Wednesday, 25 July 2012

'Valkia the Bloody' - Sarah Cawkwell

Valkia the Bloody is the latest by Sarah Cawkwell, whose first novel Gildar Rift I reviewed earlier. Having read her first book I wanted to read her second. Thank you Black Library for sending me a review copy.

Valkia the Bloody I'd the story of how a young girl becomes a feared warrior and eventually the a consort of Khorne, one of the Ruinous Powers. The evening before a battle a little girl calmly informs her father she wants to fight with him. The father, wisely so, refuses, but to his surprise he then tells the council his daughter will join the shield wall. The next day Valkia is allowed to deal the killing blow to the enemy chieftain as her hamstringing him in the first place led to his defeat. Happy days.

I always felt I'm too much of a softie for reading about the evil side, and that might be why Valkia the Bloody pretty much lost me in the first chapter. I find the idea of a ten year old girl dashing around like a little gremlin of death both revolting and ridicilous.

I hate to pick on writers, who has obviously spent a lot of time and effort writing a book, only to then have to suffer my whining. Sarah Cawkwell seems to have been too fond of Valkia, trying a little too hard to make her female protagonist one to remember. The result is unfortunately a over the top character, who just does not come across as a convincing person. There is just no depth to her at more, if it wasn't for her suitors and frequent mention of her cold beauty she might as well be a man.  I would like to say Valkia is a strong independent female lead, but when she even fights like a rogue archetype, all about speed and grace, I cant even say that.

Valkia the Bloody is a book which left me puzzled after reading, what was the purpose of this, I was asking myself. Evil without purpose is just boring. I can't help feel there is no actual plot here, she is so fanatic you could just say she is a force of nature. A force bent for the destruction without any other purpose. It's about reading about a terrible natural disaster, but one which focuses on the tsunami, not the survivors.

Anyway, I know someone who liked Valkia the Bloody, so I suggest you read Tony Lane's review to get a more positive opinion of this book. Meanwhile, I will try and stay away from books about mean people :)

Valkia the Bloody weighs in at 410 pages, and is published by the Black Library.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

'Priests of Mars' - Graham McNeill

When a box of books arrives from the Black Library it's always a exciting time, almost as fun as unwrapping an apple product. The only difference being, I have no idea what's actually inside the box. I swear a felt a jolt of electricity when my grubby little hands closed around Priests of Mars by Graham McNeill. The cover is stunning, a robed figure, obviously of the Adeptus Mechanicus, against a background of a bright but clouded sky, and a high tech looking city. It looks awesome, and the blurb is awesome: a legendary, but foolish, expedition which was lost, and now Magos Kotov will risk everything to make another attempt. Thank you Black Library for providing me with a review copy of Priests of Mars.

Even though the Imperium of man is a mighty war machine, it is fighting a war of attrition which it cannot win. It might have the resources when it comes to soldiers and the materials it requires to supply its armies with weapons, but so much can no longer be replaced. Every time a ship is lost, or a Titan, or even a space marine, they can not always be replaced. So much knowledge was lost during the age of darkness, and in spite of the best efforts of the Adeptus Mechanicus, they can't do much, but hope to find old relics from the Golden Age.

Magos Kotov knows everything about loss, having lost several of his worlds to various threats, be it Xenos attacks or the Ruiounus Powers. His enemies are moving against him, hoping to usurp his remaining holdings, forcing him to make a desperate gamble. Kotov has an ace up his sleeve, the Speranza, a vast ship from the Golden Age, which was discovered on one of his worlds. The Speranza alone won't be enough to save him so Kotov plans to gather a fleet and travel through the Scar, a rift in space. The Scar has proved impregnable to scanning, and most ships trying to pass through it are simply torn apart. For Kotov, it would all be worth it to find the Breath of the Gods, a long lost artefact.

Much has changed, but one thing remains true in the history of man: the powerful move up by climbing on the backs of the poor. Abrehem Locke is in a bar with some fellow workers when the Collarmen arrives, and they find themselves press ganged into service aboard the Speranza. Having just lost the our flexible working hours, I'm a bit grumpy about my work right now, but at least I don't work inhuman hours in a toxic environment. My employer provides bread and various snacks for breakfast, Abrehem Locke is served a tasteless gruel. Maybe I shouldn't complain.

Anyway, a mighty fleet is assembled, and a fraction of the bulk of the Speranza is filled with soldiers, and even some titans. Nothing is left to chance, the best navigators and cartographers are found, if the Emperor wills it, they will succeed.

