Saturday, 31 December 2011

Best of 2011

Happy New Year everyone!

It's time to look back and try and choose the best of what I've read and reviewed in 2011. As always the objective is to narrow it down to five books, but I never managed to choose just five before, so don't expect too much.  To me 2011 was a very good reading year. I came across so many good books and new authors. I also discovered a wonderful blogging/writing community on Twitter. Only books reviewed on my site will be on this list. Hopefully they were all published in 2011, but I wont look too closely at that.

And a big thanks to all my readers!

Reality 36 - Guy Haley
I absolutely loved Reality 36. Two different main characters who complement each other really well with different skills and personalities. It was a really good action adventure with some fancy gadgets, I mean weapons, and despicable villains. Nothing will stop be from reading the sequel, Omega Point, or Guy Haley's Champion of March. Both are scheduled for release in the first half of 2012.

Viking Dead - Toby Venables
Viking Dead was just awesome. It managed to be a scary, head bashing adventure into the unknown, and at the same time a more thoughtful story of a young man becoming a man. I'd love to read a sequel to this bad boy.

The World House - Restoration - Guy Adams
I was gobsmacked after reading the first book, and Restoration was a very good conclusion. Guy Adams really shines when it comes to characters. They are all full of life, feel very real, and deliver punchy dialogue. A book (or two) which managed to both delight and frighten me. I should find out if he is writing another book.

Johannes Cabal - The Detective - Jonathan L Howard
Jonathan Howard is the master of the macabre and bizzarre, or is it perhaps his creation, Johannes Cabal who is the real master of the above. Either way, The Detective was a great read. Just like the first book it was ful of dry humour and a clever plot. A must read.

Roil - Trent Jamieson
Roil wins the Best Blurb of 2011 award. I really did not have a choice after reading the blurb on the Angry Robot website. Trent Jamieson treats us to good world building with a really sinister world populated with creepy crawlies. A lot of suspense in Roil. I am ashamed to say I have not managed to read any of Trent's other books so far. Maybe a promise for 2012? At least I shall read part two, Night's Engines, out in June 2012.

A Serpent Uncoiled - Simon Spurrier
A Serpent Uncoiled is a great thriller with a hint of the occult. A dark trip into the damaged mind of our protagonist, where he fights his own demons as well as the thugs of the London underworld. I seriously could not put it down. Best read over a weekend to avoid interruptions really.

The Kings of Eternity - Eric Brown
The Kings of Eternity by Eric Brown receives an honorary mention. It should be on this list by rights of how good it is, but I have never published a review of it. Blogger had a malfunction and my review was lost, and I never got around to rewriting it. It's terrific book about self discovery and love, but also manages to include aliens and ray guns.

Reading Challenge for 2012

I read a lot of books, but very rarely do I read graphic novels. When fellow blogger @MomGamerWriter announced her Manga/GraphicNovel/ challenge I thought it would be a good opportunity to try and read some more graphic novels and review them. Luckily, you are allowed to mix what you read so if I don't manage to read many graphic novels I just have to read Warhammer books, which I do anyway. I'm so clever.

Anyway, I'll try the Level 1 challenge which means a total of 12 books/graphic novels.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

'The Gildar Rift' - Sarah Cawkwell

The Gildar Rift is a new novel in the Space Marines Battles series. This series is dedicated to retelling the most famous front-line battles of the Adeptus Astartes. I love the cover, look at that bad boy. When I grow up I wanted to be an evil chaos marine with a huge power claw. Not sure how I would write my reviews with that thing though. Anyway, The Gildar Rift seemed like the perfect way to make my trip home to Sweden pass quicker. Cannot go wrong with space marines beating the crap out of each other. Thank you Black Library for providing me with this review copy.

The Silver Skulls have taken it upon themselves to patrol the Gildar Rift to repel the ever present xeno threat. Personally, I suspect it is because a lot of promethium is produced there, and they want to make sure they have enough for their flamers. The Silver Skulls differ from the other chapters by being very superstitious. Powerful psykers, Prognosticators, are consulted before important decisions to try and divine the outcome. 

Captain Daerys Arrun is in charge of the fleet assigned to protecting the Gildar Drift, and has moved from his flagship to the Dread Argent to oversee a bold and controversial experiment. The Dread Argent might not be a flagship, but it is still a formidable engine of destruction, which is why when they receive a distress call from The Wolf of Fenris Daerys Arrun feels confident they can assist the Space Wolves. A small team is assembled to board the friendly spaceship to determine what is going on, but it's assumed the situation is hostile. Nothing can prepare them for what they find on board. 

