Thursday, January 28, 2010

“Five Greatest Warriors”, by Matthew Reilly (Orion)

Reilly-FiveGreatestWarriors3Covers [UK, AUS, US]

It began with Six Sacred Stones and the Seven Ancient Wonders. Jack West Jr. and his loyal team of international specialists are in desperate disarray: they've been separated, their mission is in tatters, and Jack was last seen plummeting down a fathomless abyss. After surviving his deadly fall, Jack must now race against his many enemies to locate and set in place the remaining pieces of The Machine before the coming Armageddon.

As the world teeters on the brink of destruction, West will learn of the Five Warriors, the individuals who throughout history have been most intimately connected to his quest.

Scores will be settled, fathers will fight sons, brothers will battle brothers, and Jack and his friends will soon find out exactly what the end of the world looks like...

I have long been a fan of Matthew Reilly’s novels. They are exciting, filled with over-the-top action and are simply great fun to read. Five Greatest Warriors is the next in Reilly’s Jack West Jnr series, and it certainly lived up to all my expectations. As always, however, it is difficult to write a review without spoiling the ending…

First off, Reilly provides a handy re-cap for those who may have forgotten the story so far. Immediately afterwards, we rejoin West as he plummets down an immense shaft below the second “vertex” that forms part of The Machine that will save the world. After his incredible solution to this predicament, he is reunited with his team of international specialist – Zoe, Sky Monster, Pooh Bear, Stretch, Wizard, the Lachlan twins (they all have call-signs, but they aren’t always referred to as such), and Lily (Jack’s adopted daughter, who featured very prominently in Seven Ancient Wonders). From then on, the story never stops or lets up, as we are taken all over the world in West & Co.’s quest to locate the remaining sacred stones and vertices.

This international treasure hunt take place while the team also has to contend with rival factions intent on beating them to the prize for their own nefarious ends: Jack’s father, Wolf, and his military-industrial-complex-like private army; the Japanese doomsday cult, the Blood Brothers; and the Chinese army. West and his friends must deal with betrayals, heart-wrenching loss, constant frustration, and the endless ticking of a doomsday clock that could spell the end of humanity.

In the interview included after the novel, the author says:

“I just keep trying to top myself with each book and come up with the fastest most out-of-control action-adventure stories imaginable.”

Five Greatest Warriors definitely fits into Reilly’s plan. It certainly manages to up the action quotient, increasing the thrills and adventure (and suspending reality and belief just a little more) to even greater levels than before. It’s cliché to say so, but this is a whirlwind of a novel. Perhaps only dropping in pace once or twice when some needed back-story is needed, as Reilly juggles ever more simultaneous storylines.

Reilly’s plotting is extremely fast-paced, and this is one of the fastest novels I’ve ever read. The story rattles along at an incredible speed, each chapter and segment providing just enough to draw the reader on and on through the novel. I read this in a couple of sittings, each one keeping me up past 5am! It’s not just a matter of good pacing, however, as Reilly’s writing is also very assured and well-crafted. Perhaps my only criticisms would be his use of italics for certain adjectives and superlatives, which seem unnecessary, and the occasional submission to the call of schmaltz. (Admittedly, these are minor criticisms, and don’t detract from the enjoyment of the novel.)

Reilly will likely never win any literary awards, but his novels are such escapist fun, that it’s a crime to know authors like Dan Brown are out there getting all the glory. If you want a novel filled with action, adventure, a pinch of conspiracy and an entertaining take on ancient history, then anything by Reilly is a good bet – it’s as if Indiana Jones were directed by either Jerry Bruckheimer or Michael Bay, with a budget far larger than normal.

A book you can live vicariously through, Reilly’s Jack West Jr. series is highly recommended.

The Fantasy Novel Awards Debate

Mark Charan Newton (author of the excellent Nights of Villjamur and upcoming City of Ruin), has written a good post on his site about the David Gemmel Legend Award, posing questions about why there aren’t any comparative reviews of award shortlists or explanations as to why one novel should win over another.

