Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Kindle is Coming to Blighty

So, Amazon are finally releasing a Kindle for the UK, and adding a Kindle eBook store to their site.


Should we care? Should we be upset in the UK at getting it a year later than the US?

The release is all well and good, but I have one question: why don’t they open the Kindle to the ePub format? For this reason alone, I am leaning towards rather upset…

I could be wrong, but I believe all the eReaders available in the UK (and many in the US, for that matter) read ePub format – indeed, the Sony Reader switched from its proprietary BBeB format to ePub sometime this past year. eBook stores sell ePub editions (in the UK, Waterstone’s and WHSmith’s seem to be the best vendors, and they sell predominantly ePub formats), so those who have adopted e-reading up until now will be somewhat screwed. As there’s been no real mention of the UK Kindle for some time – at least, not with any concrete information or dates – I wouldn’t be surprised if people gave up (I know I did, and I’ve been obsessive about eBook and eReaders since the beginning!).

Does Amazon really believe it’ll be able to get people to buy the Kindle in addition to other readers? True, it’s ridiculously cheap, when all things are considered: the Wireless-only device is £109, and the Wireless and 3G device will be £149 – great prices, in fact, when you consider it’s closest rival (or similar physical size) is more expensive, and the 3G device doesn’t require a monthly data-plan. But how many people will want to juggle two eReaders?

As someone who has been using a Sony Reader for about a year and a half, I must admit to still being tempted by the Kindle – it’s a gorgeous piece of kit (the new ‘slate’ colour is so much nicer than the horrible white), I’m an absolute technophile, and the price is impressively generous (unlike the iPad…). But, I have almost 100 ePub eBooks, and I really don’t want the hassle of having to keep track of which device I have this or that book on – it would also defeat the purpose of their portability, if I had to take two on holiday/business, wouldn’t it?

There’s no news on how much the eBooks will be, through the UK store, but they have apparently said that Amazon will be setting the prices, rather than the publishers (as in the US). This might be a way to lure in new users and also committed e-readers, but it’ll probably go the way of Waterstone’s and others’ sites as eBook prices rise in the future (don’t get me started on this – it’s one of my biggest gripes, that eBook prices don’t change after a book has been released in paperback).

Now I wonder if a UK version of the Kindle DX (larger screen) will be released anytime soon? Maybe in time for Christmas?

Anyway, I just wanted to throw that out there, on the off-chance it reaches someone with the ability to do something about my gripes.

(I don’t know anyone else with an eReader, so not a clue what other users think. Feel free to chip in, if you have an opinion.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

“The Unit”, by Terry DeHart (Orbit)

DeHart-TheUnitA bleak family tale in a Post-Apocalyptic America

Jerry Sharpe is an ex-marine and, for him, survival means protecting his family by any means necessary.

Susan is learning just how far a mother will go for her children. But how far will she go for a man she doubted before the bombs fell? As Jerry’s training and instincts take over, she is certain of one thing – her children need her.

Melanie was going to go to college. Now, she is struggling to find a way to live in a world gone mad without losing sight of what she believes in.

Scotty has a new mission – more than survival. He was saved, and he’ll be damned if he won’t fight for what’s right.

And Bill – Bill was locked up, but the power went out and the guards left. Now he and his fellow inmates have realised that everything is free for the taking... if you’re strong enough to hold on to it.

The background for the novel is only revealed piecemeal, so just a quick summary: Turns out, the US government has told the people that terrorist bombs were set off in Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York. This lead to intense panic, a “survivalist heaven”, and the obligatory all-guns-blazing US retaliation against seemingly everyone foreign. The cycle of death is begun,

“And then people went all to pieces. There were plenty of guns and not enough food, and so here we are.”

The Unit feels pretty much exactly as you would imagine a post-apocalyptic survival tale would feel: bleak, dangerous, depressing. The novel is good, and DeHart is a confident writer, but I’d be lying if I said I found it particularly innovative or original to begin with. It was a little dull, I’m afraid. Partly, this is because it wasn’t clear what was going on (where, for example, are they walking to, and why?). It’s also not clear if or when anything interesting is going to happen. This meant that I contemplated putting the book to one side, but I chose to stick with it. I’m not the biggest fan of the genre, you see, which I should say coloured my impression of the book as a whole.

The multiple, frequently changing perspectives did strange things to the narrative - slowing it here, speeding it up there, derailing it from time to time, but not hiding the lack of activity or events. Also, strangely for something written in the first-person, you're never given enough time to get to know the characters - which is why one's feelings are a little disconnected and not what one would expect (though still acute) when Melanie is put through possibly the worst treatment imaginable for a woman. Bill Jr acts tough and cold on the outside, wanting his band of lost boy “pirates” to fear him, but also keen on gaining respect and warring with his unexpected desire to get to know Melanie beyond the physical.

DeHart’s understanding of the human spirit and human nature is the strongest aspect of this book. It becomes clear that the multiple perspectives is a device to take a look at the various personality types and traits that come out when people face adversity and tragedy, not to mention delve into the misunderstandings, selfishness, and egoistic internal monologues of his characters. Some of our narrators rise to the challenges of post-apocalyptic America with a sense that is almost pleasure (Scott, and certainly Bill Jr.); others hold on to long-remembered mores of yesterday and perhaps faith (Melanie and Susan); while others just get the job done (Jerry particularly, and also Bill Snr.). As the story develops, however, the characters go through changes, a hardening. In the case of the family, they grow closer and there are a few touching scenes as they draw strength from each other to get through the latest trial they are confronted by; while still retaining certain conflicts (internal or external) that all families must deal with and work through.

Melanie, the daughter, is the “peacenik” idealist who was meant to go off to Berkeley (she’s the typical bleeding-heart liberal, almost - hater of guns and “neocons”). Melanie is a difficult character to like at the beginning – her stubborn liberal ideals were annoying and self-defeating, and made it hard to empathise as much as we were perhaps meant to (I don’t want to spoil it, but something terrible – yet predictable – happens to her pretty early on in the novel). What redeemed her in my eyes was her continued capacity to care for others, despite what she goes through.

Scott has become more gung-ho, with a furious familial loyalty -“There’s only love and family now, and I’ll blow the shit out of anyone who threatens us. It’s down to love and hate, baby, and I’ve never felt so alive.” Scott’s probably the most fun character, as the disaster seems to have awakened his inner survivalist: of his life before, he says,

“There wasn’t any real meaning at all, that I could see, so shoot me if I don’t hate this new world. At least this shit isn’t boring.”

It is somewhat heart-warming to see the family pull together as they go on, and there’s clear character development throughout the novel. This redeemed the book for me, but I still didn’t enjoy reading this as much as I had hoped. The tale’s just so bleak, with only some occasional black humour to provide ‘levity’. You won’t finish this novel happy – rather, you’ll probably close it hoping the apocalypse never comes, but still consider stocking up on canned goods and looking into a firearms training course...

There’s a Wild West feel to some locales – as if the United States has regressed to the wild, lawless mentality of pre-expansion (there’s even an old-style saloon featured in Virginia City, adding to the wagons west feel – if only for a short while).

If I wanted to be glib, I would say this is a more commercial The Road by Cormac McCarthy, only with appropriate use of language and proper spelling. Bill’s crew are like a post-apocalyptic Lord of the Flies-with-guns crew, devolving into their baser, animalistic instincts (faster than most, given their delinquent, juvenile offender nature). It’s a bleak, brutal, and rather depressing.

“A writer can entertain, pull readers away from their daily troubles into worlds of speculation and, hopefully, small truths.”

The author says this in the interview included at the end of the book. DeHart’s The Unit is high on uncomfortable truths, but a bit too bleak for me to provide too much entertainment.

