Sunday, May 14, 2006

Dan Abnett, "Horus Rising" (Black Library)

Horus Rising is the first book in a trilogy from Black Library that chronicles the events of the Horus Heresy, a time when humanity was ripped apart in an intergalactic civil war, under the leadership of Warmaster Horus, one of the Emperor's Primarchs and formerly the Emperor's favourite.

In Horus Rising, the Warmaster has not yet fallen from grace - indeed, he and his private legion of warriors, the Luna Wolves, are a proud and pure as can be. Focussing on the experiences of Garviel Loken, captain of the Luna Wolves' Tenth Company and his rise to prominence in the Warmaster's private council (the Mournival), it paints a nice picture of the time, while avoiding cliches and the possibility of letting tales of the Primarchs (genetically engineered super-humans twice as tall as your average man) get out of hand - one, Sanguinius, has wings, so if it had focussed on him, then it could have become a little tiresome.

Dan Abnett, who has also written Black Library's highly praised (and rightly so) Gaunt's Ghosts series as well as stories for 200AD's Sinister Dexter, and presently Superman for DC Comics, shows he has only grown as an author. The pacing, the prose and story arc are flawless; never rushing to get to a certain point, never giving away too much, and never falling into clumsy or over-dense narrative.
One of the most interesting elements of the novel is the inclusion of the remembrancers - effectively journalists of this time, allowed passage with the Crusade fleet for the first time, with before unheard of access to the battlefields and commanders. They bring a very human element to the proceedings, and through them, the warriors of the Luna Wolves - especially Garviel Loken - confront their position as genetically engineered killing-machines, and their blind faith to being completely, unequivocally right in every way.
With the next two instalments being written by different authors (Graham McNeill's "False Gods", and Ben Counter's "Galaxy In Flames: The Heresy Revealed"), one can only hope that they do this beginning justice, for truly this is a great Science Fiction novel, and an important event in the Black Library's history. Hopefully, we'll be able to get you reviews of these two novels as soon as possible.
From brutal, fast-paced battle sequences, to introspective and personal moments between Loken and either his fellow captains or Mersadie Oliton, his defacto personal remembrancer, and with emotion and humour in decent amounts, Horus Rising has everything you could want from a novel.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

James Patterson & Andrew Gross, "Lifeguard" (Headline)

There is something decidedly ridiculous about this novel. First of all, the main protagonist, Ned Kelly ("Like the outlaw") is an idiot. Supposedly he has a degree in government and was a teacher. So why, pray, does he do so many stupid things?!
Ned joins some lifelong friends in a scheme to make $1million each, in one easy swoop - stealing 3 pieces of art from a wealthy Floridian. Only thing is, they're set up and things spiral out of control for care-free (and hitherto conviction-free) Mr Kelly.
Instead of dealing with the problem like a sane person, Ned decides to go all outlaw (like his name) and try to fix things by himself. This only gets him into more trouble.
True, there is no way this book would have been written if he hadn't gone on the lam, ignoring all common sense and logic. If nothing else, we meet some interesting characters - from Ned's Kiwi biker friend; Ned's "nemesis" Ellie Shurtleff, the FBI agent who's after him, but falls for him; bad guys who are actually written well, and you find yourself despising them, rather than rooting for them (as can be the case in many poorly written thrillers)... Characterisation is good, but not brilliant. The dialogue, cliches and cheese aside, does work nicely, and rarely sounds forced or unnatural.
As with all James Patterson novels, you have to shelf certain truths about the world, and simply enjoy the ride, trying not to grimace at the way people only seem to experience extremes of emotion (elation or despair - we'll have nothing else, thank you!), how some of the cheesiest phrases uttered by man seem to be met with delight and success. And people fall in love way too quickly, and with too many people (knowing they are the one for them, surely, can only happen twice in a couple of months with only the most fickle of people...).
Written with one of the ever-growing hordes of collaborators, Andrew Gross tends to work on the better novels ("2nd Chance", "3rd Degree", "The Jester"), but I think it perhaps Mr Gross' input that jacks up the emotions and schmaltz. "The Jester" had the most ridiculous ending, and Lucy Boxer, the main characte of "2nd Chance" and "3rd Degree" kept crying all the time!
Like always, there are a gazillion chapters, too (okay, there are 120, in 311 pages), so the pace is ramped up to the max throughout.
It's fun. It's rollicking in all the right ways. It's a good summer read. It's typical Patterson. Enjoy.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

James Twining, "The Black Sun" (Harper Collins)

Sequel to The Double Eagle, The Black Sun is a fine sophomore novel from a truly talented British author.

James Twining has managed to write a twisting tale of historical intrigue and action, while not falling foul to the cliches and pot-holes that affect Dan Brown. There's no dubious religious connotations or huge leaps into left field to help his arguments and premises. True, he's clearly made some of the background up, but then that's why this book is found in the "Fiction" section of Waterstone's...

Delving into the myths and oddities of the Nazi SS, the Black Sun is another tale starring Tom Kirk, The Double Eagle's art-thief-cum-action-hero that we all fell in love with last time around. This time, Tom is thrown into a dangerous quest after a number of high-profile thefts of art and a coding machine. Not to mention the arm thieves took from a concentration camp survivor...

Twining's style is so fluent and flowing that it is impossible to put this book down. Drawing us through the story with his prose and premises, the story rattles along at a fair clip, never pausing for long enough to catch our breath before a new twist is revealed. From London to St Petersburg, the action is varied and exciting, utilising all the best thriller devices, yet never coming across as tired, cliched or plagiaristic. Twining has his own voice, but one that sounds familiar and comfortable.

Fluid and eloquent, The Black Sun is a delight to read. One of this year's must-have thrillers.