Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Artwork: “Path of the Seer” (Black Library)

This is just another post to share some more amazing artwork. This time, it’s Neil Roberts’s artwork that will form the cover for Path of the Seer, the second in Gav Thorpe’s Eldar series, which began with Path of the Warrior.

Here’s the art (without book-cover accoutrements):


Pretty eye catching, no? The palette is striking (if a bit brighter than I would prefer) and Roberts has given the figure some interesting dynamism. The detail is quite amazing, too.

For those who are interested in the series, here’s the synopsis and artwork for the first book in the series, Path of the Warrior:


The ancient Eldar are a mysterious race, each devoting their life to a chosen path which will guide their actions and decide their fate.

Korlandril abandons peace for the Path of the Warrior. He becomes a Striking Scorpion, a deadly fighter skilled in the art of close-quarter combat.

But the further Korlandril travels down this path, the closer he gets to losing his identity and becoming an avatar of war.

I have a copy of Path of the Warrior already, and I’ll try to get it reviewed as soon as a window opens up in the review schedule (although it’s pretty packed for the next two months already).

Path of the Seer will be published by Black Library in September 2011

“The Emperor’s Finest”, by Sandy Mitchell (Black Library)


Ciaphas Cain comes face-to-face with the Great Devourer, once again plunging unwittingly into Heroism…

Commissar Cain is called to duty once more, saving a governor’s daughter from a planet over-run by rebels. The uprising hides something far more sinister however…

The search for the source of the alien threat leads Cain to a drifting space hulk – a far safer place than beside the obsessed governor’s daughter.

But when the Reclaimer Space Marines suffer devastating losses at the hands of the Great Devourer, Cain and his trusty aide Jurgen must go it alone. With the tyranids waking and a group of stow away orks on the loose, there are no safe places to run or hide, and Cain must use all his ingenuity and cunning to escape the space hulk alive.

It’s been a while since I read a Ciaphas Cain novel (I think the last one was The Traitor’s Hand), but reading The Emperor’s Finest I was quickly reminded of how much I enjoyed this slightly unorthodox Warhammer 40,000 series.

The novel’s plot takes a little while to really get going, but we are immediately re-introduced to Cain and his particular way of looking at things (i.e. self-involved). Once Cain and the Reclaimers Space Marines he is accompanying arrive on Viridia – an agri-world currently in the throes of a widespread, violent uprising – they are quickly thrown into action as Cain inadvertently volunteers for a search-and-destroy mission. In the process of executing this mission, he is introduced to Mira, the governor’s daughter, who irritates Cain from the very first moment he sees her (their relationship develops as the novel progresses, not always for the better). His first mission also reveals the depths of the conspiracy tearing Viridia apart, plunging Cain into an even deadlier mission with the Reclaimers, as they hunt a Space Hulk.

From the tunnels below and war-ravaged streets of Viridia, to the corridors of the Space Marine vessel and the Space Hulk, the various atmospheres (of menace, tension, and also pious calm) are well-realised on the page, and because the action is never far away it is very difficult to get impatient with the story. Mitchell is very adept at writing battle scenes and skirmishes, and Cain’s perspective offers something new and different from the usual perspective of devout and heroic warriors that make up many of the Black Library’s WH40k novels. Cain’s thoughts on those around him are often amusing and usually critical or sarcastic – something he could not get away with out loud, and something not often evinced by other protagonists in WH40k novels, who tend less towards the sarcastic and self-involved or outright selfish.

As Cain travels through Viridia in the aftermath of the initial Reclaimers assault, we get an impression of the city and those posted to defend it – not to mention the psychological impact (i.e. heightened paranoia and suspicion) a genestealer uprising can instil in loyalists. We also get a look at Cain’s approach to his job – which is quite different from the commissars portrayed in the gaming literature (basically trigger-happy zealots as likely to put a bullet in a friendly for insubordination or some other minor infraction as they are to shoot the enemy). Like Black Library’s other famous commissar, Ibram Gaunt, Cain is from the more measured school: he believes in the importance and efficacy of kind words and encouragement, in addition to stern orders and rule of law. His heroic, “fraudulent” (his words) reputation helps make his magnanimity appear sincere and noble, rather than the necessary self-preservation tactic he views it to be (many commissars have... fallen in battle, early in their careers…).