The most depressing thing about the book – and where its power lies – is that it’s entirely believable that in a post-apocalyptic world, there will be pockets of “civilisation” – not just in America, but all over the world – that will become this bleak and brutal.

Plenty of action, some excellent analysis of the human condition and human nature, this should appeal to fans of the post-apocalyptic genre of science fiction.

For Fans of: Cormac McCarthy, Alden Bell, Dark Future, Mad Max, The Book of Eli

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

“The Secret Hour”, by Scott Westerfeld (Atom)

Reviewed by Alyssa Mackenzie


Re-release of an excellent YA series

As the new girl at Bixby High School, Jessica Day expected some unwelcome attention. What she didn’t expect was to feel an instant connection to a stranger in the corridor…

Who is this boy dressed in black? And why can she feel his eyes following her wherever she goes?

The answers will have to wait until the sun goes down, for here in Bixby, midnight is the time for secrets; secrets that Jessica is going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

Reading the back of this re-release of Scott Westerfeld’s The Secret Hour (the first in his Midnighters trilogy), you could easily form the impression that this book will have a lot in common with Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. Given the success of the Twilight series, it’s not surprising that the publisher would choose to highlight their similarities – both tell the story of a teenage girl moving to a small town and finding herself enmeshed in supernatural activity. That, however, is where the similarities end. Readers of The Secret Hour will find a very different kind of novel.

In Bixby, Oklahoma, there is a twenty-fifth hour to every day, compressed into the instant of midnight. Soon after her arrival in Bixby, Jessica learns that she is one of the few people aware of this hour, able to experience the town when time appears to be frozen. She joins Rex, Melissa, Dess, and Jonathan, all awake to the secret hour because they were born at midnight, in a world that is at once exhilarating and dangerous. Westerfeld does an excellent job of evoking this in-between world, both the magic and the horror of it, through Jessica’s first encounters with it.

The novel unfolds through the perspectives of all five ‘Midnighters’, varying chapter to chapter. Westerfeld’s characters are individually well-drawn, and their relationships nuanced. His greatest strength, however, is his representation of their dynamics as a group. In many ways, they fulfil the requirements of a classic group of superheroes. Each character, when in the “blue time” of the midnight hour, has their own special power, which combined with the others enables them to defend themselves against the dangerous creatures that populate this hidden world. However, Westerfeld’s characters resist the easy unity, of both mindset and purpose, that this can imply. Each of Rex, Melissa, Dess, Jonathan, and Jessica experience the secret hour differently, and so relate differently to the group. The very term ‘Midnighters’ suggests a unity that is almost immediately undermined – coined by Rex to describe their group and people like them, it is a label that Jonathon refuses to acknowledge.

The narrative of The Secret Hour is fast-paced and engaging, with Westerfeld revealing the mythology of his world, both fascinating and complex, skilfully throughout the novel. We generally learn things as newcomer Jessica does, which, given the rapidity with which events move, is often piecemeal, and on the run. Even after Jessica is given a lengthy lesson on the nature and history of the Midnighters, we are left with the impression that she – and therefore we – cannot know the whole story. Westerfeld effectively builds revelations about the Midnighter mythology into the tension of his plot, which should leave readers eager to discover not only how his story turns out but also more information about his world.

The Secret Hour is an excellent piece of YA fantasy – an enjoyable read, with a quickly-moving plot set in a well-imagined world, it is a very good introduction to the Midnighters trilogy. The novel was originally published in 2004; this new edition boasts an attractive new cover design.

Highly recommended.

Midnighters Trilogy: The Secret Hour (Winner of the 2004 Aurealis Award for Best YA Novel), Touching Darkness, Blue Noon

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

No (i)Porn on the iPad

Just a quick post to mention a recent, short piece on, “Apple removes erotica from iPad book charts”.

Victoria Gallagher, the author of theBookseller piece, wrote that Apple had been accused of censorship of its iBook bestseller charts:

“Yesterday morning the novella Blonde and Wet, the Complete Story by Carl East was topping the chart, with another title by East, Big Sis, second, and Six Sexy Stories by Ginger Starr, in fifth place. By the afternoon these titles had disappeared and had instead been replaced with the likes of The Perfect Murder by Peter James and The Third Man by Peter Mandelson.”

The story caught my eye because when Sony’s eReader came out, I was amused by the fact that the charts on both Sony’s own online eBook store and also Waterstone’s eBook store (which caters for UK-based owners of the Sony Reader) were dominated by ‘erotica’ novels. It’s obviously a lucrative market, so one has to wonder why Steve Jobs would want to cut his company out of that market – especially considering the fact that ‘urban fantasy’ is still available, and books in that genre are frequently filled with explicit (and cringe-worthily-written) sex scenes.

I put this down at the time to the benefit of downloading a book with a saucy cover over buying it at a store (which I assume comes with a modicum of embarrassment).

There’s something about the way Gallagher wrote the above paragraph that certainly lends itself to innuendo and supposition that dropping the erotica titles benefitted the rankings of such big-name publications as Peter Mandelson’s memoir – although, one must wonder if the book really needed any more publicity or help in sales, given the level of publicity it’s already received…

Anyway, I just thought I’d comment, put my two cents out there.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

“The Hunters”, by Jason Pinter (Mira Books)


Free eBook from a great new voice in Thrillers

After one of the most harrowing weeks of Henry Parker’s life, night has finally come. Settled in with Amanda Davies, he sleeps before preparing to chase a story alongside his mentor, Jack O'Donnell.

Meanwhile Jack sits on the other side of town, fresh out of rehab, hoping to salvage a once-great career derailed by public humiliation. This is Jack's last chance to leave his mark.

Elsewhere in the city, two killers are on the move. They are brutal, calculating, and after tonight their decade’s long plan will come to fruition. But before the morning comes they have a few stops to make...

This eBook forms a bridge between The Fury and The Darkness. The story takes place in the single night that sits between the two novels.

The Hunters is very much laying the groundwork for The Darkness, and a couple of characters that arrived at the end of The Fury are fleshed out a little more (the ‘hunters’ of the title), as a brutal consolidation of New York’s criminal underbelly continues and loose ends created by the events of the previous novel are tied up. As always, Pinter’s gift for bringing to life the seedy underbelly of New York is on brilliant display once again.

Henry Parker is moving in with his girlfriend, Amanda, after the difficult events of The Fury - they are recently reconciled after Parker’s risk-taking and uncanny ability to get into trouble became too much for her; Jack O’Donnell returns home after his stint in rehab, and begins the process of resurrecting his life and career.

Technically, Pinter’s not a “new” voice in the genre any more – The Darkness will be his fifth novel, after all, but he still seems very young and new. That is not a veiled way of me criticising his writing – far from it, as his novels are great fun to read, and improve with each new book.

Along with the short story, the eBook comes with an exclusive note from Pinter to readers (mainly a very nice “thank you” and introduction to the series and characters), and a handy “Who’s Who” of the characters in the Henry Parker series (this was very handy, as it had been a while – and a great many books – since I last read a Pinter novel). If The Hunters has whet your appetite for the next in the series, then you’ll be glad to know the eBook also comes with an exclusive excerpt from The Darkness.

All in all, I would say this is a pretty good freebie from a good up-and-coming thriller author. The story doesn’t really go anywhere, as you will need to read The Darkness in order to see where the story is going, but I would say it’s well worth a look. If I wasn’t already a fan of the series, my interest would certainly have been piqued by reading The Hunters. It certainly made me re-shuffle my review schedule, as I became enamoured once again with the characters – The Darkness will be reviewed very soon.

