Friday, July 31, 2009

“The Doomsday Key”, by James Rollins (Orion)


Sigma Force saves the world. Again.

In The Doomsday Key, James Rollins takes his readers on a twisting journey through history and across the world, as a deadly conspiracy seeks to deal with one of the world’s most acute problems in its own brutal way. The action is truly global, taking in Britain, Venice, the Vatican, Mali, and the United States - this novel’s scope is broad and ambitious.

A dead village in 11th Century Britain, a massacre at a Red Cross food research station in Africa, a midnight murder and explosion in the Vatican, and the torture and murder of a Princeton scientist – all these mysterious events are linked somehow. After three victims in the present day are found to have similar markings branded onto their dead bodies, Sigma Force is called in to investigate further, to ascertain why these people had to die, and what is the link to the past? On top of this, what is the connection with the international, secretive and broad-mandated Viatus Corporation...?

The plot of The Doomsday Key, as with all Sigma Force novels, is born out of historical facts and mixed with Rollins’s great imagination. In this case, the first is the Doomsday Book, which is William the Conqueror’s survey of 11th Century England and its peculiar description of certain towns with the word, vastare, meaning “wasted”. Máel Máedóc, an Irish Catholic priest, wrote a book claiming to list all the popes who would come until the end of the world. The list of prophecies has been surprisingly accurate up until now, with a plausible description of the current pope, Benedict XVI, who is the 111th pope. The problem is, the world is meant to end after the 112th pope. Along with the tragic events described above, these two historical mysteries combine to form a compelling and entertaining plot and puzzle for Commander Pierce, Sigma Force, and their allies to solve.

Old friends and enemies make some reappearances in The Doomsday Key: Seichan, the beautiful and deadly Eurasian assassin with a complicated shared past with Pierce; the mysterious Guild, an international secret society with vast reach, resources and global influence; and Rachel Verona, an Italian Caribinieri from the Fine Arts division, who contacts Pierce for help when her uncle is caught in the aforementioned explosion.

Rollins has a real talent for taking well-known and obscure historical facts, texts or curiosities and using them to spin compelling and entertaining thrillers. His skill at extrapolating exciting, action-packed plots from a couple of historical oddities is a true gift, and his novels should remain best-sellers for this very reason for years to come. If I had just one quibble about this novel, it would be the way Rollins has succumbed to the common American way of writing British characters – all rather quaint and too civilised, in a setting that’s far more idyllic than reality. It’s not a major issue, as this doesn’t detract from the story at all, and Rollins doesn’t go anywhere near the full Dick van Dyke-route that some American authors insist on when writing about Britain or British characters.

The author’s fluid prose and tight plotting made this a relatively quick read, and this time around he’s really managed to get the story nailed down – it was easier to get sucked in, quicker, than previous Sigma Force novels. Add to this a few high-speed vehicular chases, and an increased disregard for the safety of antiquities (thank god this is a novel!), making The Doomsday Key a very fine addition to the series and the action-adventure genre as a whole.

A highly entertaining read, The Doomsday Key and the series as a whole come highly recommended.

Also try: Matthew Reilly, Dan Brown, Daniel Silva, James Twining

Review posted from Lima, Peru

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

“Lost Tribe of the Sith #2: Skyborn”, by John Jackson Miller

SW-LTotS-2-Skyborn (Miller)

The Lost Tribe venture forth to conquer

The story of the Lost Tribe continues: the survivors of the Sith ship Omen are consolidating their settlement and hold on their new home-world, as they venture forth to subjugate and conquer the Keshiri locals.

Superstitious and anti-technology, the Keshiri are strict and draconian about their faith in their Skyborn gods. When Adari Vaal, a geologist recently branded a heretic by her fellow Keshiri, finds sanctuary among the marooned Sith, Yaru Korsin sees an opportunity to infiltrate Keshiri society, using the myths of the Skyborn to his advantage. Utilising the awesome power of the Dark Side, Korsin sets in motion his plan to conquer the locals and lay the foundations of a new nation; one ruled, of course, by the merciless Sith.