The comments this post has spawned are plentiful and – in another example of (a select few) fantasy fans being impeccably eloquent and erudite – manage to enhance the debate, rather than debase it, as is so often the case with anything debate-like located online (the internet is, we have to agree, largely populated by lunatics). For no other reason than I happen to be having difficulty sleeping, I thought I’d scribble some notes down, based on what others have written. Hopefully, I won’t ruin the debate. (Because I’m perhaps too scared to put my thoughts on wider-read blogs, it’s being posted here… It’s also my first long-ish post that isn’t a review, so please forgive the stream-of-consciousness lack of polish.)

Peter V Brett

(Author of The Painted Man and The Desert Spear – reviews coming soon, hopefully)

It’s easy to divide books into good or bad, but there’s a point where it becomes totally subjective to compare stories that are utterly different and call one better than the other.

As for whether or not the genre is “taken seriously”, well, what does that mean? That is garners the same gravitas of snooty literary fiction? Who cares?

There are millions and millions of SF nerds worldwide, and our numbers continue to grow. We don’t need anyone’s approval to love what we love.

This is, indeed, my opinion. The fantasy genre is so diverse that many comparisons between different novels, series, or authors is ultimately pointless. Some prefer sweeping fantasy epics (Robert Jordan, Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, etc.), while others prefer less epic series (I, for one, prefer authors like Scott Lynch, Brent Weeks, Mark C Newton, Joe Abercrombie, and Terry Pratchett – yes, he’s fantasy, so counts). The only way you can compare these authors is on style and composition, which again is totally subjective – some prefer dense tracts of exposition and world-building, while others prefer clear and speedy pacing. The genre is not “taken seriously” by many in the ‘mainstream’, it’s true. Even outside the press, many will turn their noses up at a fantasy novel, until they’re told it’s “ok” to read it (Harry Potter, Twilight, etc.). But, what ultimately makes it “ok” are the hordes of existing fantasy fans who manage to convince others that these novels are worth checking out, and so the boulder gathers momentum and more moss. Alternatively, you need a very persistent publisher, which a good budget…

Mark C Newton

In this age, it’s those books that receive a decent marketing budget which perform – on average – better than others. It costs publishers money to put that in front of people, costs them to sell advertising, even to position it in bookstores – an incredible amount of money, in fact. I’m one of the lucky ones.

A juried award can, to some extent, put lesser known writers in front of a wider audience, perhaps against the grain. Is that bad?

In my experience, fantasy publishers are most generous to (online) reviewers – is this because of the mainstream media’s bias against fantasy, as mentioned above? Who knows (though I’m eternally grateful). While I have no illusions as to how widely my site is read, I know that my reviews have influenced many who have read them (that, or friends and family who I simply force books onto at any given opportunity). I’ve found Amazon an invaluable site for discovering new authors (and bands, incidentally), through the recommendations and such. True, these recommendations are driven by sales to people who have done the legwork and discovered new authors, and then reviewed or rated them alongside others. Mark is right, though – it must be very difficult to raise awareness of new authors with a small budget or just in general. Indeed, I would never have heard of his debut (or, at least, it would have taken a good deal longer) if I hadn’t been sent it to review. Same goes for many authors I feature on the here.

A juried award would be excellent. If I was allowed on the panel…


(Prolific blogger and tweeter on everything and anything books-related; an excellent source of info, reviews, and so forth)

Lots of blogs attempt the Booker long and short list. I guess it’s something that bloggers in general don’t seem to do.

Maybe we should be encouraging more bloggers to attack the Award short lists and come up with their own judgments after reading the books mentioned?

This is an excellent idea, and one I would whole-heartedly support, except for a couple of issues: time and access. The Gemmell award list is huge, and you’d have to have super-human reading skills to get through them all, and longer if you wanted to be able to give them proper attention and consideration for proper comparison. What I mean by ‘access’ is the difficulty in getting hold of all the novels with enough time to read and review them all. Personally, I’d find it impossible to acquire them all (from publishers or stores). It would, however, be a great experiment, and one that Nic Clarke has tried over at Strange Horizons.