Unusually, in my opinion, Mitchell’s battle/action scenes are better than the calmer inter-battle scenes, which I normally prefer in other novels (particularly those by Dan Abnett and Aaron Dembski-Bowden). Mitchell does still pay attention to character development, of course, and the whole cast is well-drawn; but his real strength lies in the quick-paced action sequences, with Mitchell’s prose pulling you along perfectly. For those new to the series, the ‘edited-memoir’ form the novels take is rather handy – Inquisitor Amberley Vail’s footnotes offer background details, amusing asides and critiques of Cain’s statements, as well as chronological context, without ruining the flow of the novel. The inclusion of Vail’s footnotes allows for an extra narrative take on Cain’s memoirs – we get complaints about Cain’s “cavalier approach to chronology”, Vail’s clear dislike (or, at minimum, disrespect) of Mira, and also commentary on Cain’s more cowardly or self-preservational comments.

The author has said that Cain is based loosely on the characters of George MacDonald Fraser’s Harry Flashman and Edmund Blackadder, and you can certainly see the same self-interested, hide-saving tendencies of these two anti-heroes in Ciaphas Cain. However, Cain is actually rather adept and skilled in the arts of warfare (otherwise he would have been dead long ago), in addition to his prodigious luck, which makes these novels action-packed as well as amusing diversions. That Mitchell has managed to maintain the momentum over seven novels and five short stories is laudatory, and bodes well for the future adventures of Commissar Cain.

While this is not the best series published by Black Library, it offers a fast-paced and entertaining read for fans of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. The Emperor’s Finest is also one of the better novels in the series – far more streamlined and expertly crafted than some of his other novels (particularly the Inquisition novels he’s written, which dragged just a little more than I would have liked). With the Ciaphas Cain series, Mitchell does not delve too deeply into the psyches and motives of his characters, and is far more intent on providing a fun, fast-paced, and plot-driven story to entertain his audience. He succeeds.

If you’re looking for a novel set in the Warhammer 40,000 universe that is a little more tongue-in-cheek, a little more subversive, and slightly unconventional, then any of the Ciaphas Cain novels should appeal. The Emperor’s Finest continues the series in fine form, and was both entertaining and well-written.

*     *     *

The Ciaphas Cain Series:

If you’re new to the series, you’re in luck – Black Library has collected the first six Ciaphas Cain novels into two, excellently-priced omnibus editions.


- Hero of the Imperium (includes: For the Emperor, Caves of Ice, The Traitor’s Hand + three short stories: The Beguiling, Fight or Flight & Echoes of the Tomb)

- Defender of the Imperium (Death or Glory, Duty Calls, Cain’s Last Stand + two short stories: Traitor’s Gambit & Sector Thirteen)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

“The Name of the Wind”, by Patrick Rothfuss (Gollancz)

Rothfuss-NameOfTheWind A New Fantasy Masterpiece?

“I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me…”

So begins the tale of Kvothe – currently known as Kote, the unassuming innkeeper – from his childhood in a troupe of travelling players, through his years spent as a near-feral orphan in a crime-riddled city, to his daringly brazen yet successful bid to enter a difficult and dangerous school of magic.

In these pages you will come to know Kvothe the notorious magician, the accomplished thief, the masterful musician, the dragon-slayer, the legend-hunter, the lover, the thief and the infamous assassin.

So, I know this has been out for quite a while, but I found a gap in my schedule and decided that I no longer wanted to put off reading The Name of the Wind. Rothfuss’s debut has received such a considerable amount of praise from seemingly the whole book reading, reviewing, and writing communities, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Needless to say, much of the praise is justified, and every fantasy reader worth his or her salt should read Rothfuss’s  debut.