Priests of Mars is the start of something epic, and I'm not saying the foundation itself is not great. There are so many interesting characters introduced I barely know where to start. The humble and pragmatic Abrehem Locke with his affinity with machines, and his loyalty to his friends, is probably my favourite. There are also quite a few Adeptus Mechanicus who are a lot of fun. Usually they are more supporting cast, but now they get to be more than just sidekicks. Magos Dahan for instance is a vital member of the crew, he is in charge of of the skitarii, the fighting force of the Adeptus Machanicus, and he has devoted his existence to studying war. He is quite a scary chap, with some pretty awesome enhancements.
Dahan was a killing machine, a mathematician do death.
I could go on for a while, but I will stop here, as Graham McNeill does a much better job than me introducing his characters. It's worth mentioning how well written they are, they all feel very much alive and real, with defined, and genuine, personalities. A fine feat to accomplish in a limited amount of time.

Graham McNeill once again ticks all the boxes with Priests of Mars. It's a book which gives you right sense of wonder and amazement, but at the same time you can't help feel a little bit of despair for the fate of mankind, how far we have fallen. Add nail biting suspense and high octane fighting to the mix and we have everything we need for a book you really don't want to put down. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Priests of Mars weighs in at 320 pages, and is published by Black Library. You have to wait until August 2012 to read it.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

'Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island' - Warren Ellis

Time for another graphic novel review, and it's Warren Ellis and his Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island who is under scrutiny. I was quite excited about this one, several promising keywords in the blurb: copper, flintlock revolver, Spring-Heeled Jack, pirates and London. Oh, the blurb also calls the writer sparking-mad. Not sure how Captain Swing could possibly be anything but good. As ever, thanks to myself for my never ending generosity, and the copy of Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island.

It's not really proper Warren Ellis without entrails, and Captain Swing does not disappoint. The grizzly murder of a policeman, the fifth in a short period, is what copper Charlie Gravel comes across on his patrol. When they hear the sound of a rattle, think police whistle, they sprint to assist their colleague. The assailant makes his escape as the bobbies arrive. The young policeman can barely believe what he sees, the mysterious man jumps over a wall using boots which bleeds electricity. Charlie Gravel is chasing Spring-Heeled Jack, who else could it be but the mythical figure. Charlie's partner takes a glowing bullet to the chest, and the newly minted copper is now on his own against one of the most legendary figures.

Captain Swing is off to a glowing start with some well paced action and a really cool looking villain. Raulo Caceres' drawings of electricity charged villain is something to feast your eyes on. I really like his style, which is life-like, but also gives a lot of energy to the fights. You can almost feel every punch.

Every now and then we come across a page with an stylish old looking font, which explains some of the history behind what we just saw, usually accompanied by a beautifully aged drawing of something. A very nice way to introduce some background stuff into a graphic novel.

Captain Swing is set in the period where the police is slowly replacing the Bow Street Runners, who were controlled by the powerful magistrates. There is tension between the two forces, and I don't think I giveaway too much by saying there is an element of corruption amongst the magistrates. Captain Swing quickly goes from a simple case of capturing a murdering villain to a fight for justice and freedom, a stand against those who have it all, and wants to keep it that way. It's my favorite London, rife with corruption, a cruel existence for those without nothing, but also a London with hope for a better tomorrow.

Warren Ellis has a way of adding unexpected depth to his stories, and they always makes me think, as it's not just mindless violence. Instead, it's intelligent, always with a underlying message, or observation, on something of great importance. The consequences or playing god, or just fighting for what's right, it can be anything, but always mixed in with a lot of swearing. I like it.

Captain Swing and the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island weighs in at 128 pages and is published by Avatar Press.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Sequel to Babylon Steel Announced

Finally some good news! Funny how an email can pick you up when you are suffering from Monday blues. This was just in from the hard working PR machine of Solaris Books and Rebellion:

Gaie Sebold to pen sequel to her debut novel, Babylon Steel

Solaris is delighted to announce that author Gaie Sebold is to follow up her fantastically well-received debut, Babylon Steel.

With a bold frankness that eschews fantasy’s usual reluctance to deal with sex and gender politics, Sebold has conceived one of the most stunning and well-realised female characters in the genre – ex-mercenary turned brothel owner Babylon Steel.

And Babylon is set to return in Dangerous Gifts, which will be published in February 2013.