Told from the perspective of Adari, Skyborn was an interesting novella, as it provided an account of a society being thrust into contact with the Sith and what it might be like to experience such a complex and intense group of creatures. Adari’s character is appealing and fun to read about, from her impish rebellion against Keshiri religion and social mores, to her curiosity about the Sith and the politics she learns to play while in contact with them. It would have been more interesting and perhaps more satisfying to have another novella from the perspective of Korsin and the rest of the Sith, but without knowing how this story is going to end, it’s difficult to know for sure how the events in Skyborn will be used – both in this series of eBooks and most importantly in the Fate of the Jedi series.

The Lost Tribe of the Sith eBooks are an excellent addition to the Star Wars canon, adding detail and understanding of the ancient Sith order and how they operated, before Darth Bane began the Rule of Two (discussed and explained in Drew Karpyhyn’s series). Adding more detail to the back-story that is slowly unfolding in the Fate of the Jedi series, both Precipice and Skyborn are entertaining, interesting novellas that add more colour and depth to the overall Star Wars universe and cannon.

Series: Precipice (review)

Review posted from Cusco, Peru

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

“The Last Oracle”, by James Rollins (Orion)


What if you could engineer an Oracle?

The novel opens with a couple of historical prologues, with only a mere hint as to why the Oracles of Delphi and gypsies are connected. In Washington, D.C., a homeless man dies in the arms of Commander Gray Pierce, the tactical leader of DARPA’s Sigma Force – a paramilitary group of scientifically trained special-ops soldiers. Before he dies, the man gives Pierce an ancient coin, a clue to a mystery rooted in ancient Greece but with links to a conspiracy and plot that could have a profound impact on the world. At the same time, a shadowy group of international scientists and experts are engineering children with exceptional talents, in the hope of producing their own prophet – one to bring peace to the world, but on specific terms that won’t please or suit all.

The scientists are still separated along old Cold War lines, as the US and Russia still attempt to be superior to the other. When Sasha, one of the children in the secret program with some amazing talents, is delivered to Commander Pierce, Sigma Force is brought in to investigate what is being done to them.

Rollins’s novels are always entertaining, and The Last Oracle certainly lives up to expectations. The plot incorporates ancient Greek history, to Nazi and Russian World War II history and conspiracies, all wrapped up in the author’s usual interest and use of modern and futuristic technology and science. Rollins injects his usual attention to detail, action and suspense, making this latest instalment in the series a great, fast-paced thriller. The characters remain interesting and well-drawn, and their emotions are kept very well in check – there is a refreshing lack of over-emoting in Rollins’s novels, a temptation many writers in this field seem incapable of resisting.

To review any Sigma novel at length would result in spoiling the twists and turns of the plot, so I shall stop here. Needless to say, The Last Oracle is another action-adventure triumph from one of the masters of the genre, filled with the author’s trademark wit, adrenalin-fuelled scenes, devious antagonists and a not infrequent disregard for the safety of antiquities. For long time fans, too, there is the return of a much-loved, recently absent character.

As the Sigma Force novels continue to improve with each new instalment, there is no fear that Rollins will go the route of Clive Cussler (whose Dirk Pitt novels are now so predictable they’re boring).

Great fun and well-written, The Last Oracle is highly recommended.

Series Chronology: Map of Bones, Black Order, The Judas Strain, The Last Oracle, Doomsday Key

For Fans Of: Matthew Reilly, Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, Dan Brown, Chris Kuzneski, Clive Cussler

Review posted from Lima, Peru

Saturday, July 18, 2009

“In Ashes Lie”, by Marie Brennan (Orbit)

Untitled-2 History and Faeries collide as London burns

In London, King and Parliament vie for power. In the faery realm, below, a similar conflict rages. Lune has gained a kingdom, but struggles to keep it. The powerful faerie Nicneven schemes from afar, and closer to home spies have infiltrated Lune’s Onyx Court.

