Monday, 30 April 2012

'Ratfist' - Doug TenNapel

Ratfist is the creation of Earthworm Jim creator, Doug TenNapel. As usual, I seem to choose my comics in a vacuum, I am not sure I even looked at the name of the writer or artist, I only had eyes for the cover. The cover has a bold feel to it, with three equally silly looking characters on it. Straight away I got the impression Ratfist would not be your normal super hero comic, I mean even the name is bonkers. Many thanks to Diamond Book Distributors who kindly agreed to give me a review copy of Ratfist.

The first page immediately sets the tone for the rest of the comic with a perfectly normal declaration by the hero, but in a bizarre context. Ratfist wants to propose to his sweetheart, for both emotional and rational reasons, but by claiming it will make him more mature, while at the same time donning a ridiculous rat suit, had me dissolve into a fit of giggles. The rest of the comic is equally funny and absurd. Ratfist definately makes a mockery out of the super hero genre, but in a good natured way.

Ratfist is a good example of how little exposition you need to 'get' the plot. We are not actually given any at all, just dropped straight into Ratfist's crusade against his alter ego's big evil corporate employer. It was impossible to predict the outcome of a single story arc. We go from time travel to reality blending where the writer of the comic is drawn into a fight for his life against one of Ratfist's foes. All bets are off.

Doug TenNapel is responsible for the writing and drawing, but the coloring was done by Katherine “Lemm” Garner. The artwork stands out with contrasting colors, silhouettes, and bold strokes of the pen. It has the same weird and absurd feel as the writing, a perfect marriage.

I would be very surprised if Ratfist was not on my top 5 list of comics for 2012. It was good news when I did some research on Doug TenNapel and found several other comics by him. I have actually already read one, Bad Island, which was great fun.

Ratfist weighs in at 176 pages and is published by Diamond Book Distributors.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

What I'm Reading Next

Finished Void Stalker by Aaron Dembski-Bowden on Saturday. I'm now a Aaron Dembski-Bowden after also reading The Emperor's Gift. Dan Abnett was not joking when he called him 'Heretically Good'. The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S Kemp is a sword and sorcery novel, which I was really looking forward to. I love sword and sorcery. Reminds me of my RPG days. Actually, almost finished reading that one as well.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Interview with Guy Haley

I don't know about you guys, but I'm quite excited about today's guest, Guy Haley, whose debut novel Reality 36 was one of my favorite books from 2011. You can find my review of Reality 36 here, and my review of the second Richard and Klein Investigation novel, Omega Point, here.  Mr Haley kindly agreed to answer some of my questions on how it all started and what is happening in the near future.

You might want to check out Guy Haley's blog or even follow him on Twitter (@guyhaley).

To kick things off why don't you tell us some more about yourself and why you choose SF as your genre?

I've always loved SF, fantasy and (to a lesser extent) horror. My mum is quite an SF fan, and I read a lot of her books when I was a kid; she also bought me The Hobbit when I was seven as a gift. I found it and started reading it before she gave it to me, and felt massively guilty (in a shouty, crying, seven year-old type way) about spoiling the surprise. She didn’t mind, and I really enjoyed it. I read The Lord of the Rings when I was nine. My dad worked from home, and I'd sit on the floor of his office and he'd tell me the plots of old SF radio and TV shows while he worked. When I got older, I started to tell him stories instead. If there was ever anything on the television that was SF, I’d watch it – Space 1999, Quatermass, King Kong, Godzilla, The Avengers… Once video came in, stuff that was on late at night, my dad would tape for me. I saw Alien when I was about 12 because of that (and luckily for me, for once he set the recorder correctly… I remember taking 300 Spartans in to school for a classical history lesson and it petering out in a blaze of snowflakes twenty minutes before the end. Anyway…) And then I got into Warhammer via my dad’s passion for toy soldiers. I’ve always, always loved this stuff. I was never as obsessed with Doctor Who as everyone else seems to be, and unlike some folks I had absolutely nothing to do with fandom until I started working in the genre, but it’s been a big part of my life since I was very young.

I think why I like it so much, the speculative aspects and imagery aside, is that you can tell stories in the fantastical genres that you can't anywhere else. In genre fiction you can get to the crux of the big questions quickly. The 18th century precursors of genre fiction in fact existed precisely to sidestep all the clutter of contemporary life, and although sometimes it was for reasons of authorial self-preservation (you are less likely to be censured or locked up if you’re writing about  the king of the moon, and not the actual king), I do believe people like Swift chose to tell stories in this way because of the clarity they can bring.

Of course, literary fiction addresses the human condition too, but it usually does so far more circumspectly. Genre fiction goes right to the heart of the matter. SF is especially good at this, because once you shear away the real world from an issue, in essence only the issue remains.

And then you can stick a robot's face on it, and blow him up. Which is fun.

I'll not just write SF, mind. I've written fantasy for games companies (expect novels next year), and my next BIG PITCH is a fantasy epic. I even have a couple of contemporary, non-genre, non-adventure novels in mind, but you'll have to wait a decade for those.

You have for a number of yours been writing reviews, how does it feel to be on the receiving end for once?

