Friday, 30 November 2012

Malice - John Gwynne


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

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

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

Back to the plot though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Sword of Caledor - William King


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 25 November 2012

What I'm Reading Next

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

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

Tyrion – Unparalleled swordsman and tactician.

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

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




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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Zen


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Black Library Announces Horus Heresy Graphic Novels


Macragge’s Honour will be restored in November 2013

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

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

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

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

What is the Horus Heresy?

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

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

Who are Black Library?

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

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Coldbrook - Tim Lebbon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Katya's World - Jonathan L Howard


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

The Dead of Winter - Lee Collins


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Elementary


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter - Seth Grahame-Smith


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

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

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

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

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

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

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