It’s not clear for a while what the novel actually is meant to be, or what the plot of this first instalment is meant to achieve (the synopsis makes it sound like it might be a lot more action-packed than it actually is). The opening handful of chapters do not reveal much of what we should expect, so it took a while longer to sink into The Name of the Wind than I would have liked. This is both a good and not-so-good thing. I wasn’t sure what I should be paying attention to, or what was wholly relevant or an aside. This does become apparent, of course. The story really picks up – as Kvothe admits, himself – when he arrives in Tarbean, still young and alone, utterly unused to the harsh life of a street kid (this period, actually, could have been expanded as I thought it a bit short or even rushed). When he moves on to the University (which forms the bulk of the novel), I found myself completely immersed in the story, and Rothfuss’s magic system – understated and elegant – is brilliantly created and portrayed. His time at university is pivotal, as he experiences both the taste of being a hero as well as being on the receiving end of a bitter, deadly vendetta.

It’s not all perfect. Kvothe’s interactions with Denna, the love interest of the novel, can be a bit off. Even though he freely admits that he is ignorant when it comes to how to act around and speak to women, this is more than that. In one exchange late in the novel, their dialogue feels a little stilted and unnatural. There’s one long passage that was a questionable decision: it’s written mostly in dialect-dialogue, which went on for too many pages, and suffered the same fate of all such passages (it seemed to be a mix of Scottish, Irish and English country yokel accents, and was a little annoying).

Otherwise, however, the dialogue throughout the novel, with all the other characters, is spot on and realistic – often very amusing. The amount of attention Rothfuss has paid to making his characters as complete as possible is impressive – even minor characters are brilliantly realised on the page and we get a real sense of their personalities.

Ultimately, The Name of the Wind is a story about people; their intentions, graces and faults. There are plenty of classic plot-elements (retribution, overcoming adversity, self-discovery, and so forth). Kvothe struggles with his harsh introduction to human nature, especially the darker parts of it, after he leaves the comfortable family-atmosphere of his travelling troupe. Some of those around him take advantage of his innocence – particularly at the university, where he struggles to overcome his poverty in order to remain enrolled for his studies. Ambrose Jakis, an elder student who works at the vast university Archives, is particularly devious and dastardly. But, at the same time, Kvothe experiences a few considerable kindnesses, and performs some of his own, in redemptive examples of human nature.

Rothfuss writes wonderful prose that will ensnare you, but this is not a break-neck pace novel. In fact, it’s very much the opposite – the novel is languid, the events unfold at a steady pace, and Rothfuss is in no hurry to show or tell us everything.

For me, the greatest strength of Rothfuss’s writing is how it made me want to keep reading the novel. When I started, I was very much in an Impatient-Reader-Mood, when I want something quick and fun to read, something that sweeps you up and drags you along. After initial concerns of the slower pace of The Name of the Wind, I found that I was still reading hours after picking up the book each time, and that I wasn’t impatient any more. In fact, I was perfectly comfortable allowing myself to sink into the narrative and Kvothe’s tale. I’m not sure if this effect has a specific name, but it was calming and utterly engrossing. The novel is still slower than I would normally like: Rothfuss doesn’t have Scott Lynch’s gift for maintaining an addictive, brisk pace for 500+ pages, but then this is a very different type of fantasy.

This is a great fantasy-literary achievement, one that is wholly satisfying and enjoyable. The world-building is superb (and part of the reason the novel is quite slow) and Tolkien-esque in scope and detail – Rothfuss is creating a fully-realised world, and some events that might seem extraneous or superfluous to the plot crop up again later to complete the picture. In order to broaden our understanding of the world, we get a number of stories-within-a-story, as Kvothe recalls a particular tale or song he was told in his youth. It’s a good way to inform the reader, and prevents the novel from suffering from an abundance of ‘info-dumps’. It’s clear the author has an interest in how fairy tales, myths and legends grow out of reality and snippets of information, filtered through the human propensity for embroidery and embellishment, and he incorporates this expertly into and throughout the novel.