I started writing when I was about 18. It took me 20 years to get a book published, and for a large part of that time I was an SF journalist. I was deputy editor on SFX magazine, I edited White Dwarf, and a magazine called Death Ray. I've written literally hundreds of reviews over the years, and that was just a very small part of what I did. Being on the receiving end is as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be, but it hasn't changed my opinions or writing style in reviews. I have changed my tone over the years, but that came earlier than my first novel acceptance. When I got serious about writing, I realised how much heartache went into penning a book, and therefore became a little less likely to go for a cheap gag in my own reviews.

I really like your style of writing and how you mix action, humour with the unexpected and quirky. Where is it all coming from, what is your source of inspiration, any specific writers whose work helped nudge you onto this path? 

Who knows? My mother said the weirdest thing about reading Reality 36 was that it had all come out of my head, and I'll have to agree with here there. It'll have come from everywhere, I expect. I'm a firm believer in humour and the quirky, as they're very much a part of everyday life. I know very few people who don't enjoy joking and bantering with their colleagues, and real life is actually intensely odd.

In part I can definitely say Reality 36 was inspired by Neal Asher's books. I love that the libertarian freedom humans enjoy depicted in his work is entirely on the sufferance of the AIs. I’ve seen some critics get quite snooty about Asher, but there’s a level of subtlety underneath all the crashing action that gets overlooked. His work is very wry, in its way. I was wondering how a world like his might come to pass  Reality 36 owes something to that thought.

The Realms, simulated realities, in your Richards and Klein Investigation novels adds an element of fantasy to the setting. This pretty much gave you free rein, you could have magic, completely ignore the laws of physics. Must have been fun? 

Yeah, but my fun wasn't really the point there. I could tell an entire fantasy story set in a Realm, I suppose, but with them I was trying to say that we can't develop increasingly sophisticated thinking 'bots' for game worlds just for us to murder them! And the Realms and all the other forms of cyberspace hinted at in the story will not feature very much in future stories. The third Richards & Klein book I have in mind will be set almost entirely in the Real, for example.

How did you end up with Angry Robot Books and Solaris Books? 

I've been plugged into publishing via my journalism job for a long time. I've worked with many people who are now editors when they were just junior staff or active fans. I hate to say it, but it helps to know people, at least to get your work looked at; it won't help if it's no good, however. AR and Solaris just happened to be the first people that responded to my incessant pestering with book deals (I do have another publisher too, but again, next year for that. I’ll have three books out from them!).

Have you ever acted out a melee to make sure you get it right, and if you have did you film it? 

No! Never. Despite not taking myself at all seriously in some regards, I take myself very seriously in others (I am a man of contradictions), and would feel like the world’s biggest knob leaping around with a pair of nunchuks for, ahem, “research”. I did fence for three years until my knee stopped working (hopefully I’ll be back into that later this year), and I have done some Kung Fu, but I'm a bit old for the messing about in the woods style lightsabre fighting you see on YouTube!

You are fairly active in social media, you blog and tweet about your writing and things related to writing. What's the best thing about Twitter and Blogs, from the perspective of a novelist? Did anything change with the publishing of your first book?

To be honest, I started my site up to publicise my work, ditto Twitter, both on the advice of one of my publishers. I really admire those people who can make social media a core part of who they are and what they do, but I'm not one of them. I do a lot of other stuff outside of my writing, most of it outdoors type activities. I don’t have a very urban mentality, and like to be left alone for long periods. There are long lapses between my tweets and blog postings, and although I can make folks laugh at parties, coming up with pithy, politically acceptable, 140-character bon mots while I'm eating my cornflakes is beyond me. I also think, why on Earth would anyone be interested in what I’m cooking for lunch? I wobble in and out of love with Twitter.

I like my blog better because it's a way to get work that would otherwise be trapped on paper back out there. The drawback here is that it is time-consuming to maintain. I have met a few writers who grumble that keeping up their online presences sucks great chunks of the day away from actually writing, and I have some sympathy for that standpoint. Sometimes it can feel like a chore, sometimes it is the best thing in the world. I should be more consistent with my blog. On saying that, I do love speaking to people (I veer from misanthrope to party person – I did say I was riven with contradiction), and if anyone comments on my blog or Tweets me, I will respond. I like the contact best of all, I think, especially with people I would not otherwise meet.

Will we meet Richards and Klein again?

I really hope so. I have ideas for six R&K books in total, and a number of short stories, but I'll only get to write them if the reading public likes Richards and Otto too, and they can only show their appreciation by buying the books. There probably won't be another R&K book for at least a year after Omega Point as until my publishers have looked at fairly long-tem sales figures, they won't know if it makes sense for them to publish more. I hope they do, I've got some cool stories to tell! You will, I am sure, see more shorts on my blog whatever happens, in fact, I'm partway through one nominally titled "His Master's Voice". There are two shorts up on my blog already: Richards & Klein: Ghost, and Richards & Klein: The Nemesis Worm. Check them out!

Can you tell us a little about your next book, Champion of Mars?

