Thursday, 29 September 2011

'Darkness Falling' - Peter Crowther

Darkness Falling sounds a lot like The Body Snatchers when reading the blurb. People go missing only to be replaced by things who look like them, but are obviously not them. Not something I would normally read, but these survivor/horrors can be really good. I'm really thinking of Walking Dead here. Aim high and hope for the best is my motto. Darkness Falling is the first book in a series. Thank you Angry Robot for providing me with a review copy.
It was a typical all-American backwater – until the night the monsters came. 
When four employees of KMRT Radio investigate an unearthly light that cuts off communication with the outside world, they discover that something has taken the place of their friends and fellow townfolk, and imbued them with malign intentions. Little do they know, the phenomenon is not unique to the town of Jesman’s Bend…
The opening chapters very successfully introduced The Event, which changes the world completely for our characters. Then, it all starts feeling very familiar with scattered groups of survivors coming to terms with The Event. We have the usual stages of denial, followed by attempts at explanation. Any chance of things returning to normal is quickly disappearing.

We end up with quite a mixed group of survivors. From young children to an older, somewhat crazy lady. As often is the case with these things, it would have been too easy for all them to get along and just get on with surviving and rebuilding society. It would have been boring, so one of them is a serial killer. The first step is for the groups to be united, and for the weak to be weeded out. Easier said than done, the 'pod people' are intent on stopping any survivors. Stopping as in, dead stop.

I found the 'pod people' in Darkness Falling equally terrifying and absurd. I just realised that it's the cover of the book that really caught my eye. Look at them! Zombies are one thing, but malignant extra terrestrial beings wearing sunglasses? Cracks me up. My first reaction might have been one of humour, and a feeling of it all being rather absurd. Things quickly turn serious and they are fighting for their lives and it gets really exciting. Peter Crowther certainly is capable of building suspense and sending chills down your spine with his writing, there is no doubt about that. It's a shame that it is sometimes ruined by too much introspection by the characters. It's the same problem with Sam Sykes Tome of the Undergates. While in the thick of the melee, don't ruin the pace by having the characters ponder the meaning of life.

The characters are solid and do enough to make you sympathetic, but Peter Crowther can't quite lift them up to the same levels as characters by Guy Adams. They do what they are supposed to, but they feel a bit too templated and not quite unique enough. Usually after reading a book I find myself having at least one favorite character. Someone's whose chapters I really look forward to, and others I don't really care that much about. Tyrion Lannister, from A Game of Thrones, is an example of a favorite character. After Darkness Falling I don't have one.  No one stands out.

It seems like awesome characters is not a necessity for writing a entertaining book. For me the actual idea behind the book and Peter Crowther's execution of it is enough. The first chapters really gripped me, and I found myself thinking 'I did not see that coming!'. Just like with Lost, X-Files and FlashForward the mystery of it all is enough. I kept turning the pages to find some answers, and I will devour the second book in the series to slate my thirst for answers. Mysteries are a like drug, and Darkness Falling makes me want more.

Darkness Falling weighs in at 464 pages and is published by Angry Robot. It's scheduled for release on the 6th of October 2011.

Recommendation: read

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Book Giveaway: Roil

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.

It's time for another giveaway here at I Will Read Books. I'm really pleased to announce that I have a spare copy of Roil to give away. Many thanks to Angry Robot for providing me with one.

Roil is one of my favorite books so far this year, and if you are not convinced you want it check out my review.

This giveaway is open to anyone who lives where Royal Mail can deliver a parcel. I only do one a month so the postage certainly wont kill me, but having said that I do encourage more UK peeps to participate :)

Follow these steps to win a copy of Roil:

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email Roil
3) Don't forget to include your address, or I wont be able to send you the book
4) Do this before Thursday the 6th of October 2011

Good luck everyone

Monday, 26 September 2011

'Thanquol's Doom' - C L Werner

This bad boy arrived in the box of goodies the Black Library sent me to review. It was an easy first choice really. Thanquol is the skaven Grey Seer that used to bother Gotrek and Felix, but with little success.  He is a very likeable villain, who is just utterly useless, but a lot of fun. This is my first book where Thanquol is the protagonist, but it's actually his third. Still alive, so he probably did not run into Gotrek in the first two. Thank you Black Library for the review copy of Thanquol's Doom.

Thanquol is knee deep in a swamp, and not too happy. He has once again turned his enemies against each other, and it's time to return back to skavendom in triumph. He should be greatly rewarded, a hero's return. Unfortunately The Horned One wills otherwise. Instead of a hero's welcome Thanqoul is told to keep quiet about his recent adventure or it will be his last. He is then told he must lead an army against a dwarven keep, which have withstood the skavens for a long time. To make matters worse, Thanqoul is told he is just a decoy to draw attention from someone else. Unfathomable, how can they think this other Grey Seer is greater than him? Seething with anger he agrees, like there is a choice, knowing in time he will turn events to his favour.

Thanquol is a great character. It's his many shortcomings, for a human, which makes him so endearing and likeable in spite of being a monster. He reminds me of Peter Seller as Jacques Clouseau. Someone who is way too confident in their own abilities, and manages to make a complete mess of anything they do, but still comes out on top. Thanquol is ten times as bad as Clouseau. The Grey Seer has some terrible magic at his disposal, which is not what you want in the hands of a sociopath killer, which happens to be addicted to a substance which severely impairs his judgement.

Just like with Clouseau, it's a lot of fun following Thanquol on his misadventures. His constant paranoia, justified when dealing with skavens, is a constant source of amusement. His favourite way of explaining why everyone is out to get him, is the rumours which have spread about him. He is supposedly untrustworthy, and prone to turning on his allies. This is obviously spot on, but to Thanquol it's a complete mystery how these rumours came to life.

I do think it's worth mentioning how fun skavens are in general and how well thought out they are. You get a clear picture of their society and how they think and act. This is the third book about Thanqoul, but it's really not necessary to read them to understand skavens. I also love how they speak/squeak. Sometimes instead of saying just one word in a sentence, skavens add an extra word. It's really cool and adds more context and meaning.
'I have all the help I need-want,' Thanquol said. He gestured with his staff at the motley pack of clanrats. 'These are best-fiercest fighter in Bonestash,' he said. 'Worth-equal twenty dwarf-things!' The clanrats seemed to take the compliment with a mix of stupid pride and craven anxiety - no doubt wondering if Thanqoul really expected them to take on twenty dwarfs.
Thanqoul's Doom is really carried by the protagonist from which the book's title is named. The plot is not exactly great, but I don't have a problem overlooking any plot issues or inconsistencies as Thanqoul is far too entertaining to worry about it too much. My biggest issue was how overpowered the slaves were compared to the dwarfs. Skavens have a huge advantage in numbers, and they breed like, well rats. Dwarfs live hundreds of years and their litters are small. The dwarfs would have been obliterated a long time ago if it were not for their advantage in technology and skill at arms. This is all forgotten in Thanqoul's Doom, and it felt like the skavens had all the advantages.

Thanqoul is one of my favourite characters from the Warhammer setting and I enjoyed this book. Our Grey Seer stumbles from one hilarious disaster to the next and in between he manages to blow up a lot of bystanders. Even him venting his anger on the less fortunate skavens is fun, as he on the next page is quivering from fear when confronted with someone more dangerous than himself. Thanqoul's Doom is a blast!

