Thursday, 27 December 2012

Who Won? Malice

Congratulations to: Dom McDermott from Hampshire for winning a copy of Malice.

The UK Tor elves are all on holiday, but they have been notified and your book should be with you next early next year.

:)

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Book Giveaway: Malice

In celebration of just reaching 50,000 page views I'm giving away a copy of Malice by John Gwynne. Terrific book, and one I don't think you should miss, so take a look at my review before entering the competition.


This competition is only open to residents of Ireland and the UK.

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email Malice
3) Include your snail mail address, or alternatively,  wait until you get an email from me announcing you as the winner.
4) Do this before Tuesday the 18th of December 2012

Many thanks to Tor UK for sponsoring my giveaway.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Railsea - China Mieville


China Mieville is back with another novel, Railsea. I was rather sloppy with my research with this one, and just bought it without looking. Books by some writers I just buy automatically, which is the case with China Mieville. Turns out Railsea is a Young Adult novel, which is not my cup of tea, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. Luckily, all mistakes are not bad ones.

I'm not sure you are allowed to review one of China Mieville's books without mentioning all the stuff he is known for: 'weird' fiction, his smouldering eyes, and a habit of using long words, just to name a few.

I just wanted to write 'smouldering eyes'. It's done, so lets move on to Railsea.

The title says it all, but until I started reading I could not even imagine what it meant. The world is covered in rails, or at least the low lying, flat parts of the world. The ground there is of a softer, loser variety allowing for all sorts of burrowing critters, moles, badgers, antlions and bloodworms. All of them flesh eating of course. Turns out you don't need water to have monsters lurking in the deep.

I admit it was not with the most open of minds I first set sail on the Railsea, and it was with more than a little skepticism I found myself on board a moler train. I wasn't the only one on board who was not sure about this. The doctor's apprentice, a heavyset boy not yet a young man, was dreaming about adventure. Our little protagonist has not yet found what he wants to do, but it is clear he is not good at doctoring, or anything else so far. Not the bravest of boys, but not a coward either. It wouldn't be unfair to say he was like most other children, but this is his story, and it's the adventure of a life time.

As I was reading I remembered a book from my childhood, Jim Button and Luke the Engine Driver by Michael Ende, a book which I thought was just pure magic, and left me in awe. Railsea seemed to bring me back a fraction of this long lost feeling of wonder and amazement only a child can experience.

I did enjoy reading it, quite a lot in fact, but 25 years ago I would have enjoyed it even more. The reader should be more young than adult, but, hopefully one day I can read Railsea to my own children.

The prose is excellent, which is hardly a surprise. It's also endearing how a lot of things are taken at face value, controls are controlled, tinkerers tinker and so forth, and sounds are often made into words.

It's a curious place as well. What happened with the water? Over consumption turned the seas into landfills with garbage? China Mievelle's world is full of myths, legends and strange creatures. It sure made me curious. There are several drawings in the book showing us a few of the weird animals.

A lot was familiar, it's as if China Mieville was looking at our world through a pair of glasses, and everything he saw was the same, but weirder. Not sure it makes sense, but it does not have to, as it might as well be what a child would imagine.

Railsea weighs in at 384 pages, and is published by Tor.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Malice - John Gwynne


Malice: The Faithful and the Fallen is the debut novel of writer John Gwynne, and a book with a cover which made it hard to resist. It was an immediate case of book envy when I first saw Malice on Graemesfantasyreviews.com, and it was not long before I had a copy of the book in my hands. Finally, another chunky brick of a book promising a battle between good and evil, children growing into heroes, already mighty heroes battling over the fate of the world. I'm a big fan of epic fantasy so it was with great anticipation I started reading. Many thanks to Tor UK and for so generously providing me with a copy of Malice to review.

The plot should be familiar to any seasoned fantasy reader. Long ago, evil was defeated by the creator, but the creator retreated from the world and left his world to its own devices. Thus, Eden was lost, and with it magic was forgotten.

John Gwynne gives us a lot of information and background about the world, but it's not until now when I'm actually thinking about it I realise how much I know. The exposition is cleverly integrated into the story and is made part of the narration, or just told by the older generation to the younger ones. It's all too easy to lose yourself in the world John Gwynne created.

Back to the plot though.

A prophecy is promising the return of the dark one, Asroth, and his herald, the Black Sun. The creator might have retreated, but it does not mean all hope is lost, there are still those who believe in fighting evil. One such man, a king, summons the other kings to form an alliance to prepare to face darkness when it returns.

That's the 10,000 feet view, down on the surface it's a story about people, a teenage boy and his family, to be specific. In a world brimming with great warriors and powerful people it's this boy who is dreaming about gods, and is presented with a choice. He just isn't sure what he is choosing.

John Gwynne skilfully interleaves the story of young and old, by letting the children be children with the problems suited to their age, but still giving them room to take their first step towards becoming adults. Something I have recently struggled with when reading books with protagonists of a similar age.

The world building is impressive, which I find essential for epic fantasy. You want the rich lore, the multitude of races and cultures. All the best fantasy seems to avoid the vanilla fantasy races of elves and dwarves, which is also the case with Malice. John Gwynne instead makes use of giants as his 'elder' race, a race who was once masters of the land, but was driven off by humans. Humans instead provide the variety when it comes to culture, and we get to meet people from all over the world. One thing I enjoyed with Steven Erikson's books was the multitude of places he showed us, and I really hope John Gwynne can do the same. So far John Gwynne's world is not as exotic as Steven Erikson's, not necessarily a bad thing.

The style of writing, and the world, is perhaps most similar to George R R Martin's creation. Not as quite as decadent and uncomfortably violent, it's a much more pleasant reading, but without compromising on the age rating. It's still a brutal world full of violence, and in times of war it is of course hard to avoid.

Malice is one of those rare books with multiple points of views, but each and everyone one of them was as interesting as the rest. This, made it almost impossible to put down. How can you, when every chapter is at least as good as the previous one? I loved the characters, which were all full of life, realistic, but also hard to predict. It's a very black and white plot, unlike Joe Abercrombie's world, which is more shades of grey, but still John Gwynne's characters manages to obfuscate their allegiance  and even surprise you once or twice.

Malice is easily one of the best fantasy novels i read this year, and one which will appeal to most fans of the genre. With such an epic debut novel, John Gwynne is a writer to watch from now on.

Malice weighs in at 672 pages, and is published by Tor. It will be on a bookshelf near you in December 2012.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sword of Caledor - William King


William King is back with the second Tyrion & Teclis novel, Sword of Caledor. I liked the first one (review here), and was in the mood for a bit of hack and slash, so I decided to make it my next read. Many thanks to the Black Library for giving me a review copy of Sword of Caledor.

We are reunited with Tyrion and Teclis one hundred years after the events of Blood of Aenarion. The two brothers are on a treasure hunt, slowly trekking through a jungle filled with danger. Deep within the jungle lies an abandoned city, and inside it rests Sunfang, a sword forged by Caledor himself. Who knows what traps the Slann left behind them in their city before they disappeared.

Unknown to our two heroes the demon they banished so long ago stirs in the realm of chaos, plotting his revenge of their lineage. The Witch King Malekith is also on the move, with the final parts of his plan now in place it is time to retake what is his by right of birth, Ulthuan. All elves will be united again.

Not sure a sword will be enough to save the brothers this time, not even one as legendary as Sunfang.

Just like the first book, Sword of Caledor is an adventurous read with treasure hunts, long lost races, monsters, tournaments, demons and the flipping Witch King himself. The stakes are high, and Tyrion and Teclis seems to be the only hope left for the poor elves. The plot itself is perhaps too simple, where things have a tendency to just conveniently go the way of the Witch King. I appreciate things have to get bad before they can get better, but William King makes it too easy for himself. Luckily, Sword of Caledor is such a fun and easy read he gets away with it.