Meanwhile, in a humble bakery on London’s Pudding Lane, a spark ignites the sleeping city, and forces all – aristocrats and commoners, Roundhead and Cavalier, human and fae – to join forces to save their home from burning annihilation.

The sequel to the haunting Midnight Never Come, this novel follows the early years of Lune’s rule as she tries to consolidate her power. Elizabeth I is dead, along with Invidiana, her dark counterpart in the faery court. But Invidiana’s influence still reverberates through the Onyx Court, and Lune’s position is precarious.

In the same way as Midnight Never Come, Brennan interweaves fact and fiction to create a faery world grounded in historical London. This history forms the framework of the series, shifting between two main periods of 1639-1642 and 1666.

Brennan’s grasp of the historical detail and time-shifting plot is admirable. However, I did sometimes find the constant time-shifts hard to keep track of. In each period, Lune is supported by a mortal, chosen as her ‘Prince of the Stone’, her link to mortal London – this device is quite useful, as the different prince in each period does make it easier to follow.

The mirroring of human London in the faery court is clever and the author has an original take on faery ‘lore’, creating a world that is unique and fresh. Brennan’s characters are complex and appealing – in particular Lune herself, who struggles with the challenge of ruling the Onyx Court and navigating the faery politics. Torn between the need to crush those who would seek to question or usurp her authority, and the fear of becoming like the tyrant Invidiana, Lune’s perspective is an interesting one through which to see this world. The Goodmeade sisters are particularly intriguing characters, as they run a faery inn (located beneath a rose bush in the garden of a human inn), and hold uncommon influence in the faery realm, as they offer sanctuary and advice to those in need.

Brennan’s prose is eloquent, and her plot is full of twists and turns. In Ashes Lie is driven more by historical events than the character-led plot of Midnight Never Come. Because Brennan is dealing with such a wealth of history and momentous events in one of London’s most turbulent periods, it was clearly an ambitious project to take on. She has succeeded for the most part, though the event-driven plot is less fulfilling than the character focus of the first volume of the series.

As a stand-alone, this novel doesn’t quite work – there is just too much going on for someone to just dive straight in. For those who have read Midnight Never Come (which was exceptional), however, this should not be a problem as you will already be acquainted with some of the characters. Needless to say, I would recommend In Ashes Lie to those who like their fiction and fantasy grounded in history, and populated by well-rounded and complex characters and a good amount of intrigue.

Reviewed by Emma

For Fans of: Holly Black, Philippa Gregory

Friday, July 17, 2009

“Furies of Calderon” & “Academ’s Fury”, by Jim Butcher (Orbit)


The first two exciting installments of Jim Butcher’s other series, The Codex Alera

For a thousand years, the peoples of Alera have been united by their unique bond with the furies: elementals of earth, air, fire, water and metal. At fifteen, Tavi has no furycrafting. As the Alerans’ most savage enemy, the Marat, return to the Calderon Valley, Tavi’s weakness seems more problematic than ever. Amara is a spy seeking intelligence on traitors to the Crown, but when the Valley erupts into chaos, she will find Tavi’s talents invaluable. Together, can they turn the tides of war?ACADEMSfury.indd

The sequel, Academ’s Fury, catches up with Tavi. He is trying to maintain the illusion of being an ordinary Academy student, while secretly training to be one of the First Lord’s spies. Yet he still has no power to manipulate the elements. Civil war is brewing, and Tavi must play a dangerous game as he is caught in the middle of the various factions.

I have to admit that my heart sank a little when I read the first few pages of Furies of Calderon. Words like “gargant” and “patriserus” sounded ominously like a stereotypical fantasy written by a spotty teenager in his bedroom – I was almost expecting words filled with apostrophes to appear at any moment. I loved the Dresden Files, Jim Butcher’s better-known and more popular series, and was prepared to be bitterly disappointed by his more ‘traditional’ fantasy series. Happily, I was proved very wrong.

