Monday, 30 January 2012

'Supergod' - Warren Ellis

Supergod by Warren Ellis and Garrie Gastonny is my first attempt at reviewing a graphic novel. I entered a challenge of reading one each month so I’m afraid there will be more. I am not big consumer of comics and graphic novel, but I have read both Stormwatch and The Authority, which Warren Ellis has worked on so Supergod seemed like a safe choice. I'd like to thank myself for so generously providing me with a copy to review.

Supergod opens with a bang. London is burning, the Thames runs thick with the dead, and a lonely man is sitting on its bank. Simon Reddin, a scientist, is on the phone with an American colleague. It's not a conversation you have everyday. Simon Reddin is not making a social call, he is recounting how he helped destroy the world.

I like the concept behind Supergod, which is an arms race between the major nations of the world. The differences lies in the choice of weapon they are trying to develop. It's a race of creating the most powerful superhero, or a god if you like. Most just want to come up with something capable of making the world into a better place, but for others it's a question of power. Each superpower had their own unique approach, which made for some interesting reading.

It would not be much of a story if each project was a success, and it's not. As is quite obvious from page one of Supergod, and also my story summary. It all boils down to how alien and different these beings are. You cannot expect them to follow human conventions and behaviour, so when they are let lose the result is unexpected.

Garrie Gastonny's illustrations work well. His style has just enough detail to show what is happening, focusing on what is important, without overwhelming you. His characters are human in proportion, and look like real people. This is the style I prefer, and comics like Spawn, by Todd McFarlane I always thought were a pain to look at.

I really enjoyed Supergod. It's quality entertainment, but with more depth than your average graphic novel. Astrocity is a good comic if you want superheroes who behave like real people; Supergod is what you read when you want something alien and unpredictable.   I came away feeling amazed and horrified by Supergod, but it also made me stop and think. You should read it too. 

Supergod weighs in at 128 pages and is published by Avatar.

Recommendation: must read

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Who Won? A Serpent Uncoiled

And we have a winner!

Congratulations to Scott Bartlett from Exmouth.

Everyone else should not give up, but try again in my next giveaway.

Thursday, 26 January 2012

'Babylon Steel' - Gaie Sebold

When I saw the promotional material for Babylon Steel I had a good chuckle before I carefully read the blurb. Babylon Steel is a former mercenary who got tired of travelling, and opened up a brothel. She is asked to help find a missing girl, so it won't just be The Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Oh and there is also girl on lizard action. Just thought we should get that out of the way. Solaris Books were very kind and gave me a copy of Babylon Steel to review. 

Babylon Steel really cares for her crew, but she does wish they had less expensive tastes. If it isn't Laney ordering expensive silks, it's Flower in the kitchen ordering enough food to feed an army. Honestly, when a client is here, food will be the last thing on his (or her) mind anyway. Who would have thought her accounts would be her most intimidating enemy. When Darask Fain makes her a very generous offer to find a missing girl she can't really say no. The money is sorely needed, but Babylon Steel knows what it's like to be a young and naive girl alone in a dangerous city.

Naturally, being in the people business Babylon Steel knows a lot of people, and she figures one of them must have seen the girl. She sets out to spread the word among her contacts of the missing girl. It quickly turns out a missing girl is not her only problem, a religious sect, The Vessels of Purity, is starting to cause her problems. Two of their members are standing outside The Red Lantern scaring away her customers. The Vessels are usually law abiding, but when words reaches Babylon Steel of a young prostitute being found dead she does not know what to think. She rushes off to identify the body, dreading what she’ll find.

The world building in Babylon Steel is fantastic. Gaie Sebold has created her own Mos Eisley Cantina, and filled it with some truly fascinating creatures and beings. Some are very human, some are bipedal lizards, and some are just really weird. What they all have in common is how well they all fit into her world. It was an absolute pleasure journeying through Gaie Sebold's creation, with a sense of wonder and amazement as my companions. It left me wanting more.

Her imagination is not limited to creatures, she has also thought up a interesting setting for her story. Scalentine, is a city with some interesting properties. Magic, and other abilities of powerful beings is severely dampened. There are also several portals leading to other planes of existence, which makes Scalentine into a hub for commerce and diplomacy. Not a bad place for a brothel. Scalentine actually reminds me of London. A great mix of different cultures, food, shops, and unfortunately crime. Babylon Steel does not leave without her blade and armour. Her armour is also more of the practical kind than the revealing kind, unless a client has made a special request of course. 