(Unknown person who appears to have been involved in awards-things in the past…)

Mark, I am with you in your desire to raise the status of the genre as worthy of serious literary discussion (it is being done now) but the gatekeepers of the broadsheets around the world and the drawing rooms and the Newsnight natters and the cultural radio reviews will continue to manage that rare feat of holding onto those keys and holding forth while having their pokers of pomposity stuck firmly up their arses.

I just liked this paragraph. Mainly because it’s true.

In my humble opinion, fantasy will always retain the reputation of being an underdog genre, despite continued and solid sales ()

Anyway, if you want to throw your hat into the ring, head on over to Mark’s page and dive right in (a mixed metaphor, to be sure, but what’re you going to do about it?).

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

To Speak Ill of Other Reviewers…

… is not done, I know, but this just irritated me no end, and I just couldn’t let it go (and particularly the bit highlighted in bold):

It’s stunningly well-written, apart from the badly-written bits. It’s a really good thing, way too much of a good thing, served with good thing salad on a bed of bruised good thing, with stewed good thing and custard for afters. If fat is beautiful, it’s a supermodel. Two supermodels.

Harkaway-GoneAwayWorldUKHB It’s a snippet from an SFX review of Nick Harkaway’s The Gone Away World, and just reading this short grab made me want to slap the reviewer silly. Then the reviewer (“Tom Holt” – oh how I hope it’s not the author of same name who’s reviewing this…) goes on to refer to the protagonist as “this bloke”. I stopped reading thereafter. I know I’m not the best reviewer in the world (far from it), but please: this is just plain unhelpful. This review from The Guardian is far more helpful, and does actually manage to be amusing.

The Gone-Away World is, incidentally, a “2009 Book That Got Away”… I will, hopefully, and at some point, have a chance to read and review it. There are quite a few of these. The pile of books is starting to encroach on my living-/breathing-space…

Sunday, January 24, 2010

“The Left Hand of God”, by Paul Hoffman (Michael Joseph/Penguin)


A superb dark new fantasy series begins

The Sanctuary of the Redeemers on Shotover Scarp is named after a lie; there is no redemption going on there and less sanctuary. The Sanctuary is a vast and desolate religious complex – a place without joy or hope, characterised by hardship and graft. Most of the Sanctuary’s occupants were taken there as boys, and for years have endured the brutal regime of the Lord Redeemers whose cruelty and violence have one singular purpose: to serve in the name of the One True Faith.

Our protagonist, is a (perhaps) fourteen-year-old boy. He has long-forgotten his real name (and age), but now they call him Thomas Cale. He is strange and secretive, witty and charming, violent and profoundly bloody-minded. Cale is so used to the cruelty of the Sanctuary that he seems immune to it. But, one night, he opens the wrong door at the wrong time, and witnesses an act so terrible that he is unable to act in a drastic and fatal way. As a result, he must leave the Sanctuary, or die. His only hope of survival is to escape across the arid Scablands to Memphis, a city the opposite of the Sanctuary in every way: breathtakingly beautiful, infinitely Godless, and deeply corrupt. With the two people he considers friends (or as close to friends as is possible in the harsh world of the Sanctuary), and one other surprising dependent, Cale sets out into a world he knows little about, and has no experience worth speaking of.

But, unfortunately for Cale, the Redeemers want him back at any price. Not because of the secret he now knows, or what he saw, but because of a much more terrifying secret he knows nothing about.

Penguin have gone all-out for the release of Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God, and any reader will quickly discover why. Hoffman’s writing is exceptional – the pace and fluidity of his prose are expertly crafted, and the story and world in which it is set are intriguing. The world is not too dissimilar to our own, with plenty of shared elements. The One True Faith is a brutal mix of Crusader Christianity and perhaps extreme Wahabism, dismissive of women and brutal in its repercussions.