While Furies of Calderon takes a few pages to set things up and get going, it quickly becomes gripping. The book races along, the author’s prose bringing the world vividly to life and introducing a wide cast of believable and complex characters. There is bearlike Bernard, Tavi’s uncle; powerful Isana, idealistic spy Amara; the complicated Fidelias; and Tavi himself, who has no idea of the important role he will play as the story unfolds. Without an heir, Gaius, the First Lord of Alera, struggles to hold the land together against those who would seek to usurp him or conquer his land. When the Marat tribe appears and Tavi finds himself in the middle of the conflict, he believes his lack of furycrafting (the ability to manipulate the elements) may be his undoing. Yet the qualities Tavi has despite, or perhaps because of, his lack of power mean that he is uniquely placed to change the course of events.

Dropping in and out of different characters’ viewpoints as well as seeing the action through Tavi’s eyes works well, and once the story has begun to unfold, Butcher doesn’t let his readers go. I found myself picking up the next in the series as soon as I’d finished the first.

Academ’s Fury follows Tavi and the mysterious slave Fade to the Academy, where Tavi is completing his education. Lauded for his actions in helping to save the land from a Marat horde, Tavi has earned the patronage of the First Lord himself. Yet his lack of powers marks him out, and when Tavi discovers treachery that threatens the First Lord’s rule, it seems that the forces massed against him are too great. This second book follows the characters from the first, developing them and introducing new ones. Butcher deftly charts Tavi’s progress as he matures, and explores the relationships between the other characters.

The themes of acceptance, family, duty, responsibility and loyalty are deepened, and the author shows the effect on the characters with a sensitive touch; in particular the relationships between Amara and Bernard, Isana and Tavi, and Tavi and Kitai. In addition, characters who in the first book had appeared to be straightforward turn out to be more ambiguous. In Butcher’s novels, no one is a classic villain. People are motivated by complex reasons that are never easily divided into ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but occupy that ever-difficult grey region in between. The plot is much darker and promises to become more so as Tavi grows up. Again, it was impossible to put this novel down.

Highly recommended for anyone who likes gripping fantasy, I can’t wait to get hold of the next one.

Reviewed by Emma

Series Chronology: Furies of Calderon, Academ’s Fury, Cursor’s Fury, Captain’s Fury, Princep’s Fury, First Lord’s Fury (Nov.2009)

For Fans Of: Scott Lynch, Terry Pratchett, Alan Campbell

“The Stolen”, by Jason Pinter (MIRA Books)


A kidnapped child returns home suddenly, and journalist Henry Parker is on the case

One day five years ago, Daniel Linwood disappeared. When he reappears, with no memory of those lost five years, he come under intense scrutiny from the media. Henry Parker, a reporter at the New York Gazette, is assigned to the story, by request of the boy’s family. Parker sets out to understand what has happened to the boy. Moving beyond the human-interest angle of the piece, he soon discovers that Danny is not unique, and that a string of children who were abducted have been returned to their families, all with the same amnesia of the years they were missing.

Along with intense, hostile scrutiny from the media establishment, Parker must tread carefully and navigate around the strange (and highly suspicious) opposition to him pursuing the wider story from the extremely-tough-on-crime New York Senator, Gray Talbot, who threatens to prosecute Henry and the Gazette if they take their investigation any further. This, coupled with a warning from his editor, naturally only heightens Parker’s desire to get to the bottom of the story, and find out what’s happening to these kids and where they’re being taken. With help from Amanda, a Legal Aid lawyer and his ex-girlfriend, he slowly pieces together the story.

Pinter’s writing and plotting continues to get better with each novel, and his protagonist grows ever-more mature and worldly as the series progresses. He is more comfortable in his job, a little jaded yet retaining the hunger and idealism of a newbie reporter. The novel details more of this life in New York, perhaps mirroring the author’s own experiences, with a bit of social commentary to add flavour and depth to the story.

The pace of the novel is slower to get started than The Mark and The Guilty, which really rattled along at a breakneck pace – though it does pick up considerably about half-way through. It seems that for this novel, Pinter felt more confident in his writing to allow the novel to unfold at its own pace, dwelling more on setting the scene and character development.