The arch-enemy have launched an attack on the system with the Wolf of Fenris being the bait which springs the trap. The Silver Skulls find themselves in dire straits both in space and down on the planet. Every move they make has been foreseen by the insane, but brilliant traitor, Huron Blackheart. Fury grips Daerys Arrun as he watches his brothers fall to the traitorous Red Corsairs. The Silver Skulls ranks are thin enough already and they cannot afford to lose more, but more importantly they cannot let the system fall to the arch enemy. 

Before things can get better they have to become worse, is something all readers will be familiar with. Being able to spot the upcoming inevitable disaster is something of a pet peeve of mine. Sarah Cawkwell certainly delivers on disasters, but it does feel forced, accompanied by explanations of why the space marines are helpless to act. Like I said this is something I like ranting about so your mileage may wary. 
Sarah Cawkwell does a very good job in raising the stakes and building up suspense. I do share captain Daerys Arrun's pain every time one of his men die. The Gildar Rift is, from start to finish, an intense read with a lot of fighting. I quite liked the ship to ship battles as their immobility makes those battles very different from ground fighting. It pretty much boils down to how much punishment your ship can take, like Rocky Balboa! It might sound boring but it's actually pretty exciting, and you can feel the ship tremble from the impact of the enemy's missiles. Down on the planet the fighting is more brutal and personal. The Silver Skulls are facing a horde of cultists and Red Corsairs. They literally tear into the cultists with little effort; they are not much more than a nuisance, but can sometimes be a fatal distraction from the real threat. Sarah Cawkwell does a good job describing the mayhem and it feels convincing with a quick pace. 

The characters in The Gildar Rift are both good and bad. They definitely feel like proper space marines, with suitable dialog and a gruff attitude. I often find space marines to be flat and lacking in personality, and unfortunately this is also the case here. It's probably not easy making one fanatic killing machine much different from others cut from the same cloth. Sarah Cawkwell also falls into the trap of telling us how intelligent and tactically brilliant captain Daerys Arrun is, but then his actions and decisions fail to live up to his reputation. I'm always reminded of David Weber's Honour Harrington when it happens.
The Gildar Drift was a solid delivery from Sarah Cawkwell, packed full of the right ingredients, and kept me entertained during my flight. The secret experiment made things interesting and felt like a fresh idea, which might have ramifications for other books in the Warhammer 40k universe. If, like me, you expect a grim read, non stop action, and religious zealots you have found the right book. I think it's fair to say The Gildar Rift felt like it was setting the stage for a second novel. The Silver Skulls suffer from a bloodied nose, and I would like to see them take the war to the Red Corsairs, giving them the initiative and the first strike. 

If your life is given in service to the Emperor, your death shall not be in vain.

The Gildar Rift weighs in at 416 pages and is published by the Black Library.

Recommendation: read

Thursday, 15 December 2011

'The Edinburgh Dead' - Brian Ruckley

The Edinburgh Dead by Brian Ruckley is a book I bought simply because I liked the writer's previous book, The Godless World. A series which I thought was under appreciated. It's a very grim fantasy setting, much like Joe Abercrombie and George RR Martin. In The Edinburgh Dead Brian Ruckley takes a different approach to world building. Instead of making up a new world he chooses a historical approach with Edinburgh as the setting. He researched the city and also the history of its police force. I do like crime novels and I recently made a promise to read some books which were not set in London or New York. This book was bought and paid for by myself. Thank you me!

The setting might be new to me, but there are no surprises with our protagonist, Adam Quire. Like many other fictional coppers he has a troubled past, and a weakness to alcohol. He likes to do things his own way, which might be why the top brass are not too fond of him, in spite of his excellent results.  He does have a benefactor who is able to shield him from his worst critics. Unfortunately for Adam Quire his benefactor is not without enemies of his own, and they are all waiting for a small misstep. Adam Quire even has physical disability to remind him of his time in the army, and the horrors he saw there. As it turns out there are more horrors to come for Adam Quire.

An unusually brutal murder has taken place in Edinburgh. The victim, a young man, was left for dead with savage injuries. He looked more like the victim of a beast than a man, but this course of action is ruled out as wild beasts simply don't feature in civilised Edinburgh. Adam Quire suspects there is more to the murder than what it seems and requests permission to show the body to a professor who has previously been able to help them with their investigations.

Adam Quire's enemies are quick to call this a waste of resources and when the good professor is unable to come to any conclusions his stock sink even lower. There is however some light at the end of the tunnel, no man could have inflicted those wounds. Only an animal like a dog or wolf could have been responsible.