Now that the final manuscript of the sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, has been delivered to the publisher (out in March 2011, last time I checked), I am very eager to read what happens next. By the end of The Name of the Wind, you will be highly invested in Kvothe’s tale and, despite the novel’s slow pace and considerable world-building, you will be eager for much more. Hopefully, I’ll get to A Wise Man’s Fear much quicker than I did Rothfuss’s debut – it promises to be far more impressive and exciting than this debut.

Some may consider it fantasy heresy, but I think Rothfuss is better than Tolkien: he is more interested in characterisation and the overall tale, than the academic exercise of creating a massive world. His characters are flawed and realistic, his prose fluid and engaging.

Very highly recommended, this is a must-read for all fans of fantasy, and certainly for anyone who likes their fantasy detailed yet painted on a broad canvas with exceptional skill, populated by fully-realised, complex and interesting characters.

Addictive reading.

For fans of: Scott Lynch, J.R.R. Tolkein, Alan Campbell, Brian Ruckley, George R.R. Martin, Kevin J. Anderson, Joe Abercrombie, David Gemmell, Adrian Tchaikovsky, Brent Weeks, Tom Lloyd, N.K. Jemisin

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Coming Up in 2011…

Once again, I take the opportunity to post exciting artwork and highlight some of 2011’s releases that have caught my eye. It looks like the first six months of next year are going to be pretty interesting in the world of books, and particularly speculative fiction.

As I was putting this together, I noticed that I’ve lost touch with the thriller genre that I so love. Partly, I think, this is because there is a decreasing amount of originality in the genre – the War on Terrorism is fast becoming a limited, saturated topic (which might explain Vince Flynn’s slight shift – see below). As it stands, there were only three thrillers I’m aware of that stood out as novels I’d like to read.

As for science fiction and, particularly, fantasy… Well, 2011 is going to be an exciting year indeed. I’ve not included every book that has caught my eye – some, such as Doug Hulick’s Among Thieves, I’ve mentioned before on the site, so I don’t want to be too repetitive.

In no particular order, here are some of the intriguing books coming out in the next eight months…

Simon Morden, Equations of Life, Theories of Flight & Degrees of Freedom (Orbit – April, May, June)

Morden-Metrozone Near-future thriller trilogy

Set in the overcrowded, decaying urban jungle of the London Metrozone, the series features Samuil Petrovitch – a foul-mouthed, selfish and anti-social Russian émigré who also happens to have a genius-level intellect. Going against his customary principle of ‘don’t get involved’, Petrovitch surprises himself one day by performing an uncharacteristically kind act – resulting in him being propelled into a world of rival gang lords, exiled yakuza, crooked cops, crazed prophets and gun-toting warrior nuns...

I’ve not been the biggest fan of London-based fiction (save for James McGee’s Ratcatcher), but there’s been quite a buzz about this series for a few months. I’m certainly interested in giving this a go. We’ll just have to wait and see if my strange aversion to London-based fiction can be halted by this trilogy.

Daniel Abraham, The Dragon’s Path (Orbit - April)

Abraham-D&TC-1-TheDragonsPath Book one of The Dagger & The Coin

The dragons are gone, the powerful magics that broke the world diluted to little more than parlor tricks, but the kingdoms of men remain and the great game of thrones goes on. Lords deploy armies and merchant caravans as their weapons, maneuvering for wealth and influence.

But a darker power is rising – an unlikely leader with an ancient ally threatens to unleash the madness that destroyed the world once already. Only one man knows the truth and, from the shadows, must champion humanity.

The world’s fate stands on the edge of a dagger, its future on the toss of a coin...

Daniel Abraham has been writing for a long time, but I first read his work earlier this year, when Orbit published the omnibus editions of his Long Price Quartet. His fantasy is very broad in scope, superbly crafted, intricately plotted and expertly characterised. High praise? From almost everyone. It is also very highly deserved. With The Dagger & The Coin, the author returns, and hopefully with another winning series.