I’ve always been fascinated by Mars – I’ve spent a lot of time the last few week staring at it at night. I love stories set there because, if anything, they are stories that could actually happen. Mars is so close, and almost right for human life. I have no doubt one day people will be living there. I’m also a big fan of the planetary romance and science fantasy sub-genres. I love the techno-fantastical stories that Mars has played host to over the years. Champion of Mars is my homage to all these stories, it’s my attempt to kind of bring them all together. I wasn’t sure if it would work, blending pulp and hard SF, but I had a preview of a favourable review by Stephen Baxter of Champion recently, and that made me very happy. He called it a "sugar-rush of a novel" among other things, which I think is good. And he saw what I was trying to do, and said that I’d managed to pull it off. Fingers crossed you readers think so too.

The story itself is divided into three strands: a near future strand that takes place a few years before Reality 36 (it is set in the same universe folks!), a far, far future strand, and a series of stories that link the two together; this use of short episodes was very much inspired by the structure of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles. It is to Bradbury, actually, that I think the book owes its greatest debt. But above all, it is a love story, I think. But as always, it’s not really for the writer to decide what a book is “about”, that’s up to the reader. Suffice it to say, there are space battles, exotic technologies, strange societies, robots, monsters and a terrible extra-dimensional threat. If that’s not enough for you, then I give up!

What does the near future hold in store for you?

The sequel to Reality 36, Omega Point is out now. Champion of Mars is out 26th April (US) and 10th May (UK). I'm waiting to hear back on a bunch of proposals. I had one accepted last week, actually, but cannot say anything about it yet. This is tricky time for me. Unlike many new writers, I don't have a full-time job, writing and some freelance journalism is all I do (hammered in between childcare), so the next few months will reveal whether or not I can make a career out of writing books. Ideally, I need to sell three or four books this year. Wish me luck, I have a feeling I may need it.

Thank you Guy, and good luck!

Monday, 23 April 2012

'Hearts of Smoke and Steam' - Andrew P Mayer

Hearts of Smoke and Steam is the second book in the Society of Steam series by Andrew P Mayer. You can read my review of the first book, The Falling Machine, here. Thank you Pyr Books for sending me a review copy.

Be warned, my review will contain spoilers from the first book.

Some time has passed since the ending of book one. Our young heroine, Sarah Stanton, has forsaken her father and left her rich comfortable life. The only reminders of her past is her Adventuress costume and Tom's mechanical heart. Her plans of repairing his heart, and hopefully bringing Tom back to life, has been put on hold. It was not until she could secure work and accommodation she could focus on finding someone to repair the heart again. If only Professor Derby was not such a genius, it proved harder than she thought to find someone who can even understand the purpose of the heart let alone repair it.

Sarah Stanton is quickly reminded of her past when the Bomb Lance attacks the ferry she is travelling on. The Adventuress is forced out of hiding to protect the innocent bystanders.

I was hoping Sarah Stanton would be more sure footed this time, in book one she could not even cross a room without stumbling. Unfortunately, nothing has changed here. If your protagonist is a woman, please don't write her to constantly fail, and have a man to rescue her. Actually, this is unfair, all the heroes are prone to fumbling and in need of assistance. It's almost a parody at times, which robs them of their credibility.

Hearts of Smoke and Steam still has an undeniable charm to it. The characters, and especially Sarah Stanton, makes up for her lack of ability with an abundance of will. The Paragons are all heroes doing the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, whereas Sarah Stanton, alone has the heart to do it for the right reasons.

The unfortunate demise of my favourite character, The Sleuth, in the first book is made up for by giving us more of the mysterious Anubis. This masked avenger, who has infiltrated the Children of Eschaton, reminds me more and more of Batman. Great to see more of him.

There is a lot more steam in Hearts of Smoke and Steam with the introduction of some new characters and gadgets. Andrew P Mayer does have an eye for detail with his steam-powered creations. A mechanical circus show, need I say more?

No beating about the bush, Hearts of Smoke and Steam clearly annoyed me, but it certainly was not a bad read. I had no problem finishing it, but I did expect more from Andrew P Mayer with his second Society of Steam novel. It delivered enough fun, answered and raised new questions about the setting, to make me stick around for the next part.

Hearts of Smoke and Steam weighs in at 340 pages, and is published by Pyr Books.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

What I'm Reading Next

Started reading The Emperor's Gift by Aaron Dembski-Bowden this morning and so far it's very good. Just reading the blurb gave me goose-bumps. The 666th chapter of Adeptus Astartes, The Grey Knights, are bad ass daemon hunters. Enough posting, more reading.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

'Guest Post' - Paul Harker

Today's guest blogger is my friend and colleague, Paul Harker, who is our technical writer where I work, so unlike me he can actually write. Paul is a multitalented man, he excels at beer drinking, table football and being tall. We don't always agree on literature, or much else, but let's see what he has to say. Over to you Paul.

I should hold my hands up right at the beginning of this review and say I have no place here at IWRB. I’m honoured, of course, that a prestigious mid-level blog such as this should want an unknown such as myself to scrawl anything on its deliciously appointed walls, but this isn’t the place for me. I confess here and now: I do not read fantasy. At all.

I’m trying, at least: I have recently bought and am ploughing through current zeitgeisty pillage-and-rape-fest Game of Thrones. It’s ok. The historical feel is beautifully kept in place with an almost aspergers-level attention to detail and knowledge of his fictional realm.