There is no beating around the bush, sex plays a prominent part in Gaie Sebold's story. She does seem to challenge inhibitions surrounding sex in a playful and good natured way. It never feels awkward, which it can sometimes do when writers tries to mix in too many weird species. I for one will stick to my own species. I don't think for a minute the life of the average sex worker is as fun as those working in the Red Lantern, but it would not be the same book without it. 

The plot is very good as well. There are two major story arcs, and so far I've only covered the present time one. The other one tells of how Babylon Steel ended up where she is today. The two arcs alternate chapters, the ones from the past are short, but sweet. Our blade twirling escort has a very very interesting past, and I recently said Empire State was a book which kept surprising me. Babylon Steel did the same thing. Our heroine is also firmly in charge of the plot, it's moved forward by her actions. If the plot was a river, Babylon Steel would be making her own way with powerful strokes of the oars in a little boat, not drifting helplessly.

The characters are great as well. Babylon Steel is a very likeable lady, who obviously cares about her people. She might be tough nut, but she defiantly has a soft nougat filling, which she proves over and over again. She knows what is right and is prepared to break a few bones to get there. The two timelines shows us how she grows and develops as a person over quite a long time. It all feels intimate, and I grew to like her a lot. The supporting cast are well written with distinct personalities, which made it easy to feel engaged with the story. There is a lot to like about this book.

Babylon Steel is more about the characters and the interaction between them than sword fighting. There is of course some of that as well, with a few really tense moments where I was worried I might crush my iPad from gripping it too hard. Gaie Sebold tells a great story, which in spite of being full of misery and hardship also has a lot of gentleness in it. I absolutely loved it! Please read it.

Babylon Steel weighs in at 448 pages and is published by Solaris Books

Recommendation: must read

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

'The Devil's Ribbon' - D.E. Meredith

The Devil's Ribbon is D.E. Meredith's second book about her professor Hatton and his assistant Roumande. The professor is a forensic scientist, and the only such practitioner in London. The book is a murder mystery set in Victorian London during the summer of 1858, and the city is suffering from the hottest summer for a long time. Tempers are also growing hot in the Irish quarters, where the Irish are forced to live as second class citizens. Oh, and there are also murders. This is where Adolophous Hatton can come in handy for the police. Thank you D.E. Meredith for providing me with a review copy of The Devil's Ribbon

 Hatton and Roumande are in the morgue working on the latest batch of cholera victims. The two friends are methodically doing their work while talking about work, their new assistant, and their last case. The funding of the morgue is soon up for discussion and they are worried it will be cut. Theirs is not a fashionable profession, especially after the fiasco in court. Hatton is still upset about how the insufferable Inspector Jeremiah Gray expected him to testify to something he could not prove scientifically. The Inspector was furious, not understanding what the point of forensics is, if it didn't help him lock away criminals. With him an important source of income gone. 

It's a big surprise to Hatton when Inspector Gray turns up the day after to ask for his help to settle a bet. With him he brought a deceased man, whose face was frozen into a mask of horror. The dead man had been submitted as a suspected cholera victim, and the Inspector wants to know if Hatton agrees. Not only can Hatton quickly determine the cause of death is not cholera, but also the identity of the dead man. The man on the slab is Gabriel McCarthy MP, an Irish Unionist. His death, and especially murder, could prove to be a delicate matter in these turbulent times with the Irish already close to the edge. 

D.E. Meredith has done really well with her research on Victorian London. She does a good job of describing London at the time. The stage for her story is both filthy, grim and desperation is thick in the air. It all feels very genuine, and it's easy to imagine what's happening as you read. The actual science is also very interesting. At the time a forensics expert was already quite capable, and certainly able to provide assistance to the police. It's all quite CSI like when Hatton and Roumande are examining a crime scene, but without the snarky comments. Fingerprinting is unfortunately experimental and not good enough to be used as proof, but they can still look at fibers, test for poison, and of course determine the cause of death.

Hatton seems rather aloof and trapped in the past. He is still not over the death of his father, and haunted by the brutal murder of his childhood sweetheart. The widow of the murdered MP is the spitting image of his childhood sweetheart, and this does not help him focus. Roumande is the cool headed one, and also seems to do most of the work. I never quite managed to develop much of a connection to either Hatton or Roumande. Roumande was very much in the background, only to appear when a breakthrough was made or he needed to give Hatton some fatherly advice. Inspector Jeremiah Gray certainly made more of an impression, but a terrible one. He just wants quick results and will go to any means necessary to procure them, even beating a suspect. 

