in common except they’re both “broken”. The war left Bull so scarred that he is almost an automaton. He has lost his drive and ambition. He has nothing left to live for. It has made him into something he does not want to be. The things he does makes it difficult to sympathise with him. However, I did rather like his imperfections and it’s what makes him so convincing. He is a man standing at a crossroads in life. There is no certainty over which path he will choose.

Sarah is a submissive woman who is learning how to be strong. She has suffered abuse from her husband and before that her own mother. Franny is a source of strength for her. Sarah is a convincing character who is a lot easier to sympathise with than Bull. Don't worry, she is not the kind of woman who spends an entire book being hysterical and chased around by monsters. She is a woman who will do anything to keep her child safe, which I totally believe. Even her "lock and load" moment felt convincing.

It's not a very long book, so the plot moves forward quite quickly, perhaps too quickly. Another obstacle or plot twist could have made things more interesting. This is partly Bull's fault. The man is an enormous mountain of muscle with army training. He was involved in a lot of scraps but I never felt much concern for him. I was too busy being worried about whoever went up against him.

Southern Gods is not one of those horror novels where the suspense is unbearable because of what you cannot see. Here, the menace is a lot more direct and in your face. Especially when Bull is involved.  This book is more about trying to shock and appall the reader with gore and atrocities than building up suspense.

All in all, Southern Gods is a solid and entertaining first novel by John Hornor Jacobs. The winning points are the characters and the setting. Sarah and Bull are very different and balance each other well. Bull, the human wrecking ball, is a lot of fun and whenever he is around there is a lot of action. When Sarah is in the driver’s seat, things are different. To her the threat is more implied and it gets a lot creepier with horrors lurking in the shadows. The author is clearly capable of creating suspense which is proved by the nail-biting epilogue as well as some of the chapters with Sarah.

I suspect Southern Gods would make a kick ass movie with The Rock as Bull. Future novels by John Hornor Jacbos will pretty much automatically be added to the reading pile from now on. Any fan of horror will enjoy reading this book. But be warned, the book is best read wearing your wellies and rain coat so you can easily wash away the blood spatter afterwards.

Southern Gods weighs in at 300 pages and is published by Night Shade Books. It will be published in August 2011.

Recommendation: read