Hoffman’s style is slightly different to others in the genre (he’s also written a number of non-fantasy novels), and this manages to feel like anything but the oft-arduous debut fantasy tomes that are all-too-frequently published these days: Just because you’re a new author, doesn’t mean you have try to write Lord of the Rings again… Hoffman clearly shows with The Left Hand of God that clarity of writing and plotting is far more effective and powerful as a complex new world described in infinite detail. (Though, in truth, the ‘new breed’ of fantasy authors do know what they’re doing – see recommendations at the end of this post.)

Cale is an unusual protagonist – so young, and yet so hardened by his years at the Sanctuary, and the special attention he’s received from the Lord Militant Redeemer, who has been grooming him for something special. Hoffman has created some very interesting and three-dimensional characters, expertly placing them in his world and writing them in a wholly believable way – the portrayal of the boys’ brutal life in the Sanctuary is contrasted nicely with their experiences in Memphis, a city where there is “nothing you can’t get… nothing that can’t be bought or sold, no crime that hasn’t been committed, no food they haven’t eaten, no practice… unpractised.” Their unfamiliarity and new experiences with the outside world and with women are frequently witty and humorous. If you are not swept up by the characters and drawn in by Hoffman’s expert writing, then there’s something very wrong with you.

Some might be put off by the hype, but The Left Hand of God is undoubtedly one of the best debut fantasy novels of the year, and certainly one that is most accessible. Hoffman’s style should make this novel appeal to non-genre fans, too. As the story progresses, Cale and his companions meet ever-more interesting characters (IdrisPukke is especially interesting), as Hoffman unreels his story just enough each chapter to keep you reading. The ending of the novel leaves things open for the future, and I can say without doubt that I am eagerly awaiting the next instalment of the series.

An exceptionally well-written novel, and one that will keep you reading well into the night, this is a highly recommended novel.

For Fans of: Scott Lynch, Patrick Rothfuss, Richard Morgan, Mark Charan Newton, Joe Abercrombie, China Mieville, Brent Weeks, Kevin J Anderson, Daniel Abraham

The Left Hand of God will be released in the US in June 2010:

Hoffman-LeftHandOfGodUS [ Buy the Book : UK, US, Canada ]

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Story For Haiti”

Just wanted to take this opportunity to refer you to a short story written by N.K. Jemisin (author of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, coming in February through Orbit). She posted it today, and it’s very good. You can find it here.

A review of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is coming, keep checking the site and/or our twitter feed for updates.

“And Another Thing…”, by Eoin Colfer (Michael Joseph)


Book Six in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, uh, trilogy…

Douglas Adams’ writing was unique, as all good Hitchhiker’s fans know, and his rambling, random, stream-of-consciousness style is not one that can really be improved upon.  Which is why I was very glad that Eoin Colfer did not try to. 

And Another Thing... continues the story of the beleaguered Arthur Dent, the last surviving human male in the universe, and his travelling companions Ford Prefect (an alien), his semi-cousin Zaphod Beeblebrox (former Galactic President and current fugitive from Galactic justice), Tricia Macmillan (surviving human female), and Random Dent (the other surviving human female and Arthur and Tricia's resentful teenage daughter).

The plot is reassuringly loony, with the lunatic plot twists and last-minute rescues we expect to see in a Hitchhiker novel. Colfer does an excellent job staying true to the spirit of Douglas Adams, while at the same time preserving his own voice.  The tone isn’t the same as Adams, though this is not a bad thing; the novel is more of an homage than a pastiche, and deserves its place in the trilogy (of 6).

Over-flowing with references to the previous books, And Another Thing… is not a standalone novel. If I must offer a criticism, it is that it refers to the previous (5) instalments of the trilogy a little too often for my taste, though this is perhaps forgivable under the circumstances.

Overall, this is a thoroughly enjoyable read, and any fan of the series should welcome this addition to the Hitchhiker’s universe.