So, acknowledging my lack of experience in this area, I’m not going to do a review as such of Solar by Ian McEwan. Instead I’m going to try to tell you why you should put down your latest tome with a lavishly drawn and ample-cleavaged pixie on the front and give the old McEwan man a try – even if it’s not your bag. In return I promise to finish GoT and even give something recommend by the great IWRB a try. Deal? Let’s go then.

McEwan is amazing. In the same way as George R. R. R. R. R. Martin (I never know how many ‘R’s to put) can pen a family history like he was doing an end-of-year census for King Théoden (yeah, that’s right, I know things), so too can McEwan write the things that are going on in your brain that you didn’t even know about. His capturing of thoughts and emotions that you may have acknowledged, but could never describe, inside your own head borders on the terrifying.

In Atonement, for example, there is an extended section whereby he describes a youngster getting to grips with the extending and closing of a finger. She is staggered by her ability to control her own body, and perplexed that she cannot put into words how it is that she commands it. She wants a finger to extend, and it does… the rest is a mystery. I remember clearly having this same experience – though of course, I could not articulate it. McEwan does not use fancy language or a medical dictionary – he just knows the human mind.

Take this little snippet, from the beginning of Solar itself:
“He belonged to that class of men—vaguely unprepossessing, often bald, short, fat, clever—who were unaccountably attractive to certain beautiful women. Or he believed he was, and thinking seemed to make it so.”
How much is said in those two lines… how much do we learn about this character? I can see him, the short, vain little man, confident in his cleverness. There is not an inch, a centimetre of fat on that opening salvo. Notice how he says “often bald”… he’s not describing the man, bald or not, but the class of man. And we can all imagine that class. And so our brain does the work.

But let me not let you believe that McEwan gets by entirely on beautiful prose and psychoanalysis. His books have varying success when it comes to plot; some are nail-biting page-turners (Saturday, Enduring Love) and some are bordering on laborious and self-serving (arguably Amsterdam) but Solar is funny. The poor man described above goes through a hell of a lot, and he’s basically a good guy, though not good enough to prevent us laughing at his expense. You care, but not too much. Unlike some of McEwan’s work, the relationships do not dominant the plot, and it is much more than an examination of the heart.

So I hope that is some small way, I have explained my love for the work of McEwan. Solar is not his best, but it’s a great place to start if you have any interest. It’s clever, funny, and interesting – it wears its “literary” tag bravely and loudly, but is never showy – and it’s a great read.

Thanks for listening!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

'Empire of the Saviours' - A. J. Dalton

A.J. Dalton is back, and this time he is backed by SFF powerhouse Gollancz, who one can only assume we're impressed by his success with the self published Flesh and Bone trilogy. Empire of the Saviours is the first part in a new trilogy. I was lucky enough to be around when Gollancz offered review copies of the book on Twitter, so a big thanks to them.

The story is quite a classic fantasy trope with a young boy, who while beset by the town bully, discovers his magic powers. Good for our young hero, less good for one of the bullies who dies of the magical blast. Jillan, our unfortunate young mage, is absolutely terrified by the event. Not so much because of the death of the bully, it was self defense after all, but by his use of blasphemous pagan magic.

While the basic story might be familiar to most readers A. J. Dalton's world building is fresh with new ideas. The People, as they are called, are all part of the Geas – the source of life and magic – which makes them all mages and witches. The Geas is what attracted the attention of the Saviours, aliens lies its godlike powers, who broke the gods of the People, and installed themselves as the new religion. It's a brutal regime, where the People are treated more like cattle, living in walled cities guarded by Heroes. The children are in their early teens then drained of their power, doomed to live a dull life in fear of their cruel masters.

A.J. Dalton does a great job here, and I only scratched the surface of the world he has built for our pleasure. There is so much to discover in Empire of the Saviours, and the mystery of the Saviours themselves is just one small part of the whole. The exposition of the world I'd cleverly woven into the narrative, always adding to the whole without slowing down the story. You will meet living legends, broken – but not forgotten – gods and the outcast Pagans who refuses to bow to the Saviours.

Jillan is up for a difficult journey ahead. He is clearly a chosen one, and whether he likes it or not he will have to bear a heavier burden than someone his age should ever have to. He is in constant conflict with him selves over his powers, they cause him great shame and self doubt. He is convinced he is corrupted by the powers of chaos, the indoctrination he suffered is very powerful.

If Empire of the Saviours has a weakness it is that it suffers from being the first part in a series. There is only so many pages in a book and Jillan, along with his supporting characters, feel a little bit unsure of themselves and why they are together. It happened too quickly, and too easy, never giving them a real reason to all travel together.

Luckily, it's all balanced by some other fantastic supporting characters. In a lot of fantasy book there is a wise old man, or another agent of the gods, think Fizban, Zifnab or Kruppe. A. J. Dalton has a naked crazy old man, who is an absolute delight to read. It gets even better when he is paired up with one of the antagonists, a zealous priest of the Saviours. The two really don't get along, and the conversations that follow are both great fun and food for thought.