I admit I was completely oblivious to the supernatural traits of this book, so I was somewhat surprised an animal would be involved. Thinking about it, the tag line written across the cover should have alerted me to this. It was however a pleasant surprise. I know from previous experience that Brian Ruckley does a good job of creating a very menacing atmosphere and I was already thinking of The Hound of Baskerville.

The dead man is so far unidentified so some good honest police work is now required by Adam Quire. This is the part where Edinburgh really comes alive from Brian Ruckley's writing and I think we get a realistic view of life in Edinburgh at that time. Not surprisingly, Adam Quire starts out with some arm twisting in the seedier districts, and to his surprise he finds himself in the finer parts of Edinburgh. He is forced to adopt a much gentler approach with the fine folk than with the poor. Unfortunately, the rich have a lot of influential friends, and Adam Quire finds himself in trouble with his superiors.

You quite quickly get a sense of Adam Quire being on an inevitable path to self-destruction like so many fictional coppers before him. No one ever seems to appreciate it when the nobs are investigated. Power and influence has often worked as a shield against the law, and there is a price to be paid for justice. Is Adam Quire willing to pay it?

The Edinburgh Dead is more about mystery, menace and dread than good honest police work. It was not what I expected, but it did work out well in the end. I felt Adam Quire was perhaps a little too plain and predictable to make a truly great character, but having said that I would still read the next book if there is one. He did grow on me, and did develop as a character. He learned a lot about himself, and what's important in life.

If you are into supernatural frights without sparkly vampires The Edinburgh Dead might just be the book for you. It's a well written and entertaining book.

The Edinburgh Dead wighs in at 416 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Recommendation: read  

Monday, 12 December 2011

'The Emperor's Finest' - Sandy Mitchell

When The Emperor's Finest landed on my doormat I admit to bouncing from joy. Sandy Mitchell's books about commissar Ciaphas Cain are considered a must read in my house. So far they have proven to be an excellent blend of fun and action. Thank you Black Library for sending me a copy to review.

Commissar Cain is assigned to liaise between the Reclamator space marines and the Imperial Guard. Having left both the Imperial Guards and his trusted aide Jurgen behind he is travelling with the space marines towards a planet suffering from a rebel uprising. Commissar Cain is not expecting much trouble. Mere humans are no match for the Adeptus Astartes super soldiers,  and for once he should be safe from danger. So why are his palms itching so terribly?

Just in case you have not read a Ciaphas Cain novel, I'll dedicate a few sentences to this most awesome character. He really wants nothing more than to serve for the rest of his career in a quiet backwater far away from danger, enjoying drinks and women. This is usually the opposite of what the Emperor has planned for one of his most effective servants. Instead he ends up in the thick of it all. Often, because he is very unlucky, but his mouth gets him into trouble as well. He is a very astute observer of people, and always knows what people want to hear, which along with his own desire to come across as brave and capable, he talks himself into dangerous situations before he can stop himself. He is simply an anti-hero, and a very good one. I've seen comparisons between him and Flashman, which I strongly disagree with. Flashman is a real nob, and Ciaphas Cain is, deep down, a good man. However, they do have the same knack for ending up in troublesome spots.

Once down on the planet the space marines get started on routing the rebels and Ciaphas Cain gets acquainted with the governor and his buxom daughter. She is hard to miss in her cake-like military uniform and eye catching cleavage. Apparently she holds an honorary military title and to Ciaphas Cain's horror she insists on taking it seriously. It's immediately clear the two do not see eye to eye, and it gets worse when she insits on leading a scouting mission. Ciaphas Cain really does not want to baby sit a spoilt aristocrat, and his only comfort is he is now allowed to shoot her for insubordination, should the need arise, or she annoys him enough.

The Emperor's Finest, just as all other books about Ciaphas Cain, are pieced together from the memoirs he left behind by Inquisitor Amberly Vail. It is written in first person so we get a really good insight into him as a person, which is a lot of fun. It's a very honest, almost too honest, recollection of events and his opinions on things.  He often thinks one thing, but acts in the opposite way to make himself look better, just in case someone is watching. In editing his memoirs Inquisitor Amberly Vail also leaves a lot of footnotes to further explain the story and they range from merely informational to very sarcastic and funny. At times even a little emotional. Whenever I put down a Ciaphas Cain novel I find myself looking for these footnotes in the next book. They are great!