Apart from Hatton the book also follows some of the Irish who are plotting acts of terrorism. There is quite a lot going on, and what first appeared to be a simple plots quickly grows in complexity. I did feel that our two eccentric protagonist struggled to move the plot forward on their own at times. The middle of the book feels a little bit slow, D.E. Meredith has a lot of facts and history to feed us, and it did slow things down. Having said that, I did miss my bus stop so I could finish the last couple of chapters just. If you have a thing for historical crime fiction and Victorian London I think The Devil’s Ribbon could be for you.

The Devil's Ribbon weighs in at 304 pages and is published by Minotaur Books

Recommendation: read

Friday, 20 January 2012

Book Giveaway: A Serpent Uncoiled

For my first giveaway of 2012 Headline has kindly agreed to sponsor me with a copy of A Serpent Uncoiled. I am not much for writing memorable quotes, so the best I can do to describe it would be, a dark and edgy thriller! Anyway, here is my review of A Serpent Uncoiled. The book is now out as a paperback, and the author, Simon Spurrier, has prepared a little promotional video to mark the occasion.

Shame he no longer has the haircut from his Twitter avi. Let's go back to the giving away a copy of this excellent book. This is what you need to do:

First of all, I am terribly sorry but this time it's a UK ONLY competition.

1) Send an email to winabook NOSPAM at iwillreadbooks dot com (but remove the NOSPAM).
2) Make the title for your email A Serpent Uncoiled
3) Don't forget to include your address, or I wont be able to send you the book
4) Do this before Friday the 27 nd of January 2012

Thursday, 19 January 2012

'City of Hell' - Colin F Barnes

City of Hell is a collection of short stories edited by Colin F Barnes, which chronicles the downfall of humanity and the rise of Maurr and his armies of insects. When Colin Barnes first told me of his project I thought it sounded promising. I expected something like a The Walking Dead, but with giant It Came from the Desert ants instead of zombies. Thank you Anachron Press for sending me a review copy of City of Hell.

The first story in the collection is written by Colin F Barnes himself, and it describes how it all began. A man watches his wife die giving birth to their already dead child in a hospital. Some time afterwards he starts tinkering at home trying to build a machine. He cannot remember where they come from but he has drawings for it, drawn in his own hand. He is very angry all the time, angry with the doctors and nurses for letting his family die, angry with the world. Thoughts of violence are churning through his head. 

I thought it was a promising start. It's a good account of a troubled man. We get our first glimpse of our new insect overlords, and it was pretty damn creepy.

The second story, written by Victoria Griesdoorn, is presented in the form of a medical report. A very large centipede like specimen has been found at the site of what appears to be a bomb blast and is taken back for examination. Let's just say this is no ordinary insect, and it certainly does not come in peace, which the medics will soon discover. I thought this format worked really well, and was looking forward to Victoria Griesdoorn's second contribution to City of Hell.

The third story, written by Ren Warom, follows a punk band in Hong Kong. Their gig is disrupted by the military who wants to take people away to safety. The insects are coming and people need to flee. The band prefers to fight the soldiers to make their own escape, they are after all cool rebel kids. The city is soon lost to the insects, and the band members can only witness in despair how people are being dismembered and carried away. 

I found this story to be the odd one out really. Her style of writing differs from the other authors. She is trying a little bit too hard and focuses too much on style instead of substance. The meaning of her sentences is sometimes lost in a frill adjectives and adverbs. Her characters suffers as well, and to me felt more like they escaped from a manga comic. I can she what she is trying to do though; she wants characters with edge and flair. Sadly, it needs more tweaking before she gets there. 

The next story, written by Kendall Grey, takes us to London many years after the city was lost to the insects. Rane, a young woman, gets separated from her group of survivors and takes shelter in the ruins of St Paul's cathedral where she meets a strange group of survivors. From the start she knows something is not quite right, but she cannot put her finger on what it is.

This is by far the darkest of the stories so far in City of Hell. London lies in ruins, but somehow there are still groups of surviving humans out there, scavenging what they need to survive. It's really pretty grim, and I question how there can be survivors out there. So far the insects have been so superior and ruthless no one has been able to put up much of a fight. They are even able to release mind controlling pheromones making people turn on each other. It's also so far a violent read, but now it is almost too depressing to keep reading. I even put the book down after a rather unpleasant rape scene, and considered not picking it up again.

I did keep reading, and to my disappointment City of Hell keeps up the same feeling of hopelessness and despair. The story does however develop further, and we learn more about the insects, and how they work. We meet a lot of new people in different places and situation. The final stories even shows up human and insect hybrids who still maintain their humanity and try and fight for it. I am by now quite overwhelmed by how futile any resistance is and turning the pages is a chore. All violence, and there is a lot, is very graphic. The survivors who receive a swift death seem to be the lucky ones. The mental pressure on the still living is terrifying, they are very frightened, and now it's only a matter of time before they are next. 

