Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Herald of the Storm - Richard Ford

Herald of the Storm is the first part in Steelhaven, an epic fantasy trilogy, by Richard Ford whose novel, Kultus, I reviewed back in 2011. Having fond memories of Kultus, and being a huge epic fantasy fan, it was not a difficult decision to put Herald of the Storm at the top of the reading pile. Many thanks to Headline for providing me with a review copy of Herald of the Storm.

The blurb promises us desperate times with five unlikely heroes, and I think Richard Ford made a good, but not groundbreaking, choice in his heroes.

The first one which springs to mind is River, the disillusioned assassin, who I like for the way the writer applies poetry to his fighting style. A young man who is trapped between the love for his family of assassins, and the love of his life, and his story is one of tragedy.

Then there is Kaira, the temple shield maiden. She is the token smoking hot girl who can kill a man with her pinky, and is obviously as hotheaded as she is beautiful. She will also question her beliefs and where she belongs. Oh and she carries more than one can of whoop-ass.

Merrick, the drunken swindler, lost his family and gambled away his fortune. A man who has lost himself in self pity and firmly set his feet on a path to self destruction. Blessed with the gift of the gap he keeps himself afloat by charming rich widows and making himself useful to organised crime, but it's really just a question of time before he drowns in despair and self loathing. Unless, he can rediscover his pride. He seems to be looking for it at the bottom of booze bottles though.

Nobul, the unbalanced veteran, finds himself once again at the mercy of the gods, and comes to regret the life he has lived. To make right from wrong he abandons his forge for a new start with the city guard, a under-funded and corrupt organisation who is respected by on one, especially not the guards themselves. Nobul's story is one of forgiveness.

Rag, a desperate thief, is a child of the streets, who lives on the scraps she and her small gang can pilfer without drawing the attention of the guild. Her dream is to join the guild, but it's really more a dream about belonging somewhere than being a recognised thief.

I'll leave out the apprentice sorcerer and the princess before I give away too much about the book, but rest assured, they too are of the highest quality. The characters are so good they steal the show from plot and world building, you could drop these guys into any setting and they would work. The plot is simply their story, a story which they write by making choices; not by being forced into situations.

Richard Ford and his Herald of the Storm certainly met, and surpassed, my expectations. Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen is the yard stick I use to determine the epicness of a fantasy novel. It is a measure I expect all novels to fall short against, but Richard Ford does well. Herald of the Storm is more low key. You will not find gods and dragons roaming the street duking it out with earth shattering magic. Mr Ford instead tries to capture our attention with with well balanced characters, both in skill behaviour, and how they cope with the hand fate dealt them, and what happens when ideals and ideas goes head to head. Sometimes, less is more.
Welcome to Steelhaven… watch your back!
Herald of the Storm weighs in at 400 pages, and is published by Headline. 25th of April 2013 is the date to mark in your calendar.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dangerous Gifts - Gaie Sebold

The Mademoiselle of pleasure and danger is back! Gaie Sebold's Babylon Steel returns in Dangerous Gifts. I Loved the first book, and you can find the review here. Anyway, many thanks to Solaris Books for providing me with a review copy of Dangerous Gifts.

The first book was about Babylon Steel's past and how she ended up in Scalentine. Dangerous Gifts is about the now. Not long has passed since the events in book one, and Babylon Steel reluctantly accepts a escorting quest. Not that kind of escorting, the one where she has protects someone! The Itnunnacklish - girl from first book who was Gudain and turned into a Ikinchli, thus proving the two races was once one - is trying to unite the two races she belongs to, but not everyone wants her to. Only Babylon stands between a young woman and certain death.

It feels like we have left the main plot for a quick side quest and a chance for Babylon Steel to do a bit of grinding on low level mobs. It's not only hack and slash though, Babylon Steel does not try and solve every problem by bashing it over the head. Not a lot of new lore is introduced, but we do get to know the main characters more.

Dangerous Gifts is the perfect book for a cold winter's day. It's comforting, just like a warm blanket, and it is raunchy enough to put a blush on your cheeks. Reading it was like meeting an old friend, a definite feel good book. Once again Gaie Sebold delivers a solid, refreshing tale full of adventure in a exciting new fantasy setting.

Dangerous Gifts weighs in at 446 pages, and is published by Solaris Books.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

The Following

Kevin Bacon chasing a brilliant, deranged serial killer with a cult to do his bidding. Fox had me at Kevin Bacon. The first episode of The Following was a pleasant surprise. I did not know about the serial killer's cult, so it's safe to say events did not play at out as I had imagined them. Instead of chasing a lone psycho, a chase with a lot of unlikely close calls, former FBI agent Ryan Hardy finds himself going after a whole cult of psychos. Joe Carroll, played by James Purefoy, is the charismatic spider in the web, who built a following during his time in prison.

It's funny how both men have written books about their experience, and the events which takes place now are Joe Carroll's new story. As an avid reader I can appreciate how the main characters talk about the events as chapters in a book. Things do not always go according to plan though, I have had more than one writer tell me characters have a will of their own.

A lot of the show is focused on Ryan Hardy's complicated relationship with Joe Carroll's ex-wife, the two had a brief affair which Ryan ended. This is a chink in the armour of an otherwise entertaining show. Ryan Hardy is just too much of a cliche with his drinking and complete inability to function in a relationship, and we are treated to more than one flashback where Ryan and Mrs Serial Killer yearn for each other, only to be torn apart in the next. It's not a successful portrayal of a hard, broken man who lives only for his addictions, nor is their pain interesting, it's too forced. It only serves as a pace killer and frustration while we wait for a scene where something actually happens. Less fucking longing looks and moping, let's see some action instead.

On the upside, The Following does a great job with all the wannabe serial killers. It's a fun plot twist where anyone can be a killer, and quite comical how the FBI manage to remain so clueless. I'm a couple of episodes in to the series and the writers are still adding little twists to the plot, mostly new gruesome way for people to die, but I still can't wait for the next episode.

The Following successfully resuscitates the genre with an interesting twist, but it's hard to tell if our victim will make a full recovery. Still worth watching, for now.