[The eBook can be downloaded from Pinter’s blog]

Saturday, July 24, 2010

“Deliver Us From Evil”, by David Baldacci (Grand Central/Pan)


US    |    UK

The latest international thriller from a master of the genre

Evan Waller is a monster. He has built a fortune from his willingness to buy and sell anything… and anyone. In search of new opportunities, Waller has just begun a new business venture: one that could lead to millions of deaths all over the globe.

On Waller’s trail is Shaw, the mysterious operative from The Whole Truth, who must prevent Waller from closing his latest deal. Shaw’s one chance to bring him down will come in the most unlikely of places: a serene, bucolic village in Provence.

But Waller’s depravity and ruthlessness go deeper than Shaw knows. And now, there is someone else pursuing Waller in Provence — Reggie Campion, an agent for a secret vigilante group headquartered in a musty old English estate — and she has an agenda of her own.

Hunting the same man, unaware of each other’s mission, Shaw and Reggie will be caught in a deadly duel of nerve and wits.

This is the second book in Baldacci’s Shaw series, following on from the highly successful, and enjoyable The Whole Truth.

Shaw’s operation to deal with Waller is a cold example of “the lesser of two evils”; cold, hard realism in an ever-more dangerous, interconnected world. His handlers are aware of Waller’s sex-trafficking business, but are more concerned by his recent foray into nuclear arms dealing, and are willing to let the former slide if they can just prevent the latter. They’re reaction to Regina’s operation also adheres strongly to a realpolitik approach to international relations, and is presented in a well-conceived and considered manner (it’s not some conspiracy-loving critique, for example).

Regina’s outfit is an interesting one. A group of vigilantes, loosely connected, executing designated ‘monsters’ as their identities become known. It’s not entirely clear what each of the team’s members’ motivations are. Regina’s past is only revealed very late in the novel, and it was certainly a surprise, even if I didn’t see how it might explain her specific choice in profession.

“there will always be monsters. And we have to hunt down every one of them.”

Waller is looking for a “challenge” and believes moving from his steady, ludicrously profitable primary sex-trafficking business to weapons dealing with Muslim terrorists will provide both the needed challenge and a fresh experience. When the initial deal goes wrong, however, Waller vows to bring those responsible for betraying him to ‘justice’. Waller is a true monster: outwardly he is the calm and reasonable businessman he professes to be, but underneath he’s also a cold psychopath – just wait until Chapter 37 for his monstrous, chilling nature to be presented in rather gruesome detail.

One thing that surprised me about this novel was that, considering it’s meant to be the second in the Shaw series, it felt to me like he only featured in about a quarter of the novel (a third at most), with Regina’s story-line dominating, with Waller receiving roughly the same chapter-space as Shaw. This is one reason that might explain my disappointment with the novel, as it diverged a good deal from what I was expecting.

I always come to Baldacci’s novels with high expectations. With every one I’ve read, he has exceeded my expectations. For the first time, however, I am left a little underwhelmed. There’s just something about Deliver Us From Evil that didn’t quite click for me. The characters are good, and mostly well-rounded. The dialogue and prose are great – I flew through the chapters whenever I picked up the book, so it’s not a problem with Baldacci’s writing (always exceptional). It’s just the pacing of the story itself, and the progression of the plot doesn’t seem to work properly. There seems to be a lot of hurry-up-and-wait, or a stop-start feel to the narrative, and certain events felt anti-climactic, and things slow down too much on one too many instances. There are a couple of chapters which might be intended to be ‘cliffhangers’, but because the reader knows how much more of the book is left to go, they don’t achieve the intended outcome. The author sometimes loses the balance between exposition and storytelling, with – for the first time – his explanations of innovative elements of the story running a little too long, again diminishing the pace and impact of the story. One final thing that bothered me, was Shaw’s confused relationship with Katie James (who featured prominently in The Whole Truth and pops up a couple times here) and Regina – it is almost as if the author is as unsure as his character who Shaw should be with.

It frustrates me to write a review even partially negative for a Baldacci novel, but I’ve got to write the truth. This novel just didn’t have the impact of Baldacci’s other novels (all of which I’ve devoured with great enthusiasm and satisfaction), with a plot that meandered a little too much, and character interactions that failed to ignite. The final quarter of the novel redeemed itself well, and the final confrontation was pretty tense, but it was not enough to make me forget my occasional moments of indifference during the preceding chapters. I still eagerly await Hell’s Corner, the next book in Baldacci’s Camel Club series (published later this year), which has always been his strongest series, with his strongest characters.

Deliver Us From Evil will entertain, will keep you guessing (there are a fair few red herrings and switches), but might not be as fulfilling as previous novels from this brilliant author.

For Fans of: Vince Flynn, Daniel Silva, Christopher Reich, Kyle Mills, John Sandford, Tom Clancy, James Twining, Andrew Britton, Richard North Patterson

Sunday, July 18, 2010

“Storm Prey”, by John Sandford (Simon & Schuster)


A botched robbery, a cop’s wife targeted

There’s a storm brewing... Very early, 4:45am on a bitterly cold Minnesota morning, three big men burst through the door of a hospital pharmacy, duct-tape the hands, feet, mouth and eyes of two pharmacy workers, and clean the place out. But then things swiftly go bad, one of the workers dies, and the robbers hustle out to their truck — and find themselves for just one second face-to-face with a blond woman who’s just driven into the garage: Weather Karkinnen, surgeon, and wife of top Minnesota investigator, Lucas Davenport.

Did she see enough? Can she identify the robbers?

Gnawing it over later, it seems to them there is only one thing they can do: Find out who she is, and eliminate the only possible witness to their crime...

Long-time readers of the site will know how much I like Sandford’s work. Having read all of the Prey novels, as well as Sandford’s much-loved, short series of Kidd novels, each new novel from the author is usually an exciting and important event on my calendar. For some reason, however, Storm Prey just kept getting pushed back, as other things came in that happened to appeal to my mood at the time. Now that I’ve got these things out of the way, Storm Prey is the first in a string of thriller reviews I’ll be doing for the site (including Sandford’s other two most recent releases, Heat Lightning and Rough Country).

Thankfully, Storm Prey was  a great read, and it was worth the wait.

At the start of the novel, Weather is introduced as a member of an important, ground-breaking surgery to separate twins conjoined at the skull. It is difficult, delicate, and dangerous work, but the media are interested and the stakes are high. The explanation of the procedure and medical detail at the beginning was a bit long, even if it was interesting, and as the story progresses we see how the surgery forms an important backdrop for the novel. It felt a little like padding at times, but this isn’t really a problem, as Sandford keeps the pace up throughout.

It was nice that Weather Karkinnen, Lucas’s wife, takes a more central role in a Prey novel after so long being in the background, playing the role of an emotional support mechanism for Lucas. In Storm Prey, Lucas is there to offer her support, so it’s a nice role-reversal. One thing that struck me, however, was that Lucas didn’t seem to feature so much in the story. One of the best things about the Prey novels is Lucas’s process of solving crimes – often internal mulling, but also unconventional investigative methods. This time around, they didn’t seem to form enough of the novel, for me.

For Storm Prey, there are a few more perspectives the novel is written from: two ‘bad guy’ factions, made up of four perspectives; Weather’s perspective; and also a little through Virgil’s eyes. So, it was noticeable how little written was told from Lucas’s point of view. Given that Sandford’s parallel series seems to be taking off, featuring Virgil as the main protagonist (book four, Bad Blood, is released this September in the USA), I wonder if the author’s getting prepared to retire the Prey series? I hope not, but equally after 20+ books, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Sandford’s classic, dry humour is present, this time commenting on American society as a whole, and the “perils of negotiating a capitalist economy”. I still love the rapport between the members of Lucas’s team; they form a real band of brothers, which makes a nice change from the lone-cop or partner/buddy-cop formula of many cop/crime thrillers.