All in all I'm very happy with Empire of the Saviours, which had new fresh ideas on world building, and was simply a fascinating read. A.J. Dalton is the one to look out for in 2012. If you are a fan of fantasy you don't want to miss Empire of the Saviours.

Empire of the Saviours weighs in at 448 pages, and is published by Gollancz. It is scheduled to be released in May 2012.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Alt Fiction 2012

I finally manned up and manage to attend my first convention for speculative fiction. Having so pathetically failed last year to attend FantasyCon in Brighton last year, I made sure I booked tickets in time this year. I was told by several Twitter buddies Alt Fiction in Leicester would be a good beginners' event. It's small size makes it an intimate and very friendly event, and I already knew several who were going. The key to a successful convention is to stay at least one night, it's all about chatting in the bar afterwards.

Alt Fiction 2012 used to be based in Derby, but new organisers moved the event to Leicester, which suited me as I have never been there before. Leicester was a lot nicer, and I was surprised how quiet it seemed compared to London. Admittedly, I did not see much of Leicester as we were mostly in the cultural part of Leicester. This part was really charming with several new built venues, and it was in one of them which Alt Fiction 2012 took place.

The Phoenix Digital Arts Centre was a great venue with one huge screen and several smaller more intimate rooms. It featured a large cafe/bar with was bright with natural light and served good value food, snacks and drinks.

The venue was only a short walk from the station, and on my way there I saw the first familiar face, fellow blogger @PabloCheescake and his lovely wife. His book review blog, Eloquent Page, is worth checking out. Our reviews often overlap, and sometimes we even agree.

Having arrived at The Phoenix Digital Arts Centre I signed in, got my bag of goodies, and waddled off to the cafe looking for familiar faces. I ended up sitting with the adorable @FranTerminiello and the enigmatic @mygoditsraining, who both brought a lot home baked goodies. Best possible start imaginable.

My first workshop, The Business of Writing, was about to start and a bunch of us wandered off to the workshop room. I was not sure what to expect, but I admit I was worried about user participation. I'm not a writer! I was there because I was curious about treating writing as a business. The workshop was held by novelist, screenwriter and journalist Mark Chadbourn, and it was AMAZING. In short, look beyond writing novels. For a startup writer novels don't pay enough. Writing articles for magazines is a good way to earn enough money to write bigger things like books, screenplays and movie manuscripts. Be prepared to do dirty work. It was exceptionally inspirational, even to a non writer and for the first time I found myself wanting to write more than just reviews. I could write an article!

After the mind blowing experience of Mark Chadbourn's The Business of Writing, the rest of the day passed quickly, with only a short break for a dirty bird at Nando's.

I attended a new writers panel, moderated by Gollancz's publicist Jon Weir. The writers on the panel were: Tom Pollock, Vincent Holland-Keen, Lou Morgan and Emma Newman. It was quite interesting to find out how Emma Newman approached it by seeing herself as a real business and even found an investor. Someone in the audience blurted out: “You have a patron?”, to everyone’s amusement.

Then I attended two very similar talks by The Arthur C Clarke Award’s director, Tom Hunter, who focused on using social media to promote yourself as a writer. The entry level was quite low and his message could be boiled down to use Twitter and don’t be a dick.

The last event of the evening was a comics panel with Jay Eales, who was moderating, and Paul Cornell, Mark Chadbourn, Selina Lock and Emma Vieceli. It was a good discussion, so good I might even do a separate post on it. I took notes...

By this time I was feeling pretty overconned, and just wanted to sit down, relax, and have a chat with someone. The only two events left for the day was the two guests of honour, and to my great shame, I was too tired to attend.

I found @Ian_Sales in the cafe/bar area with a pile of his recently released books. The first one, Rocket Science, is a anthology of Science Fiction stories using real science. The second, Adrift on the Sea of Rains, is SF novel set on the moon. I could not resist temptation and bought both of them. After buying his books, he even invited me to sit down, and the conversation that followed was pretty nerdy. It might have involved zombie microbes.

When they all left for something to eat I had a great time with @FranTerminiello, @RenWarom, @KTScribbles, Fiona, and @PatKelleher. You might want to check out @PathKelleher’s books for Abaddon. Anyway, we had a great time, and we were the last to leave the bar. In fact, @Hagelrat ordered us to join the others in the hotel bar.

I had an amazing time, and I want to thank the organisers and all the awesome people I met. You know who you are!

Friday, 13 April 2012

'Seven Princes' - John R. Fultz

Seven Princes is the first novel by John R. Fultz. I'm a big fan of epic fantasy, and that's exactly how Seven Princes is described. Even the title reeks of epicness, not just one, but SEVEN princes. Throw in a Giant-King, one ancient evil sorcerer, plenty magic and betrayal and we should have everything we need for an epic fantasy. Thank you Orbit Books for providing me with a review copy of Seven Princes.

A warrior king, who has won all his battles, with no one left to fight sits safely on his throne. His son, prince D’zan, has not yet been schooled in the arts of war, and why should he? There is no need. Or at least no need anyone could have foreseen. When death comes to their city, it comes in an unlikely form. The dead rises up, and they show no mercy to the living. Only the prince and his bodyguard escapes.