In large parts it's the tension between the two brothers which makes the book. Elves are ambitious by nature and getting ahead of other elves is what they do, sometimes not even blood will stand in their way. Tyrion and Teclis obviously care about one another, and more than once do they risk their own life for the other, but there is still a lot of jealousy. It feels like it could boil over any minute, and if it does, will it be Teclis' magic, or Tyrion's brawn which will win the day?

William King also addresses the relationship between elves and humans, and the rise of a new generation of younger elves who think differently and tries to break with tradition. It is finally dawning on the elves their time is passed, and maybe they are not so superior after all. They are more intelligent, better with magic, faster and stronger, but still it's humanity which is spreading and controlling the world.

Sword and Caledor is the book to read if you are interested in elves and their history in the Warhammer setting. Anyone who enjoys a action oriented fantasy should also pick up this series.

Sword of Caledor weighs in at XXX pages, and is published by the Black Library.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

What I'm Reading Next

No book review so far this week, so here is a post to let everyone know I am still reading book, not just sitting in front of the TV. I have two first drafts for books already read, and then there are two books I am currently reading, although I will only review one of them.

Sword of Caledor is the second Tyrion & Teclis by William King. That's right, the two princes are back for more adventures. You can read my review of Blood of Aenarion, the first book, here. The review for Sword of Caledor should be up next week.

Tyrion – Unparalleled swordsman and tactician.

Teclis – Greatest natural sorcerer of the age, his power rivalling that of fabled Caledor.

Together these twins are the greatest high elf heroes to still walk the earth. Tyrion and Teclis venture into the deadly jungles of Lustria on a desperate hunt for the lost sword of Caledor Dragontamer, the fabled Sunfang. While they search for this ancient artefact, the dark elves continue their assault on Ulthuan, sending the deadly assassin Urian Poisonblade to kill the Everqueen. And in the Realm of Chaos, the Witch King Malekith makes a pact with another enemy of Tyrion and Teclis – the sinister daemon N’Kari.




Malice, the debut novel by John Gwynne, is a book I was really looking forward to. I had to use my best puppy eyes with Tor to get my paws on this bad boy. Malice is the first part in a new epic fantasy series. Look at that cover! I'm slobbering all over this one, or was at least. Review will be up next week.

A black sun is rising … Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors under King Brenin’s rule, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his king’s realm. But that day will come all too soon. Only when he loses those he loves will he learn the true price of courage. The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars. High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Some are skeptical, fighting their own border skirmishes against pirates and giants. But prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.

Railsea is what I am currently reading. I was not too fond of China Mieville's previous book, Embassy Town, which I thought lacked a story really. You can read my review of Embassy Town here. Hopefully, I will enjoy Railsea more, and to be honest I thought the blurb was fun at least. It's weird, which is what you would expect. Obviously, I had no idea it was YA when I bought it. Did not take me long to break my promise of not reading any more YA.

On board the moletrain Medes, Sham Yes ap Soorap watches in awe as he witnesses his first moldywarpe hunt. The giant mole bursting from the earth, the harpoonists targeting their prey, the battle resulting in one’s death and the other’s glory are extraordinary. But no matter how spectacular it is, travelling the endless rails of the railsea, Sham can't shake the sense that there is more to life. Even if his philosophy-seeking captain can think only of the hunt for the ivory-coloured mole she’s been chasing – ever since it took her arm all those years ago. When they come across a wrecked train, at first it's a welcome distraction. But the impossible salvage Sham finds in the derelict leads to considerably more than he'd bargained for. Soon he's hunted on all sides: by pirates, trainsfolk, monsters and salvage-scrabblers. And it might not be just Sham's life that's about to change. It could be the whole of the railsea.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Zen


First impressions after watching the first episode of Zen, a BBC mystery series.

Zen, to my surprise, is from top to bottom a British creation. The show is based on the books by a British writer, Michael Dibdin, who used to live in Italy. Produced by the BBC Zen is filmed in Italy to a striking result. The scenery is absolutely gorgeous, don't be surprised if I announce any holidays to Italy in the near future.

The idea behind the books, and the TV show, is to put a decent and honest police in an otherwise corrupt world. Our incorruptible policeman, Aurelio Zen, is played by Rufus Sewell, who looks suitably Italian in spite of being born in Twickenham. You get a taste of the Italian macho culture straight away when Zen arrives at work and is approached to join in on the betting of who will be the first to nail the new secretary, Tania Moretti. She is played by an actual Italian, Caterina Murino, who, to no one's surprise, used to be a model.

This is where I start to take an issue with Zen, it's a very superficial show, only about appearances with not a lot of substance. Zen and Moretti are quite the dashing couple, and it's all very slick, very photogenic, but that's it. You might as well watch it with the sound off, and just pretend it's a promotion by the Italian tourist board.

None of the actors are very convincing with the inevitable result of a forced dialogue. It does not help when most of the cast, with the exception of Sewell and Murino, have accents which would be better suitable for an episode of EastEnders. Maybe it's the Italian macho culture making an appearance again, or just lazy writing, but pretty much every woman Zen meets is either his mother or trying to get into bed with him. Possibly, it's just his crisp Italian suit.

The biggest sin of all, and the one which makes it impossible for me to find my zen, is the complete lack of mystery. Aurelio Zen does not do any actual police work at all, he might as well have been a traffic cone. He just stands there and waits for a clue to walk up to him and present him with its business card. It's all just a series of coincidences, which is not what I wanted. I regret buying all three episodes of iTunes.

If you want to watch striking scenery and beautiful people Zen is for you, but if you want an actual mystery I suggest you consider Inspector Montalbano.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Black Library Announces Horus Heresy Graphic Novels


Macragge’s Honour will be restored in November 2013

At the end of the sold-out Black Library Weekender, we announced the first title in a new range of full-length graphic novels that will become part of the New York Times bestselling series, the Horus Heresy.

Brought to you by the creative team of Dan Abnett (New Mutants, Guardians of the Galaxy) and Neil Roberts (Horus Heresy series cover artist, 2000 AD), the first title, Macragge’s Honour, will initially be available as a limited time edition through blacklibrary.com, to be followed at a later date with a regular release, including French and German editions. Macragge’s Honour will pick up the tale of one of the most iconic naval battles in the Horus Heresy, following on from where the story starts in Dan Abnett’s New York Times bestseller, Know No Fear.

‘It’s going to be a $500,000,000 dollar movie in your hands.’ - Neil Roberts

‘...I cannot tell you the words I used in the email, because they’re not good out-loud words.’ - Dan Abnett (upon seeing Neil’s images)

What is the Horus Heresy?

Set 10,000 years before the timeline of Warhammer 40,000, the Horus Heresy series tells of the galaxy-spanning civil war that threatens to bring about the extinction of humanity as the
traitorous Warmaster Horus turns his forces against his father, the Emperor.

As the flames of war spread across the galaxy, mankind’s champions will be put to the ultimate test, as brother faces brother and the universe trembles to the beat of war.

Who are Black Library?

Black Library are one of the world’s largest publishers of science-fiction and fantasy. We have a proven track record for producing comics and graphic novels, having won the Eagle award for best British comic in 2004 for Warhammer Monthly.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Coldbrook - Tim Lebbon


It's Saturday morning and I'm holding a new book in my hands. A real brick of a book with a comfortable heavy feel, and I want to start reading it straight away. The book, Coldbrook, is Tim Lebbon's new horror novel. I've read quite a few books by Mr Lebbon, mostly fantasy, but always with a streak of horror. I think if anyone can do zombies it's Tim Lebbon. Many thanks to Hammer for providing me with a review copy of Coldbrook.

Secret research facility, travel between alternative universes, super evil villains, wonky old scientist with guns and ZOMBIES. That's all you need for a brew full of fright and kick ass, and with Tim Lebbon stirring the cauldron it's Halloween everyday.

Coldbrook is the name of the secret underground complex where the scientists are about to change the world. Or rather, already have. A portal to an alternative version of earth was opened not long ago. A containment field zaps anything living with electricity, stopping brain activity in anything living. This works well until something long dead steps through the portal. Patient Zero has arrived.