I'm afraid this exploration into the deepest and darkest areas of the human psychology ventured too far from me. Although most of the stories are well written I was not able to enjoy them. It was a very quick plunge into misery, without any chance of climbing out of this pit. This is pretty much what City of Hell says on the tin, but it does it too well for me. Perhaps it’s more to your liking.

City of Hell weighs in at 160 pages (iBooks) and is published by Anachron Press.

Recommendation: don't read

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

'The Copper Promise' - Jennifer Williams

The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel is the first part in a series of fantasy novellas by South East London writer Jennifer Williams, who is possibly better known by her Twitter name, @SennyDreadful. The other day she was flogging The Copper Promise on Twitter, and I dutifully followed the link to Amazon. What I found was quite a few very positive reviews, admittedly from a lot of familiar names, but I already liked the blurb, and I have read some her short stories in Hub Magazine (#143). Somewhere in all this I saw a comparison to Fritz Lieber's Gray Mouser, and the deal was sealed. After some begging, Jennifer Williams kindly provided me with a review copy of The Copper Promise. Time for some proper sword and sorcery.

Aaron Frith has enlisted the aid of two adventurers to take on the dangers of the Citadel, and find what he needs to take his revenge. They might have broken his body, but his will has been tempered in the furnace of pain. Pockets have been lined with gold to allow the group passage into the Citadel. His two companions are known for their skill with their blades, and the young lord is not entirely defenceless in spite of his crippled body. The Citadel will be forced to yield its secrets and allow him his vengeance. 

I love dungeon crawlers. Brings me right back to my RPG days, when me and my friends sat huddled around a table late into the night dreaming up adventures. Straight away Jennifer Williams manages to create just the right setting for adventure. We have a nice little dungeon, full with the promise of riches and untold danger. She gives us a proper motivation for what is happening, revenge. Me and mates we only wanted to do heroic deeds, vengeance is always a good spice. 

Now all we need is a group of adventurers, and this is where Jennifer Williams really shines. With only three characters she still covers a ranger of personalities. Sebastian Carverson is a big Knight, who in spite of his size and intimidating appearance is calm and reasonable. He might be a little of a goody boy paladin, but there is more to him to make him interesting. Wydrin is the feisty warrior lady who favours her twin daggers. She is the opposite of Sebastian, acts before she thinks, and is rude and threatening. Perhaps not as headless as she first seems though. Finally, we have my favourite, Aaron Frith. Consumed by thoughts of settling the score with those who took everything away for him. He is full of anger, selfish, and possibly as ruthless as his enemies. Anyone who underestimates him because of his crippled body will quickly learn a lesson, possibly their last. He really reminds me of Raistlin Majere, the Dragonlance character. 

If there is a weakness it would be her description of fights. I thought the pace was lost with unnatural long pauses, where a character was free to act in spite of being in the thick of the melee. I felt she tried a little to hard with Wydrin, who seemed to be in a constant 'blur' with her knives.

In such a short space of time Jennifer Williams delivers on world building, plot and characters making The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel a hell of a read. I'm warning you though, the ending is a real daddy of a cliffhanger. You will be back for more. I really look forward to finding out more about the characters.

The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel weighs in at 54 pages and is self published by Jennifer Williams.

Recommendation: read

Sunday, 15 January 2012

What about 2012?

I had a quick browse through the catalogues of various publishers to help me plan my reading a little bit. Or more likely, start writing my book begging letters. Most publishers have not given full lists for the year so this is actually just books for the first half of 2012. I like doing lists, so now I can do another one in six months. They are in no particular order, and publication dates are in some cases ripped from which in the past have proved to be incorrect.

Please leave a comment with your own recommended reads for 2012!

Omega Point - Guy Haley - 3rd May
Wheee! The second Richards and Klein novel is almost here, and I am tingling with anticipation. One of my favorite books last year, so no surprise Omega Point is on the list.

The powerful artificial intelligence designated k52 has a plan to take over the world.
If it were to create an artificial reality based on our own universe it could theoretically gain enough data to be able to alter reality itself, turning k52 into the ultimate arbiter of mankind’s fate.
It’s down to Richards and Klein to stop k52 – even though the alternative could be worse!

Champion of Mars - Guy Haley - 10th of May
Guy Haley is so awesome he gets two books on my list. This one is not a Richard and Klein novel, but I don't care. Read it I shall!

In the far future, Mars dies a second time. The Final War between man and the spirits is beginning. In a last bid for peace, disgraced champion Yoechakanon Val Mora and his spirit lover Cybele are set free to find the long-missing Libararian of Mars, the only hope to save the remnants of mankind.