Thanqoul's Doom weighs on at 408 pages and is published by The Black Library. It's due for release in October 2011.

Recommendation: read

Thursday, 22 September 2011

'A Serpent Uncoiled' - Simon Spurrier

It was hard to miss all the glowing reviews for A Serpent Uncoiled, so when the publisher announced on Twitter their intention to give away some review copies I pounced. The blurb is pretty promising as well. Dan Shaper is an ex enforcer for a London crime family. He now works as a private detective and becomes involved in a case, which involves an old man claiming to be a new age Messiah, his old crime family. Dan Shaper is tormented by his past and a home made cocktail of drugs is the only thing keeping the demons at bay. Sounds rather thrilling, doesn't it? Thank you Headline for providing me with a review copy.

Dan Shaper is sitting in his van listening in on people having sex. He is on a case. The madam of a brothel for elderly gentlemen contacted him. It seems someone has been pilfering from the tiger penis powder sold to the men to rejuvenate them. No signs of forced entry and no real clues. He installed bugs in the rooms of the girls working the brothel, but so far only grunts and squeals of pleasure. He's even learned the trademark of each girl for when they 'climax'. His hands are shaking and he is feeling nauseus, he is close to the limit of what his body can tolerate. He needs to get off the drugs before he burns out. Endure the Sickness in his head while his body is cleansed. He has to crack the case tonight. Vince, a massive brute of a man, is sitting next him belching from his beer and boredom. Sighing, Dan listens to Melanie 'coming' for a third time.

Seven days and nights in the van finally pays off as Dan's drug addled brain kicks into overdrive. Melanie only ever comes twice. Busted!

Having solved the mystery of the missing tiger penis powder Dan Shaper decides it times to detox before his brain is fried. He's at home preparing himself, when the doorbell rings. It's a gorgeous voluptuous blonde, who in a thick Swedish accent explains that her employer wants to see Dan Shaper. Dan at first refuses, his brain and body is simply not up to it, but he relents when she mentions how much he would get paid for a consultation.

Dan Shaper follows the girl to a massive house, where he is introduced to her eccentric employer, who explains that he was threatened. Someone sent him a letter naming him as a person on a list containing clippings from a newspaper of another murder. The old man wants Dan Shaper to assess if the threat is real or not, and under no conditions can the police be involved.

This is the start of a really trippy ride through Simon Spurrier's gorgeously dark and seedy London.

A Serpent Uncoiled surprised me, in a good way. It's a different take on the private eye, but not too far away from what you are used to. Dan Shaper is still a 'good guy', but someone who used to be a 'bad guy'. He has some pretty unique connections on both sides of the fence, which makes it a very interesting read. He is also not afraid of getting tough with people who deserve it, and when the Sickness hits he gets very violent, way too violent. Simon Spurrier has created a fascinating protagonist in Dan Shaper. Police detectives and private eyes almost always have a heavy burden, but with Dan Shaper it goes one step further. He is not on the edge of the cataclysm, his past has drop-kicked him over the edge, and he is already falling down into the fires of hell. The only reason he has not already hit rock bottom is his drugs. Alas, they cannot completely cure him, only let him retain his sharp mind, but the Sickness sometimes seeps out to embrace him with nightmares.

Dan Shaper going bonkers was something that worried me before I started reading the book. Normally, I don't like it at all. Possibly something that works better in books than movies as I can only recall movies, like Shutter Island, where a nutty protagonist did not work for me. Simon Spurrier uses Dan Shaper's madness in very clever ways. It's often even beneficial to Dan Shaper, and it's hard to distinguish from the magic within his madness.

It's a book with a strong plot as well. It kept me guessing to the very end what would happen next, and there are plenty of twists and turns.  I always admire a writer who is able to move the plot forward without resolving to dirty tricks with coincidences or unavoidable events. In A Serpent Uncoiled the plot is driven by the characters, and reacts to their actions, which makes for a very smooth read.

A Serpent Uncoiled is a book with a very strong protagonist, who is backed up by equally strong supporting characters. Dan Shaper is a man who has done so much evil and is desperate to find something good in himself before his past actions destroys him. It's a book that you don't want to put down, and when you wake up in the morning you can't wait to start reading it. It has everything: action, suspense, humour and passion. Don't miss A Serpent Uncoiled and keep your eyes open for the next book from Simon Spurrier.

A Serpent Uncoiled weighs in at 404 pages and is published by Headline.

Recommendation: must read

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Interview with Tim Lebbon

Joining me for today's interview is dark fantasy and horror writer Tim Lebbon. My first book by Tim Lebbon was the Dusk/Dawn duology, and I remember enjoying the mix of horror and fantasy. The first encounter with the Red Monks was nail-biting. The last book I read (and reviewed) by Tim Lebbon was Echo City, which is another good example of his innovative world building, and knack for adding a dash of horror to a fantasy novel.

For more information about Time Lebbon visit his website and/or follow him on Twitter, @timlebbon.

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 chose fantasy/horror as your genre?
I didn't really choose fantasy and horror, it's just the way my writing turns out.  Dark, fantastical, virtually everything I've ever written has been out of the ordinary.  I don't spend too much time analysing why.  To use an old saying of my grandmother, it's just the way my parents put my hat on.

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?
I started writing as soon as I could pick up a pencil or pen and make up stories.  I've always loved it, from a very early age.  I'd write stories in school exercise books, then in my teens I started writing longer novels.  I read voraciously as a child –– more than I do now –– and I think I'd name the Willard Price Adventure novels as inspirations for my childhood self.  They weren't supernatural, but were hugely imagination adventure novels.

 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?
My routine is built around my family, and my kids' school times.  So I start after my wife and kids have left the house, and usually finish when they all come home.  Sometimes I'll work in the evenings too, but that's rarely actual writing––calls, planning, emailing, plotting, editing.  I have an office at home, but enjoy working in different places on my laptop.  Other than that, there are no rituals as such.  I sometimes write to music, and I'm busy expanding my music library to try and find music that fits better.

Did moving back to the country change anything with your writing? All those jogs up and down the mountain help with inspiration?
That's not why we moved to the country, but there's no doubt that it helps, in countless ways.  And yes, since I've started a lot more exercise outside, I think it's benefitted my writing.  I have less time to write now because of the running and cycling etc, but the time I do have is far more concentrated and intense.  For me, there's no doubt that a fitter body means a fitter mind.  It increases enthusiasm, energy levels, and can see away the blues.

What is your favorite single malt?
Actually I'm a Jamesons's fan.

We recently met at a book signing at Forbidden Planet and I’m quite pleased to say you signed a copy of Echo City for me. Do you do a lot of interacting with your fans? What is your favorite way of doing just that?
I love doing signings, and it's only now that my work is starting to be published in the UK that I'll be able to do more of them.  I'm always open to email communication, and I love hearing from readers who have enjoyed my work.  

Echo City felt so detailed, not just the city, but also the politics, its past and its legends. Where do you keep it all? Is your study littered with maps and diagrams?
There are lots of notes, and yes, maps.  Usually it's all in my head when I'm working on a particular novel, and with something like Echo City there are lots of notes about forthcoming chapters, and files with details about flora and fauna, religions, politics etc.  Especially with these large scale fantasy novels, I always know more about the worlds than makes it into the books.  That's the best way to make it feel real.