The story initially seemed a little thin; that it might not really be that fulfilling (not to mention threatening to finish 100 pages in, before the proverbial shit hit the fan), but Sandford really makes it work, delving into the world of biker gangs, the US hospital system, drug addiction, and also the relationships between people with shared experiences and brought together under strange circumstances. A weird mix, but they made for a good story.

Basically, the group who robbed the hospital succumb to extreme paranoia; they weren’t close before the job, and when it goes wrong, suspicions go into overdrive. Some unexpected alliances form, not to mention a strangely touching friendship between Barakat (Lebanese medical resident and dope fiend) and Cappy (a cold-blooded, very young killer), which could have been the beginning of a beautiful bromance.

The plot meanders a little more than usual, and it wasn’t quite as fast-paced and exciting as previous Prey novels. But, that being said, I was still eager to read it all, and was annoyed whenever I was interrupted – I ended up snatching any opportunity to read, even if I only had time to read two pages.

Sandford remains one of the best thriller writers working today, and I eagerly look forward to reading everything and anything else he writes.

Recommended for all thriller fans.

For Fans of: Robert Crais, early James Patterson, Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills, David Baldacci, James Twining, John Grisham, Greg Iles, Christopher Reich, Daniel Silva, Linwood Barclay, Richard North Patterson

Thursday, July 15, 2010

To borrow a couple of memes

Two posts from two bloggers I follow have caught my eye, so I thought I’d consolidate my responses to these memes into one post. The first, from The Speculative Scotsman, is a pretty short one, which I happened to be talking about yesterday with Alyssa (my newest writing-slave reviewer), so I liked that it was timely:

As reviewers, do you read other reviewers' reviews before composing your own?

Simple answer: no. In fact, I rarely read any reviews anymore, despite subscribing to so many RSS feeds from book bloggers. I guess it’s partly to avoid being (sub)consciously influenced by what people I respect have to say (which is actually limited to only a very few bloggers – who shall remain nameless, because we can’t be inflating any egos now…). It’s also because this site is predominantly reviews, so I would rather read more news and opinion pieces than reviews of books I might be reading, or will read in the future. It is, however, a weird feeling to discover a review that’s so similar to one I’ve written. I think the only reviews I read now are for books I’ve already read and/or reviewed. This can often be unhealthy, as I end up wishing my reviews were so insightful or, in some cases, literary (it’s a long time since I last studied literature, and I have a weird complex about not knowing all the proper phrases, sometimes). I do still read a lot of non-fiction reviews; not to influence my own, but mainly because I need to decide on what to buy for my PhD and my ever-growing collection of books on the US Presidents…

*  *  *

The second meme, which I came across in a post by Adam Christopher, is a little more involved and fun – and made me think of the “Top 5s…” from High Fidelity for some reason. There are a handful of books and/or series that could have been the answer for almost every question (Terry Pratchett, Scott Lynch, etc.), but I’ve tried to be as varied as possible to keep things vaguely interesting. So here are the questions (in bold) and my answers to each:

One Book that Changed my Life

Clavell-TaiPan This was quite an easy choice: James Clavell’s Tai-Pan, which I reviewed a little while ago, because it made me fall in love with reading ‘proper’ books. It had the unfortunate side-effect of also making it difficult to find other books as good or enjoyable for a while, but it is still a firm favourite and definitely a book that changed my life: mostly because it made me want to write.

Lynch-LiesOfLockeLamora I shall add another, which is important for a different reason. Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, which opened my eyes to fantasy fiction again, and is also one of my favourite books of all time. It’s just brilliant and works on every single level for me. It is also one of the books I recommend most to other people…

… Except for everything Discworld by Terry Pratchett, which also goes in this category. Pratchett’s books showed me that ‘comic’ fantasy didn’t have to be ridiculous to be enjoyable, and that it could be intelligent and many-layered behind the jokes and gags. An exceptional talent who deserves every word of praise he’s ever received and more.


One Book you have to read more than once


Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. I consider these novels as one, because I never read one without the other. They were re-released recently through Sphere, but I’ve been reading them for years. I even remember reading them in New York, when I lived there – one of my favourite winters, actually: the snow was deep and made the city even more beautiful, and I wandered the city, stopping at various coffee-shops to read my way through Rice’s first five vampire novels.

Lestat and Queen were written just as Rice was really taking off and producing her very best novels – her gift for description, atmosphere and scene-setting (perfectly employed in these two novels) are still unsurpassed, and she’s able to evoke powerful images and impressions of her characters’ emotions and also the different times and locations brilliantly. True, the series waned in impact as it continued (though I still really enjoyed Merrick, which properly brought her other series – The Mayfair Witches – into the timeline). I’ve read these two about four times, now, and I think I’ll be doing so again in the Autumn, when I’m hoping to get a review of the first five Vampire Chronicles written (Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil).

One Book you’d want on a Desert Island

Cronin-ThePassageUK I’m thinking something really long… If I had to choose something right this instant, I imagine I’d end up picking Justin Cronin’s The Passage, because it’s really long and I’ve only heard very good things about it.

But, to be really difficult, I’d actually take my eReader with me, because I have 90 books on it, and that should keep me going for bit. (I know, there’s always one person who has to answer ‘cleverly’…)

I’m possibly one of the biggest boosters for eBooks, as I adore my reader – so much, in fact, that I’ve rarely considered upgrading it to a new, touch-screen edition. (I’ll admit that I considered ordering a new, slate-coloured Kindle DX, but decided against it. I might also consider the new larger-screened Sony Reader, but it’s not available in the UK, yet.)


Two Books that made you Laugh

This would have to be a Discworld novel. It’s difficult to choose just the one, though. Probably something from the Guards selection: Guards Guards, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, Fifth Elephant, Night Watch, and Thud!

Pratchett-GuardsSeries That being said, there are a couple other Discworld novels that have made me laugh. Hogfather, because it is all-round brilliant and I still quote plentifully from it. The Truth, also, is a great novel and I like the central focus on the press and media. Also, it’s a novel that has meant I can’t help but find the name ING Direct funny (just read it, you’ll understand).


One Book that made you Cry

I haven’t cried at a book for years. Sorry, I just don’t tend to cry because of something I’ve read.

Jacques-MartinTheWarrior When I was younger, however, I did cry when one of my favourite characters in Brian Jacques’s Martin the Warrior (1993) died… It was a series I was completely in love with when I was a kid. Martin the Warrior, the sixth in the series (now at 21 books), was the last that I read. Jacques, as I recall, had a great skill at making his (young) readers feel connected to his characters, despite them being anthropomorphised rodents and small woodland creatures. The memories are just swarming back, now…

Anyway, let’s move on. A couple of things that do make me cry, are the first couple episodes of The West Wing Season Two (I am rather obsessed with that series, and have become very enamoured with the characters during the multiple times I’ve re-watched all seven series), and most recently the movie The Blind Side, which I thought was amazing (and Sandra Bullock definitely deserved the Oscar!).


One Book you wish you’d Written

Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, for reasons of excellence and sheer imaginative brilliance. Perhaps also Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, because he made an absolute fortune from it. I would, of course, then write books I wanted to, hopefully better, without any fear of worrying whether or not I’d be able to afford to eat again…

Actually, the books I really wish I’d written are the ones I’m planning at the moment. Tentatively under the working series title The Amderlin Chronicles, they’re set in a world of my own making and I hope could be compared – in genre/style/setting (if not quality) – to Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, James Enge, Brent Weeks and the like.

I’ve just started an  complete re-working of everything, so they’re still in the absolute basic stages of writing. I’ve got the basic story of the first three novels, as well as the international affairs environment they are set within, but I’m having difficulty working out the details. Not sure I’ll get too far on these until I’ve finished my PhD, however.