As always, no system is stronger than its weakest link, and once again it's human weakness which causes a disaster. I don't want to point the finger of blame and give the plot away, besides, we're are all familiar with zombie outbreaks anyway.

I've always liked how Tim Lebbon chooses to mix genres, and Coldbrook is no exception. This time the main genre is obviously zombie horror, but you can't deny the presence of SF. Traveling between realities is pretty geeky after all. It also gives room for spicing up the world building with some truly exotic locations. In spite of all the chaos, mayhem and untold deaths Tim Lebbon still finds room for tranquility and beauty in his world. As a reader I did appreciate the chance to start breathing again and to let the pulse resume a normal rhythm.

Coldbrook is told from the point of view of four, I think, characters, and it's a solid cast. They are all ordinary people who had every ounce of normality ripped from their lives and can only do their best to cope. Their circumstances are all very different, and even the ones who know each other and start out in the same place will have their own story to tell. I always appreciate believable characters in a book, and Tim Lebbon does not let me down.

Coldbrook was a real page turner, and one of those great reads where you don't want to put it down, or even notice the lateness of the hour. It was both scary and exciting, a book which kept me on the edge of my seat, but also a book which made me curious about the world and the characters.

Coldbrook weighs in at 656 pages and is published by Hammer.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Katya's World - Jonathan L Howard


Katya's World is a Young Adult novel by Jonathan L Howard, who is best known for his books about Johannes Cabal the infamous necromancer. I don't normally read YA books as they don't really work for me, but I wanted to give this one a try since I enjoyed the writer's previous work so much. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books and Strange Chemistry for providing me with a review copy of Katya's World.

The exposition reveals some interesting world building where humans have spread out in the universe in a never ending thirst for resources. One of the planets colonised was a world entirely covered in water, but the rich mineral deposits lurking under the surface still made it worth the effort. The result, a world where everyone lives under water and loads of submarines. Unfortunately, a war with Earth takes a heavy toll and there is a lot of rebuilding to do when we enter the story. This is Katya's World.

I like the exposition. It's not that common with under water worlds, at least not where the main part of the plots takes place on one. We join Katya as she is about to board her uncle's submarine on her first journey as an actual crew member instead of just as a passenger. Katya is fresh out of the academy and is now a navigator.

I could totally sympathise with her fears of not being taken seriously by the port official overseeing their launch. I remember my first day at a real job all too well. It's a rite of passage.

Instead of a simple cargo drop their submarine is commandeered by the authorities to transport a prisoner. A seasoned reader can tell, this, is how an adventure starts. There might be pirates!

For me this is also where my normal fears about YA were realised. It's simply a matter of credibility and realism, and Jonathan L Howard does not deliver on either. A child fresh out of school without any real work experience, no matter her grades, just can't dominate a room full of seasoned adults. It's just ludicrous, to borrow an expression from my favourite dragon, Duncan Bannatyne. Every clever decision, every bold move, is from now on decided by Katya. The adults are mere meat shields and muscle to deal with the physical threats a young person is incapable of.

Even though I liked the world building, and found the story exciting to start with I just lost interest. I wanted to like it, but it's just not for me. Lesson learned. Don't let this stop you from reading Katya's World if you normally read a lot of YA. Jonathan L Howard is a talented writer whose wit has entertained me many a time.

Katya's World weighs in at 350 pages and is published by Strange Chemistry.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Dead of Winter - Lee Collins


The Dead of Winter is the debut novel of Lee Collins. I wanted to read it because it's a western and supernatural crossover. I imagine it's a tough time to be a monster when loads of people were armed and the church had a strong grip on the population. I've always liked cowboys as well, or in this case, a cowgirl. Many thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing me with the opportunity to read The Dead of Winter before everyone else.

Cora “Mad Madam” Oglesby and her husband Ben Oglesby are bounty hunters. They don't hunt ordinary criminals, instead they go after a far more dangerous prey, “spooks”. And don't think The Human Stain here, “spook” is a generic term for any kind of supernatural monster.

In The Dead of Winter they are contracted by the town sheriff to deal with whatever it is ripping people apart and eating them. Cora is the one wearing the trousers in this family. She is the hothead, the drunk and the gambler and her husband is the calm one. I struggled throughout the book to connect or sympathise with Cora, but her abrasive manners made it impossible. I'm guessing Lee Collins wants her to be a tough anti-hero with a cocky attitude and cheeky one-liners. The kind of character which Daniel Polansky does so well with his Warden, or Chuck Wendig with his Coburn. In her defence  she does kick butt though, both undead and living.

As you can tell me and the Dead of Winter did not quite hit it off from the start. When you don't like the protagonist it's hard to enjoy a book, but it did get better. Lee Collins was hiding an ace up his sleeve, and that ace not only made Cora more likeable, it also explained a few other issues I had with the book, but I wish it had happened earlier.

It's a shame I did not agree with the protagonist as the supporting characters are all well written. Cora is not the only stubborn old mule in the little mining village, the resident sheriff would be a difficult boss as well. He is as gruff as Cora, but at least he seems to mean well. One of the deputies, who is sweet on a town whore, is quite the coward. Need contrast, if everyone was brave, we couldn't really tell who was brave or not.

The Dead of Winter was a bumpy ride for me. After complaining I was upgraded to first class and could enjoy the rest of my journey. You can't really go wrong with gunslingers who hunt monsters, but you probably need to agree with me on that to enjoy this book.

The Dead of Winter weighs in at 416 pages, and is published by Angry Robot Books.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Elementary


First it was the BBC, now it's CBS' turn to reinvent my favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes. It's safe to say CBS were not afraid of making changes, so let's dive straight in.

First of all, the title is simply, Elementary, which is suitably familiar, yet distinctive enough to feel new and different. A more controversial decision, for us Brits anyway, was the move across the pond to New York. The show is made for a US audience after all, and CBS explains the move by having Sherlock Holmes attend a drug rehab. Again, a sensible decision I think. Besides, we can't have Sherlock Holmes doing heroin, or other drugs, anymore. An issue which the BBC production brushed under the carpet. However, the most controversial decision was to make Dr Watson a woman, but again, I think this was the right thing to do. Nowadays, women can be both soldiers and surgeons, so time to move Sherlock Holmes into the 21st century. Besides, Watson has always been Holmes' conscience, voice of reason, and acted as the bridge between his cold logic and the more emotionally active, which is pretty much everyone else. After watching a couple of episodes of Elementary, it's quite clear CBS Holmes needs someone with maternal instincts. He does act like a spoiled teenager, one who still thinks he knows better than everyone else, and is a complete stranger to the informal social protocol.

What about the casting then? Jonny Lee Miller is playing the famously arrogant detective. I'm happy we have a Brit in the leading role, but I still have not actually met anyone who talks with such an accent. Have they all been exported to the US to play movie villains? I'm afraid he is the weakest link in the cast, but this is only because of the inevitable need to compare with Benedict Cumberbatch. Jonny Lee Miller certainly has the energy required, but he does not possess the necessary charisma, nor does he quite achieve the same level of intensity, or zeal, which Cumberbatch projects so well. Don't get me wrong, he is good, and he certainly pulls of eccentric, but it's a different kind of Holmes we see. BBC Holmes is more mature and dark, whereas CBS Holmes is more manic teenager, bordering on hysteric at times.

Dr. Joan Watson is played by Lucy Liu, who might be small in stature, but a giant when it comes to acting. She is also adorable. Super adorable. This is a brilliant piece of casting, as she brings a lot of credibility and warmth to the show. Sherlock Holmes' father has hired her to look after his son and prevent a possible relapse into drug abuse. She tries to help by imposing order and routine into Holmes' chaotic lifestyle, but also by attempting to crack the shell he built around himself. There is a level of caring, sympathy and dignity which we did not see from Martin Freeman's Dr. Watson. She still puts up with Holmes' 'abuse', but with a look of concern on her face. So far Dr. Joan Watson is a lot less physical than her male counterpart, and I am not sure we will se Holmes asking her to bring her gun.