What is the best piece of writing advice ever given to you, and do you follow it?
I can't recall any single piece of advice, but I've probably incorporated all manner of advice into my writing processes––write what you love; write through problem areas and fix them later; be aware of the details heading into a contract.  One that I stick to, and frequently give out to other people, is that writer's block is part of the creative process.  Don't get too hung up on it.

I often hear that characters have their own will and sometimes even surprise the author. Is this something that you have experienced?
Yes, occasionally a character will lead their own way.  One of my characters went and got himself shot without me expecting it to happen, and that changed the whole novel.  Obviously if something happens that's to the detriment of the book, there's always that 'backspace' key!  They don't really have a mind of their own .... but it's good when the story builds itself in unexpected ways as you write.  I always say that I love reaching the end of writing a novel because I want to know what happens!

Echo City is a book with a lot of strong female characters. Do you draw inspiration from people around you when writing a female character, or is gender something you don’t really think of much when writing a character?
I love writing female characters.  I think I do it okay, and it always pleases me when someone comments about my novels having strong female characters.  You can't write a novel with just men taking the lead.  Of course gender is something I think about when coming up with my characters.

Echo City is another book by you set in a very harsh and unforgiving world. Am I imagining things or do you favor this kind of settings for your books?
Well ... I am pretty grim.  Especially with my fantasy novels, I love setting stories in worlds in a state of flux, it makes the story more exciting and give the book an emotional wallop––the characters are
 already facing change when they first appear.  I love apocalyptic stories for the same reason, and that love has crept into my fantasy novels as well.  It's the change that fascinates me––how humanity deals with alterations from the norm.

What books are you currently reading and are there any must reads you would like to recommend?
I'm reading the Stephen Fry autobiography Moab is my Washpot, and the novel Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.  Must reads?  Millions of them...  Try China Mieville, Dan Simmons, Joe R Lansdale.  Check out Rob Shearman's short story collection, or Paul Meloy's.  World War Z is a great zombie
 novel.  Christopher Hitchens is fascinating.  There are many more!

Most importantly, are you working on something at the moment?
Always!  At the moment it's the third Jack London novel with Christopher Golden, revisions on a new fantasy novel for Orbit, edits on my big zombie SF novel Coldbrook.  I'm also about to start work on a major new project with a good friend in the USA that I can't tell you anything about (infuriating, eh?).  I've written a screenplay that I want to spend some more time on, and I'm also writing a new novella and finishing off a collection for PS Publishing.  And there's probably more I'm forgetting right now ....

Thank you Tim for your time and effort.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Abaddon Books: Time for a Change

I just received some exciting news from Abaddon Books. It's not only Angry Robot Books that makes innovative moves in the publishing industry. Abaddon Books has just announced their plans of publishing a book online in three instalments. After each of the first two, the readers have the chance to vote on what should happen next.

Jon Green is the author of Time's Arrow, which is the first part, and he has already created seven of the books in the Pax Britannia series.

Here is an excerpt from the news release:

Abaddon Books is delighted to announce a bold new  venue in genre publishing – one where the readers are in charge!

Time’s Arrow will be the latest  book from  the world’s longest continuously running  Steampunk  novel  series,  Pax Britannia. Set in a world where the Victorian age never ended,  Pax Britannia is an insane world of high technology and rip-roaring adventure.

The big difference with  Time’s Arrow? Each instalment will be published as an ebook and, at the end of each of the first two, readers will be able to vote on where THEY want the story to go. 

Once all three instalments have been published, they will be bound together into a print edition. The first part of the book will go live online on October 11th, with the vote for what happens next closing on December 11th.

Merging the best of print and online, Abaddon is proud to engage in such an exciting experiment – one where readers actively have a say in how the book is written. 
Jon Green has written  titles  in the legendary Fighting Fantasy series and created  seven of the criticallyacclaimed Pax Britannia books for Abaddon. 
“Pax Britannia is one of Abaddon’s most established series,” said  Jonathan Oliver,  editor-in-chief of Abaddon Books, “so it seemed like the natural choice for such a unique venture in publishing. This adventure is sure to reach out to new readers while giving established fans a say in the rich universe they have come to love.” 
“I am passionate about the whole Steampunk milieu, and the world of Pax Britannia in particular, while my first forays into writing professionally were adventure gamebooks,” says  Jonathan Green. “To marry elements of both is a fantastic opportunity for me as a writer and I, for one, can't wait to see how the story pans out!”

To find out more about Pax Britannia and Abaddon Books visit their website. For information about Jonathan Green and his other books visit his blog.

Monday, 19 September 2011

To-read pile: My Next 5 #3

Last week was slow for reading and reviewing, but a lot more successful for eating and drinking with my mates. This morning I did reach the end of my latest selection from my reading pile and it's time to make a new one. Black Library sent me some really exciting books in a big parcel so they will have the honour of going first and last this time.

Thanquol's Doom  - C L Werner

Upon his return to the Old World, the ambitious Grey Seer Thanquol is coerced into leading an army against the dwarfs of Karak Angkul. Renowned for its engineer clans, this city will not fall easily, but the true object of Thanquol’s fascination is their secret artefact of incredible power which he believes will assure his ascension to the Council of Thirteen. His efforts are thrown into disarray when the infamous skaven Ikit Claw usurps control of the army for his own nefarious schemes, and so Thanquol must act quickly before the warlock can unleash his ultimate weapon – the Doomsphere.

Grey Seer Thanquol is a great character from the Gotrek and Felix books. He is a bit of a comic relief trope to be honest, but he is a great one. I expect this book to be a lot of fun. Skavens are really fun, evil and cowards. Nothing will go as planned in this book, but it will be very entertaining.

Darkness Falling - Peter Crowther

It was a typical all-American backwater – until the night the monsters came.
When four employees of KMRT Radio investigate an unearthly light that cuts off communication with the outside world, they discover that something has taken the place of their friends and fellow townfolk, and imbued them with malign intentions. Little do they know, the phenomenon is not unique to the town of Jesman’s Bend…

I know nothing about this book apart from the blurb. Sounds like The Body Snatchers. Could be a scary book, or maybe a splatter-tastic book. The cover gives me the creeps.

The Falling Machine - Andrew P Mayer

In 1880 women aren't allowed to vote, much less dress up in a costume and fight crime...
But twenty-year-old socialite Sarah Stanton still dreams of becoming a hero. Her opportunity arrives in tragedy when the leader of the Society of Paragons, New York's greatest team of gentlemen adventurers, is murdered right before her eyes. To uncover the truth behind the assassination, Sarah joins forces with the amazing mechanical man known as The Automaton. Together they unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the Paragons that reveals the world of heroes and high-society is built on a crumbling foundation of greed and lies. When Sarah comes face to face with the megalomaniacal villain behind the murder, she must discover if she has the courage to sacrifice her life of privilege and save her clockwork friend.
I love the blurb for this book. Super heroes, steampunk and a murder mystery. Sold!

The Straight Razor Cure - Daniel Polansky

Welcome to Low Town. Here, the criminal is king. The streets are filled with the screeching of fish hags, the cries of swindled merchants, the inviting murmurs of working girls. Here, people can disappear, and the lacklustre efforts of the guard ensure they are never found.

