Friday, December 14, 2007

"The Gilded Seal" by James Twining (HarperCollins)

Tom Kirk's latest adventure in the world of art theft comes with a dash of historical conspiracy and treasure hunting excitement, not to mention the most famous painting in the world...

The Gilded Seal is a very good book. Rather straightforward review, I know. It has all the hallmarks that made The Double Eagle and The Black Sun, the first two Tom Kirk thrillers, page-turning thrillers that kept you up all night while Twining's prose dragged you along on the various escapades and life-threatening situations that he put his main protagonists through. The pace of Twining's writing for this latest volume, while a little slower, was tight and eloquent as ever, and as such was a pleasure to read.

For The Gilded Seal, we follow Kirk first from Scotland to Spain, in pursuit of the killer of one of his closest friends in the art underworld, a forger named Rafael. Then the action moves to Paris, where Kirk dupes his old partner from the FBI, Jennifer Browne, into helping prevent the theft of the Mona Lisa. All exciting and rather far-fetched, perhaps? Well, maybe, but one thing Twining is very good at doing is convincing his readers that what they're reading could very well happen.

If you're after a fun thriller that doesn't skirt the murky waters occupied by such twaddle as The Da Vinci Code and others of that ilk (i.e. something more intelligent and uncontroversial), then The Gilded Seal is something you should definitely pick up.

There's an excellent twist in the epilogue, which should raise a few smiles, too. Yet another highly recommended read from one of the UK's best new authors.

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Lost Temple", by Tom Harper (Arrow Books)

Tom Harper has penned an intelligent, excellently researched and enjoyable treasure hunt of a novel.

Compared to the vast majority of other novels in this genre (Historical-tinged thriller cum treasure hunts), Tom Harper's "Lost Temple" is a cut well above. The novel follows the exploits of Sam Grant, a former SOE agents who went AWOL after the Second World War, and how he is roped in to help find an ancient treasure that might have important uses for the recovering states of Europe.

His companions are Marina, a feisty Greek former-guerilla against the Germans; Professor Reed, a fussy Oxford don who clearly hasn't had much experience with the outdoors; and Muir, a British agent with questionable morals and methods.

Other reviews have described "Lost Temple" as a break-neck thrill ride, but in fact it is much slower paced than others in the genre it's being marketted for (such as books by Matthew Reilly, James Rollins, Dan Brown and others of that ilk). I actually appreciated the pace, as it helped to make it clear that technology was slower in this time - it provides greater authenticity to Harper's writing and also the pace of the novel.

The explanations and revelations regarding Greek mythology are conveyed very well, never coming across like a lecture or other style of academic treatise (despite them inevitably coming from the mouth of the Oxford professor). In fact, I found the passages about mythology and history to be the most interesting parts of the novel.

To write any more would probably spoil the story for those who haven't read it. Needless to say, Harper clearly writes with a passion and enthusiasm for history and the subject matter in the novel, and this makes his writing all the more fluid and convincing. Could the pace have been quicker? Probably, but it ultimately doesn't matter. "Lost Temple" is an interesting, entertaining and (dare I say it) intellectual novel that actually achieves what it was supposed to. Another plus about the novel is that the "conspiracy" and code have nothing to do with trying to prove Christianity as bogus mumbo-jumbo. Refreshing.

Since reading "Lost Temple", I have ordered Harper's Crusader series ("Mosaic of Shadows", "Knights of the Cross", and "Siege of Heaven") and also taken out his more humorous, if slightly silly Lieutenant Martin Jerrold series ("Blighted Cliffs", "Chains of Albion" and "Treason's River") novels, which he wrote as Edwin Thomas.

I recommend this book.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Descent of Angels (Horus Heresy)", by Mitchell Scanlon (Black Library)

Volume six in the excellent Horus Heresy series does not disappoint, shedding light on the founding of the mysterious and aloof Dark Angels.

Covering the founding and subsequent fall of the Dark Angels, "Descent of Angels" is an excellent insight into one of the most popular (and four primary) legions that make up the Space Marines.

Focussing on the initiation of Zahariel into the Order, the knightly... um, order on Caliban that was run by Lion El'Jonson, the primarch of the Dark Angels. If you know nothing of the history already in place for the Dark Angels, then this is all going to sound like mumbo-jumbo, but never mind.

The action is well paced, as well as well spaced. This isn't a novel devoted solely to bloodshed and carnage, as some readers of Black Library's output seem to want (probably the younger readers). In fact, there are only three short battles that, while integral to the story and development of the main characters, feel a little like afterthoughts. Staying true to the mysterious nature of the Dark Angels, this novel has many portions of relative inactivity, when Zahariel or another main protagonist merely ponders various things about the nature of their changing lives, and the universe that is undergoing change around them.
Unfortunately, the novel ends very abruptly, without much explanation of... well, anything really. There's no explanation to the introductory dialogue that describes some events that come in the novel and beyond. Perhaps there will be another novel that follows the story of the Dark Angels, just so the loose ends are tied up. A little disappointing, as it felt like the novel was really taking off, then nothing... Let's hope enough people bring this up that Black Library commission another to fill in the blanks, and flesh out the role of the Dark Angels during the Great Crusade and the Horus Heresy, not to mention an explanation as to why they become such a secretive and semi-rogue legion.

"Descent of Angels" fits in well with the other five volumes of the series, raising the level of writing as well as the intellectual level of Black Library's usual releases, which occasionally feel targetted at younger readers, or perhaps just those who don't really get out that much. Writers for this series, along with other established authors who have had careers outside of Black Library (Steven Saville and Dan Abnett, specifically) really do a wonderful job of creating excellent science fiction and fantasy novels - if only they could do more!

If you have enjoyed "Horus Rising", "False Gods", "Galaxy In Flames", "Flight Of The Eisenstein", and "Fulgrim", then you will love this novel, and no doubt all the others to come in the series ("Legion" and "Battle For The Abyss" are the next two).