Babylon Steel runs the best brothel in Scalentine, city of portals. She’s escaped her past and it’s all going pretty well. Apart, that is, from the racial conflict and economic misery boiling up in Scalentine.

Her lover, Chief Bitternut of the City Militia, is trying to keep the lid on, while hunting a killer whose real target is a lot closer than he knows. Just as things are getting really tense, Babylon is forced to take another job.  Bodyguard to Enthemmerlee Entaire: symbol of hope or object of disgust for most of her country’s population, and a prime target for assassination, along with anyone who happens to be in the way. Such as her bodyguard.

Unintentionally dragging a very annoyed government employee along in her wake, Babylon struggles to turn Enthemmerlee’s squabbling household guard from liability into security, dodge the rigid Moral Statutes of Incandress, and keep both herself and her client alive.  She soon realises that the situation is far worse than she thought, her past hasn’t quite let go of her yet, and she will be driven to a choice that will have far-reaching consequences…

“Babylon Steel was one of the most assured and brilliantly written fantasy debuts of 2012,” said Solaris editor-in-chief, Jonathan Oliver. “Gaie’s characters are vivid and brilliantly realised. She is also one of the finest writers on sex and sexual politics in fantasy that I’ve read. I’m delighted to welcome her back to Solaris and discover more about Babylon Steel’s exciting and mysterious past. Gaie’s star is fast rising in the fantasy firmament.”

"A unique and richly realised setting, a vivid cast, a plot that coils and divides and fakes and deceives... Ingenious, gripping, and full of pleasures on every level. Exceptional."
– Mike Carey, author of NYT Best Seller The Unwritten

Thursday, 5 July 2012

'Wrath of Iron' - Chris Wraight

Wrath of Iron, by Chris Wright, is my first encounter with the Iron Hands. To show their devotion to the Emperor of mankind, and their primarch, the Iron Hands use bionics to make themselves stronger, and rid themselves of the weakness of the flesh. A rather controversial view, as their flesh was the Emperor's Gift. Nevertheless, the Iron Hands are merciless in their fight against the enemies of mankind, something which is central to the plot of Wrath of Iron, as it will create a rift between Space Marines and their human allies. Thank you Black Library for providing me with a review copy of Wrath of Iron.

As every other Space Marines Battles novel it starts with a transmission.

The liberation of Shardenus has begun. The faithful shall be martyrs. Death to the traitor and heretic. 
Be vigilant. Do your duty. We will be watching. 

This transmission is broadcast to the human forces about to lay siege to Shardenus, a world who has fallen to the heretics, but most of the population don't even know it, the soldiers of Shardenus crying out to the Emperor as they fall. Shardenus is a well fortified hive world so the fighting I'd fierce, and the Iron Hands deploy their human forces without regard to safety, causing heavy casualties. Every human soldier that falls spares a Space Marine from a bullet, and Space Marines are by far a more valuable resource than a human.

Lord General Raji Nethata watches in frustration as his men fall to enemy guns, like wheat before a scythe. As a experienced commander, a master tactician, and loyal servant to the throne he does not understand the tactics used by the Iron Hands. They seem to be disregarding sound strategy by neglecting to securing flanks and supply line, rushing forward instead of laying siege and waiting for the resources of Shardenus to run dry. Any communication sent to the Iron Hands is either ignored or answered with more demands for speed and reckless advancement. In a desperation he reaches out to Magos Ys, in charge of the Adeptus Mechanicus contingent deploying the Legio Astorum, who advices him the Iron Hands only understand strength. The Lord General knows he can be strong to save the men and women under his command for being turned into to mince by the guns of Shardenus.

A core theme in Warhammer 40k is how everyone plays a role in the Empire of Man, it might be a small role, but the toil of an endless number of humans, their blood and sweat greasing the wheels, is what drives the engine of this vast machine. However, it is their duty to bleed for the Empire, not their right, and disobedience is punished. There is room for mercy and weakness when we are surrounded by enemies. This is tested to its limit in Wrath of Iron, the enigmatic approach by the Iron Hands, they have lost too much humanity to understand the suffering they inflict, but their sacrifice was necessary to fight the enemy.

What I really like about the Space Marine Battles novels is the large scale conflict, and how you get to follow a wide variety of forces. We are told the story from the view of a Warlord Titan, Space Marines, soldiers and also a lone assassin, who has infiltrated the hive world.