Warden is an ex-soldier who has seen the worst men have to offer; now a narcotics dealer with a rich, bloody past and a way of inviting danger. You`d struggle to find someone with a soul as dark and troubled as his.

But then a missing child, murdered and horribly mutilated, is discovered in an alley. 

And then another. 

With a mind as sharp as a blade and an old but powerful friend in the city, he`s the only man with a hope of finding the killer.

If the killer doesn`t find him first.

Everywhere I turn I see praise for this book and I was thrilled to receive a review copy. I've read a lot of books lately which paint a bleak and way too realistic picture of the near future. I think The Straight Razor Cure could be another example of great world building. This book will be really dark, gritty and in your face.

The Outcast Dead - Graham McNeill
The galaxy is burning. The Emperor’s loyal primarchs prepare to do battle with Warmaster Horus and his turncoat Legions on the black sand of Isstvan. Such dark times herald new and yet more terrible things still to come, and when Astropath Kai Zulane unwittingly learns a secret that threatens to tip the balance of the war, he is forced to flee for his life. Alongside a mysterious band of renegades, he plunges into the deadly underworld of Terra itself, hunted like a criminal by those he once trusted. In the face of betrayal, Kai must decide where his own loyalties lie and whether some truths should be buried forever.

The Horus Heresy usually makes me a bit sad. I don't want them to betray the emperor! Horus, how could you? Warhammer 40k books are all of a high standard so expectations are high. I honestly don't know anything about the characters or events in this book and from the blurb it's not obvious how things will go. It will for sure be a dark and brutal read.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

'Rule 34' - Charles Stross

Rule 34 is the latest book by Charles Stross. It's a loose sequel to Halting State, but it can be read independently. I really enjoyed reading his Laundry series, which I found both funny and exciting. The blurb on Rule 34 looked very promising in a humorous, yet serious way. A jaded cop, stuck in a dead end job. A career criminal (not a very good one) who really just wants to care for his family while keeping his drinking and homosexuality a secret. Last but not least, a sociopath set on setting up the 2.0 crime empire. Thank you Orbit Books for providing me with a review copy.

DI Liz Kavanaugh is at the end of her shift when the IM comes in 'Inspector wanted on FATACC scene'. She does not want to dump it on the next officer to come on duty so she decides to take care of it. While she is talking to the officer at the scene something in his voice makes her realise there is something odd about this case. The officer explains that even the video feed has been disabled. He wants to keep it under tabs. It's a two-wetsuit job, which is code for kinky beyond the call of duty. The victim also happens to be an old acquaintance of Kavanaugh’s, a Mr Michael Blair, whom she helped put away many years ago.

Anwar has recently gotten out of prison. His parole officer is breathing down his neck for him to find a job.  Since he is banned from using computers it won’t be easy for him to find any meaningful work which can support his family. His wife's visible disappointment and scorn is a lot worse than the condescending manner of the parole officer. To ease the pressure he goes down to the pub for a pint. Being Muslim, he really should not be drinking so it’s important to do it far away from home and prying eyes.  It's in his favorite drinking hole that a mate points him in the direction of a job that simply sounds too good to be true. A small country he never even heard of is looking for someone to be their consulate in Edinburgh. Apparently none of their own citizens live here so anyone can apply. Anwar can't help think there must be a catch.

The Toymaker is in Edinburgh to take over, and even rebuild, the organisation's branch there. He belongs to a new breed of criminal who operate more like businessmen than thugs. It's more about revenue streams and maximising profit and less about breaking legs and intimidating people, although such activities are sometimes necessary. His first step is to get in touch with some people who might be suitable as managers for his 'business'. Trouble is, the first name on the list, a Mr Michael Blair, is dead. Who is operating against him and the organisation?

Charles Stross has really shown with his world building that he has his finger is on the pulse of technology. His Edinburgh is set in a not too distant future where technology plays a very important role. With great skill, Charles Stross has taken today's technology and adapted it for the future. 3D printers are featured a lot and play an important role. It's all recognisable, it's only how it is used that’s changed. It's been cleverly integrated into the daily life of citizens, but more apparent in Rule 34 is how it is used by the police.
CopSpace -- The augmented-reality interface that accumulated policing and intelligence databases around which your job revolves-- rots the brain, corroding the ability to rote-memorize every villain's face and backstory.
I only have more praise for Charles Stross when it comes to the characters of Rule 34. DI Liz Kavanaugh, our protagonist, is very likeable and easy to sympathise with. She is beset from all sides. Everything from an old lover, who left her for a man, and resurfaces to open old wounds to office politics that again threatens her already ruined career. You want her to succeed, and almost wish she was not so sensible to always turn the other cheek, and would at least gloat more when given the opportunity.

Anwar, failed criminal, closet homosexual, but devoted husband and father. I really felt for this guy. Torn between his needs and the expectations of culture and religion. He just fails to get himself out of trouble engineered by people who are smarter and more ruthless than he is. Poor chap. I found myself rooting for this miserable sod.

Rule 34 is a very clever book with terrific world building and packed with innovative use of technology. A compelling setting with some great characters and an equally impressive plot. It's entertaining, fun, and I found myself wanting more. Do yourself a favour and read Rule 34.

Rule 34 weighs in at 368 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Recommendation: must read

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guest Post: The Writing Process #2 - Adam Christopher

It's time for the second and final part of Christopher Adam's post about his Writing Process. 

You can find the first one here: Guest Post: The Writing Process - Adam Christopher

For more information about Adam visit his homepage You can also find Adam on Twitter as @ghostfinder.

Finally, don't miss the excerpt from his first Novel, Empire State, over at

Over to Adam...

The phases of draft 0
Writing draft 0 is an interesting process, and one that has a number of phases.

Phase 1 is the excitement of a new story – limitless potential, a fresh idea, new characters. This is going to be it. This is going to be the best novel ever written. And I think that you really do have to think that, at least at some point. If this novel isn’t going to be kick-ass, why the hell are you writing it? I’m not suggesting that self-delusion is a good idea, but I do think that you absolutely must write what excites you. You need to write the book that is just dying to be written. It’s the story you must tell or you’ll explode, which sounds both painful and messy.

Phase 2 sets in pretty quickly, maybe around 10,000 words. Phase 2 is the “what the hell is this?” phase. Can the idea sustain a story of this length? What do the characters actually want and need? And what is this book about, really, truly, honestly? Because my initial outline is a little organic, this is a settling in period, and it’s during this phase that I’ll figure out how much of that outline/event list is really going to make it into the book. Phase 2 is the discovery phase, and I’ll often become convinced my 120,000 word novel really needs to be 200,000 words. There’s no way it can all fit in, because so far my characters are mostly sitting around having meetings. Seems they’re trying to work out what the story is about too.

Phase 3 is the probably the best bit – the story is locked in, the characters have come to life, and it’s fun to write. On a good day the words come easy, and you’re eager to get back to it when you stop typing. Phase 3, unfortunately, doesn’t last long, maybe from the first third to the end of the first half of the manuscript. This is the first section where the word count really starts to collect.

If Phase 4 isn’t the killer, then it’s pretty close. This is the “OMG this sucks” phase. The idea is terrible. The story is terrible. Worst of all, the writing is terrible. It’s very easy to convince yourself that you’re the worst writer in the history of the English language. Your book is awful. I suspect this is where a lot of would-be novelists pack in it. Nothing seems to be working, and there’s always a better idea waiting to be written. Every sentence is pure agony to write and torture to read back.