Aidan Quinn takes on the part of Captain Toby Gregson. I liked him a lot in Prime Suspect (USA), where he played a very similar role. Another case of good casting, although in Elementary, his character does not do much except make sure Holmes is allowed to be in on the case. Jon Michael Hill plays Detective Marcus Bell, whose only purpose is to make Holmes look good by always being wrong.

Elementary so far has not disappointed, and by the looks of the solid cast and the slick production seems like CBS are very committed to the show. My only real objection is the remake Sherlock Holmes has suffered. He has gone from a slightly disheveled, but still proper attire, to a more shabby look with t-shirt and a couple of tattoos. Also, the opening sequence would be more appropriate for another British classic, Wallace and Gromit.

I have enjoyed Elementary a lot so far, and it can hold its own against Sherlock. The two shows are sufficiently different for there to be room for both of them. Sherlock is the darker, more serious older brother, and Elementary, the younger, with a much lighter mood. Both are worth watching.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith


Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is a mouthful of a title, but at least it does what it says on the tin. Seth Grahame-Smith, the writer behind the Pride and Prejudice rewrites, has taken on the most famous of US presidents. How could I possibly say no to the opportunity to read a book about Abe kicking vampire arse. Many thanks to Corsair for providing me with a review copy of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

I did not know this, but Abraham Lincoln was known for his strength and skill as a brawler. The years spent building rail fences also left him proficient with an axe, so it totally makes sense for him to hunt vampires.

I like the way Seth Grahame-Smith has structured the book by alternating his own narrative with quotes, clippings and letters from the real Abraham Lincoln. Some possibly less real than others. It gives the book a more historical feel, but still personal as we are privy to the thoughts of the characters.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter turned out to be different from my expectations. I thought it would be more separate from the real Abraham Lincoln, and set during a period of his life which we did not know so much about. This was not the case at all, it reads a lot more like a biography of his life, but with some very notable alterations. Vampires.

Abraham Lincoln lived a life full with tragedy, and according to Seth Grahame-Smith, it was all because of vampires. If the first vampire to cross the 16th president of the United States of America knew that Abraham Lincoln would become his worst nemesis because of his actions, the vampire might have acted differently. Who knew Abe and Batman would have so much in common?

It's a great read, brimming with both action and interesting historical tidbits. What I did not expect was to feel my chest tightening so often. There were a few emotionally very powerful moments present, some historical moments, but brought to life by Seth Grahame-Smith's penmanship. The look of despair on the face of a young girl shackled together with the other slaves on a cart, and going who knows where, made it necessary to pause my reading to collect myself.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter weighs in at 384 pages, and is published by Corsair.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Pariah: Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn - Dan Abnett


Pariah: Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn is the latest book by Dan Abnett, writer extraordinaire. It's one of those books which is a must read because of the name on the jacket. Expectations are already sky high, and I have not even read the blurb. Having the names Ravenor and Eisenhorn on the cover, which is gorgeous by the way, was almost too much for this poor old reader. Many thanks to the Black Library for providing me with a review copy of Pariah.

When the first Harry Potter novel came out, I found the idea of a school for wizards fascinating. Who would not want to study the arcane, young or old? Pariah is also a coming of age story about children with special abilities, who are whisked away at a young age to attend a school, the Maze Undue. Pariahs are not gifted with magic, rather the opposite in fact. They are psychic nulls, meaning, their presence negates the psychic abilities and powers of the warp. I much prefer Dan Abnett's place of education, you see, it's where the Inquisition train the inquisitors of tomorrow.

Alizebeth Bequin is a student at the Maze Undue, but instead of Quidditch she takes part in a far more serious game. The whole city of Mab is their playground, and the game is one of espionage and intrigue. The missions vary from the mundane to much more serious, but it's always a question of information, and information is power.

Pariah is too good a journey to bring along a guide, so I won't tell you much more. Alizebeth Bequin, who knows nothing of her past or her parents, will soon find out everything she thought she knew might be false. She will need all of her training to survive and make the right decisions. When nothing is as it seems, who do you trust?

There are so many reasons to like Pariah, I barely know where to start. The world building is great, and not just because it's straight out of the Warhammer 40k box, but because Dan Abnett has made it into his own. This is my first visit to the city of Queen Mab, which almost immediately felt like a real city, teeming with life and secrets of its own. It is a city touched by legends and forged in battle and conflict. A living Saint once walked through it, and the streets his feet touched are closed off. Only the warblind go there. They are soldiers from wars long since concluded, kept alive by their modifications. The only thing the know is how to fight. I can't imagine a better setting for any book.

The characters are great as well, which goes without saying when Dan Abnett's name graces the cover of a book. Alizebeth Bequin is a well rounded character, who is very easy to like. I felt we got to know her well by following her from an early age. Sometimes, Warhammer characters can be too one dimensional, which is not unrealistic since they tend to be indoctrinated, and bred for a single purpose. With out heroine this is not the case. She might be a believer in the cause and the need for her organisation, but she is capable of thinking, and she does have a personality. Alizebeth Bequin herself could carry the book on her own, but she does not have to as there are several great characters.  Ravenor and Eisenhorn both take a supportive role, this is the Alizebeth Bequin's story after all.

And what a story. Somehow, Dan Abnett takes all the usual elements of a Warhammer 40k story, but ends up with more. Pariah has a fantasy feel to it, which I think comes from the cloak and dagger and the marvellous setting. Technology is there of course, but often it remains unobtrusive in the background. It's also a more character driven story, instead of just dropping a squad of space marines in front of a group of chaos marines and have them battle it out. It's a immersive read, one of those rare novels where you are sucked straight in, and it just seems to be played out before your eyes.

Pariah is one hell of a read by Dan Abnett, the Warmaster himself.

Pariah: Ravenor vs. Eisenhorn weighs in at 320 pages, and is published by the Black Library. It is scheduled for release in November 2012.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Zero Point - Neal Asher


Zero Point is the second book in Neal Asher's The Owner series. The first book, The Departure, ended with such a bang I just had to start reading Zero Point straight away. Luckily, it was already on a digital bookshelf near me so my delay was only a couple of minutes. Once again, thank you myself for providing me with a review copy of Zero Point.

Things are getting very interesting in Zero Point, just as I suspected they would. I feel very smug right now writing this. Saul, our modified hero, is no longer a mere super genius, but has transcended to something new by melding with an AI. He might have dealt with the threats in The Departure, but unfortunately, when it comes to literature, obstacles tend to come back in a new shape and form. Good thing that, or books would be rather boring.

A new chairman, or chairwoman rather, of the committee is now in power. As impossible as it sounds she is even more ruthless than her predecessor, and also barking mad. Neal Asher has made her into a very unlikable villain, which is just what I like. Every time the story is told from her point of view, you can expect something outrageously evil, but she still manages to almost justify her actions. Her lack of regard for human life is made for her concern of mother nature, and it is her goal to restore Earth to it's former glory. The only way to do this is to consume less resources, and the fastest way to achieve this is to basically kill all Zero Assets humans. She might have a doomsday device to help her...

To restore Earth she needs the gene bank which is now in the hands of Saul, and a big battleship is built to retrieve it. There is some great plotting involved here where soon several factions are created, all in conflict with each other, but all of them gunning for Saul.

This is where Neal Asher gets creative with how Saul attempts to counter each threat. I have always enjoyed reading Mr Asher's in depth, technical descriptions of new machines, or even theoretical science. To me this is what SF is all about, making the unachievable possible and leaving the reader in awe. Neal Asher does not disappoint. Good thing there was a nutty professor on board the hijacked space station.

Zero Point introduced a few new interesting support characters. My favourite was Alex, a clone of the previous chairman, who was conditioned into the perfect soldier, unquestionably loyal and prepared to do anything to fulfil the mission. Alex will have his conditioning tested to the extreme. Trapped on a space station without much chance of rescue. I love it when people are forced to think for themselves, and are made to question what they are told.