Valien, a Death Cult assassin, is the most fun to read about, as he worms his way deeper and deeper into enemy territory. A twisted man, once a terrible man who killed for pleasure, now seeking redemption by killing for the Emperor. His deadly needle gun and taste for blood makes for a gristly, but highly entertaining read. The suspense is heightened as he penetrates further behind enemy lines, normal people being replaced by mutants, the walls by living flesh. He suspects he is closer to his goal, sharp fellow :)

Morvox, one of the Iron Hands younger members, is conflicted about their methods. Flesh is weak, this humans are, weak, but is it not their purpose to protect the weaker. He even questions his orders, wanting to stand between the human soldiers and the spawns of Chaos, but he is reprimanded and forced to move on.

This young Space Marine's plight adds more context to how different they are from mere mortals. It also tells us more about how even more alien the Iron Hands are, with their distaste for their flesh bodies.

Chris Wraight's Wrath of Iron is a good read, and another fine addition to the Space Marines Battles novels. As always, it's about spilling blood for the Emperor of Mankind, your own, or your enemies'.

Although I enjoyed reading it, I can't help feeling Chris Wraight let in a flaw in his plot. The friction between the Space Marines and their allies could have been avoided had they simply been more open and honest with their goals. For super soldiers, they really are super stupid sometimes.

Wrath of Iron weighs in at 416 pages, and is published by Black Library.

Monday, 2 July 2012

'The Gilded Edge' - Danny Miller

The Gilded Edge, Danny Miller's second Vince Treadwell novel, is set in London in 1965. It's a crime thriller, which makes a lot of promises: espionage, murder and revolution. Today, the long arm of the law has too much high tech stuff available too them, it feels like good honest police work is out of fashion. Hopefully, Danny Miller will change this. Thank you Constable & Robinson for providing me with a review copy of the Gilded Edge.

Danny Miller does not mess around, or hold back his punches, after reading the prologue I was already gripping the book tighter than normal. A young woman is returning home late at night when she is assaulted. When her killer pulls back, hammer dripping with blood, the murderer sees a young girl at the top of the stairs. A witness, only one thing to do...

Unfortunately, the murder of a young black nurse is over shadowed by the death of a white playboy in Belgravia. This is not something the Met would ever admit, but Vince Treadwell can't help feeling pleased finding himself at the Belgravia crime scene.

DCI Maurice McClusky (Mac), Vince Treadwell's superior, is calmly and methodically taking in the neighbourhood as they walk up to the house. Vince, is calmly and methodically observing Mac in turn, anything to learn the tricks of the trade. Together they dissect everything around them, then proceed by slotting the pieces back together, revealing the hidden truth behind the playboy's death.

I enjoyed this opening scene with the two detectives analysing the crime scene, one teacher, one student. It was almost a zen like experience. Danny Miller has a knack for, in a effortless way, making things feel realistic. It's easy turning his words into images.

Obviously, as the blurb has already given away, these two cases are far from clear cut. Mac, who is preparing for retirement, let's Vince take the lead. We follow Vince on a exciting, and dangerous, journey through London. From the bed of a beautiful aristocrat to the clutches of a legendary crime lord, from the poorest to the richest.

Vince is easy to like with his die hard attitude, his snappy appearance, and the fact he is at least as dangerous as the Jamaican rude boys he goes up against. I tried to delve deeper into his personality, to find out what makes him tick, what his fears are, but I did not get very far. Vince has a strong sense of justice, and a deep connection with London, that much is clear, but I wish he would have faced some difficult decisions based on his personality. Don't get me wrong, he's got enough going on, but it would have been the difference between good and excellent.

I love Danny Miller's writing, full of energy, a blunt but still sophisticated choice of words, with a real sharp edge to it. There is a lot of attention to detail, especially when writing about London in the 1960s, and it feels like he put a lot into researching the period. The result, a London which both dazzles and terrifies, but very much a London which comes alive.

Danny Miller also does a good job with the plot, when you think it's easy, the plot twists, and you find yourself back to guessing. I thought it was very interesting The Gilded Edge is partly about the Jamaican crime gangs, as I recently found out his first book, Kiss Me Quick, involved Corsican gangs. It seems like the writer might have an interest in sub gang cultures.

The Gilded Edge was easy to like, and Kiss Me Quick is now on the reading pile as well. Tired of slick CSI like crime, where it's all about dazzling you with gadgets, and looking for something more real? This book is for you then.

The Gilded Edge weighs in at 400 pages, and is published by Constable & Robinson.