The novel is froody, and you should share and enjoy it. (Read the novels, you’ll get it…)


Reviewed by Shevaun Fergus

Series Chronology: The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; The Restaurant at the End of the Universe; Life, The Universe, & Everything; So Long and Thanks for All the Fish; Mostly Harmless; And Another Thing…

“E-Force: State of Emergency”, by Sam Fisher (PanMacmillan)


High-octane action, with a distinctly Hollywood flair

In a world where governments and militaries spend trillions of dollars to precision-guide bombs on the other sides of the oceans, to rapidly deploy thousands of troops anywhere in the world, and cause almost limitless suffering in their quest for bigger and better weapons, why is there no special force whose mission is purely to rescue those in distress? A former marine, Mark Harrison, has been pondering this question for a long time. Now he has called in some favours and managed to get the right people to shift into gear. The result of his lobbying is E-Force, or “Emergency Force”: Six gifted, super-fit, highly trained individuals, backed up by a considerable support-staff. Their mission? Specialist rescue in times of global emergency. Think the FBI HRT team, only multinational, considerably better funded, and much more hi-tech.

Along with Harrison, the main characters are shuttle pilot Michaela Buchanan, cyber-genius Tom Erickson, demolitions-expert Pete Sherringham, encryption specialist Josh Thompson, and team-medic Dr. Stephanie Jacobs. E-Force employs some of the most highly advanced equipment on the planet, from Mach-10 jets to incredible cyber-suits that enhance their abilities to super-human levels, enjoying the fruits of researchers such as DARPA and other governmental experimental technology institutes.

After training and orientation (covered well in the novel), the newly formed, E-Force’s first mission is to save the life of US Senator Kyle Foreman, an ecologically-minded politician taking the world by storm. During a speech in LA, two bombs ripped through the huge conference centre venue. Many of Foreman’s audience have been killed, but miraculously Foreman has survived.

As fires rage and floors collapse throughout the centre, the Senator trapped inside, E-Force is sent in to rescue him. Just as the team makes its perilous way into the devastated building, so too does ‘the Dragon’: a psychotic assassin, hell-bent on taking out Foreman, and unwilling to let anything get in the way of fulfilling his contract.

This all sounds rather exciting, but I must say, this book didn’t start off well. The first action to take place, immediately in the novel, is set in Greece: “Nothing like this had been seen since two airliners had ploughed into the Twin Towers in New York City,” we are told. The problem is, the event in question is a coach dangling off a cliff. While unfortunate, this is hardly anywhere near the scale or tragedy of 9/11, and it soured my opinion of the book right away. Thankfully, the plot and story improves considerably and quickly, so this initial scepticism evaporated as I kept reading.

Fisher’s writing style is at times hyperbolic, given to over-writing emotions and sequences. This will annoy some readers, but if you are able to detach yourself from this, and get through the first four chapters, then the novel is actually pretty good fun. (And not to worry, Fisher is from the James Patterson-school of very short chapters.)

Overall, the novel works as it should: there’s action, a little suspense, and decent chemistry and camaraderie between the new team members. Most of the team are, of course, adonis-like and highly successful – perfect specimens in their fields, attractive and intelligent. Perhaps a little too perfect. This is not the case for Tom Erickson. Erickson is probably the most interesting character, so different is he from his teammates. First off, he’s crippled from the waist-down, and secondly he has considerable issues with authority (Harrison recruits him from prison, where he’s serving time for defrauding a D.C. bank of millions, just because he wanted to “fuck people around”). His sarcastic remarks add levity, but it’s clear that he is accepted as an integral part of the team.

Much like Matthew Reilly and James Rollins, Fisher utilises an enthusiasm for action with a keen eye for detail and futuristic tech. His non-action sequences and scenes are well written and feel natural, and the dialogue is not forced and doesn’t read like something taken from the Star Wars prequels (which contain some of the worst dialogue known to mankind). The plot progresses at a good pace, and unfolds in a logical, methodical progression that keeps you reading.

It’s not the best novel I’ve read (action or otherwise), but for a first outing, this is a pretty decent start. If I’m brutally honest, I’d recommend anything by James Rollins, Matthew Reilly and Tom Grace before I recommended this series.

That being said, if you’re looking for something to entertain, but not tax your mind, then E-Force could be the book for you. It shows promise for future instalments of the series, and I think this could form a decent, popular franchise.

Recommended, but with reservations.