One Book you wish was NEVER Written

Amazingly, I can’t think of anything. I don’t like to be too negative about any books, as I always assume that there is someone, somewhere, who will like every book – even if it’s just the author’s mum. I shall demure, therefore, from answering this question.

Two Books you are Currently Reading

Sandford-StormPrey John Sandford’s Storm Prey – the 20th in the Lucas Davenport/Prey series, and shaping up quite well – although, Sandford is unusually giving a little too much detail of a surgery that helps anchor the story as a backdrop (it’s interesting, but do we need that much detail?). I’m a big fan of Sandford’s series, having read most of these in order and in one go, when I discovered them – my first was Certain Prey (released in 1999 in the US, but I read it in 2004).

Thomas-TheWarLovers Evan Thomas’s The War Lovers – perhaps the best book I’ve read about 19th/20th turn-of-the-century US history. Brilliantly written, researched and crafted, this is easily one of my favourite books of the year, and favourite history books ever. Simply amazing. Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favourite presidents, and the portrait of him in The War Lovers is one of the best I’ve come across – Thomas offers neither damning nor a glowing characterisation. TR’s friendship with Henry Cabot Lodge is equally fascinating. Overall, this is a fascinating book on one of my favourite periods of US history. (I will hopefully have the review done very soon, work permitting.)

One Book you’ve been Meaning to Read

Chabon-Kavalier&Clay As I am wont to do, I’ve done my own thing and come up with two (from an ever-growing list): Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Both of them have received a ridiculous amount of praise from all quarters – particularly the latter, which has been recommended to me by two of the people whose opinion I value and respect above all others. Considering its size, and the growing pile of books I have to review, however, it keeps getting put to the side. I’ve heard amazing things about Chabon’s writing, but have thus far only read a few samples of his non-fiction articles (specifically, his essays about genre narratives and superheroes).

Rothfuss-NameOfTheWind Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind is a book that has sat on my shelf ever since it came out in paperback in the UK. Unfortunately, it came out just as I started to receive more books for review, which meant I focussed more on getting those read and reviewed than NotW read. I still intend to read it soon, but we know how flexible my plans and timetables can be…


So, that’s my take on these two memes. Hope they were in some way interesting. (Though, in all honesty, they were more self-indulgent than anything else.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

News: More Vampires on the way…

… might be a good thing?

I’m writing about a June 25th piece from, which discusses a recent Angry Robot acquisition – specifically, a minimum of three books in a “stunning” series which centres around an “overworked police department in a city ‘full of vampires and werewolves’.” The series is by Justin Gustainis, and first in the series will be titled Hard Spell, and should be published in both the UK and the USA in Spring 2011 (which seems like a long, long way away).

Marc Gascoigne, publishing director of Angry Robot, bought world English rights to the series, and told theBookseller that “Justin’s series is a genuinely new twist on vampires and werewolves at a time when there are so many feeble Bella & Edward wannabes.” The series goes further than other series, doing more than merely plonking vampires into our world. As Gascoigne explains:

“As well as its gritty setting, amid the weary cops of the Occult Crimes Unit having to police these supernatural freaks, Justin has built a whole alternate history of the USA. The flashback to the McCarthy Witch Trials, with the line ‘Are you now, or have you ever been, a werewolf, vampire or member of a coven?’ is priceless. If it has any comparisons, it would be with Alan Moore’s legendary comic-book series Top Ten. There’s nothing in fantasy fiction to touch this.”

I am a big fan of vampires, werewolves, and innumerable other facets of the supernatural and fiction thereof. I can’t get on board with much of the recent ‘urban fantasy’ that’s produced these days – especially Twilight and the various other tie-ins, homages, and newly-rebranded series hoped to snare the attention of the legions of newly-reading ‘Twiglets’ - my less-than-fair nickname for fans of Stephanie Meyer’s phenomenally successful series. (As a quick aside, I should point out that I believe Mrs. Meyer is the most recent author to do what J.K. Rowling admirably managed so well: that is, get people reading – and for this, she deserves every penny she’s earned.)

That being said, I’m rather picky when it comes to such fiction – as I am with all genres. Anne Rice’s first seven books in her Vampire Chronicles series are superb, and the first five should be considered timeless classics. Even Terry Pratchett’s play with the myths are brilliant – though would you expect anything less from the master? Other fictional vampires tend to leave me a little cold and dissatisfied, unless they are in tie-in novels from established worlds – such as Black Library’s Warhammer vampires, or the ones found in White Wolf’s limited (and increasingly hard-to-find) line of Vampire: The Masquerade fiction and computer games. The vampires of Supernatural, Underworld and Blade are in my opinion the best on-screen vamps and werewolves, as are Joss Whedon’s creations (I wonder what he would have produced, if Twilight had been one of his…) – mainly because some proper thought and effort’s gone into the mythologies and histories created for the movies and series.

So, Gustainis’s series does sound pretty interesting, and like it might become another to add to the list of ‘worthy’ vampire series. Hopefully, this new author will be able to approach execution with as much imagination and aplomb as creating an interesting premise.


Monday, July 12, 2010

“Shadow’s Son”, by Jon Sprunk (Pyr/Gollancz)


US     |     UK

One of this year’s hotly-tipped debut fantasy

Treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, in the holy city of Othir. It’s the perfect place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and even fewer scruples.

Caim makes – or, perhaps more accurately, takes – his living on the edge of a blade. Murder is a risky business, but so far he reckons he’s on the right side of it. Or he was... because when a short-notice contract job goes south, Caim finds himself thrust into the middle of a sinister plot in which he seems to be one of the primary marks.

Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers and the darkest kinds of sorcery, it’s going to take more than luck if he’s to get through this alive. He may lack scruples, but he’s still got his knives and instincts to rely on; not to mention a well-developed sense of revenge to fall back on.

But when his path leads him from the hazardous back streets of Othir and into the highest halls of power, will instincts and weapons alone be enough? If Caim is really going to unravel the plot which has snared him, to unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he will have to finally claim his birthright as the Shadow’s Son...

I’ve been waiting a long time for this. Naturally, this made me rather cautious when approaching the novel. Thankfully, I really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this presented me with the usual problems of reviewing a book I really like: how not to sound like a dribbling fan-boy?

There’s no need to go into the story in any great detail (the synopsis, after all, is above), so I’ll just dive straight into my observations: One of the most original and interesting elements in Shadow’s Son, is the inclusion of Kit – Caim’s personal ghost. It’s not entirely clear to Caim what or who she is, but she’s always been with him, helping him (more so since he became an assassin), and providing companionship – and occasionally acting like the less-idealistic half of his conscience. She flits in and out of Caim’s company, never entirely dependable but when it truly matters, she appears to lend her support – in any way possible – the our embattled hero.

Caim is a classic, taciturn, lone-wolf protagonist (perfect for this genre), though with more layers than might be expected from a lesser-talented author. Some might complain that he’s a cliché, but if he is, then it’s in a good way. His interactions with those around him are realistic, and especially interesting with Kit, who comes across as emotional and highly sensitive, but devoted to Caim. Josey bothered me a little – her entire manner frequently annoyed me, as she came across as having an affected aristocratic air with a rather literary waif-ness about her (even some of her dialogue read like it was ripped out of a ‘Victorian Maiden’s Handbook’). I was disappointed that she wasn’t made a stronger character, and that almost as much of the book was written from her perspective as from Caim’s, but she served her purpose well. Her reaction and subsequent comportment following a certain event about two-thirds of the way through the book was not quite as layered or nuanced as I would have liked; she seemed to consider it a trifle annoying… (I’m not going to spoil it for you – read the book!)