Pinter’s characters continue to be interesting to read about. While there are some standard thriller tropes the author makes use of (difficult childhoods, estranged parents, etc.), the characterisation still feels fresh and special. Henry, in particular, is a great ‘hero’, with his mix of idealism and naïveté, his tenacious desire to help the needy and so forth. It sounds clichéd and unoriginal, but Pinter has really created some very endearing characters, which makes this series so engaging and readable. One great character is Jack O’Donnell, the polar opposite of Henry: he is a hard-boiled, whisky-soaked, aging journo full of cynicism and combativeness, and works well in the story as a foil to Henry’s idealism, as he tries to make the younger reporter a bit tougher, steering him through the troubled waters of the craft.

Overall, this is an excellent thriller, with an interesting and realistic protagonist, and an engaging plot. The Stolen is good fun, gripping, and very well written.

An excellent addition to the series and genre as a whole, The Stolen is highly recommended (along with the rest of the series).

Henry Parker Series: The Mark (2007), The Guilty (2008), The Stolen (2009), The Fury (2009)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

“America America”, by Ethan Canin (Bloomsbury)


Life in the shadow of one of America’s most powerful families

America America is the story of Corey Sifter, the young son of working-class parents, and his life within the powerful Metarey family. Set in the 1970s (though narrated from 2006), the novel is Corey’s story – how he grew up in a working-class household only to be assimilated into the Metarey family. Liam Metarey, the family patriarch, becomes particularly fond of Corey, giving him endless well-paid jobs around the family estate (Aberdeen West), paying for his schooling at an exclusive boarding school, and mentoring him in the ways of life, mechanics and politics. Through this contact, Corey becomes an aide to the popular Senator Henry Bonwiller, a presidential contender who enjoys the favour of Liam Metarey and the contacts (and contributions) this brings. However, events soon spin out of Corey’s control, and a dreadful accident brings Bonwiller’s ambitions to a halt.

The Metarey family are reminiscent of the Vanderbilts, Rockerfellers and other extremely wealthy and powerful families of American history: they own everything, they run everything, and they have seemingly endless resources. The Metarey family, however, treat their employees and tenants very well. Canin’s prose bring to life the privileged lives of the Metareys as they affect the world around them, but also the tragic decline in their lifestyle and the family itself. Liam and his love of mechanics and his kindness towards Corey and others; the daughters Clara and Christian (the latter Corey’s unpredictable, indecipherable love-interest); the matriarch, June, with her love of dare-devil flying and considerable eccentricities. In fact, one thing that can be said about every female character in America America is that they are all slightly eccentric, sometimes coming across as rather unhinged, perhaps intended to show the tragic decay or decline of the traditional grandees of American society.

The story is, of course, about Corey, so the portrait of the Metareys is always from his point of view, as he tries to figure out how to deal with the family’s peculiarities and extreme wealth. He is ultimately full of praise for the family, even if he finds their actions occasionally worrying or uncomfortable.

The book moves along at a steady, yet relaxed pace, always interesting and never dull. Canin has a wonderful writing style that pulls you along as he unwinds the story, sometimes switching back to 2006, as Corey lives his current life (as editor of the Speaker-Sentinel paper), and occasionally a little further in time beyond the main events – for example, from Corey’s time at college back to his boarding school days, and then returning to the present, before picking up the main thread again. There is a reason to this, and while it happens with increasing frequency as the book progresses, it is never jarring and it remains easy to follow the story.

An intimate portrait of a broad spectrum of 1970s America, this is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Expertly written and calmly paced, Ethan Canin has written a captivating account of a young man’s life under the influence of patronage and among the wealthy strata of American society, which he navigates while trying to carve out a place for himself in the world, all the while aware that he does not truly belong.

It is impossible not to be swept up by the story, to become completely immersed in the tale as it unfolds on the pages before you.

Essential reading, America America is one of the finest, most satisfying works of fiction I’ve read.

Also try: Curtis Sittenfeld, American Wife (2008); Joseph O’Neill, Netherland (2008); Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons (2006); Jesse Kellerman, The Brutal Art (2008) These books are more recommended for their quality than for being similar in style or genre.