But, there are two important points to remember here – firstly, this is draft 0, and draft 0 is allowed to suck. Draft 0 will be terrible. It’s allowed to be. This is the vomit draft. You’ll fix it later. That’s what editing is for and that’s why this is draft 0.

Secondly, I think all writers have this feeling – I’d even go so far as to suggest that there might be something awry if they didn’t. Neil Gaiman wrote about his anxiety for a NaNoWriMo pep talk one year – when he called his agent to outline his fears, he was promptly told that he always feels this way at this stage of the draft, and he should get back to work.

See, us writers are an anxious lot. Not only do we crave validation, but we’re convinced that when something is going well we’re either deluded, or someone will discover we’re frauds. We get paid to make stuff up. Surely, we say, that can’t last? They’ll find out that I just made all this stuff up…

Oh, wait…

The biggest problem with Phase 4 for me is that it usually takes ages to recognize, so deep is my lament. But once I do, things run pretty much okay – the doubts may continue to linger, but I keep on trucking and keep on typing. But I know what’s coming next. Right around the corner is the granddaddy of them all.

Let’s call this Phase 5, and let’s be perfectly clear: Phase 5 is the One. Phase 5 is the Enemy, well-deserving of the capital initial. Phase 5 is nasty, insidious, treacherous.

Phase 5 is the next book.

The next book plays dirty. The next book sneaks up behind you, whispers in your ear. Hey, says the next book, don’t write that, write me. Man, I’m the best idea ever. You thought this idea was good? No way. This idea is the best thing you’ve ever thought of. This idea is a game changer. This idea is It.

Fortunately, there are ways to deal with Phase 5, to beat it at its own game. This is the time I start to write it all down, taking notes, making plans, starting that outline/event list when I’m not actually working on the current draft. Because the chances are that this is the next book I’ll write, which takes me right back to the beginning, with that great idea. The important bit is not to stop the current project and switch to the new one. You can write one and plan the next, no problem. Just keep writing. The best writing rule there ever is another from Neil Gaiman – finish what you start.

The end is the beginning
Because I don’t edit as I write, by the end of draft 0 I have a manuscript which is probably 90% complete, and will certainly have some dodgy bits in it. Editing for me is as important as writing, and is really where the novel takes shape. If it takes 2-3 months to write the first draft, then it’s about the same to edit the manuscript into the true first draft (and that’s after a gap of 2-3 months while I’ve been working on something else). Editing requires a different mindset to writing, and while I don’t track any kind of word count during editing (counting manuscript pages is easier here), I’m probably still writing about 2,000 words a day, mostly likely a mix of edits and rewrites.

Editing has phases of its own, but they’re more practical divisions that the amorphic weirdness that happens when writing the initial draft. I do a technical/copy edit pass, correcting grammar, spelling and bad writing, during which I’ll also make notes on any obvious problems. Then I’ll go back and fix the major problems, then make another technical pass, and so on. These steps are repeated ad infinitum until the manuscript is in a fit state to be sent to my beta-readers.

Editing requires a heck of a lot of reading – there’s the first read through of the entire book from beginning to end, followed by the edits… but then I’ll often read and re-read the whole thing again and again, maybe 4-5 times from beginning to end, depending on the level of edits and corrections, because sometimes to see the true implications of a major edit you need to see it in context.

I use a group of beta-readers who I trust to give me completely honest feedback, not only for all the bad bits of the book, but also all the good bits. I want to know about the bad bits so I can work out how to fix them, but I also want to know about the good bits so I can work out what makes them good.

My beta-reading team is a large group that I tend to rotate around manuscripts to avoid fatigue. They’re writers, editors, reviewers, and people with a particular interest or speciality knowledge that I want to check things over. I give my betas a month to read and return comments.

The final edit
When the beta comments are all in and compiled, it’s time for the final edit. Not everything that the betas mark up may require attention – if one beta out of six comments on something, the chances are that it’s probably okay to let it pass if I disagree with the comment, but if all six say the same thing about the same point, then clearly something is wrong. Or maybe that one beta reader spotted a key error that the others missed. Or perhaps none of them understood a section because an earlier piece of set-up was flubbed. Analysing beta reader comments and reactions is vital. I would never let anything out that hadn’t had four to five sets of eyes on it.

The beta edit takes another month, after which the manuscript is ready for submission. That’s not the end, of course, but what happens next depends on a lot of things – the manuscript might go to my agent, which will then result in more comments and edits, or it might go to a publisher, which will likewise result in more comments and edits. The path to the finished novel that sits on the shelf in your local store is lengthy.

Adding it up
The above is just how I work. Some writers will see similarities in their own process. Some writers will consider the above description to be completely alien. But it doesn’t matter. So far, this has worked for me. Overall, from development of an initial idea to the completion of the submission draft, it takes 9-12 months to complete one novel. But because I stagger my projects, starting the next one while the previous complete draft matures on my hard drive, in general I tend to complete three draft 0 novels a year.

But ask me again in a couple of years, and my method might be completely different!

Thank you Adam for sharing your writing process with us. 

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

My Pick: Angry Robot

Who knew that making list of things was so much fun. Angry Robot recently announced their catalogue until June 2012. Once again they impress with a solid catalogue of new books. Here is my pick of the five most appealing books. That is, most appealing to me. Feel free to disagree/agree in the comments.

Omega Point - Guy Haley
Guy Haley's first book about the unlikely pair of private eyes, Richards and Klein, just blew me straight out of the water. I'm a big action junky and Reality 36 hit the sweet spot straight away. Omega Point is part two, and is for me a must read. If in doubt, have a look at my review of Reality 36.

Empire State - Adam Christopher
I'm really excited about Adam's debut novel, Empire State. It's a super hero noir novel with two alternative realities fighting over the right to exist. In the end there can be only one. If you still have not read the excerpt over at, please do so now. Actually, finish reading my list first.

Debris - Jo Anderton
I have already read and reviewed Debris, which is the debut novel of Australian writer Jo Anderton. I thought it was well worth reading, beautifully written tale of redemption. A fresh take on 'magic' was the best thing about Debris. I liked it.

Blackbirds - Chuck Wendig
This guy is bloody hilarious. I recently came across his blog, TerribleMinds, and I'm loving it. He offers a lot of (free) advice on writing. It's outrageous, brash, straight to the point and hilarious. Blackbirds is a paranormal fantasy following Miriam Black. She has the gift/curse to simply by touching someone see how they will die.

The Alchemist of Souls - Anne Lyle
Another debut novel. Angry Robot seems to have a knack for discovering talent. The Alchemist of Souls is set in Elizabeth I's London. London is such an amazing setting for any novel so she hooked me there. Let's throw in some vikings as well just to make sure I won't get away. Oh and magic as well. Probably swashbuckling in narrow alleyways.