In the near-future Dr Holland, a scientist running from a painful past, joins the Mars colonisation effort, cataloguing the remnants of Mars' biosphere before it is swept away by the terraformation programme. When an artefact is discovered deep in the caverns of the red planet, the actions of Holland and his team lead to tragedy, with profound consequences that ripple throughout time, affecting Holland's present, the distant days of Yoechakanon, and the eras that brige the aeons between.

Last Days - Adam Nevill - 24th of May
I needed a night light after reading his The Ritual. It might be a mistake to read another book by Adam Nevill, but I can't stop myself. I'm already shivering out of fright.

Have you ever heard of Sister Katherine and the Temple of the Last Days? Independent filmmaker Kyle Freeman is desperate, fearing that the right project will never come up. But when Maximillian Solomon asks him about The Temple of the Last Days he figures his luck might be about to change. In 1975 the cult led by its infamous leader Sister Katherine met a bloody end in the Arizona desert. The shoot’s locations take Kyle to the cult’s original bases in London, France and finally the crime scene where the cult met their bloody end. But when he interviews the remaining survivors of the Last Days who haven’t broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events and unexplained phenomena plague the shoots. And what exactly is it they are managing to record in any place the Temple once resided? Troubling out-of-body experiences and nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artefacts, soon pitch Kyle and his one-man crew, into the unnerving realisation that they have become entangled in the cult’s hideous legacy.

Fated - Benedict Jacka - 1st of March
The first novel about urban sorcerer Alex Versus, which sounds fun. Long time since I stopped reading the Harry Dresden books, so about time I try my luck with a new star.

Alex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex's own powers aren't as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future--allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success. 

But when Alex is approached by multiple factions to crack open a relic from a long-ago mage war, he knows that whatever's inside must be beyond powerful. And thanks to his abilities, Alex can predict that by taking the job, his odds of survival are about to go from slim to none...

The Minority Council - Kate Griffin - 1st of March
Kate Griffin, is the undisputed queen of urban fantasy, and wild horses could not stop me from reading her 4th novel about urban sorcerer Matthew Swift.

Matthew Swift, Midnight Mayor, is in charge. And London is having its issues.
The new drug on the market is fairy dust and it turns humans into walking drug labs. Teenage vandals are being hunted by a mystical creature. And criminals are dying by magical means.
If Swift is going to save London from a rising tide of blood, he’s going to have to learn his lessons – and fast

Seven Princes - John R. Fultz - 5th of January
Seven Princes is a new epic fantasy, and I have already heard a lot of good things about it. My standards are very high after reading the Steven Erikson books, so will see how this one fares.

A sorcerer slaughters the King and his entire court in front of the disbelieving eyes of young Prince D'zan. From that moment, D'zan is driven by one thought - the need to regain his father's stolen throne. The lives of six foreign Princes are tied to D'zan's fate, as he seeks allies for his cause. In a land where Men and Giants battle side by side against ancient monsters and chilling sorcery, only one thing is certain - war is coming. Kingdoms will clash and blood will run. Seven Princes. Seven destinies. All will be legend.

Night's Engine - Trent Jamieson - 7th June
The sequel to Roil. Not missing this one.

The Roil has not yet been defeated – and the Roil extends its grip on Shale, following the commands of the Dreaming Cities. Wars will be fought. Doomsday weapons employed. And night will fall.

Blue Remembered Earth - Alastair Reynolds - 19th January
The first part in a new trilogy by the master of SF. Again, no chance I am missing this one.

One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light on the Moon, and Geoffrey is tasked - well, blackmailed, really - to go up there and make sure the family's name stays suitably unblemished. But little does Geoffrey realise - or anyone else in the family, for that matter - what he's about to unravel. Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything. Or shatter this near-utopia into shards . . .

Thursday, 12 January 2012

'The Last Ditch' - Sandy Mitchell

The Last Ditch is the latest Ciaphas Cain novel by Sandy Mitchell and much anticipated by me. In my review of The Emperor's Finest I made it pretty clear what a big fan I am of the series, and I can promise you nothing has changed. The Last Ditch was an obvious choice for my Christmas reading list along with Snuff by Terry Pratchett. Both books should be a lot of fun, but also have that warm and pleasant feeling to them, a feeling of being at ease. Thank you so much Black Library for proving me with a review copy of The Last Ditch.