It turns out there is more to it than a simple rebellion. It's all engineered by genestealers, which makes it a lot more dangerous. Suddenly, Ciaphas Cain is not certain of his safety even with the ceramite encased warriors between him and the aliens. Things take a turn for the worse when the Adaptus Astartes wants to chase down the source of the genestealer infection. Ciaphas Cains finds himself back in space, hunting an old space hulk. Nothing can prepare him for a much greater, and closer danger. A woman with an ulterior motive!

By now you have probably figured out that I'm a big Ciaphas Cain fanboy, and hopefully picked up on how much I enjoy the series. The Emperor's Finest does not have best plot in the series, but the humour and action more than makes up for it. The book is riddled with awesome one liners and great dialogue between the characters. Not only is it fun to read, it's also plenty of action in a claustrophobic environment packed full of monsters with more claws and teeth than brains. There is plenty of close encounters of the very deadliest kind. As usual Ciaphas Cain does not have more than his wits and trust chainsword to save himself, and the rest of the world. I declare this whole series a must read. Go on and treat yourself to the adventures of one of the very best characters in the Warhammer 40k universe.

The Emperor's Finest weighs in at 416 pages and is published by the Black Library

Recommendation: must read

Monday, 5 December 2011

'Faith and Fire' - James Swallow

Faith and Fire was an obvious choice from the box of goodies Black Library sent me to review. The cover is pretty damn cool. I wouldn't mess with her. When I turned the book around things got even better. I never heard of the Sisters of Battle before, but some googling revealed they are a elite warriors consisting of only women. This was all to get around a law, which declared the church was not allowed to have 'men at arms'. Unlike the astartes the Battle Sisters are 'ordinary' women trained to the very limits of what is humanly possible. They wear adapted power armour and their piousness and belief in the emperor may even protect them against the powers of the warp. KICK ASS!

Miriya is the and her sisters are tasked with escorting a captured renegade psyker back to the planet of his birth. The order was given by a high ranking church member, so although she would rather execute the witch on the spot she has little choice but to obey. While still out in space, part of the crew frees the witch, and Miriya has to return in disgrace. The members of the crew that are part of the mutiny shows no regard for their own safety, and many walk willingly into certain death. To cause the commotion needed for distraction they jump into the part of the machinery, which crushes them into a pulp. Their blood and gristle causes a break down, granting them the time to break out the witch and make their escape.

I'm always a little worried when reading about a strong female character when written by a man. James Swallow avoids a few traps only to stumble into another pitfall. Miriya is a highly skilled soldier, both with firearms and close quarter combat. In spite of this a common thug manages to pin her down without much of a effort, and the only reason we are given is that he is a big guy. Surely a super soldier like Miriya should be able to deal with a brute without much of a problem. She is a Celestian, a veteran of many battles, not a cherry. Anyway, at least James Swallow does not waste any time describing how beautiful and sexy the Battle Sisters are.

Back to the plot. There is obviously a price to pay for failure. It always terrifies me how little regard there is for a human life in the Warhammer 40k universe. Even a highly trained soldier like a Battle Sister is not safe, and the church demands a sacrifice for their failure. Still, the renegade witch is still at large and he needs to be captured. The church's own soldier failed for many years to capture him, so the Battle Sisters are still the best women for the job. Miriya gets a chance to redeem herself. By now I pretty much expect nothing fancy from Faith and Fire. The psyker will lead the Battle Sisters on a merry cat and mouse dance . It turns out there is a lot more at stake here. Someone in a high position with a lot of money is up to no good. The question is, how high up does the corruption reach. Luckily cutting out corruption is what the Battle Sisters does best.

Once it was made clear how much more Faith and Fire has to offer plot-wise it got really exciting. The lore in Warhammer 40k is mind boggling, giving James Swallow a lot of room to awe and impress the reader. He does put some juicy tidbits on a plate before us. Faith and Fire is packed to the brim with action, both on a small and large scale. I much prefer the small woman to man, or woman to fire breathing psyker, than the more full blown battles. It's a little impersonal and it feels more like watching my bigger number reduce your smaller number into nothing. He does a much better job with smaller groups, and it gets the pulse going.

Faith and Fire is a very entertaining book and action packed book. It was refreshing to read about the Battle Sisters, which until now I never heard of. Any problems I had with Faith and Fire are easy to overlook, and it's well worth reading. It's a very intense read and whereas I never felt I connected much with the characters, I sure did connect with the story. My high goose-bumps count of three will attest to that. I will certainly read the next installment in the series, Hammer and Anvil.

Faith and Fire weighs in at 416 pages and is published by The Black Library.

Recommendation: read

Who Won?: Reality 36

And we have a winner!

Merry Christmas to Diayll Sales of North Carolina.

That's it for this year, but there will be more book giveaways next year!