For fans of: G.I.Joe, Matthew Reilly, James Rollins, Tom Grace, Lincoln Child & Douglas Preston

Fisher is currently writing the second E-Force adventure, Aftershock

[ Buy the Book: US, UK, Canada ]

Monday, January 18, 2010

Taster: “Legends of the Space Marines” (Black Library)


A short-story collection focused on the iconic warriors from the Warhammer 40k universe

This anthologies isn’t out until May 2010, but as one of the short stories is now available as a taster, I thought I’d include it in a mini-review/-preview post. Here’s the only blurb I’ve been able to find for the book:

Space Marines and their evil counterparts, the Traitor Marines, epitomise the war-torn. Warhammer 40,000 universe. This short story collection focuses entirely on these superhuman warrior, telling high-action tales of heroism and savagery. Combining the talents of Black Library’s favourite authors such as Mike Lee and Nick Kyme with hot new talent, this collection is not to be missed

So, here’s the review of the preview story…

“Twelve Wolves”, by Ben Counter

Twelve Wolves is a tale of the Space Wolves – a wild and ferocious legion of the Space Marines. More akin to the Norsemen than the US Marines, the story takes the form of an older member of the legion (not actually a Space Marine, but some other legion member) telling a crowd of younger marines a parable, in the form of the tale of a historical battle – specifically, during the Age of Apostasy, when the Imperial clergy tried to take power for themselves. The Space Wolves’ homeworld of Fenris is under siege, and this is the story of two marines – the elder Daegalan, and the newly-recruited Hrothgar – and their part in the defence of the world and, specifically, the Space Wolf stronghold, the Fang.

I must say I liked the style and format of the story, and Counter’s writing is assured and fluid, and does give the tale the feel of a proper Norse saga (albeit a rather short one). For those familiar with the mythology of the universe, this will be a great, quick read. Counter manages to simultaneously portray the impetuous ferocity of the legion as well as the analytical, strategic elder marine’s more measured approach to combat.

If the rest of the stories in the anthology are as good or better, Legends of the Space Marines should be a pretty decent read. (If it has a story by Dan Abnett, all the better, but I’m not sure that it does.)

You can download Twelve Wolves, for free and in a variety of formats, from Black Library’s website.

[As an aside, I downloaded the ePub version: Never one to pass up the opportunity to discuss them, it would be great if Black Library started releasing their books as eBooks.]

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sneak Peek: “Map of All Things” (Orbit)

Just saw this over at Orbit’s website, and had to share it: the cover artwork for book two in Kevin J. Anderson’s Terra Incognita series, The Map of All Things…

Anderson2MapOfAllThingsAnderson1EdgeOfTheWorld3 For long-time readers of the site, you might remember my review for the first in the series, The Edge of the World, which can be found here – it was the book that most took me by surprise, because I’d not heard much about it, but absolutely loved it.

The Map of All Things will be released through Orbit in June 2010, and can be pre-ordered here (UK) and here (US).

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hoffman Teaser Spot

Here is a minute-long promo spot for Penguin’s “biggest fiction launch of the decade”, Paul Hoffman’s The Left Hand of God (review coming soon):

[Needless to say, I’m excited!]

“The Fury”, by Jason Pinter (MIRA)


Henry Parker’s Fourth Outing Calls Closer to Home

Accosted by an unknown dishevelled junkie outside his office, Henry Parker is surprised when he is called to the city morgue to identify the murdered remains of same junkie – who happens to be his brother. Only problem is, Henry doesn’t have a brother, and never has as far as he’s known. The brother he never knew has been shot execution-style in a hole of an apartment in New York’s Alphabet City, his body wasted from hunger and drugs. Stephen Gaines was a man with whom Henry shared nothing except a father; a father who kept the secret from him up until Stephen’s death.

After confronting his father, who is promptly arrested for the murder, Henry finds himself sucked into a personal mission to discover who killed Stephen, and why. As his investigation leads down into the underbelly of New York and the drug world, he sets out on a dangerous path to hunt down a drug lord who may or may not be an urban myth.