Elsewhere, the Giant-King leaves his loving family to atone for a crime in his youth. Born a giant, but his love for a woman made him use his magic to turn himself into a man. His sons are human sized, but the princes posses their father's strength, and are all great warriors. Well apart from the eldest son, who is pale of skin and dark of hair where his two younger brothers are bronze skinned. This prince is more a poet than a fighter, he is very jealous of his brothers, and can't wait for his time to take the throne as his.

It's probably no surprise Seven Princes introduces us to a lot of characters with a wide display of personalities and abilities. They can quite easily be divided into two categories, the ones with supernatural abilities, and the ones without. D’zan, the prince who lost his kingdom, and who swore to retake it from the usurper, is just a normal man. Unfortunately for him, his enemies falls into the other category, so he will need help. John R. Fultz saga is a familiar one in fantasy, a young man who is on a quest to do the near impossible. Without any spectacular abilities, or even an army, he needs to find those who can do the impossible. Luckily for him, in Seven Princes there are quite a few with an army to spare or who is strong enough to wrestle a giant and win.

Seven Princes was a good read, but not a book without faults. I don't think any of them should discourage anyone from reading it, but hear me out and make up your own mind. The characters don't have much depth to them, they still manage to be fun, but they don't really go anywhere. Too stereotypical with comically evil villains and noble heroes without any complexity to them, no inner struggle or burden.

The only thing that really annoyed me was how immensely powerful the baddies were. It meant there was very little opportunity for normal humans to do much, and also rendered a lot of decisions irrelevant or just stupid. If your for just annihilated your small army, leaving only one survivor, the best course of action is probably not to send a new army. Seven Princes is not a tale of an ordinary person achieves something extraordinary. Nor do I think it has to be, but I prefer it when there is room for both.

So what did I like about Seven Princes then? Well there is is still a lot to like with John R. Fultz's novel. The world building is something I like. It's a world with a lot of room for amazement and wonder. The Giants are probably the most prominent example of this. Imagine a city where Giants and humans lived together, imagine walking down a street where the houses are not only huge, but the proportions are also enormous. John R. Fultz's world is a world where legends come alive. It's also a book for action junkies, every page holds exciting, or at least a promise the next one will.

Seven Princes was a book which both excited and disappointed. The setting and the plot promised a lot, but the flat characters let it down. It's saved by a relentless pace and a few heart stopping battles. Not a bad debut, but I think John R. Fultz's can do even better in the next part of the Books of the Shaper series.

Seven Princes weighs in at 480 pages and is published by Orbit Books.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

'Warlord of Mars (vol 1)' - Arvid Nelson

Title: Warlord of Mars (vol 1)
Writer: Arvid Nelson
Illustrated by: Stephen Sadowski and Lui Antonio

Based on the original story by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

I remember glancing at a trailer for the John Carter movie, but I did not realise there was also a graphic novel until I read the review by fellow blogger MomGamerWriter. Seemed like quite a fun action adventure, reminding me of Flash Gordon, so I was off to NetGalley to acquire a review copy of my own. It's after all time for another graphic novel review (this one is for March...). Thank you Dynamite Entertainment for auto-approving my request.

Captain John Carter is a former Confederate soldier, who is down on his luck. As a last desperate attempt to make something out of his life he sets out with a friend to look for gold. The two men run into some US soldiers who mock them for the defeat, but they ignore their slander, drink up and leave. When the soldiers turns to mocking John Carter’s beloved home state Virginia, his anger is too much and guns are blazing. The ex-confederates make their escape, and eventually even succeeds in their prospecting. Then the Apaches attack them, and John Carter is forced to seek refuge in a cave. A strange mist weakens him and he appears to die, but instead of a true death he is transported to Mars. His earth hardened muscles are super powered in the weak gravity, which is a lucky thing, since the natives are 8 foot tall monsters with four arms.

Time for some ass kicking and buxom wenches (with four boobies).

It's a straightforward plot, where Captain John Carter has to kill a lot of people to save both Mars and his lovely girl. I wouldn't say it's so compelling you can't but the book down, but it works well enough to keep you reading. What's best about Warlord of Mars is the world building really. I'd say the plot is just the vehicle for a lovely guided tour around mars, to discover more about the red planet. It has a surprisingly rich history, and a lot to amaze you on your journey. Just relax and enjoy the ride, but make sure you strap yourself in first.

The illustrations are good, although they did mostly focus on the naked human body. I guess Mars is pretty warm as everyone was pretty much wearing very little. Stephen Sadowski and Lui Antonio impressed me with their ability to draw a naked man so many times without showing an actual penis.

The only thing I did not like was how quick Captain Carter was in rejecting the green martian's culture as barbaric and cruel, typical white man behaviour. Let's not forget he actually killed someone for saying something bad about his home state. A little hypocritical.

Warlord of Mars was entertaining and action packed. After reading it I might even watch the movie just to compare the two.

Warlord of Mars weighs in at 266 pages and is published by Dynamite Entertainment.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

What I'm Reading Next

To your left is Empire of the Saviours by A.J. Dalton, which I have just finished reading. As you can probably guess from the cover it's a fantasy book. A.J Dalton's Necromancer's Gambit was a smashing book, so I was delighted when I got my grubby little fingers on his newest book. I don't want to give away too much before my review, but I'll say that it's a good book. Felt fresh.