I practically devoured Zero Point in a few lengthy reading sessions. The book was a real page turner. Neal Asher's trademarks were all there, action, imagination and great world building. All the story arcs are of the kind where you just want to read one last chapter before turning the lights off, and then it turns to two, then three. Just like The Departure I get the feeling we have still only scratched surface of what lies hidden in The Owner universe. I will be there for part three.

Zero Point weighs in at 400 pages, and is published by Tor.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Dinner by Hodder




I was one of few fortunate readers who was invited to attend a dinner hosted by Hodder. The guest of honour was none other than one of the hottest names in fantasy, Daniel Polansky. Anyone following my blog knows I am a big fan of Daniel Polansky's writing. With his first novel, The Straight Razor Cure, he showed he was a contender in the genre. With the second novel, Tomorrow the Killing, I consider him to be up there with the best. His take on dark, gritty fantasy with a streak of crime solving makes me want to put him in the company of Joe Abercrombie. No way I was going to miss out on a chance to meet him, and free food.

Hodder's choice of restaurant was exciting as well. I have often passed Kettner's in Soho, but never made it across their threshold. I just might have had a little peek at the menu and reviews, both of which looked promising. I am getting ahead of myself though. I joined Daniel Polansky and his Hodder minders in the Spice of Life for a swift beverage. One can only assume this was to introduce Mr Polansky to the old British tradition of getting pissed.

Upon exiting the pub we immediately lost Anne Perry, one of Daniel Polansky's editors, who is possibly the fastest walking person ever. Luckily, once we turned the corner we could see her again, and my dinner was safe. After safely arriving at Kettner's we were greeted warmly by Kerry, Daniel's publicist at Hodder, and my first glass of wine was in my hand before I had even taken off my coat. Introductions were made, food was ordered, and there was much rejoicing.

Turns out Daniel Polansky is a very laid back and friendly sort of a chap. I found out he lives a nomadic lifestyle, traveling most of the time, and has all his precious possessions in storage. This mostly seemed to be his books and vinyls. With a room full of writers and publishers it's hard to avoid talking about books. My contribution was expressing my surprise over the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction. I also pointed out the creme fraiche was missing from the smoked salmon, but that's not really related to fiction.

The food was great, especially so the starter and my beef casserole main, which had a posh sounding French name. The highlight of the evening, however, was hearing a couple of title ideas for Daniel Polansky's next book. Just in case it's secret I will keep it to myself, but let's just say it was definitely the kind of title you expect from him. I also learned the technical term for this kind of title is 'gnomic'. A release date was also discussed, and the chief big-wig editor present even promised to try and push it forward. Actually, lots of title ideas were thrown around, with 'A Tearful Bumming' being a clear favourite for best title of the evening.

Many thanks to Hodder for hosting this event. Daniel (we are on a first name basis now) is a great guy, so go forth and buy his books please.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

'Arrow'


Just finished watching the pilot for Arrow, CW Network's adoption of the DC Comic's Green Arrow, and it was not bad at all. Here is why I think you should give it a try.

Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), the playboy son of a billionaire, who is lost at sea with his father and presumed dead. He is not. Our spoiled party brat is playing Robinson Crusoe. We are shown a glimpse of this island, and to be fair, it does look like Mordor could be just around the corner. We are told the island is as dangerous as it looks, and to survive, the boy has to turn into a man and make himself into a weapon. After five years he is rescued and returned to civilisation.

It does get a little bit cheesy here when he sleeps on the floor instead of the bed, and demonstrates his amazing reflexes by catching stuff dropped by the maid. He shows his maturity by turning away a girl by pretending to still be a wild party animal. From now on Oliver Queen seems to be motivated by vengeance and just like in Revenge there is a list of people who needs to be punished. It's time to kick some ass.

Arrow is brimming with action with our hero is traversing obstacles and buildings like a pro traceur. Jumping over a fence, or running up a wall, is not exactly kicking ass though, but not surprisingly, he dances in circles around the bad guys, unless he shoots them of course. They get inventive with the bow, perhaps even a bit too inventive, and I suspect they have not shown us all what this amazing weapon can do. When the Green Arrow enters melee it's over as quickly for the hired thugs, the fighting is quick and brutal. For a TV show it's well done and looks convincing. There is a tendency to have our hero chased by men with machine guns who apply the spray and pray tactic, which I hope the director will move away from as it really only belongs in computer games. There's only so many roof tops you can realistically run over under fire without getting hit.

It's easy to forgive Arrow for being a bit cheesy at times, it is a comic book adaption after all, just as long as it stays fun I'm happy to watch.

Stephen Amell does a good job playing the brooding hero and arrogant playboy, and the writers have delivered a plot who at first seemed to be a simple revenge one, but then it turns a lot more sinister, and betrayal looms on the horizon.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Caliban's War - James S.A. Corey


The conglomerate of writers behind the name James SA Corey are back with the second part in the Expanse series, Caliban's War. I'm obviously curious to know what happens next, and if my favourite hat-wearing detective sacrificed himself in vain or not. Thank you myself for providing me with a copy of Caliban's War.

After surviving the alien horrors of Leviathan Wakes starship captain Jim Holden and his crew signs up with the Outer Planets Alliance. Their mission is simply one of maintaining the security in the region, chasing down the odd pirate or smuggler. When war between Mars and Earth breaks out on Ganymede Holden is sent on a covert operation to find out what happens.

We actually get a front line seat to what went down on the surface of Ganymede, thanks to Bobbie, a Martian marine. In a rather nail biting chapter we follow Bobbie in a fight against a modified protomolecule soldier. It's not much of a fight though, the alien monster tears apart Bobbie's squad, and a squad of Earth soldiers, before promptly exploding. Armour piercing bullets pass straight through the abomination without doing any obvious damage, and in spite of The marines' Space Marine (Warhammer 40k) like armour, it rips them apart with nothing but its bare hands.

In the confusion that follows the space ships positioned in orbit opens fire and Mars and Earth is at war. Ganymede is where most of the food is grown for the human settlements outside Earth, which is why Mars and Earth forces are already posturing on its surface and orbit.

Caliban's War is off to a great start with its horror inspired action. Intense suspense is one good thing which is present throughout the book, if it's in slime filled corridors, or in deep space during a fight between space ships. The stakes are high, we have Earth and Mars on the brink of unleashing hell on each other.   On Venus the protomolecule is up to who knows what, but the most heart wrenching of all is the kidnapping of a young girl, Mei, who was taken from her nursery on Ganymede.

Holden, who I did struggle to connect with in the first book, to his credit drops everything to assist Mei's father to find her. In Leviathan Wakes I wanted Holden to be a Han Solo character, so I was disappointed when he turned out to be not quite as competent and likeable as the old rogue. He has grown on me, and yes he does not always (more like never) make the right decision, and in some things he is very naive, but, at least his flaws makes him real. Besides, dropping everything to save a child I can totally sympathise with, it's what I would do if I was a captain of a space ship.

The supporting characters are once again great. Bobbie, my new favourite marine stands out. She is described as being over two meters tall, and gains muscle by just looking at weights. The men around her are not sure if they are supposed to be frightened or attracted to her. She is her own personal hell dealing with the deaths of her squad mates, and then has to deal with questions of loyalty when she is recruited by a Earth politician to prevent a war between Mars and Earth.

The Martian marine was like one of those cute little beach bunnies that someone had used editing software on and blown up to 150 percent normal size. The proportions, the black hair, the dark eyes, everything was the same. Only, giant. It short circuited his neural wiring. The lizard living at the back of his brain kept jumping back and forth between Mate with it! and Flee from it!

The Earth politician Bobbie is working for is obviously her opposite, an elderly and frail woman, but men tremble in front of her for other reasons. The old lady also swears a lot, and is a lot of fun. Powerful women, every geeky boy's dream!

