Monday, November 24, 2008

SF&F Books on your iPhone!

Just a quick news item: Pan Macmillan, in partnership with Lexcycle Stanza, the iPhone's number one reading application, have made some of their SFF titles available as free excerpts on the iPhone. Authors featured include (but not limited to) China Mieville, Neal Asher, Hal Duncan and Peter F. Hamilton. Full ebooks will also become available in due course.


You can find out more in the release, at their blog:

Or their website:


Sunday, November 23, 2008

“The Whole Truth”, by David Baldacci (Pan Macmillan)


The master of the genre delivers a terrifying global thriller that could have been ripped straight out of today’s paranoid headlines.

Once again David Baldacci has delivered a novel that will keep you up all night reading, as the action pulls you on. The novel focuses on Nicholas Creel (billionaire CEO of Ares Corporation, the largest arms manufacturer in the world) and the one-named Shaw (an international intelligence operative). Creel is on a mission to boost the flagging arms trade by inciting paranoia on the international stage, bringing the world to the brink of a potential Great Power war. With the help of Dick Pender (a leading purveyor of “Perception Management”), Creel starts rumours and innuendo suggesting Russia is regressing ever-so-quickly back to the bad old Soviet Union days, then plants the blame for these rumours on China's doorstep.

Shaw, in the employ of a global security organisation, spends his time around the globe disrupting terrorists and other anarchic, nefarious plots. Joined by Katie James, the young, disgraced, Pulitzer Prize-winning, recovering-alcoholic journalist, the two of them find themselves drawn into Creel and Pender’s web of lies and deception, with the mission taking on a particularly personal nature for Shaw about half-way through the novel.

Baldacci’s writing continues to both inspire and amaze me. Not only has he been doing this for a considerable length of time, but he is able to create and write characters that are never boring, always believable, and also complex. Creel, for example, is a corporate titan who makes his living in the industry of mass-death, but equally gives plenty to charity and the underprivileged (making it hard to hate him). The cast of The Whole Truth are different from Baldacci’s established characters – Oliver Stone and the Camel Club, and also former Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell. His plotting is as tight as ever, each chapter giving the reader just enough to force them on to the next, and then the next, and so on. That his subject matter is also international relations was particularly interesting to me. His grasp of the current global climate is impeccable, and this comes across through this most-believable (though gloomy) premise.

Baldacci’s The Whole Truth is a tour-de-force of international intrigue, espionage, corporate greed and manipulation. It will grip you from the very first page. Fifteen novels into his career, Baldacci shows no signs of slowing down or losing his edge. Simply superb.

For Fans of: Brad Thor, Daniel Silva, Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills, Christopher Reich, David Isaak, Tom Clancy

Monday, November 17, 2008

“The Mark” & “The Guilty”, by Jason Pinter (MIRA Books)


The first two volumes from one the most promising new voices in Thriller writing

Jason Pinter’s The Mark introduces us to rookie reporter Henry Parker, as he starts his dream job at the fictitious New York Gazette (based on, I assume, the New York Times). Sent on a simple assignment by his idol and new mentor – Jack O’Donnell – Parker finds himself in a fatal altercation after trying to help a couple, only to result in the death of what turns out to be a New York cop. What follows is his harrowing journey to discover just what he’s got himself involved in, and why so many people seem to want to put a bullet in him. His dash for freedom introduces him to Amanda Davies, who become tied up with Parker’s quest for redemption, not to mention something of a love interest.Pinter-TheGuilty

The Guilty picks up pretty much where The Mark left off, with Parker now back at the Gazette and still working as a journalist, his reputation more-or-less intact. Then people start dying. A sniper is on the loose, taking the lives of seemingly innocent people. Parker’s nose for a good story sets him on a collision course with the sniper, who has a deep interest in vintage weaponry and a seemingly all-consuming interest in the Wild West… Parker’s investigation into the killer’s motives put his friends and loved-ones in harm’s way, and it becomes a race against time as Parker (with the help of O’Donnell again) tries to help prevent each new murder. All this, while his journalistic nemesis Paulina Cole takes shots at him from her rival newspaper, the New York Dispatch.

Pinter’s writing style is superb throughout both of these novels. His prose are extremely tight, pulling you along with the characters, as he ratchets up the tension and excitement – dangling just enough information to keep you hooked. There is no doubt that the word “thriller” is most apt in these two instances. All of Pinter’s characters are realistic, colourful (but still believable), and well-constructed – from the slightly damaged Amanda, to Jack O’Donnell (the classic, whisky-soaked and cynical old journalist, who comes to consider Parker as a surrogate son). You certainly come to care about the characters – not least because of the sheer amount of abuse Parker is subjected to during both of the novels.

Having a journalist as a main protagonist is a great change from the standard cop or PI approaches (not that these are bad, mind you); it allows Pinter to take his characters in a new direction and gives the reader a new perspective of what can happen when such news-worthy crimes occur. It’s also allowed Pinter to discuss (perhaps) his opinion of the state of journalism in America – as Paulina Cole writes about Parker, in The Mark, journalists are increasingly becoming the story, with almost the same level of celebrity as those they write about, diminishing the respectability and quality of journalism. I thought this was an interesting touch, for the background of the novel.