The world Sprunk has created is also well-crafted: classic, sprawling cities with a simmering class-struggle underneath the surface, surrounded by untamed wilderness. As the novel unfolds, the author does a good job of revealing more detail of the locales, the population, and the politics of his world – as well as laying some breadcrumb-like hints about supernatural forces of his world (which I hope will be fleshed out in subsequent novels). The overall feel is rather dark and dangerous, with a great magic system surrounding light and dark, but without being so delineated in terms of which is ‘good’ and ‘bad’; Caim’s powers, in particular – at once useful, frightening, unpredictable, and largely a mystery to him – provide interesting and intriguing danger to his life and profession.

All that being said, I think I would have liked a bit more – Sprunk’s descriptions and exposition are very sparse, which won’t offer much to fantasy readers who love world-building and grand inventions.

The events of the novel all take place in a short time – a couple of days, it seems – which makes some developments a little over-quick (Caim’s affections for Josey, for example), but also limited how much Sprunk could get done in the novel. The story is brisk and the dialogue doesn’t suffer from cliché, but I do think the novel could have been longer – I don’t feel like I’ve got to know Caim as well as I would have liked, given this is the beginning of at least a trilogy (Shadow’s Lure and Shadow’s Master are on their way). It doesn’t feel rushed or incomplete, just… I’m not sure, actually. The length and pace of the novel lend themselves well to a great, fun read, but at the expense of some extra character development and needed exposition: I didn’t really get a proper feel for the Caim-Ral rivalry, or really why Caim’s considered the most deadly and feared assassin in Othir. I appreciate that the author didn’t over-write (a major failing for some fantasy authors), but in this instance I wonder if he might be guilty of under-writing?

This being said, while the decision to keep the novel short (less than 300 pages) could have been a devastating decision, I also think the novel benefitted from the author’s brevity in one important way: by not descending into considerable tracts of exposition and world-building, Sprunk was able to write a novel that places the onus on the reader to round out one’s impression of the world. Shadow’s Son, therefore, is written much like a thriller, and instead of spelling everything out for the reader, allows them to form a lot of the picture themselves – no bad thing.

Ultimately these minor issues didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the novel – the pace is great, the story fun and engaging, and the characters are interesting. This is a solid fantasy debut that grabs you from page one and refuses to let you go. I am eagerly awaiting the second instalment.

To sum up, I shall not mince words: I really liked this novel, and had fun reading it; and I think most readers will, too.

Highly recommended.

For Fans of: Brent Weeks, Col Buchanan, James Enge, Scott Lynch, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Matthew Sturges

Shadow’s Son is released in the US through Pyr/Prometheus (who very kindly sent me the book to review) and is published in the UK by Gollancz.

(Tentative) Reading Plans

Things have been pretty quiet on CR over the last month and a half (certainly when compared to the month-of-super-productivity that was May), so I thought I’d write just a quick post about reading plans for the summer months – mainly to prove I’m still alive and reading.

Bearing in mind this will all be taking place as I try to put the finishing touches to my PhD, things might continue to be a bit slower than before, but I will still be reading and reviewing as much as I can (it still amazes me that I managed a 28,000-word chapter – on the role of the US Executive Branch in formulating foreign policy – during May and the first week of June).

So, what have we got in the works? Some novels from some great novelists, as it turns out…

There’s Crime Afoot…

Initially, it seemed like I’d be reading and reviewing masses of fantasy novels. Having done quite a few over the last two months, however, I’ve decided to take a bit of a break from fantasy and am going to catch up on eBooks, which I’ve left piling up for a few months. The bulk of these are thrillers, though there will be a couple of fantasy novels thrown in for good measure, too. So, first the thrillers in the works:

Sandford-StormPrey John Sandford: easily one of my favourite authors, I’ve got three of Mr Sandford’s novels stacked up, and I’m disappointed with myself for leaving them unread for so long. I won’t go into too much detail, but they’re the second and third Virgil Flowers novels (Heat Lightning and Rough Country), and the 20th Lucas Davenport novel (Storm Prey). Considering how long the series has been going, I am truly impressed by Sandford’s ability to keep the series both fresh, intelligent and entertaining for so long at the same time as producing a parallel series with a different feel and voice. Really very impressive, and clear evidence of why he’s such a success in his home country (and it’s doubly impressive because his novels are set in Minnesota and Wisconsin – hardly well-known areas outside the States, and not exactly among the top tourist destinations).

Baldacci-DeliverUsFromEvilDavid Baldacci: Long-time readers of the site will know how  much of a fan I am of Mr Baldacci’s novels – all three series are great, as far as I’m concerned, and they have never failed to entertain me, without ever being cliché or ridiculous. Intelligently-plotted, exceptionally well written, Baldacci is hands-down one of the finest authors working today, so I’ll be getting to his latest – Deliver Us From Evil – very soon.

DeMille-TheLion Nelson DeMille: A novelist who never receives as much  attention in the UK as I feel he should, DeMille is one of the best thriller writers, and his series featuring John Corey manages to mix intelligent and timely plots and stories with exceptional writing and the occasional well-placed touch of humour. I read the first three novels in this series (Plum Island, Night Fall, and The Lion’s Game) in very quick succession, and am very happy that he decided to return to the characters I’ve enjoyed so much. It’s not released in the UK for some time, but thankfully I managed to get it from the US. (Globalisation is a great thing, sometimes…)

Rollins-AltarOfEdenUK James Rollins: I’m never sure how popular James Rollins actually is – his novels are usually poorly placed with Dan Brown’s in ‘style’ and ‘genre’, but really he’s very much different and much, much, better. Sure, he blends the occasional conspiracy in the plots, and uses some intelligent artistic licence with the science and technology he includes in the stories, but damn he’s good. I’ve read all the novels he’s written since Map of Bones (filling in the gaps whenever time permitted), and try to never miss a single one. I’ve reviewed a number of the Sigma Force novels on the site in the past, and Altar of Eden seems to be something a little different.

I’m also considering a couple of novels that I’ve already read, but would like to read again – namely, John Grisham’s The Brethren, which was the first of his novels I ever read, many moons ago. A couple of other authors under consideration: James Twining, Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, Andrew Britton, and Richard North Patterson (for the latter, it would be an ‘old’ novel, Balance of Power, the themes and issues within which I think might hold contemporary relevance).

Had enough of Swords & Sorcery, then?

Absolutely not! That’s not to say fantasy and Sci-Fi will be ignored – certainly not! Aside from reviews that should be coming in from Alyssa and Emma, I’ll be attempting to read a handful of big fantasy releases that have been sitting on my shelves for some time. Some I recently mentioned in the ‘Fortnightly Acquisitions’ post, but here are the others:


- Justin Cronin’s The Passage; MD Lachlan’s Wolfsangel; KJ Parker’s The Folding Knife; CL Werner’s Temple of the Serpent; Sam Sykes’ Tome of the Undergates

Then there’s also the limited selection of sci-fi/other novels that are still on my to-read list: these include a number of books that aren’t published for some time, though, so I shall keep schtum about them for the moment.


Anyway, that’s a quick run-down of what’s coming up over the summer months (dependent on any particularly exciting acquisitions that might come through over the next couple of weeks, that is)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Fortnightly Acquisitions

It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for new books coming in, but I realised it had been a while so I thought I’d write another one of these posts to tell you about what’s coming up. It’s predominantly fantasy, with a couple sci-fi/horror/other. There were a couple of non-fiction books as well, but including them would have made this post too long, so I’ve excluded them from here.