Night's Engines - Trent Jamieson
Five, six, who is counting!? I loved Roil, which you can hopefully tell from my review. This is the second, and final, part of the Nightbound Land duology. Kickass, dark and gritty fantasy with great characters in a terrific setting. Really look forward to this bad boy.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Publisher Review: Gollancz

I thought it was time for another look at a publisher. My first one covered Angry Robot Books and in that one I focused on already published books. Now, Gollancz, having been around longer, is a very different fish. They have published so many great books over the years and I would struggle to find my favourite five books. It would be difficult enough to just pick five favorite authors. First, I was not sure what to do, but yesterday I had a look at their coming books. Big, costly mistake! At least I found the focus for this post, my Amazon shopping basket!

Let's start with a little background on Gollancz, which I borrowed from Wikipedia.

In 1927 Victor Gollancz founded his own publishing company aptly named Victor Gollancz Ltd. They published high quality books, non-fiction, popular fiction including science fiction. In 1967, Victor Gollancz passed away and left his company in the hands of his daughter Livia. The publisher traded ownership a couple of times, until it in 1998 ended up in the hands of Orion Publishing Group as part of their acquisition of Cassell & Co. Gollancz was turned into the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Orion Publishing Group. During its time, Gollancz has published the works of many a great writer. From George Orwell to Terry Pratchett.

Thank you Wikipedia. Now, what about my shopping list?

My list of give grew into a list of six. Luckily they have not all been published yet. I can spread out the cost over the rest of the year. Happy reader and happy wallet.

Feel free to leave a comment if you think I have missed a great book by Gollancz in my list.

By Light Alone - Adam Roberts
This bad boy is getting some very nice reviews at the moment. Sounds like a cool book. Set far in the future where hunger is something you choose. Genetic engineering allows us to survive on light. Other hungers remain... Sounds rather ominous doesn’t it? I might be the only person that has not read it yet. Time to change that.

The Iron Jackal - Chris Wooding
Another book about the crew of the Ketty Jay. It’s the third one and the other two books were good fun. A rather dysfunctional crew, who does not have have anywhere to go, except the Ketty Jay. Find this hard to believe, but the blurb says that things are looking good for the crew for once. I bet that does not last long.

The first time was to clear his name. The second time was for money. This time, Frey’s in a race against the clock for the ultimate prize: to save his own life.

I’m in!

The Cold Commands - Richard Morgan
Time for a really big hitter. I’m a big fan of Richard Morgan. The Takeshi Kovacs novels are some of my favorite SF books. Almost ten years since Altered Carbon was released now and I still remember where I was when I started reading it. The Cold Commands is the second book in the A Land Fit for Heroes series. Very excited about this one.

The Mechanical Messiah and Other Marvels of the Modern Age - Robert Rankin
It’s been ages since I read a Robert Rankin book. The once I have read have all been really funny, quirky in a mad kind of way. I hope Elvis turns up in this one to kick some ass. According to the blurb I’m in for a treat. Steam powered action, adventure and a murder mystery. Sold!

The Clockwork Rocket - Greg Egan
As the threat of imminent annihilation hangs over the world, so Yalda sets off on a historic rescue mission - one that will take millenia...
That’s what I call long term planning. Greg Egan is the only author on my Gollancz shopping list that I have not read anything of. The Clockwork Rocket sounds interesting. The universe in which the book takes place has different laws of physics. Light has mass. Space travel takes a long time, while almost none passes at home. Yalda’s world is threatened, hence the rescue mission.

Sounds fun.

Blue Remembered Earth - Alastair Reynolds
Saved the best for last, I did! Alastair Reynolds appeared on the SF scene in 2000 with his debut novel Revelation Space. His gothic space opera made a huge impact on me, and I know consider him my top SF author. I'm such a huge fan boy that I normally don't even read the blurb for his books, I just buy them straight away. Worked well so far.

Friday, 9 September 2011

'The Goblin Corps' - Ari Marmell

The Goblin Corps is a book I spotted while browsing Amazon. Ari Marmell has written quite a few books, not all of which are just fantasy novels. However, he has written stuff for Dungeons & Dragons, which makes me think that Ari Marmell knows his fantasy. It's a rather classic blurb, but with a twist. The forces of light have foiled the evil plans of the Dark Lord. He retaliates by killing the daughter of his enemy, King Dororam. In response, King Dororam assembles the greatest army ever in order to try to wipe out the Dark Lord once and for all. The Dark Lord creates a crack force of his very best men, I mean monsters, to execute a daring plan. Sounds familiar doesn't it? The twist is that the is all told from the goblins' point of view. I really liked Jim C Hines' books about Jig the goblin and Orcs by Stan Nicholls. Pyr very kindly sent me a copy of The Goblin Corps to review.

Cræosh is an orc. Standing at 6' and with shoulders almost as wide as he is tall, Cræosh is not someone to mess with. He is out on a patrol with a few other orcs from his clan when they come across an exhausted gremlin. After slapping some sense into the poor gremlin, they find out the gremlins attacked a caravan of humans only to be slaughtered by the guards. Cræosh is not too excited until he realises that the humans are still chasing the sole survivor, which means they cannot be too far away. He will not miss this opportunity to engage the human soldiers.

The orcs might be outnumbered, but the human knights that come crashing into the clearing underestimate their strength and skill. Cræosh slays one man after the other, his heart pounding with the thrill of battle. However, their skill and brawn is not enough. Several of his comrades have fallen with too many of the humans still standing. Arrows from the trees strike the humans and the orcs win the day.

Cræosh is the first member of the crew who will prove to be vital to the Dark Lord's plans. Most of the other characters are introduced in a way which displays their skills. They are all different races. From very small to huge. Each member is supposedly the best their race has to offer. Basically, they are a vicious bunch with a talent for killing without being killed. Some less intelligent than others.
A keening war cry rose to the uncaring heavens, and it took the startled Cræosh a moment to realize that it had come from the gremlin! "For King Morthul! For the Demon Squad!" Gimmol shouted, eyes gleaming with fervor and anticipation--and then, glistening blade a shining beacon above his head, he charged madly in the wrong direction. 
"Gremlins," Fezeill observed as the stunned party watched him go, "do not have particularly good night vision."
I really liked this introduction of the characters, along with their first quests. It's simply a great start. Ari Marmell shows off some excellent wit in how characters they interact with each other. Being monsters, the bigger members quickly enforce a pecking order by bashing the smaller goblins. It might be violent and not very nice, but it's fun. At this stage it's very much like the camaraderie you would see in Glen Cook's The Black Company.

At one point, The Goblin Corps turns into a game of World of Warcraft, with our anti-heroes running around like errand boys. They are not exactly killing endless amounts of wolves hoping for those 5% pelt drops, but it’s not far from that. It did drag on and I struggled to see the point of it. Yes, one or two important plot elements were seeded during their training, but it could have been done quicker.

Ari Marmell is better at making his inhuman character more likeable. If they were simply portrayed as slavering monsters, rampaging through the countryside, they would not be fun. Just like Jim C Hines and Stan Nicholls, Ari Marmell makes them more human by giving them certain moral values and codes, while still keeping their bestial side. This is not a happy fairy tale. They are fighting a war and that cannot be done without bloodshed and sacrifice.

Speaking of fighting, I did like the melee in The Goblin Corps. It's slick, gory and done at a high speed, which made it feel realistic. An all too common mistake in fantasy is to have the characters escape harm all too easily. It’s a credit to Ari Marmell for treating his characters without kid gloves.