Yet again commissar Ciaphas Cain finds himself staring death in the eyes. This time it's due to negligence and greed. He is attached to the 597th Valhallan regiment, on route to a planet with an Orc infestation. The ship they are travelling on suffers from shield failure while in the warp, and something manifests on the bridge. The instruments on the bridge are badly damaged in the fight against the demon, and they lose control of the ship. Not even down on the planet and fate is already against Ciaphas Cain, who is now trapped in a steel coffin hurtling towards a fiery death in the system's star.

As always, there is a million to one chance a risky plan will save them, and as any Terry Pratchett knows, these will work nine times out of ten. You can't really call what happens next a landing, it was more of a slightly controlled crash. By controlled I mean they got to choose to hit a planet instead of a sun. On the way down they hit a mountain, which happens to be where the Orc horde is hanging out. Ciaphas Cain and the Valhallans now face some very angry orcs bearing down on them. It's pointed out how this is something the Valhallans look forward to, orcs being their hated enemies, but not at all to the liking of Ciaphas Cain. His favoured enemy is danger of any kind, but he'd rather run away than face it. Wise man.
Despite the impression most people have of me, I've never been the kind of man who laughs in the face of danger, much preferring to snigger behind its back and make vulgar hand gestures while it isn't looking. Nevertheless, I'd come up with this ridiculous plan, and, as usual, everyone had simply assumed that I meant to carry it out myself. 
Sandy Mitchell has done a remarkable job with The Last Ditch. Ciaphas Cain is a great character, and I would struggle to jot down everything awesome about him. According to himself, he is a selfish layabout, who wants nothing but peace and quiet, but also the admiration of those around him. Sandy Mitchell has always made sure to, in my opinion, to give us room for doubt. I think Ciaphas Cain is a hero, just a very modest one. Not only is our hero well written, Jurgen, his aide is also great. Together the two form a truly dynamic duo, capable of overcoming every obstacle. Whereas Ciaphas Cain is a dashing leader of men and a great swordsman, Jurgen is quiet, stoic, and a master marksmen. He is also not the sharpest chainsword in the armoury, but his ability to follow orders to the letter more than makes up for it. The dialog between the the two is so much fun, and even though Ciaphas Cain mocks Jurgen on occasion he does not tolerate rudeness from others directed in his aide's way.

Sandy Mitchell delivers a stronger plot than in the previous Ciaphas Cain novel, The Emperor's Finest. It feels more like one coherent story this time, instead of three short stories, which was the case in The Emperor's Finest. I won't say the story in The Last Ditch is amazing as by now they seem to follow a familiar script. Ciaphas Cain arrives to deal with threat A. He tries to direct from behind as many bodies between himself and danger as possible, but manages to volunteer to a dangerous mission. He then discovers threat B which is much greater than threat A. For me the plot is just the medium through which all the awesome action and punchy dialogue is delivered, so I can easily forgive the familiarity. This is what I expect from my Christmas reads anyway, cozy and fuzzy familiarity. Makes me feel safe and happy.

The Last Ditch is another triumph for Sandy Mitchell, which delivers on all points I expect from a Ciaphas Cain novel. No matter where our Commisar turns he faces danger, unspeakable horror, or Jurgens BO. When he is not busy fending off alien killers, he is usually in the middle of being sarcastic or making a funny observation. Fun, danger and BO, what more could you ask for? The Last Ditch is a book which anyone should be able to enjoy, not just hard core Warhammer 40k fans.

The Last Ditch weighs in at 320 pages, and is published by The Black Library, and will be released in February 2012.

Recommendation: must read

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

'The Whitefire Crossing' - Courtney Schafer

The Whitefire Crossing is the debut novel of Courtney Schafer, and looks like it could be a rather pleasant fantasy novel with powerful magic, mystery and intrigue. The blurb tells of Dev, a smuggler, who finds himself smuggling a person instead of small, easy to hide, goods. Kiran, a young Mage, is desperate to escape the clutches of his powerful master, and prepared to pay a lot to accomplish this. All Dev needs to do is take Kiran safely across a dangerous mountain, and through a magically guarded border. Piece of cake. I am dying to find out how this is all going to go horribly wrong. Thank you Night Shade Books for providing me with a review copy of The Whitefire Crossing

I'm too excited about the world building too start with my plot summary. Courtney Schafer has created a really compelling and interesting world overflowing with lore and magic. Ninavel, where it all starts, was founded out in the desert where there was no water or food, but plenty of valuable metals in the mountains surrounding it. The city's founder was deemed crazy, and no one thought he would succeed. Then the founder made an offer to all mages, which they could not refuse. They would be free to practice their magic and conduct research almost without restraints. All they needed to do in return was to conjure up water. Instant richness achieved!