Anyway, here’s a photo of the tottering pile, followed by individual descriptions, blurbs, and thoughts for the more interesting books…


“The King’s Bastard”, by Rowena Cory Daniels (Solaris)

Daniels-TheKingsBastard Book one of The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin

Cloaked in silent winter snow the Kingdom of Rolencia sleeps as rumours spread of new Affinity Seeps, places where untamed power wells up. Meanwhile, King Rolen plans his jubilee unaware of the growing threat to those he loves.

By royal decree, all those afflicted with Affinity must serve the Abbey or face death. Sent to the Abbey because of his innate Affinity, the King’s youngest son, Fyn, trains to become a warrior monk. Unfortunately, he’s a gentle dreamer and the other acolytes bully him. The only way he can escape them is to serve the Abbey Mystic, but his Affinity is weak.

Fiercely loyal, thirteen year-old Piro is horrified to discover she is also cursed with unwanted Affinity. It broke their mother’s heart to send Fyn away, so she hides her affliction. But, when Fyn confesses his troubles, Piro risks exposure to help him.

Even though Byren Kingson is only seven minutes younger than his twin, Lence, who is the king's heir, Byren has never hungered for the Rolencian throne. When a Seer predicts that he will kill Lence, he laughs. But Lence Kingsheir sees Byren’s growing popularity and resents it. Enduring loyalty could be Byren’s greatest failing.

The first book in this highly-publicised series sounds pretty great. I’ve not read much that’s been published through Solaris, but I must admit to having not been overly impressed thus-far (apparently, it might have something to do with when they changed hands from Black Library to HarperCollins, but I can’t confirm or deny that). This, however, looks about to change.

This trilogy, which will be released close together, has caught my attention, and I’ll be reviewing them very soon – most likely as soon as I finish Shadow’s Son (see below). Everything I’ve read and heard about it is positive, and the descriptions and blurbs do make it sound like something I’ll enjoy.

“The Uncrowned King”, by Rowena Cory Daniels (Solaris)


The Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin continues

Rolencia’s ancestral enemy, Merofynia, has invaded and marches on King Rolen’s castle. Powerless to help, thirteen yeard old Piro watches as her father, King Rolen, listens to poisoned whispers concerning his son Bryen.

How could the King doubt his second son? Determined to prove his loyalty, Bryen races across the path of the advancing army to ask the Abbot to send the warrior monks in defense of the castle.

As mentioned above, this will be released very soon (August), and the final part of the trilogy – The Usurper – will follow hot on its heels in September 2010.

“Hawkwood and the Kings”, by Paul Kearney (Solaris)

Kearney-1-Hawkwood&TheKing Re-issue of Volume 1 of The Monarchies of God series

The world is in turmoil. In the east the savage Merduks, followers of the Prophet Ahrimuz, have captured the holy city of Aekir. The western kingdoms are too distracted by internecine bickering to intervene and the Church seems more obsessed with rooting out heresy. It is an age where men go to the stake for the taint of magic in their blood, where gunpowder and cannon co-exit with werewolves and sorcerers. It is the turning point when two great religions will fight to the death and the common folk will struggle to merely survive.

I know nothing about this series, so it was a nice surprise when it arrived. I’ll probably end up reading it soon, but as you can see from this post, there’s a lot of other stuff that is higher on my priority list (as is something coming out next month, which will shoot straight to the top of the pile, if it arrives…). This does sound pretty interesting, though.

“Theodore Boone”, by John Grisham (Hodder)

Grisham-TheodoreBooneUK Grisham ventures into youth fiction

Half the man, twice the lawyer.

In the small city of Strattenburg, there are many lawyers, and though he's only thirteen years old, Theo Boone thinks he's one of them. Theo knows every judge, policeman, court clerk - and a lot about the law. He dreams of being a great trial lawyer, of a life in the courtroom.

But Theo finds himself in court much sooner than he expected. Because he knows so much - maybe too much - he is suddenly dragged into the middle of a sensational murder trial. A cold-blooded killer is about to go free, and only Theo knows the truth.

The stakes are high, but Theo won't stop until justice is served.

I’m a bit hesitant about this, because I’ve not heard very good things about Theodore Boone. I’m a big fan of Grisham’s novels, but this is his first foray into fiction for younger readers. The text is huge, and it’s not a long book, so I imagine it won’t take long to review it. Not a priority, but it’ll get done at some point.

“Temple of the Serpent”, C.L. Werner (Black Library)

Werner-TempleOfTheSerpent The second Grey Seer Thanquol & Boneripper novel

After a series of failures, Grey Seer Thanquol is offered a chance to redeem himself by going to the island of Lustria to kill the Prophet of Sotek. Dogged by assassins and stranded in a foreign land of giant lizards, temple cities and endless jungle, Thanquol must use all of his cunning and magic if he is to come out alive.

I’ve not read the first book in this series – Grey Seer – but I’ve got a fondness for the characters from the Gotrek & Felix series (this is the second ‘spin-off’ series, after the Vampire Ulrika series, which began with Bloodborn), so I’ll be reading this as soon as a sufficient gap opens up. I remember Thanquol being somewhat Machiavellian-yet-hapless, so this could prove a rather entertaining read.

“The Hunt for Voldorius”, by Andy Hoare (Black Library)

Hoare-HuntForVoldorius The latest Space Marine Battles novel

Captain Kor’sarro Khan of the White Scars is petitioned by his Chapter Master to hunt down and destroy the daemon prince Voldorius, a warleader of the renegade Alpha Legion, thus ending his reign of terror across the stars.

Hunting the beast doggedly for over a decade, Kor’sarro finally brings Voldorius to battle on Quintus, a world that has totally given itself over to the Alpha Legion. Together with their Raven Guard allies, the White Scars must fight an entire planet if they are to slay the daemon prince.

I’ve not read any of this series, either, but I’m interested to see what Hoare does with the White Scars – a little referenced Space Marine legion in the WH40k fiction published thus far. The premise certainly sounds interesting, and might lend itself to some intense battles and entertaining reading.

“Fear the Alien”, edited by Christian Dunn (Black Library)

Dunn-FearTheAlien Latest WH40k Short Story Anthology

The Imperium of Man has many enemies among the stars, but none are reviled so much as the alien. Dangerous races seek to destroy humanity wherever they turn –the brutish Orks, the ravening hordes of the Tyranid, the unrelenting Necrons and the mysterious forces of the tau and the Eldar. Across the universe, humanity and their defenders, the Space Marines, seek to eradicate these xenos threats. Yet all they can hope for is another day of survival – for to stand against the alien is to enter an unending war...

Featuring stories by Dan Abnett, Aaron Dembski-Bowden, Nick Kyme, Juliet McKenna, C.L. Werner and many more, Fear the Alien is an unmissable collection for fans of Warhammer 40,000 and military science fiction.

Some of BL’s top authors contribute stories to this anthology, so I know I shall be reading at least a handful of them, if not all. Maybe I’ll sprinkle in reading these in between novels. We shall see.

“The Fuller Memorandum”, by Charles Stross (Orbit)

FullerMemorandum_B.indd The Laundry Files continues

Bob Howard is an IT specialist and field agent for the Laundry, the branch of Her Majesty’s secret service that deals with occult threats.

Overworked and underpaid, Bob is used to his two jobs overflowing from a strict nine to five and, since his wife Mo has a very similar job description, he understands that work will sometimes follow her home, too. But when ‘work’ involves zombie assassins and minions of a mad god’s cult, he realises things are spinning out of control.

When a top-secret dossier goes missing and his boss Angleton is implicated, Bob must contend with suspiciously helpful Russian intelligence operatives and an unscrupulous apocalyptic cult before confronting the decades-old secret that lies at the heart of the Laundry: what is so important about the missing Fuller Memorandum? And why are all the people who know dying . . . ?