If I had to locate his style and skill within the Thriller genre, I would say he is a mixture of James Patterson’s better qualities (pacing, especially) and John Sandford’s quality and plotting. My one criticism is related: like Patterson, Pinter’s style of writing relationships can be a little too sugary or melodramatic – this is especially the case for Henry and Amanda’s relationship in The Guilty. It’s a minor gripe, but it’s still valid.

Truly one of the best new writers in the genre. Pinter should enjoy a long and successful career. If you like your thrillers fast-paced, exciting and expertly executed, The Mark and The Guilty could not come more highly recommended. Addictive reading.

(The Mark is out now, and The Guilty will be released on December 12th)

For fans of: Brett Battles, David Baldacci, John Sandford, James Patterson, Alex Berenson, Jack Kerley, Lee Child, Marcus Sakey

Monday, November 10, 2008

"Heir to Sevenwaters", by Juliet Marillier (Tor)

The tale of a young woman's brave quest to right a terrible wrong...

Heir to Sevenwaters is a stand-alone novel set in Juliet Marillier’s classic fantasy world. The chieftains of Sevenwaters have long been custodians of a vast and mysterious forest. Human and Otherworld dwellers coexist there, separated by a thin veil between worlds and sharing a wary trust. But everything changes when Lady Aisling finds herself expecting another child. A boy is born, the long-awaited heir, and is given into the care of his sister Clodagh. Then the family’s joy turns to despair when the child is taken from his cradle and something unnatural is left in his place. To reclaim her brother, Clodagh must enter the Otherworld and confront the powerful prince who rules there. Accompanied on her quest by a warrior who may be more than he seems, Clodagh will have her courage tested to breaking point. The reward may be far greater than she ever dreamed…

Heir to Sevenwaters is an atmospheric and absorbing tale with a varied and appealing cast of characters. Clodagh is a strong and sympathetic heroine, and Marillier’s fast-paced plotting never falters, holding together a diverse cast and varied story threads with ease. Full of mystery, romance and suspense, Clodagh’s quest to find her baby brother is full of twists and turns, ensuring your attention is hooked throughout, keeping us guessing as to the trustworthiness and motives of her characters. Clodagh’s developing relationship with the brooding warrior Cathal is vividly brought to life, as they are forced to rely on each other in a world neither of them truly understand. Marillier skilfully realises a large cast of characters and interweaves traditional folklore with a fantasy world that is so believable it seems to have a life outside the pages of her book.

Heir to Sevenwaters is a dark and romantic fantasy tale of changelings, warriors and chieftains, and one woman’s determination to thwart a malevolent faery prince and return her brother to his rightful place as heir. Recommended for fans of Lord of the Rings, Christopher Paolini, Alison Croggon, Anne McCaffrey and any discerning fantasy reader.

An epic and enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Emma Newrick

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Hood", by Stephen R. Lawhead (Atom)

The Norman conquest of England is complete – but for one young man the battle has only just begun

When Prince Bran’s father is murdered by Norman soldiers, he flees to London seeking justice. The journey is long and hard – and the suffering of those he meets along the way fuels his anger. With his demands dismissed, Bran has no choice but to return home, where a worse fate awaits him. His lands have been confiscated and his people enslaved by a brutal and corrupt regime. Should Bran flee or protect his people by surrendering to his father’s murderers? The answer, perhaps, is known only to the Raven King – a creature of myth and magic born of the forest’s darkest shadows. Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood brings to life the legend of Robin Hood as never before.

There have been many retellings of the Robin Hood legend, from the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Tony Robinson’s children’s series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. Some are more irreverent than others. Although a far more literary tale, Lawhead’s Hood also plays fast and loose with the legend. Lawhead lifts Robin out of Sherwood and relocates him in Wales, in the eleventh century, as an early British freedom fighter. Lawhead argues his case for doing so in a short essay at the end of the book, but really, he needn’t have worried. His story speaks for itself. As Lawhead says, the original legend was no more than an amorphous body of popular songs and poems about a lovable rascal whose name was uncertain and who lived someplace on the island of Britain at some unknown time in the past. Lawhead provides evidence to back up his theory that the original source of the legend was Wales, but, like fairy tales, the character of Robin Hood is now part of the collective consciousness and as such, up for grabs.

Hood follows the deposed Prince Bran of Elfael as he grows into a man, on his quest to save his country from the occupying Normans, and avenge the murder of his father. The majority of the familiar characters turn up – Friar Tuck, Little John, Maid Marian – but none of them are as you might expect. The forest that Bran and his band of rebels retreat to is almost a character in its own right: thick, dark and leafy, it has a presence and a magic all its own. It is in this forest that Bran will meet Angharad, a woman of power, and it is here that he will come to know himself more fully. The forest is the home of the mysterious Raven King, and it is this nightmarish figure that seems to be the Welsh people’s best hope against the tyranny of the Normans. But what is the Raven King’s connection to Bran, and is the creature, or Bran, all he seems?

Lawhead’s writing is fast-paced and well-plotted, shifting between the Norman and Welsh perspectives. Characters are well-rounded and the landscape of the eleventh century is vividly detailed. He deals confidently with the legend, and seamlessly adds his own touches to the story.

This is a must-read for fans of Lawhead’s other works, readers of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell, David Gemmel, Rosemary Sutcliff, Conn Iggulden and Robin Hobb.

Reviewed by Emma Newrick

(Scarlet, the second in the series was published by Atom in August, and the third in the series - Tuck - will be published mid-2009.)