James S.A. Corey spins a damn good yarn as well with a lot variety. The suspense comes from both physical threats to the characters and also a lot of bigger problems, like political pressure, or emotional ones. The only thing which felt a bit awkward was sending the galaxy's most notorious person for a covert operation, but other than that, the story moves along at a neck breaking pace. Not many chapters were without a mini cliff hanger which made me promise myself, just one more chapter.

Caliban's War is a great addition to the space opera genre, and I can't wait to pick up the next book in the series, Abaddon's Gate.

Caliban's War weighs in at 608 pages, and is published by Orbit Books.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

'Buckingham Palace Blues' - James Craig


Buckingham Palace Blues, by James Craig, is the third book in the Inspector Carlyle series, and my first. Corruption in Buckingham Palace, who would have thought? My only question was, how high up does it go? Many thanks to Constable & Robinson for providing me with a review copy of Buckingham Palace Blues.

James Craig opens up with some really serious stuff, threat and violence against children of the worst kind. After meeting a confused child in a park, and then quickly losing her, John Carlyle discovers a child-trafficking ring. Apart from actually finding out who is behind it, acquiring evidence, he also has to solve a puzzle much closer to heart. Which of his colleagues can he actually trust?

It's a decent plot, which twists and turns enough to keep me interested. Sometimes the obstacles introduced seem a tad too convenient, and lazy, but James Craig just about gets away with it. At least James Craig does not pull his punches, which gives the story credibility. No gloating gangsters who reveal their entire plot to Batman, only to leave him unguarded and strapped to a dooms days device.

John Carlyle is a new acquaintance of mine, and I feel I did not get to know him well enough. Obviously, it might have been different had I also read the first two books. He does not seem to have any interesting character flaws, no real darkness he needs to keep in check. He even has a loving wife which is very supportive of his odd working hours. When it comes to tenacity he excels and he works the case like a bloodhound. We also get the follow the investigation from the point of view of a few other characters, all of which are well written.

Buckingham Palace Blues was a entertaining read, with both pace and moments of suspense. James Craig gives us delightfully unlikeable villains, which you can't wait long enough for them to finally be caught, and maybe even fall down some stairs...

Buckingham Palace Blues weighs in at 304 pages, and is published by Constable & Robinson.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

'Tomorrow the Killing' - Daniel Polansky


I read a lot of good books last year, but Daniel Polansky's first Low Town novel, The Straight Razor Cure, really caught my attention. There are a lot of books with anti-heroes and dark, gritty worlds, but few of them are executed as well as The Straight Razor Cure. Tomorrow the Killing was a no brainer. Thank you Hodder for providing me with a review copy.

Not much has changed since the first book, Warden is still running his little one man crime empire. Being too small for the big guys to worry about and just crazy enough the smaller operations stay away from him. He still owns a bar with his friend from the army, Adolphus, and spends most of his time drunk or doped up on drugs. Warden is contacted by the father of his military commander, so he reluctantly sobers up to go meet with the old man. It's not an easy meeting, it brings back a lot of memories from his past, which he would have preferred to stay forgotten. The old man's daughter has gone missing, and she is in Low Town asking questions about the death of her brother. This is the brother who was Warden's commander back in the day, and he knows her questions are unwanted, and so does the old man.

Warden, being a anti hero after all, obviously refuses, but he ain't fooling anyone. Daniel Polansky writes brilliant power games, and this is what a young woman's questions turn into. Warden is once again pulled into a intricate political game, where every piece on the board is expendable. There is a lot more to it than a missing person, Warden's past plays a big part of it. Context to the main story arc is provided by flashbacks. Not only does it explain the why, but it also lets Warden grow as a character. This is a world where humanity is not showing it's best side, a place where the strong devours the weak. A sign of goodness is a sign of weakness, and holding on to it, is what this book is all about.

I really liked The Straight Razor Cure, but I absolutely loved Tomorrow the Killing. Everything which was good in the first book is even better in the second. Daniel Polansky ticks every box, but it's his protagonist, Warden, who really shines. A gruff anti hero character is not easy to pull off, and often they feel over the top, and unrealistic. Not the case here, Warden is lifelike, but you can see why he is so defensive and closed with other people. The man also delivers some cracking one liners, which lightens up, an otherwise, very serious book. I don't want to go on about the grittiness of the world anymore, but lets just say it's not about winning, just making sure everyone else loses more than you.

Tomorrow the Killing weighs in at 368 pages, and is published by Hodder. It scheduled for release on the 11th of October 2012.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

'Boss'


My impressions of the first couple of episodes of a newish TV show, Boss.

Boss, a political drama originally aired on Starz, really caught me by surprise. I had a brief look on IMDB, and saw it was categoried as crime and drama. To my surprise, there were no police involved at all, and instead the show was focused on the mayor of Chicago, but don't think West Wing, as Boss is much closer to Sopranos. More on that later.

Tom Kane (Kelsey Grammer), the mayor of Chicago, is diagnosed at the start of the show with a degenerative neurological disorder. This is quite a major plot obstacle, as not only is it fatal, the symptons are bad, and he is already experiencing the first ones. He is hearing things, having hallucinations and suffer from spells of disorientation, while mumbling to himself. If this ever got out his career would be over quicker than lager turns to piss. To Tom Kane, nothing is more important than his career.

Boss manages to surprise me again. In West Wing the politicians were honourable, any tricks played were within the confines of the law. This is not the case in Boss, and I just didn't see it coming. This is a Kelsey Grammer you have never seen before, the sheer raw and brutal anger he projects is scary. It's not just tellings people off either, it's physical as well. Nothing is held back when a underling messes up on a construction project by altering the press, and Tom Kane transforms from mayor to crime lord, by demanding to have the man's ears delivered to him.

It's safe to say Boss makes an impression, and a very forceful one. It's not all about mafia style violence though, Tom Kane is a man beset by conflicts of all kinds. A journalist is stalking him, hoping to discover the next big scoop. He seems to have broken all contact with his daughter, Emma Kane (Hannah Ware), who is a priest. The only contact he has with his wife, Meredith Kane (Connie Nielsen), is during public functions. Connie Nielsen is amazing in this role, she is the coldest of ice maidens, and her dedication to her own career is even greater than her husband's. The casting is excellent, and pretty much every character seems interesting, and they all have their own demons.

Once I was over the initial shock of expecting something very different I was thrilled by Boss. The show is in your face from page one with how brutal and honest it is. The politicians we see on TV are nothing more than masks put on for the cameras, but when no cameras are present, the masks come off. It's another show which chooses to show shades of grades instead of black and white, much like Sons of Anarchy and Breaking Bad. I look forward to watching Tom Kane grapple with his disease and political opponents.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

'The Departure' - Neal Asher


The Departure, by Neal Asher, has been sitting for quite a while on my reading pile. Or rather, my imaginary reading pile, since I did not actually buy it until recently. It took me this long to get used to the idea of no more Cormac, Spatterjay, or Old Captains. You see, The Departure is the first book in The Owner series. Tough time when my two favourite SF writers decide to do a major reboot. Once again, I'd like to thank myself for my generosity in providing me with a copy of The Departure.

The Owner universe is very different from the Polity one, gone are the benign AIs and Earth is in the hand of the totalitarian Committee. The population is divided into different categories based on their perceived usefulness, with the members of the Committee at the top, and 98% of humanity are so called Zero Assets (ZA). Basically, they are not worth anything, and are considered a drain upon resources. The overpopulation is serious enough that the ZA category are systematically killed by the Committee, but ironically their own inefficiency and waste is huge. At least there are no crab like aliens trying to eat them.

To me there are three things that Neal Asher excels at, action, world building, and creating likeable, slightly psychotic, characters. Lets see how much of the above is still true in The Departure, and The Owner universe.

When it comes to action, and blowing shit up in creative ways, no one is even close to Neal Asher. The pace is relentless, and the first chapter kicks off with some quality infiltration work, assassination, and equipment which would make Bond green with envy. It's just the starter, and the rest of The Departure is pretty much a smorgasbord of violence.