So on one side of the mountain range we have a city practically ruled by mages and their whims. It's safe to say a lot of the magic practiced in Ninavel is not what we would call white magic. Blood and pain are great sources of power. On the other side of the Whitefires lies Alathia, a country with a lot stricter views on magic. Dev smuggles illegal charms from Ninavel over the Alathian border. The border is enforced by a magical barrier, which lets the Alathian Council detect any illegal uses of magic. To Kiran, this is the perfect place to flee if you are being hunted by a powerful and vengeful mage.

Dev and Kiran are brought together through an intermediary, who is not completely honest with either party. Dishonesty and secrets are not the best way to start a relationship, not even a business relationship. These secrets are part of what makes The Whitefire Crossing such a good read. A lot is at stake here for both parties, and they are placing an awful lot of trust in a complete stranger, which both Dev and Kiran struggles with. 

Courtney Schafer does a very good job with her two main characters, who are both very likeable and easy to sympathise with. Dev is dark and brooding. He has seen the world, has connections, and feels older than his age. Kiran is more naive, and amazed at the new sights and experiences. To his surprise, Dev is enjoying showing Kiran the ropes. It's very much a story about two young men from two very different backgrounds, who will learn a lot about trust, and who they really are, and what truly matters. I like how Courtney Schafer brings a touch of gentleness to her characters. They are not all hard edges, there is also room for a softer core. 
“Next time, think twice,” I growled. “This isn’t some fucking kids game. At the border, we’ll be playing with our lives.”“I know,” he said quietly. My anger faded at the sincerity in his voice.
Courtney Schafer can certainly spin a yarn, and I found myself quickly being pulled into the story. A very intriguing setting together with some very likeable characters is what you can expect from The Whitefire Crossing. It's not exactly a brick of a book, but she still manages to give us duelling mages, cloak and dagger, avalanches and some risky climbing. Actually, Dev's (and Courtney's) obsession with climbing was my least favourite parts of the book. I'm still well impressed with The Whitefire Crossing, and look forward to reading the next part, The Tainted City

The Whitefire Crossing weighs in at 300 pages and is published by Night Shade Books

Recommendation: read

Friday, 6 January 2012

Best Promo Ever?

This little phone booth card came dropped into my email today. Well, it was really an announcement for a new book from Solaris, but that's pretty damn funny for promotion material. I'd rather see this one in the phone booths around Chancery Lane. Maybe I'll borrow the color laser printer and have a go.

Babylon Steel has a promising blurb as well. This might very well be worth a read...

Ex-sword-for-hire Babylon Steel runs the best brothel in the city. She’s got elves using sex magic upstairs, S&M in the basement, a green troll cooking breakfast in the kitchen, and she’d love you to visit, except…

She’s not having a good week. The Vessels of Purity are protesting against brothels, her girls are disappearing, and if she can’t pay her taxes she’s going to lose her business. Despite giving up the mercenary life, when the mysterious Darask Fain pays her to find a missing heiress, she has to take the job. And then her past starts to catch up with her in other, more dangerous ways.

Babylon Steel sees the start of an exciting new fantasy series. Witty and fresh, debut author Sebold delivers the most exciting take on the fantasy genre in years.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

'Empire State' - Adam Christopher

I waited a long time to read Empire State, the debut novel of Adam Christopher, which is a blend of crime noir and super heroes. A fight between two super heroes creates a duplicate of New York in a pocket dimension, and the two cities have to fight for their survival. When I first read the blurb I thought it sounded like a great idea mixing two such different genres. Not perhaps the easiest thing to do though. When a sample chapter was released to the public any worries I might have had were eased. Apparently, a private detective, alternative versions of New York, and super heroes mix well together. Both publisher and author are clearly very committed to the book, so committed they even announced project WorldBuilder. Anyone who is interested is allowed to use the world to create art, or write content set in Empire State. Thank you Angry Robot Books for providing me with a review copy of Empire State

It all begins in New York, where Rex, a small time criminal, is the witness to a fight between two super heroes, The Science Pirate and The Skyguard. The two former friends are battling it out over the city’s skyline to everyone's delight. A couple of BOOM, POW and THWACKS later it is all over. The victor, to the surprise of the audience, de-masks and after some arguing with the police leaves with roaring rocket boots. Later, Rex can't believe his luck when he sees a person which is the spitting image of the de-masked hero. This is his chance to gain wealth and fame. Rex is a big guy, and without the power suit he is confident he can overpower the rogue hero to gain a favor with the chief of police and maybe even the mayor, or even get his hands on that suit. 