My one big disappointment was the ending. At first I felt the pace had picked up again and that things were building up for a really cool sequel. Then, a bomb drops and all the loose ends are tightened up in the space of a few pages. I felt I was robbed of the true experience of some really interesting events. Less time should have been spent doing WoW quests, and instead put in on a sequel or fleshing out the ending.

The Goblin Corps is off to a flying start, with humour and captivating fights that get really up close and personal. I wish the book was shorter to maintain pace and keep the jokes fresh. Not without its flaws, The Goblin Corps was still an entertaining read and anyone who likes reading about the bad guys (or goblins), would enjoy The Goblin Corps.

The Goblin Corps weighs in at 575 pages and is published by Pyr.

Recommendation: read

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Guest Post: The Writing Process - Adam Christopher

I'm very pleased to announce the very first guest post here at I Will Read Books. My first guest author is none other than Adam Christopher. Adam's debut novel, Empire State, will be published by the end of the year by Angry Robot Books. It's a science fiction/super hero noir and you can find an excerpt from Empire State over at I really look forward to reading Empire State.

You can find out more about Adam on his web site or on Twitter (@ghostfinder).

The idea for this post came after Adam posted some word count stats on his blog, which seemed to suggest that the novel he was working on would be finished in 60 days. He explained to me that it was not quite as easy as that, and that there are several phases involved in the life cycle of a novel. I wanted to know more, so he very kindly agreed to explain more about his writing process in a post for me.

Over to Adam...

If there is one thing that is true about all writers, it’s that each and every one of us does it differently. While publishing is a business and writing is a job, writing is also an art and a craft, and with anything like that, once you’ve got the basics down, it’s mostly a journey of self-discovery.

What follows then is just the way I do it. I’m sure there are writers who, coincidentally, will find themselves mirroring my method almost exactly. I’m equally sure there are writers who will throw their hands up in the air and wonder quietly how anybody could possibly write like that.

That’s the great thing about writing. There is no wrong way to do it, and there is no right way to do it. But, a caveat: for some people, discussion or description of the writing process is enough to drive them bananas. Similarly, writing “rules” – although, of course, there are no such things – can sometimes get people hot under the collar. Well, horses for courses, YMMV, so it goes.

So if you don’t like hearing about the writing process, stop here. As it happens, I am interested in the process, and so is Erik, who invited me to talk about how I write novels.

For those readers remaining, pull up a pew and make yourselves comfortable. There’s liquor in the cabinet over there, although you’ll have to ask Erik nicely for the key. This is his house, after all.

Ideas are easy and ideas are free
A novel starts with an idea, and fortunately, ideas are the easy bit. The one question any writer loathes to be asked is the classic “where do you get your ideas from?” That question – and I apologise to those who do ask it! – is kinda missing the point. I have more ideas for books than I can ever possibly write in my lifetime. I have a corkboard on my office wall which is covered with index cards, each card featuring the idea for one novel, and at last count I had enough there to last the next fifteen to twenty years of my career. Ideas are not the issue. Story is the issue.

I remember a convention panel a few years ago where an audience member asked how people can write something as long as a novel, because he had an endless supply of great ideas but everything went wrong and came to a crashing halt around page three. The answer was a good one: don’t confuse an idea with a story. An idea is the spark, the central concept on which a novel is built, but it isn’t a story. A story is plot, character, change, conflict, need, and a bunch of other stuff that I’m not even sure of myself.

My magic corkboard of ideas might be overloaded with index cards, but I generally have a feeling for what I want to write next – an idea will give me a feeling, and will swim around in my thoughts for a while. Eventually it’ll become a little bit of an obsession, something that I think about constantly. All the while I’m usually working on something else, but this is the point where I start making notes.

The outline
My attitudes to outlining have changed over the years. I used to be convinced that you needed to have a detailed outline of a novel before you started, because if you didn’t you ran the risk of making it up as you go along, and I thought you could tell when that terrible fate befell an author.

I’ve relaxed a bit since then, but I think a strong outlining habit is not a bad thing. Once you get a number of manuscripts under your belt, you’ll know exactly how much pre-planning you need to do.

I’ve discovered that I work best from more of a skeleton outline than a detailed breakdown. I start off by making a list of events and scenes – my idea will have morphed into a beginning, a middle, and an end by this point, and I’ll have some ideas for cool sequences or events that I want to happen in the story. By making a list, I can put in the key points with gaps between, then play around with the order of things. Once I get the key concepts in I can start filling in the gaps, linking the events up until I have a plot.

This works for me because I tend to deviate from an outline when I start writing – characters will begin to do their own thing, developing a weird sort of semi-sentience to start making their own decisions and plotting their own course. When this happens, I know the story is working. Too much time spent outlining is a bit of a waste for me, because the chances are the story will go off on a tangent anyway.

Draft 0
I write a manuscript by piling in the words until I’ve got everything down from beginning to end. I don’t edit as I go, because the chances are something will happen later in the story that will need re-seeding back through earlier sections. Therefore editing chapters or sections as I go would be a colossal waste of time because I’ll just have to edit them again anyway. I’m also a firm believer that you cannot see the whole story until you have reached the end. But that’s just me.

Scott Sigler has a phrase that I’m particularly fond of. He said writing the draft is getting the clay on the wheel. This sums up my process perfectly – I call my first draft “draft 0” for a reason. It’s usually too long, and it’s messy, and a lot of it will suck. But once I’ve transferred the novel in my head to the page, I can get to work. Draft 0 is my source material, from which I carve the novel out.

For this reason, draft 0 is a fairly swift process – at about 2,000 words a day I can get a 100,000-120,000 word manuscript done in a couple of months. Once this is done, I save it and then move to the next project. It’s important for me to forget as much as possible about the manuscript, so when I come back to it later it’s with a fresh set of eyes.

... to be continued next week

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Check it out: City of Hell

A little bird just tweeted in my ear that there is a new anthology of horror stories coming in December 2011. The editor is Colin F Barnes - author of dark, edgy, sci-fi and horror - who has assembled a team of writers with a talent for the macabre and gruesome. The team consists of seven authors in total, six female, and one male. Check out the gorgeous cover and then take a look at the introduction. I like it! No sparkling vampires, no puppy eyed werewolves.
There is no god, no angels, no redemption. There is no hope, only suffering. The great Ant-headed Old-One has risen and brought hell to earth. The land is scorched and the human race decimated, eaten or tortured. Only three cities remain, a crumbled dying version of their former selves: London, Moscow and Hong Kong.The Old-One’s own City of Hell dominates most of North America. Its diabolical influence has turned ordinary citizens into torturers, debased slaves, lunatics and zealots.
With an eruption at Yellowstone, the likes of which humanity had never seen before, The Old-One tore apart the land, and ascended to rule, aided by its faithful army of acolytes. From the core of the earth it crawled up on to the land, spreading disease and insanity to all corners of the globe.
The City of Hell Chronicles tell the tales of survival, death and debauchery.
For more information visit the website of City of Hell Chronicles.

The great Ant-headed Old-One is coming!