Monday, July 13, 2009

“First Family”, by David Baldacci (PanMacMillan)


With the President’s niece kidnapped, King and Maxwell are called in to investigate

David Baldacci exploded onto the thriller scene with Absolute Power (1997), which was later made into a movie starring Clint Eastwood. Not since Absolute Power, however, has Baldacci taken us back into the lives of those who live in the White House.

In First Family, the President Dan Cox’s niece is kidnapped after her twelfth birthday party and her mother murdered. First Lady Jane Cox, who has some history with Sean King from his Secret Service days, employs him to find her niece, Willa. Sean King and his partner Michelle Maxwell (the stars of three previous novels by Baldacci) embark on a convoluted case, disrupted by family tragedies, Washington politics, and a truly ingenious plot that has been years in the making.

Baldacci’s novels continue to enthrall readers the world over (his novels are available in 40 languages in more than 80 countries), and First Family will not disappoint his fans. The plot moves along a little slower than normal (though this didn’t stop me devouring it in two days), with the events concerning Michelle’s family something of a distraction. Maxwell has always been a pretty broken character, struggling with her personal demons, and in First Family we get to see what it is that she’s buried in her subconscious from so many years ago. All of Baldacci’s characters – whether minor bit-players or our heroes – are well-rounded and believable, and in First Family, he’s done an exceptional job of rounding out Maxwell and King, their relationship and those they interact with throughout the novel.

The main case, that of Willa’s kidnapping, is an excellent story, and one that unwinds slowly as the novel progresses and Sean and Michelle tease out facts and clues to help save Willa. The case takes them through the politics of government contracts to the deep South and a historic plantation house filled with secrets. Sam Quarry, the novel’s antagonist, is an exceptionally well-rounded character, and one I ended up caring about far more than I did for the First Couple (or perhaps any other character in a long while).

Expertly written and an engaging and exciting plot: What more could we ask for? Baldacci remains one of the best writers in the business.

An essential read.

Series Chronology: Split Second (2004), Hour Game (2005), Simple Genius (2007), First Family (2009)

For Fans of: Lee Child, Kyle Mills, Andrew Britton, Brad Thor, Vince Flynn

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

“Omen”, by Christie Golden (Century)


Luke Skywalker continues his search into the reason for Jacen’s fall, the Jedi Order remains in crisis, and a hidden enemy re-emerges

In Outcast, Luke Skywalker was exiled from his home, Coruscant; two Jedi knights were afflicted by an unknown illness; and the Jedi Order was sent reeling as they were assailed by the very people they have sworn to protect. Omen, the second volume in the Fate of the Jedi series, picks up right where the first finished, but ups the ante. The pall of suspicion hanging over the Jedi – a souvenir from the authoritarian reign of Darth Caedus, remains in place. The Chief of State, Daala, continues to search for ways to undermine and blunt the Jedi.

Jysella Horn, sister of one of the afflicted Jedi (Valin Horn), has succumbed as well. With three victims, the Jedi Masters are starting to notice a pattern – each victim has displayed mastery of a Force technique they had no business knowing in the first place. This leads Luke and the other Jedi to more urgency in their quest to recreate Jacen Solo’s Force pilgrimage, and to discover and understand why he turned to the Dark Side.

In Omen, We learn a little more about Jacen’s voyage, as Luke and his son, Ben, visit another planet of secretive and xenophobic Force-users; Cilghal and her team of researchers back at the Jedi Temple delve deeper into the mysterious Jedi-sickness, while acting Grand Master Kenth Hamner struggles to keep the politics and politicians at bay; the backstabbing politics and media of the Galactic Alliance encroach on the Jedi again as they are forced to dodge reporters and explain why their members are turning into destructive, delusional lunatics; Han and Leia foil another dangerous, rogue-Jedi scheme; and the mysterious Tribe, a group of Sith marooned millennia ago on the planet Kesh (described in the events of Precipice) emerge into the light of day, ready to reclaim the galactic dominance they believe to be their birthright.