I’m only familiar with Stross’s Merchant Princes series, which I thought was great. The Fuller Memorandum is the third or fourth story in this setting, and again I’m not sure if it’s important to have read previous novels to really ‘get’ it. I’ve only heard good things about it, though, so I might still give it a shot when some time opens up.

“The Restoration Game”, by Ken MacLeod (Orbit)

Untitled-5 Computer Games & Life collide with deadly consequences?

There is no such place as Krassnia. Lucy Stone should know – she was born there. In that tiny, troubled region of the former Soviet Union, revolution is brewing. Its organisers need a safe place to meet, and where better than the virtual spaces of an online game? Lucy, who works for a start-up games company in Edinburgh, has a project that almost seems made for the job: a game inspired by The Krassniad, an epic folk tale concocted by Lucy’s mother Amanda, who studied there in the 1980s.

Lucy knows Amanda is a spook. She knows her great-grandmother Eugenie also visited the country in the ’30s, and met the man who originally collected Krassnian folklore, and who perished in Stalin’s terror.

As Lucy digs up details about her birthplace to slot into the game, she finds the open secrets of her family’s past, the darker secrets of Krassnia’s past – and hints about the crucial role she is destined to play in The Restoration Game...

Don’t really know what to write about this, other than it sounds pretty cool. Cold War themes and so forth should make this a more interesting novel.

“Shadow’s Son”, by Jon Sprunk (Pyr/Gollancz)

Sprunk-ShadowsSon One of 2010’s most-hyped fantasy debuts

Treachery and corruption lurk at the end of every street, in the holy city of Othir. It’s the perfect place for a freelance assassin with no loyalties and even fewer scruples.

Caim makes – or, perhaps more accurately, takes – his living on the edge of a blade. Murder is a risky business, but so far he reckons he’s on the right side of it. Or he was... because when a short-notice contract job goes south, Caim finds himself thrust into the middle of a sinister plot in which he seems to be one of the primary marks.

Pitted against crooked lawmen, rival killers and the darkest kinds of sorcery, it’s going to take more than luck if he’s to get through this alive. He may lack scruples, but he’s still got his knives and instincts to rely on; not to mention a well-developed sense of revenge to fall back on.

But when his path leads him from the hazardous back streets of Othir and into the highest halls of power, will instincts and weapons alone be enough? If Caim is really going to unravel the plot which has snared him, to unmask a conspiracy at the heart of the empire, he will have to finally claim his birthright as the Shadow’s Son...

I actually received this twice this week – the first time from the lovely people at Pyr/Prometheus, and also because I forgot to cancel my Amazon order for the UK edition large-format paperback. Nonetheless, I’m reading it at the moment and, not to mince words: I love it. It does everything I need/want a book to do, and it’s certainly living up to my high expectations. My review should be ready some time over the weekend, at the latest by Monday evening. I hope.

eBook Acquisitions

Don’t often get eBook review copies sent through, but this week I got four from Pry/Prometheus – including Shadow’s Son, mentioned above, and got another one from Angry Robot Books, which is one of the only publishers that have embraced this new practice.

[Just in case there are any publishers reading, I have a Sony Reader, so can accept ePub copies for review…]

“The Blood of Ambrose” & “This Crooked Way”, by James Enge (Pyr)

Enge-BloodOfAmbroseIntroducing Morlock Ambrosius

Behind the king’s life stands the menacing Protector, and beyond him lies the Protector’s Shadow...

Centuries after the death of Uthar the Great, the throne of the Ontilian Empire lies vacant. The late emperor’s brother-in-law and murderer, Lord Urdhven, appoints himself Protector to his nephew, young King Lathmar VII and sets out to kill anyone who stands between himself and mastery of the empire, including (if he can manage it) the king himself and his ancient but still formidable ancestress, Ambrosia Viviana.

When Ambrosia is accused of witchcraft and put to trial by combat, she is forced to play her trump card and call on her brother, Morlock Ambrosius — stateless person, master of all magical makers, deadly swordsman, and hopeless drunk.

As ministers of the king, they carry on the battle, magical and mundane, against the Protector and his shadowy patron. But all their struggles will be wasted unless the young king finds the strength to rule in his own right and his own name.

I’ve been aware of James Enge’s books since this was first released last year, but for some reason I never got around to checking them out. After reading Enge’s short story in Swords & Dark Magic, which featured Ambrosius, I was eager (and yet still a little wary) to read Enge’s novels. Thankfully, the lovely people at Pyr have sent me Enge’s first two novels to feature Ambrosius, and I am eager to get started on them.

Enge-ThisCrookedWay Here’s the artwork and synopsis of book two:

Travelling alone in the depths of winter, Morlock Ambrosius (bitterly dry drunk, master of all magical makers, wandering swordsman, and son of Merlin Ambrosius and Nimue Viviana) is attacked by an unknown enemy.

To unmask his enemy and end the attacks he must travel a long crooked way through the world: past the soul-eating Boneless One, past a subtle and treacherous master of golems, past the dragon-taming Khroi, past the predatory cities of Sarkunden and Aflraun, past the demons and dark gnomes of the northern woods.

Soon he will find that his enemy wears a familiar face, and that the duel he has stumbled into will threaten more lives than his own, leaving nations shattered in its chaotic wake.

And at the end of his long road waits the death of a legend.

The third in the series, The Wolf Age, will be released in October 2010.

“The Office of Shadows”, by Matthew Sturges (Pry)

Sturges-OfficeOfShadow The Seelie Empire’s war against the armies of Mab continues

Midwinter has gone, but that cold season has been replaced by a cold war in the world of Faerie, and this new kind of war requires a new kind of warrior.

Seelie forces drove back Empress Mab at the Battle of Sylvan, but hostilities could resume at any moment. Mab has developed a devastating new weapon capable of destroying an entire city, and the Seelie have no defence against it. If war comes, they will almost certainly be defeated.

In response, the Seelie reconstitutes a secret division of the Foreign Ministry, unofficially dubbed the “Office of Shadow”, imbuing it with powers and discretion once considered unthinkable. They are a group of covert operatives given the tasks that can't be done in the light of day: secretly stealing the plans for Mab’s new weapon, creating unrest in the Unseelie Empire, and doing whatever is necessary to prevent an unwinnable war.

The new leader of the “Shadows” is Silverdun. He's the nobleman who fought alongside Mauritane at Sylvan and who helped complete a critical mission for the Seelie Queen Titania. His operatives include a beautiful but naïve sorceress who possesses awesome powers that she must restrain in order to survive and a soldier turned scholar whose research into new ways of magic could save the world, or end it.

They’ll do whatever is required to prevent a total war: make a dangerous foray into a hostile land to retrieve the plans for Mab’s weapon; blackmail a king into revolting against the Unseelie Empire; journey into the space between space to uncover a closely guarded secret with the power to destroy worlds.

Another book that’s caught my attention, this follows Sturges’s previous novel Midwinter, and continues the story of the war against the Faeries. I’m not sure if it’s necessary to have read the first book, but I’ll still be giving this a go pretty soon.

“The Crown of the Blood”, by Gav Thorpe (Angry Robot)

Thorpe-TheCrownoftheBlood Thorpe’s debut non-Black Library Novel

He had brought his master’s Empire to the furthest reaches of the world. All had fallen before him. Now he longs for home.

But home isn’t what it was. Could it be that everything he’s fought for all those years has been a lie?

A sweeping fantasy of immense battles, demonic magic and dark politics.

I’ve been familiar with Mr Thorpe’s Black Library work for a while, and I’m looking forward to giving this a try – a new world, an intriguing premise, and hopefully a great reading experience. I’ll hopefully get to it pretty soon – it’s moved higher up the reading list, certainly.


So, that’s what’s come through recently. Expect reviews of some – if not all – of them over the course of the next couple months.