With The Fury, Pinter’s ability to craft a fast-paced thriller, filled with emotion (and only just skirting the edge of schmaltz) and interesting twists and turns, remains firmly intact. There are, no doubt, many who might dismiss the Henry Parker series as throw-away crime fiction, but Pinter is better than that. His novels, set in New York and the world of journalism, are gripping and thrilling tales of a young, idealistic journalist with the worst luck in the world – or the best, given his profession and his front-line seat to so many front-page scoops. Pinter’s characters remain interesting and far from one-dimensional. Henry’s relationship with Amanda is on the mend, and his dealings with his father feel genuine and far from the teen-angst they could have been if written by another author.

There is real continuity within this series, as Pinter’s characters develop and grow with each passing novel. The Fury will leave you eager for the next instalment of Parker’s exploits. Pinter has written another novel that will entertain, surprise, and keep you guessing until the end.

This is a highly recommended series, and one I’ve been hooked to since its first instalment, The Mark.

[The Hunted, an ebook novella, and The Darkness are now available in the US, and will be reviewed here soon.]

For Fans of: John Sandford, James Patterson, David Ellis, Jack Kerley, Joseph Teller, Andrew Grosse, Peter de Jonge

Possibly the UK Cover, to be released in August 2010:


Monday, January 11, 2010

The Benefit of New Editions…

I must say, there’s a real benefit to new editions of books being released.

If, like me, you’re privileged enough to receive books in advance from publishers, you can get the jump on reviews and reading. This does mean, however, that there’s a sense of guilt when you find a series that you really want to read, but weren’t sent by the publisher, as the pile of freebies (please keep them coming!) starts to totter a little in the corner.

For me, this is Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series. I’ve only dipped into the first volume (The Blade Itself) and also read the intro chapter to Best Served Cold. I love his writing style, his characters, and the world he has created (not to mention the grittiness of the story).

When Joe’s books were released, I was unable to read them for a number of reasons (MA dissertations, PhD thesis and teaching come to mind), but I did manage to get a hold of the large-form paperbacks with the excellent covers and nice printing. I think I shall finally get around to them properly this year, and can justify it with the release of the third printing, with different artwork. So, never one to pass up the opportunity to adorn the site with gorgeous cover artwork, here are the two iterations of The First Law series artwork (UK editions):



And the new:


So, keep an eye out for reviews of these novels coming sometime this year. (Apologies it’s taken so long!)

With any luck, I’ll also get around to Patrick Rothfuss’s “In The Name of the Wind”, another book that has been on my shelf, pining to be read for a little over a year now. (Again, more apologies!)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

“New York”, by Edward Rutherfurd (Century)


The Epic Tale of a Great City

From the epic, empty grandeur of the New World to the skyscrapers of the sleepless Big Apple; from the lives of the long-forgotten to frantic pace of today’s inhabitants, New York is a novel on considerable scope and ambition.

The novel begins when New York was ‘New Amsterdam’: a tiny Native American fishing village, populated by Dutch traders, hoping to make their fortunes from the expansive wilderness of the New World, selling beaver skins to the fashion houses of Europe (and making a fortune off the trade). British settlers and merchants followed, with their aristocratic governors, different perspectives, different religion, and a good deal of unpopular taxation. Rebellion, war, the burning of the city (twice), and the birth of the American Nation came next.

As Rutherfurd recounts the intertwining fates and lives of a select cast of characters rich and poor, black and white, native born and immigrant (the Master family being the main focus, the rest of the cast drawn from their immediate orbit), the author brings to life the momentous events that shaped New York city and America. Throughout, we are presented with cameo appearances by historical figures ranging from George Washington and Abraham Lincoln to Babe Ruth.

Every major event of American and New York history is covered, at least in passing: the troubled British rule, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the rise of Tammany Hall, the Mass Immigration of the early 20th Century, the Great Depression, 9/11, the Rise of Wall Street, and more. Best of all, Rutherfurd has brought to life the perspectives, biases, and conflicts of the times perfectly – from slavery to freedom of religion in the early centuries, to the debates of a new nation, and on into the 21st Century (right up to 2009).