Monday, 5 September 2011

'Until thy Wrath be Past' - Åsa Larsson

I have not read any Swedish crime novels, or any other genre, since the final installment of Stieg Larsson's trilogy. After I moved to the UK I pretty much stopped paying attention to Swedish writers and I'm embarrassed to say that until recently I had not heard of Åsa Larsson. When fellow blogger Spriteby brought her to my attention, I was intrigued to see that she was a northerner like me. Until thy Wrath be Past is Åsa Larsson's latest book to be translated into English, and to my delight it's set in Kiruna, not far from where I grew up. It's another novel starring prosecutor Rebecka Martinsson. A very appealing blurb promised murder, nazis, secrets, and ruthless people who would do anything to keep the past buried. Quercus Books kindly provided me with a review copy of Until thy Wrath be Past.

A young woman, Wilma, has moved to a small village to find peace from her neurotic mother and the stress from her studies. Simon, another youngster, starts spending a lot of time with his relative in the village. No doubt because of Wilma. The two youngsters quickly find each other. Wilma thrives in her new home, and the old men and women of the village are rejuvenated by the injection of youth. A chance to tell their stories to someone that has not already heard them a thousand times before. It's one of these stories that will be the death of Wilma and Simon. The young couple never return from a trip to explore the truth of a rumor.

When the body of Wilma is discovered months later the police in Kiruna are called in to investigate. Anna-Maria Mella is the officer in charge and although Wilma's death is first explained as a diving accident, she does notice a few things at the crime scene which do not add up.

Rebecka Martinsson, the prosecutor, has a very strange, vivid dream. A ghost of a girl, clearly the victim of drowning and with a mangled hand, visits her that night. Unlike most dreams, this one remains with Rebecka until the morning, and she clearly remembers the words she was told, "It wasn't an accident...".

I was at first disappointed by this. I thought I was reading a pure breed crime novel, not a supernatural crossover. Any disappointment I felt was quickly dispelled, a la Harry Potter, in the way which Åsa Larsson utilises the unique perspective of a corporeal ghost. Wilma becomes the silent narrator, always present, always observing and waiting for justice.

Until thy Wrath be Past has a very simple and straightforward murder plot. The focus is not really on the how, it's much more on the why and the who. Wilma, no longer bound by the laws of physics, let's us follow her murderers through their lives. Åsa Larsson's strength as a writer really shines here on this journey. There is a lot that can happen in a person's life that can turn them rotten, most of which will be done to them by other people. It was a heartbreaking read which felt disturbingly real. You don't really want to feel sympathy for a killer, but I found myself doing just that.

This is not a book full of gun fights and screeching tires. Like many other Scandinavian crime novels, crimes are solved by investigation and interviews. The conflicts to overcome were more of a personal nature than physical. Both Martinsson and Mella have recently come through some serious hardships, which continue to haunt them. They are two women, both used to being the one calling the shots, who now have to work together to bring the killer to justice. They respect each other but want to do things their own way.

Åsa Larsson's talent for making her characters feel real make it easy to forgive the ease with which the murder was solved. The tricks employed by Martinsson and Mella to catch the perpetrator were not exactly mind boggling. Then again, they were not up against Professor Moriarty.

Until thy Wrath be Past is a brutal, yet beautiful, tragedy. The strength of Åsa Larsson's characters made it very difficult to put the book down. They really captured my attention and sympathy. The first chapter hooked me, and after that there was no stopping. I just had to keep turning those pages. To me, it was a huge bonus that the book was set so close to where I was born and raised, however any fan of crime fiction should read this book.

An unexpected consequence from reading Until thy Wrath be Past is that I now want a dog.

Until thy Wrath be Past weighs in at 288 pages and is published by Quercus Books.

Recommendation: read

Sunday, 4 September 2011

The Office of Lost and Found: Now in paper format!

Just heard that The Office of Lost and Found by Vincent Holland-Keen is now available as paper books over at Lulu. These new editions include notes and sketches by the author that are not included in the eBook version from-Anarchy Books.

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



eBook Link (Anarchy Books):

Who Won?: Southern Gods

It's time for me to head down to the post office again. This is my plan for saving the Royal Mail, giving away books to people far far away from me.

Congratulations to: Shawn Klaus from Tacoma, Washington

Already picked a book for September's giveaway... Excited? I am!

Friday, 2 September 2011

'Monstrocity' - Jeffrey Thomas

Monstrocity has the most fun cover I've seen for some time. I had almost made my decision to read the book by just based on that alone. When the blurb promised a science fiction with horror elements I was sold. Horror of the tentacled kind. Anarchy Books were kind enough to give me a copy for review.

Christopher Ruby is about to commit murder. It's not something he imagined he would ever have to do. The buckshot has already left the barrel and is only a split second away from his victim's face. This one won't even be his first kill.

Let's start from the beginning.

Christopher Ruby is a resident of Punktown. It's not the largest city on the planet Oasis, but it's the most fun. Think of it as Camden Town to Stratford. Christopher has a rather boring IT job and a flat that has seen better days. The best thing about his life right now is his girlfriend, Gaby. He adores her pale, ceramic smooth flesh and the plexiglass window on her chest bearing her heart.

One night after some sweaty lovemaking she tells him about one of her friends and what she claims she could do. In a room with eight corners, light a candle in each corner and you can summon demons. Christopher Ruby is an atheist so he finds this claim to be rather absurd, but to humour her he suggests that they try it. She does have a terrible temper after all. Gaby produces the candles and a recording of the incantations which will open and close the gateway between realities. Nothing seems to happen after a couple of attempts so they give up and resume their lovemaking. In their excitement they don't realise they have used the opening incantation one time more than the closing one.

The morning after when Christopher wakes up Gaby is already gone. She does not return his calls and when he finally talks to her she makes it clear that the occult is what interests her now. She does not feel that he understands her anymore. Desperate to win her back he starts his own research. He quickly discovers that perhaps there is some truth to what Gaby has told him. Humans are not the only ones with myths about the old gods.

I like Punktown. It's a dirty and hard city, where the weak are preyed upon by the stronger. It's a melting pot of different species where crime is rife and the police are hard pressed to maintain the rule of law. In such a short book, Thomas manages to provide a lot of detail about different aliens and their cultures, many of which are clearly influenced by real cultures and religions. Although some of the practices should be familiar, they seem even more strange and alien when adopted by actual aliens. Jeffrey Thomas conveys a feeling of brutality to his creation by how he casually mentions acts of abuse and violence in a very offhand manner. A fitting setting for a horror story.

Christopher Ruby is a well written character. Jeffrey Thomas has taken an ordinary, geeky guy, who is easy to relate to, and placed him in the path of the old gods. He starts out rather meek, but circumstances harden him. He himself seems surprised at what he is capable of and accepts the mantle of defending mankind against old slumbering gods with a shrug. He also sexes up some hot alien women on the way.

It's a shame that the plot sometimes falters when Jeffrey Thomas lets Christopher Ruby ponder too much about what is going on. The rich descriptions of the environment at times slowed things down and more than once ruined the suspense that had been built up. Persistence pays off though as things gets more interesting toward the end of the book. I liked how it was not made immediately certain that the old gods actually existed. It kept me turning the page.

I was not disappointed by Monstrocity even if it did not blow my mind. It's entertaining enough to be worthy of a place on the to read pile. Jeffrey Thomas delivers a nail bitingly intense read in a engrossing setting with icky alien sex and shotgun action. Any fan of Cthulhu-based horror should enjoy this book.

Monstrocity weighs in at 236 pages and has been republished by Anarchy Books.

Recommendation: read