In Empire State, Rad, a private detective, is being questioned by two men wearing gas-masks in an alley. To Rad the whole thing is very odd. They are asking him what nineteen fifty means to him, but he can't imagine what answer they are looking for. An address maybe? Why would two professionals beat him up only two ask him such a nonsense question? Then the impossible happens, The Skyguard arrives and opens a can of whoop-ass on the two goons. It gets even weirder when the Skyguard leaves him with  cryptic remark, "They've left the city. They'll be back. Be vigilant.". It's nice being saved, but the Skyguard was executed not long ago...
As the man moved his head to look first at his two defeated opponents, and then at Rad, the weak light reflected off an angled helmet, a sharp-fronted slatted visor covering the entire face and continuing back and up past the ears. The edges stood nearly a foot away from the top of the man’s head, and were fluted into sharp points, like the flight feathers of a bird’s wings. Two eyes glowed white in the dark, as though lit from within the weird helmet.
Quite a lot has happened, and we are only a couple of chapters into Empire State. I'm already impressed by the world building and the atmosphere Adam Christopher has created. Empire State - the city, not the book - is a reflection of New York, but a reflection cast from a seriously messed up mirror. It is dark, rainy, and surrounded by mysterious mists, and the unknown. You can almost feel the cold and the damp from the mist snaking it's way through the streets. The people who live there are barely aware of the passing of time, and only seem concerned with getting through the day, ever fearful of the Commissioners and their iron fisted rule. Adam Christopher brings it all to life with fastidiously written descriptions and prose.

The world building is what excited me the most with Empire State, but Adam Christopher has also done a good job with the plot itself. It is not very often I read a book which just keeps on surprising me, but this is the case with Empire State. It's a really nice situation to be in for a reader, and an excellent reason to keep turning those pages.

It is however a complicated plot, where the characters themselves are not sure what they should be doing, or they can trust. Rad, in particular suffers from this and seems to just do whatever the last person told him to do. It's a shame Rad comes across so passive. I much prefer the protagonist to be active, more in control of his destiny. The interaction between characters is done well with everyone staying in character with their actions and dialogue. There is also a lot of witty banter, especially from Rad, which is what I like to see in a private detective. 

Apart from Rad being a private detective, and receiving a case from a lady in his dive of an office, it's not really a hard boiled crime novel. The depression and cinematic feeling is there, but to me it was more of a science fiction, thriller. The same goes for the super hero element, they are there, but more as a side show than the core of the story. I am probably guilty of selective reading of the marketing material, but wanted to make it clear. 

I'm impressed with Empire State, and how Adam Christopher has conjured a surreal and dreamlike version of New York City. It's a good science fiction thriller worth reading by anyone, especially if you like the noir-feel and authors who are not afraid of pushing boundaries, and testing new ideas. I’m sure we will see a lot of good books by Adam Christopher in the future, and I will certainly be reading them. His next novel, Seven Wonders, will be released in late 2012.

Also, don't miss Adam Cristopher's guest posts on his writing process, part 1 and part 2.

Empire State weighs in at 416 pages and is published by Angry Robot Books.

Recommendation: read 

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

'Snow in the Desert' - Neal Asher

Snow in the Desert is a short story by Neal Asher, first published in 2002. It was also part of his anthology, The Gabble and other Stories, published in 2008. Snow in the Desert is now also available in a digital format from Amazon. Being a big fan of Neal Asher I bought it. 

He was called, inevitability, Snow, but with his plastron mask and dust robes it was not immediately evident he was an albino. The mask, made from the shell of an Earth-import terrapin, was what identified him to those who know of him - that, and his tendency to leave corpses behind him.

And there will be plenty of corpses, this is a Neal Asher story after all. Snow is a loner with a secret. Or at least he thought it was a secret, but now others know about it. He is a hunted man, and not safe anywhere. Snow is forced to go on the defensive, and heads out into the desert to hide. Both locals and off-world bounty hunters are hot on his trail. 

You can straight away recognise Neal Asher's penmanship in Snow in the Desert. As usual he holds back nothing when it comes to action. It's fast, brutal, and straight to the point. No time is wasted on unnecessary details. Much like the world the story takes place in. A cruel desert world where water is a precious commodity. Just like in Dune any body fluids must be recycled to give its wearer any chance of surviving under the merciless sun. Most of the technology seems to be dedicated to killing though, no surprise there. 

I liked Snow in the Desert. It was exactly what I expected it to be. A no nonsense action thriller with punchy dialogue, and plenty of high tech weaponry. Well worth reading by any fan of hard boiled science fiction. 

Snow in the Desert weighs in at not that many pages and is self published by Neal Asher. 

Recommendation: read