The world building works for me, but it's not really what I wanted. No killing drones bristling with weapons, no huge leeches, no other crazy nightmare creatures, and no Mr Crane. The furthest we go is Mars, and the scariest we have is some robots, which to be fair, would make me wet myself I I ever met one. It's just not quite same, which I guess is the purpose of switching to a new universe. Neal Asher does do a good job, and the hopelessness of the ZA population is clear, and we also have some interesting exposition at the start of every chapter. I do hope it never comes to this, but I can't help feeling the timing of The Departure is good considering the events in our own reality.

Last, but not least, are the characters, which means I should probably mention something about the plot as well. Vengeance. There, that covers the plot. Our protagonist is in a rather unfortunate situation, he does not remember who he is, only the face of the man who tortured him. On the flip side, he seems remarkably good at killing people, and also highly intelligent. The very capable AI, who goes by the name Janus, is also a fortunate resource. So off he goes to exact just retribution, and maybe even topple a government or two on the way. Comparing our new protagonist to agent Cormac wouldn't be unfair at all, although this new chap has some serious issues with authority. Both are highly capable individuals with a past shrouded in mystery. To me the biggest difference is the lack of interesting supporting characters, which our new man could have used. He is very focused, not very emotional, and maybe a little boring. A humorous sidekick, preferably a seahorse shaped drone, would have lightened things up a little.

At first I was not sure what to expect, and what I got was not quite what I wanted. Halfway through, The Departure was just another good action packed SF novel, but as Neal Asher revealed more and more where he was really going with the Owner series, my fascination grew. The Departure shows us a glimpse of what to expect in the future, and the potential of what could come next really excites me. It's the foundation of something new, and I want to be there when the rest of the building comes up. As soon as I finished The Departure I bought the second novel, Zero Point.

The Departure weighs in at 352 pages, and is published by Tor.

Friday, 28 September 2012

What I'm Reading Next

Good news everyone! A box of goodies from Black Library arrived. That's at least good news for me, but I'm sure you can share my joy. Here is a picture to show you the highlights.


That's right, what you see is Dan Abnett's latest novel, Pariah. The blurb just makes me want to drop what I'm reading and start reading Pariah straight away. I shall try and resist, and I am going to Brighton tomorrow, so don't want to lug around too many physical books.

The Emperor's Might: Warriors of the Imperium is a art collection packed full of gorgeous images of space marines. I might browse through that one while my partner watched Downton Abbey. I think a full bodied red wine will go well with it.

Dark Vengeance, by G Z Dunn, is a tie in novel to the table top game with the same name. Slim enough to go into the bag I'm packing for FantasyCon.

 

I just finished reading Zero Point by Neal Asher, and just started Caliban's War by James S A Corey.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

'Blue Remembered Earth' - Alastair Reynolds


As a fanboy I don't like change, so I felt both excitement and fear when Alastair Reynold's new book, Blue Remembered Earth, was announced. The Revelation Space universe was about to step aside for a new creation and a new beginning. It took me quite a while before I summoned enough courage to purchase a copy. I'm glad I did though.

In Blue Remembered Earth global warming has caused some dramatic changes, and the world we know today is no more. From the ruins of the old empires, new super powers arose. From Africa, a woman born at the end of the conflict, carved her name into the history books through sheer determination and ruthlessness. Now, she has passed away and left her empire to her squabbling relatives, but she also left them a mystery. Not everyone is happy about this, and the family is divided into those who wants to bury it, and those who wish to see what final message their venerable matriarch left them.

At first I was a worried Alastair Reynolds would tone down all the awesome technology I grew to love in Revelation Space, and while Blue Remembered Earth is low tech in comparison, it's still sufficiently techie to scratch that itch. The colonisation of space has started, and AIs exist, but have been outlawed.

It turns out space is not the final frontier, the oceans on earth are ripe for exploration as well, and a faction has made them their home. In Revelation Space humans had since long abandoned the need to look human, and the first stumbling steps have been made in Blue Remembered Earth. They are however of a more practical nature, mostly related to surviving in different environments, specifically underwater.

Unlike Alastair Reynolds' previous novels the protagonists in Blue Remembered Earth are pretty ordinary people, lacking military background and completely without any, out of the ordinary, enhancing implants. You see, on Earth, crime is something of the past. All humans are implanted with a thought monitoring device which detects thoughts of violence, and when that happens the individual is disabled, and will if necessary receive therapy. The Mechanism overseeing this is the ultimate big brother. But, back to our protagonists, Geoffrey and Sunday, were born into one of the richest families, but choose to pursuit their own interest instead of the family business. Geoffrey is researching elephant cognition, with the ultimate goal of doing a Vulcan mind meld with the matriarch of the herd. His sister, Sunday, is a half decent artists, who ekes out a living on the moon. The moon is outside of the reach of the Mechanism, and she is part of a subculture who wants the freedom, to do wrong. It's not a rebellion, see them more as hippies.

Together, they have to unravel the mystery their grandmother left behind her. The trail of breadcrumbs they follow is a historic one, the same path travelled by their grandmother when she lay the foundation for their family's riches. It's an absolute delight to read, as it manages to be both interesting, almost like a documentary, but also full of excitement and wonder. This is after all Alastair Reynolds, and we all know what he is capable of. It's all there, the suspense, the fantastic world building, and characters who are so easy to sympathise with you can feel the emotions behind their dialogue. Even the elephants are well rounded characters! Any worries I had about the change of scenery were swiftly abandoned, Alastair Reynolds' has without a shadow of a doubt pulled off his reboot. Although his new universe has a lot less tech in it, there is still more than enough to grab your attention, and a writer with his skill does not require a technological plague or super powered suits to create suspense. I'm once again blown away by the master of British SF, and I can't wait for the next part.

Blue Remembered Earth weighs in at 512 pages, and is published by Gollancz.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Who Won? Seven Wonders

I am done moving from one flat to another, and have found the time to draw a winner out of my virtual hat of names. The very lucky winner is:

Emily King from Cornwall!

I shall inform my angry robot overlords at once, and a robot minion will deliver a copy of Seven Wonders to her doorstep.

Happy reading Emily!

Friday, 21 September 2012

Excuses, excuses

Dear readers,

I'm in the middle of a house move, but the winners of the Seven Wonders giveaway will be announced in the next couple of days. Also, you have a review of Blue Remembered Earth to look forward to.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Book giveaway: Seven Wonders


It's been a while since my last giveaway, so I wanted something special for this one. We can all agree that Seven Wonders by Adam Christopher is that special book. Quick, start sending me those emails!

This competition is sponsored by Angry Robot Books and is open to anyone in US/CAN or UK/EU. 

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email Seven Wonders
3) Don't forget to include your address, or I wont be able to send you the book, unless you want a eBook
4) Do this before Friday the 21st of September 2012

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

'Seven Wonders' - Adam Christopher


Seven Wonders, Adam Christopher's second novel, is a bit of a rarity. It's a super hero novel. Not something you see every day, but I wish there were a few more out there. After his success with Empire State it's safe to say my expectations have reached a new high. As always, a big thanks to Angry Robot Books for providing me with a review copy of Seven Wonders.

I did not have to turn many pages before Seven Wonders reminded my of Kurt Busiek's master piece, Astro City. It's a similar setup with a city where spandex clad supermen, and women, are a part of every day life. What made Astro City so special to me was how for the first time the heroes felt like real people, with real problems. I love it how the citizens of both cities can take it in their stride when supermen, and women, bring destruction and mayhem to their lives. Dodging the impact of invulnerable super heroes on your way into work is not much different from dodging a pack of pigeons as they fertilise the area they fly over. Seven Wonders also has the same amazing mixture of different heroes, and often we don't even get to know anything about them apart from their name, which is all I need to get my imagination going. The Gin Fairy, need I say more?

I'd better talk a little bit about the plot before I forget and just talk about how it compares to my favourite graphic novel. You really need to read Astro City though.