This is quite a difficult book to review. To begin with, the scope is massive. Four centuries worth of history, distilled and portrayed through the eyes of a select few characters, is an ambitious undertaking. For the most part, Rutherfurd has succeeded in writing an engaging, excellent novel – it reads like the best history book you’ve ever read, only slightly thin on the details.

Like a history book, you don’t really need to start at the beginning if you don’t want to. I’m sure, if you weren’t interested in pre-Revolution New York, you could just dive in after the British have been kicked out and America is a self-ruled nation. That would, however, result in you cutting out a third of the book: this is perhaps my biggest complaint about the novel – it takes a little while to get going and, considering the fact that not a huge amount happened in the first couple of centuries, Rutherfurd does take a long time to bring us to the founding of the United States and the events that are perhaps most interesting. That is not to say, however, that the early-years of New York are not interesting, for it really is, but I imagine what most people are interested in are the events that happen in the late-18th Century and beyond. It is for this reason that the novel, perhaps, would have worked better as two books, in the same way that James Clavell broke his story of Hong Kong into two novels: the superb Tai-Pan and Noble House.

Many chapters feel like vignettes (certainly at the beginning), varying greatly in length. This is a good way of approaching the task, but it has affected the flow of the novel – the jumps forward in time can occasionally come across as a little jarring, as Rutherfurd leaps forward to keep the history moving and characters you’ve become invested in suddenly disappear or are killed off in a simple sentence or short paragraph – it’s almost an aside for James Master, for example.

The author’s style is accessible, his prose are fluid and quickly-paced. The cameos don’t feel forced, and you get the sense that he has been careful to research the real characters of the historical giants he features – Washington’s angst and depression during the Revolutionary War, for example, is brought across without diminishing the author’s clear admiration of him.

In New York, Rutherfurd details the many rises and falls of a city that, over four centuries, has evolved from a tiny fishing village to the envy of the world. This is an epic novel, one that drew me in and had me pretty much hooked throughout.

Do put aside quite some time for it, however. While not a quick read, it is certainly a very satisfying one.


Publisher Spotlight: Black Library

Just a quick post to spotlight some of the Black Library’s releases in 2010 (almost all in the 2nd half, but still worth taking a look). Mainly it’s just to show off the cover artwork, because they look so good. So, without further ado, here are the ones from the best-selling Horus Heresy series:




Saturday, January 02, 2010

The Obligatory Top 5’s…

… being a list of the top five novels (by genre) that I read in 2009 – this does mean a couple are technically 2008 releases, but sue me: it’s my blog I can do what I want. There’s no particular order to the lists, they’re just my favourite thrillers, science-fiction and fantasy novels.


Vince Flynn – Pursuit of Honor & Extreme Measures

Charles Cumming – Typhoon


Brett Battles – The Deceived

Alex Berenson – The Silent Man

Mike Lawson – House Secrets


Jesse Kellerman – The Brutal Art

Mark Gimenez – The Common Lawyer & The Perk


James Rollins – The Last Oracle

John SandfordWicked Prey

James PattersonCross Country


Kevin J. Anderson – The Edge of the World


Richard Morgan – The Steel Remains

Alan Campbell – God of Clocks

Terry Pratchett – Unseen Academicals

Mark Charan Newton – The Nights of Villjamur


Dan Abnett – Blood Pact


Michael Rubens – The Sheriff of Yrnameer

Troy Denning – Invincible

Chris Wooding – Retribution Falls

I’ve not actually read that much science fiction this year, so I shall use the final pick for a different genre selection, for a book that took me pleasantly by surprise…


Ethan Canin – America America


In truth, there were a lot of good novels that I read during 2009, so the existence of this list, while it has the cream of the crop, should not by any means dissuade you from reading the other books featured on the website. 2010 is shaping up to be an interesting year for books, too. Keep checking back for more reviews and posts (of which we’ll be having more, about random book-related things – and hopefully a few guest bloggers, too, if I can convince them to contribute).