Omen, like every other major Star Wars fiction release has lived up to expectations. Christie Golden, a newcomer to the authorial fold, has penned an enjoyable story, picking up where Aaron Allston left off and making it her own. The story proceeds with quite a clip and I found myself burning through it faster than the norm, in part because of Golden’s writing style and also the excellent composition of the story. The author has delved a little deeper into the culture and traditions of the Keshiri Sith. Strangely (at least to begin with), the story thread for the Sith runs two years behind that of the main plot. Luke and Ben’s journey introduces us to more and deeper understanding of new aspects of the Force and how it works in the Galaxy. The new characters are interesting and well-crafted, the dialogue believable and well executed.

Overall, a very enjoyable read. If only they were releasing these books quicker…

Highly recommended to all fans of Star Wars and science fiction.

Series Chronology: Outcast, Omen, Abyss (August 2009), Backlash (January 2010), Allies (March 2010) – Volumes 6-9 as-yet untitled

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

“Lost Tribe of the Sith #1: Precipice”, by John Jackson Miller

SW-Miller-LostTribeOfTheSithPrecipice Precipice, a short eBook novella, lays some of the background for the second book in the Fate of the Jedi series, Omen (reviewed below). It opens with the Sith Empire ship, Omen, on a collision course with an unknown planet, having ejected abruptly from hyperspace. The Commander of the ship, Yaru Korsin, and his crew are left stranded, with few supplies. Tension mounts and the crew quickly devolve into a tribal state (imagine Lord of the Flies, but with lightsabers…), and Korsin must exert his authority in brutal fashion, following a failed coup. It’s not immediately apparent how these events will be tied into the upcoming novel, but for such a short story (50 pages or so), it was certainly gripping and expertly executed.

It’s clear that this is the first in perhaps a series of eBook novellas, which bodes well for the reader: in this short space, Miller has introduced us to an engaging cast with a lot of potential – Seelah, Korsin’s brother Devore’s “woman” (as Sith, there’s no love between them), Ravilan (a Red Sith), and especially Korsin (who is aided by his Force-blind ally, Gloyd)

You can download the story (legally and free), here, and it is also available for the Kindle and Sony eReader.

John Jackson Miller has also published an interesting, short essay discussing the short story and how he approached the task of writing it, here.

Monday, July 06, 2009

NEWS: Summer Reviews, Autumn/Winter Projects, & Twitter

From September to December, I am going to attempt some rather large review projects, where I review an entire series (or part of a series). So, I thought it would be a good idea to just let you know which ones these will be:

Brian Ruckley’s Godless World series:

  • Winterbirth, Bloodheir, and Fall of Thanes
    Ruckley-1-Winterbirth Ruckley-2-Bloodheir Ruckley-3-FallOfThanes

Brad Thor’s Scott Harvath series:

  • Lions of Lucerne, Path of the Assassin, State of the Union, Blowback, Takedown, The First Commandment, The Last Patriot, The Apostle

The Vampire Masquerade: Clan Novel Saga series:

  • The Fall of Atlanta, The Eye of Gehenna, Bloody September, End Games


Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child’s Pendergast-Diogenes Trilogy:

  • Brimstone, Book of the Dead, Dance of Death
    Preston,Child-1-Brimstone Preston,Child-2-BookOfTheDead Preston,Child-3-DanceOfDeath

Other authors that will receive more than one review of recent releases include Tim Green, Jim Butcher, and (in the very near future) James Rollins.

Normal reviews of new-release books (both fiction and non-fiction) will continue as well (some from Emma, some from me), but posting might be a little less frequent.

Also, there is now a Civilian-Reader Twitter account! We shall use it to post short updates, news, and also announce new books received from publishers as they come in. (The feed’s the final gadget on the left-hand sidebar, but it’s easier to follow with a normal Twitter account.)