Tony is what you could call a loser, stuck in a dead beat job, pretending otherwise to his parents, and he is terrified of the city he lives in. Being constantly frightened and without much money makes it harder to attract attention from the fairer sex. Then it happens, that thing that only happens in fiction written by men, a smoking hot member of that fairer sex does notice Tony. Notice is a understatement, it's more of a home run than first base as well. Not a bad confidence boost for our frightened rabbit, but then our delicate little mammal wakes up one day with super powers.

Tony is not the only one with super powers though, the city is protected by the super hero team called Seven Wonders. They are in a stalemate with the only super villain left in the world, The Cowl. The world's last super villain really is super, his powers range from invulnerability to psychic abilities which can boil a man's brain in an instant, and not even the combined might of the Seven Wonders is enough to take him down. The Seven Wonders are not exactly kittens themselves, their leader draws is power directly from the sun, and their weapons and armours are forged by an ancient god.
While Tony is having his 'Chronicle' like experience playing with his new powers, The Cowl is plotting to strike a final blow to the Seven Wonders.

One of the things I loved the most with Empire State was Adam Christopher's ability to keep surprising me with the twist and turn of the story arcs, which is sadly not the case in Seven Wonders. An attempt is made, but the result feels rather disconnected from the rest of the story, and a little bit too sudden to really fit it. Luckily, it does not in anyway ruin the experience, but it's definitely a a bump you can feel. The biggest problem in Seven Wonders is how some of the characters have rather drastic personality changes. These are even more sudden and really quite unexpected, at least in Chronicle you could see it coming. In Seven Wonders it even happens more than once. Sadly, this takes away a lot of the credibility of the characters, and in most other books it would have made it a poor reading choice. While Adam Christopher might have missed the mark with some of the characters, the atmosphere, and the world building, is spot on. The super powered fighting also has the right comic book feel to them, but with a more adult touch to them, where there is actual bloodshed. Adam Christopher has once again brought something new to a old genre.

You'd be a super fool if you didn't read Seven Wonders.

Seven Wonders weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot Books.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

What I'm Reading Next

Due to a severe spell of League of Legends addiction my reviewing has dwindled into a trickle, if you can even call it that. I seem to broken my shackles, and even managed to post a review a wrote a month ago. I have still managed to read a few books, so hopefully there will be some more reviews in the next couple of days, or weeks. Just a little teaser of what is coming.



Blue Remembered Earth - Alistair Reynolds
Alistair Reynolds is starting anew with his Poseidon's Children trilogy. Supposedly, more optimistic than what he has written in the past. I'm a big fan so I'm surprised it took me this long to read it. It did not disappoint.

Seven Wonders - Adam Christopher
Adam's second novel for Angry Robot Books, which is a real super hero novel. Another great cover by the way, and it was just released.

Tomorrow the Killing - David Polansky
This is the second Low Town novel, and a book I was very much looking forward to reading. His first novel, The Straight Razor Cure (review), just blew me away. This one is even better.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

'The Dirty Streets of Heaven' - Tad Williams


Tad Williams returns with a new novel, The Dirty Streets of Heaven, which is the first book about angel private eye, Bobby Dollar. My first experience with Tad Williams was his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, but it was such a long time ago, all I can remember is the books were proper bricks. I've read a lot of urban fantasy in the past so I thought I'd give Bobby Dollar a chance, and not hold that name against him or the writer. Thank you Hodder for providing me with a review copy of The Dirty Streets of Heaven.

I often say how the protagonists in crime novels all share very similar traits, and this is even more true in urban fantasy. They are usually around average height, of a more sinewy build, but they do know how to throw a punch and excel at taking a beating. The last bit is essential as the key ingredient is a smart mouth, and you know werewolves, vampires and demons hit pretty hard. World weary and cynical goes without saying, and if you are not slightly depressed by their company after a few pages, something is wrong. Then there is that added spice, their knack for something which makes them special and interesting. Constantine has his magic, Matthew Swift is a frigging electric angel, and all Felix Castor got was a flute.

Bobby Dollar is an angel, no electricity involved, but the soul of a mortal who perished, and was lucky enough to end up in heaven. This processes is a lot more convoluted than I thought, it's not an instant process where your actions are weighed and the scales tipped into fiery oblivion or a heavenly paradise. No. A representative from both heaven and hell argues your case in front of a judge. Bobby Dollar is one such heavenly advocate. It's all pretty much business as usual for him until one day when the defendant does not turn up. This has never happened before and what happens with a soul after a person's death is clearly defined in the treaty signed by both sides after the big upset. A soul not showing up for its own trial is not part of that treaty and the two sides are quick to blame each other. You'd think heaven is a tight knitted group where everyone has each others' back, but you'd be wrong. At least according to Bobby Dollar who is worried he will somehow be the scapegoat for all this, so he decides to look into it on his own. The smoking hot demonic investigator sent by the opposition has nothing to do with this decision. The smoking hot, it's actually burning, demon might have something to do with it. Fear is a great motivator.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is one of those books I was quite happy to pick up and get back into it, in spite of a few issues. Sometimes, the sum is greater than the parts. I do wish Tad Williams had equipped Bobby Dollar with a slightly less annoying personality. We all have that one friend who think they know everything, and sees it as their duty to educate everyone else. Even when chased by demons Bobby Dollar can't help himself from telling us about all the cool shit he knows about the neighbourhood he is running through. Still, he does have a certain world-weary charm so in the end he gets away with it.

I could never shake the feeling of having read it all before, but The Dirty Streets of Heaven is still a well written book packed to the brim with action adventure. The pace never slackens, and the urban fantasy hero's legendary ability to take a beating is stretched to the limit. Somehow, it all comes together in a conspiracy theory kind of way, and the awkward judging of souls is replaced with far more interesting lore and events. I'm not sure it's enough to make me read a second Bobby Dollar novel, but it was entertaining while it lasted.

If you like urban fantasy, and if you are a fan of Chris F Holm's Dead Harvest, I'm certain you will enjoy The Dirty Streets of Heaven as well.

The Dirty Streets of Heaven weighs in at 416 pages, and is published by Hodder.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

'Night's Engines' - Trent Jamieson


Trent Jamieson is back with Night's Engines, the second and final part of the Nightbound Land duology. Last year Roil was one of my favourite fantasy books so there was never any question of if I should read it Night's Engines, only when. I want to thank Angry Robot Books for once again providing me with a precious book.

If you have not read Roil, but you are planning to, you might want to skip my plot summary as I will reveal some of the stuff that happened in Roil.

Shale is dying. The Roil is spreading its darkness and warmth around the world, and city by city is falling. The mighty armies assembled are smashed, the airships are torn from the sky, the soldiers turned into roilings.

David and Margaret are holed up in the city of Hardacre waiting for their allies to secure them an airship to bring them north to the engines of the world. Once there, David can destroy the world to make it whole again. The question is, will the Roil reach them before they have even left Hardacre?

There is a lot to like about Night's Engines, as much as about Roil. For starters, the world building is second to none. I keep referring to the series as a fantasy, which is what it feels like, but it's really somewhere in the middle of SF and fantasy. Shale harbours a secret, what is the Roil, why is it trying to destroy the world? There is more to the world building than a intriguing selection of flora and fauna, the political intrigue is as fascinating as its creatures. Several factions are doing what they think is best for the survival of the world, and hopefully, their views will converge before it's too late for Shale.

A good setting is maybe all you need to make a movie, but for a book you need good characters as well. Trent Jamieson provides the full package. It's hard to not sympathise with David, the lost young man, who is thrust into a living nightmare, and whose only escape is drugs. In Night's Engines he matures, maybe not voluntary, adding more depth. Margaret, our strong independent bad ass girl, is David's stalwart protector. When he is weak, she is strong. Easy to like, especially when she shows some vulnerability.

Night's Engines is the ending Roil deserves. I had a good time reading it, and they are two very good books you should read.

Night's Engines weighs in at 384 pages, and is published by Angry Robot Books.