The right is Hearts of Smoke and Steam, the second part of the Society of Steam saga by Andrew P. Mayer. I did read the first one, which I thought was a charming steampunk novel, and I'm sure the second one will be as well. Scary dude on the cover, quite curious about him.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Anarchy Books Easter Releases

It's time for a cheeky little promo again, and this time it's from Anarchy Books, who are announcing, not one, but SEVEN Easter releases. That's not all, they are also offering a giveaway of Vivisepulture, an anthology with contributions from some heavy hitters. Enjoy the promo art work, read the first part of the press release before heading off to Anarchy Books to read the full message.

April 6th, Good Friday, is also Good Anarchy Books Day! We’re releasing not 1 - not 2, but 7 (YES SEVEN!) new novels, and for a limited period we’re giving away our fabulous anthology VIVISEPULTURE forFREE!

Our new releases are New York Blues by Eric Brown (hardcore SF heavyweight!), A Jar of Wasps byLuis Villazon (whom you may know as a technical writer on PCFormat, MACFormat and, so he certainly knows his tech SF [digital] onions!),  Silversands and The Last Reef by Gareth L. Powell(rising star of contemporary SF), the gentle, beautiful fantasy Fynoderee by Alexander Caine-Duncan, and last but by no means least, Young Punks: A Tale of Anarchy in the UK, a fabulous oral history of growing up as punks in the 70s by BAFTA short-listed film director Paolo Sedazzari. And just to add to the fun, we’ll also be releasing a soundtrack to Young Punks by a brilliant raw new punk band, The Mice,containing their stunning mad single Sex Shop.

Check out for more information, and for details of how to get your FREE NOVEL – VIVISEPULTURE, and a free copy of SEX SHOP.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Interview with Anne Lyle

Time for another interview here at I Will Read Books. Joining us today is novelist Anne Lyle whose first book The Alchemist of Souls was just released. You should take a look at my review, or just go and buy it straight away, as it was well worth reading.

For more information about Anne Lyle, visit her website and/or stalk her on Twitter (@AnneLyle).

First of all, many thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. To kick things off, could you tell me a little about yourself and your work, and why you chose fantasy as your genre?
I'm a zoology graduate and former non-fiction editor turned web developer, currently working in bioinformatics (computer analysis of the human genome and other species). Given my high-tech background, you might expect me to write SF rather than fantasy, but I also love history and mythology and languages  and all those things that go into fantasy world-building - and besides, writing SF would be too much like my day-job!

When did you start writing? Is it something you have always been doing? Were there any books you read as a child that inspired you to take up writing?
We did a lot of creative writing at school when I was young, and I think that satisfied my appetite for stories for a while, but by the time I hit my teens we were expected to mainly write serious essays, so it was around then that I started writing as a hobby. My main inspirations were the SF and fantasy I borrowed from the library: Andre Norton, Ursula Le Guin, Alexei Panshin, James White. Nowadays many of them would be classified as YA, but back then they were on the shelves with the other adult books, and I devoured them all.

Your first book, The Alchemist of Souls, is set in a London. Why did you choose London as your setting?
The setting was dictated by the story - I wanted to write about Elizabethan spies and actors, and London is where most of the action was.

Ned, one if the characters in The Alchemist of Souls, is openly gay, and since your book has a historical theme was that OK in Elizabethan times? Did you research this, and if you did, was it difficult to find information?

It's a complicated subject. Sodomy was illegal and punishable by death, but on the other hand any act committed in private is always going to be difficult to prove, and there aren't many surviving court cases. It's clear from reading the history of the period that a number of courtiers were known at the time to be gay, but were perhaps too powerful to be prosecuted.

It probably helped that lingering chivalric ideals of strong bonds between male comrades made the expression of affection between men less sexually loaded than it is nowadays, so that gay men could more easily "slip under the radar", so to speak. So whilst it might not have been OK to be gay in Elizabethan times, in certain circles - including the ones my characters move in - it was, perhaps, tolerated. That's the stance I took in my novel, at any rate.

One of the main characters of your book is forced to disguise herself as a man. So many professions and places in society were closed off to women during this time. Again, this is something I’m curious if you did any research on, maybe it was really common for women to dress up as men?

I did do some research, yes. More recent cases of women cross-dressing are much better documented, of course, but it certainly happened in the 16th century. Of course we can never know how many women successfully passed themselves off as men, but a few women wore men's clothing without intending disguise, for example Mary Frith, immortalised in several plays of the era as Moll Cutpurse.

It was also a not uncommon practice in the Netherlands, mainly for women travelling alone or trying to earn a living. I therefore felt it would be a very plausible stratagem for my Dutch orphan girl when she found herself stranded in a foreign country.