Saturday, July 04, 2009

“This Is How It Starts”, by Grant Ginder (Simon & Schuster)


An insider’s look at Washington, D.C., through the eyes of an atypical protagonist

Taylor Mark is a recent graduate, newly employed by California Congressman John Grayson, a less-than-brilliant member of the House. Guided by the experienced hand of his best friend from college, Chase Latham, and his well-connected lobbyist family, Taylor gets to know the inner-workings of the city, and how deals and decisions are made behind the scenes, and as the stakes climb higher, the boundaries between right and wrong, legal and illegal become blurred as actors play to win.

“Secrets are currency.” This Is How It Starts is a personal tale of one young idealist’s journey through modern-day Washington, D.C. A satirical look at the tedium of working in American politics, stripped of the glamour, patriotism, and style we’ve come to expect through multiple viewings of The West Wing. Taylor navigates his way among the egos, the affectations, the snobbery, and politics. His new world is populated by those whom David Brooks, a columnist at New York Times, dubbed “BoBos” – the Bohemian Bourgeoisie. Totally wrapped up in their own lives and microcosmic world, they are prone to small-minded prejudices(couched in high-mindedness), not to mention institutionalised racism and bigotry. It’s a fascinating appraisal of a strata of society considered so exclusive, but in actuality one that has considerably unpleasant attributes.

Taylor Mark is an unusual protagonist for a political novel. He is neither driven by some inner thirst for political power, nor through any burning sense of civic duty and idealism (such as Richard North Patterson’s Kerry Kilcannon character), and he is certainly not former-military (see Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp novels). Taylor Mark is a Chandler-esque character (the one from Friends): he is self-deprecating, self-conscious, not entirely successful with women, and somewhat overshadowed by his best friend, Chase. Chase, on the other hand, is your typical, brash trust-fund baby. Taylor’s family and past has contributed significantly to his character, and Ginder expertly weaves scenes from the past into the narrative to help us understand our ‘hero’.

Ginder is a strong writer – his prose flows nicely, and he has a gift for writing snappy dialogue and interesting, three-dimensional characters. As a debut, this is an assured, frequently funny novel about a post-collegiate idealist’s attempts to make it in the capital. Taylor Mark is an endearing protagonist, and is an entertaining guide through Washington’s young-elite society. The humour is well done, never forced or laid on too thick, but not laugh-out-loud funny (a blessing, as attempts at political ‘lol’ moments rarely, if ever, succeed in being funny). The pace and plot could have done with some streamlining, as I found it slower to get going than I would have expected. Taylor is, however, an interesting and insightful guide to this less-than-praiseworthy side of Washington, and the story will still keep your attention and hold your interest throughout.

Overall, a good novel that I enjoyed reading, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in this genre. If you like Christopher Buckley’s novels (e.g. Thank You For Smoking, Boomsday), then you should like this as well (although Ginder’s tale is nowhere near as zany as Buckley’s plots can be).

Thursday, July 02, 2009

NEWS: Some Upcoming Releases & Reviews

Troy Denning, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Abyss

Aaron Allston, Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi - Backlash



The series is shaping up really well, so far. Review of book two, Omen, will be up on the site soon. (Abyss is released in August/September 2009; Backlash is release in February 2010)

Mike Lawson, House Secrets

Lawson-HouseSecretsUSThis is the US edition. It’s also possible that the UK edition will be called Dead Man’s List. Not sure what it’s about yet, but for anyone who loves authors like David Baldacci and Kyle Mills should definitely read Mike Lawson’s Joe DeMarco novels (Inside Ring, Second Perimeter, Dead on Arrival).

Jim Butcher, Cursor’s Fury & Captain’s Fury

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The third and fourth book in Jim Butcher’s other series. As good as the Dresden Files, but very different, the Codex Alera novels should appeal to all fantasy fans. Books 1 & 2 will be reviewed on the site very soon. (Book 3 is released July 2nd 2009, and book 4 on August 6th 2009)

James Twining, The Geneva Deception

Twining-GenevaDeceptionJames Twining finally returns to the scene after what feels like way too long. Tom Kirk, international art thief (reformed) is back in action, mixing with the mafia and secret societies. Throw in some genuine art treasures, and you know the reader’s in for an exciting read. (Released: October 15th 2009)