In The Alchemist of Souls you have introduced a new race to keep us humans company. Skraylings are humanoid, but quite obviously alien in appearance and culture. May I ask what, if anything, was the inspiration behind them?
As a biologist I'm interested in creating plausible creatures, even in fantasy. I originally created the skraylings for a secondary-world fantasy setting, drawing on my knowledge of animal behaviour to create a distinctly non-human culture. However when I came up with the idea of an Age of Discovery alternate history, I realised they would be a perfect fit for that. I made a few minor changes to make them fit better into the historical context, drawing on bits of Viking and Native American folklore.

You have more male than female characters in your book, was this a conscious decision, or did it just happen that way? Is it harder to write male characters?

It came out of the plot, really. Despite having a woman on the throne, the political scene was totally dominated by men, and of course the theatre business was men-only since women weren't allowed to act. This made it difficult to find active roles for female characters within the plot I had in mind.

Personally I don't find it difficult to write men - quite the reverse, in fact! I'm not at all girly, so getting into the head of a typical domestic-oriented Elizabethan woman felt like a bigger stretch. There are more female characters in the later books in the trilogy, however, as I began to get more comfortable with the setting and see opportunities to include them.

What books are you currently reading and are there any must reads you would like to recommend?
Right now I'm reading The Steel Remains, by Richard Morgan - utterly brilliant, though it's pushing the envelope of my squeamishness! I wouldn't like to name any must-reads, as everyone has different tastes, but I strongly recommend The Long Price Quartet by Daniel Abraham. Less gung-ho than your typical epic fantasy, but if you enjoy historical fiction, especially anything set in the Far East such as Shogun, I think you'll like it.

Most importantly, are you working on something at the moment?
I'm currently planning the third installment of my trilogy, titled The Prince of Lies. Just brainstorming and letting the ideas percolate for a bit, then I'll create a rough outline before settling down to write the first draft.

Thank you Anne

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

'The Dark Winter' - David Mark

The Dark Winter by David Mark is the first book in a new crime series set in Hull. It might be his debut novel, but David Mark is not new to writing for a living, having spent seven years as a crime reporter for the Yorkshire Post in Hull. Don't laugh now, but Hull is why I choose to read The Dark Winter. Ever since I moved to the UK in 2005 I've heard so much about Hull, but nothing good. I want to know more about Hull, and it's about time someone wrote a crime novel not set in London or Edinburgh. Besides, there is a serial killer on the loose who is killing people who were the lone survivor of otherwise fatal tragedies. What's not to like about that? Thank you Quercus Books for providing me with a review copy of The Dark Winter.

Hull, East Yorkshire. Two weeks before Christmas. Three bodies in the morgue. The victims - each a sole survivor of a past tragedy - killed in the manner they once cheated death. Somebody is playing God. And it falls to DS Aector McAvoy to stop their deadly game.

I think the blurb catches the essence of the book, and does not really need me trying to summarise the story. It’s worth mentioning how Aector McAvoy is not a rockstar copper, he is a deskjockey in charge of databases. He first thinks he will be in charge of the investigation with everyone else on holiday, but the media attention quickly has him assigned to watch from the sidelines and run errands. At least to start with. 

Aector McAvoy, like any other fictional policeman, has his baggage of demons and character flaws. This time, it's not drinking or drugs, but love. Love for his son and traveller wife, Roisin. His emotions are so intense it's almost a question of being obsessed, and when he thinks of them everything else disappears. I admit love is not quite as self destructive as drug abuse, at least not for McAvoy, but it does affect his decision and behavior. His emotions are very complicated, while capable of great passion he also harbors an even greater capacity for anger. Aector McAvoy is a huge monster of a man, not really what you expect for a copper with a reputation of being a desk jockey and database nerd. His anger is held in check by love for his family, thinking of them calms him. His shyness and social awkwardness is both funny and endearing, sometimes he is like a little boy trapped in the body of a grown man. Once I just wanted him to man up and stop being such a wuss. In this occasion different is good and I quickly warmed to the big Scotsman.

One common plot element for the protagonist to overcome in crime is differences with the boss or other corrupt elements within the force. In The Dark Winter David Mark makes corruption something in the past. Aector McAvoy was the only officer with a clean sheet after he himself exposed some rotten eggs within the force. No one expect himself and the brass knows what really happened, the rest of the Hull police force could only watch from the side lines as a high ranking officer was forced into early retirement. Our hero did not make any friends from this, everyone else are cautious, and even hostile, towards him. Everyone, except his new boss, Trish Pharaoh.

Trish Pharaoh was assigned to lead the task force almost as the token female boss, but she had other ideas, and refused to fall into line by hand picking her officers and making a real go at the job. She comes across as a mix between a very earthy, motherly figure and a succubus. The mere scent of her is enough to make men weak at the knees, and poor Aector McAvoy, being a tall chap, has a too good view of her ample cleavage. 

Together they have a lot to prove, the old guard wants them to fail.

The Dark Winter is a good book, a book which was exciting from start to finish. The plot is exciting, and really dark, with a lot of strong emotions from love to hatred. I don't think the city of Hull will use The Dark Winter to try and appeal to tourists. The book more confirms than denies the reputation of Hull. I thought the change of scenery was very refreshing, Hull is at least a great place for crime novels. Hopefully, the future will hold more from David Mark. 

The Dark Winter weighs in at 320 pages and is published by Quercus Books.