[Interestingly, Abraham has also written an Urban Fantasy novel, under a pseudonym. I’m tempted to get over my prejudice against that sub-genre and give it a go. If I get the time, of course…]

Dan Abnett, Prospero Burns (Black Library – January)

Abnett-ProsperoBurns The Wolves of Fenris enter the fray of the Horus Heresy

The Emperor is enraged. Primarch Magnus the Red of the Thousand Sons Legion has made a terrible mistake that endangers the very safety of Terra. With no other choice, the Emperor charges Leman Russ, Primarch of the Space Wolves, with the apprehension of his brother from the Thousand Sons home world of Prospero. This planet of sorcerers will not be easy to overcome, but Russ and his Space Wolves are not easily deterred.

With wrath in his heart, Russ is determined to bring Magnus to justice and bring about the fall of Prospero.

Long-time readers of the site will know just how much I love Black Library’s Horus Heresy series (particularly the last three novels), as well as how much I respect and enjoy Mr Abnett’s work. As this is a sister-volume to Graham McNeill’s superb A Thousand Sons, there is added anticipation as Abnett offers the reverse perspective of McNeill’s novel, and the Space Wolves (think heavily armed-and-armoured Nordic berzerker-supermen) finally get their own novel. [Geek note: When I was younger, and more interested in the game aspect of Warhammer 40,000, the Space Wolves were my favourite army.]

Black Library have kindly sent me an advance copy of Prospero Burns, so it is currently staring at me from my ‘to-review’ shelf… I shall, however, hold off on the review until mid- to late-December.

Brian Ruckley, Edinburgh Dead (Orbit – ?)

Ruckley-TheEdinburghDeadAn Alternate Edinburgh…

Mixing real history and historical figures with magics and conspiracies, this novel imagines the Edinburgh of 1827, populated by mad alchemists who treat Frankenstein as textbook rather than novel, and by a criminal underclass prepared to treat with the darkest of powers.

The plot follows the progress of an officer of the recently formed Edinburgh City Police as he follows a trail of undead hounds, emptied graves, brutal murders and mob violence into the deepest and darkest corners of Edinburgh’s underworld – both literal and magical – and back again to the highest reaches of elegant, intellectual Edinburgh society.

I’ve not managed to read Ruckley’s Godless World trilogy yet, but when I read the blurb of Edinburgh Dead, I was immediately intrigued. I love the idea of “Frankenstein as textbook rather than novel”, and can’t wait to see how the author does this.

Alan Campbell, The Sea of Ghosts (Tor – April)


The Gravedigger Chronicles

When the last of the Gravediggers, an elite imperial infiltration unit, are disbanded and hunted down by the emperor they once served, munitions expert Colonel Thomas Granger takes refuge in the unlikeliest of places. He becomes a jailer in Ethugra – a prison city of poison-flooded streets and gaols in which a million enemies of the empire are held captive. But when Granger takes possession of two new prisoners, he realises that he can’t escape his past so readily.

Ianthe is a young girl with an extraordinary psychic talent. A gift that makes her unique in a world held to ransom by the powerful Haurstaf – the sisterhood of telepaths who are all that stand between the Empire and the threat of the Unmer, the powerful civilization of entropic sorcerers and dragon-mounted warriors. In this war-torn land, she promises to make Granger an extremely wealthy man, if he can only keep her safe from harm.

This is what Granger is best at. But when other factions learn about Ianthe’s unique ability, even Granger’s skills of warfare are tested to their limits. While, Ianthe struggles to control the powers that are growing in ways no-one thought were possible. Another threat is surfacing: out there, beyond the bitter seas, an old and familiar enemy is rising – one who, if not stopped, will drown the world and all of humanity with it…

Another author I’ve not yet read (Emma nabbed his previous series for review, and I’ve just not managed to get around to it, even though it sounds superb). With the beginning of a new series, however, I’ll have the opportunity to get in at the beginning. Also, if you read the synopsis and aren’t intrigued (even a little), then they could well be something very wrong with you.

Expect a review mid-March – might even be able to do a joint-review with Emma, who is reading the book at the moment.

Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl (Orbit – December 2010)


Prize-Winning Dystopian Future

Anderson Lake is a company man, AgriGen's calorie representative in Thailand. Under cover as a factory manager, he combs Bangkok’s street markets in search of foodstuffs long thought to be extinct. There he meets the windup girl - the beautiful and enigmatic Emiko - now abandoned to the slums. She is one of the New People, bred to suit the whims of the rich. Engineered as slaves, soldiers and toys, they are the new underclass in a chilling near future where oil has run out, calorie companies dominate nations and bio-engineered plagues run rampant across the globe.

And as Lake becomes increasingly obsessed with Emiko, conspiracies breed in the heat and political tensions threaten to spiral out of control. Businessmen and ministry officials, wealthy foreigners and landless refugees all have their own agendas. But no one anticipates the devastating influence of the Windup Girl.

Bacigalupi’s novel has been out in the US for a while, now, but Orbit are finally bringing it to the UK! The Windup Girl has been winning a slew of prestigious awards, and received praise from a broad range of critics and authors. Anticipation is high – so high, in fact, that the publication date has been brought forward – and I’m certainly going to give it a try as soon as I can.

Jon Courtenay Grimwood, The Fallen Blade (Orbit - February)

Untitled-4 Act One of the Assassini

Venice in the early Fifteenth Century is at the height of its power. Duke Marco’s aunt and uncle reign as regents, but Venice’s fate will be decided by three men.

Atilo il Mauros: head of the Assassini, the shadow army enforcing Venice’s will at home and abroad.

Prince Leopold: bastard son of the German emperor and leader of the krieghund – the only force in Venice more feared than the Assassini.

And Atilo’s angel-faced apprentice. Only a boy, Tycho is stronger and faster than any man. He can see in the dark, but sunlight burns him. It is said that he drinks blood...

I first heard of this novel when the cover artwork was published on the interwebs (although I forget, now, where I saw it first…), and I’ve been intrigued ever since. As far as I can tell, it’s a story of a vampire assassin. I am assuming this will not be anywhere near Twilight fare, so my interest in (almost) all things vampiric has been well and truly piqued.

Vince Flynn, American Assassin (Simon & Schuster - January)

Flynn-AmericanAssassinUK The Makings of a CIA Killer

Before he was considered a CIA-super agent, before he was thought of as a terrorist's worst nightmare, and before he was both loathed and admired by politicians on Capitol Hill, Mitch Rapp was a star college athlete with an untapped instinct for violence.

Tensions in the Middle East are simmering when Central Intelligence Agency Director Irene Kennedy pays a visit to Syracuse University, where she hopes to recruit none other than Mitch Rapp, a student who has quickly climbed up the academic and athletic ranks. At first glance, he appears like any other smart, good-looking American college kid. Under the surface, however, a tempest rages.

Tragedy entered Mitch's life a year before when 35 of his classmates, including his girlfriend, perished on Pan Am flight 103. Since then, Mitch has grieved their senseless deaths and has felt helpless in his desire for revenge. When Kennedy arrives on campus, his career path is suddenly laid out for him. Nine months later, after gruelling training, Mitch finds himself in Istanbul on his first assignment, which is to assassinate the Turkish arms dealer who sold the explosives used in the Pan Am attack. Mitch hits his target but quickly sees, for the first time, what revenge means to the enemy.

When Mitch's mentor and a fellow recruit are kidnapped and tortured by a dangerous group of Islamic jihadists, he must stop at nothing to save them.

I have long been a fan of Flynn’s novels, and have reviewed a couple of the most recent ones on the site. He remains one of the best thriller writers today, and his novels are always well-plotted and -paced, and his characters are complex and realistic. Mitch Rapp may, at times, be a bit too gifted at his job, but despite his killing expertise, he remains very human and aware of his sociopathic tendencies. Irene Kennedy, his mentor, is likewise an excellent character. The twelfth novel in the series, it is going to be interesting to see how Mitch was inducted into the CIA.

David Baldacci, Hell’s Corner (Macmillan - December)

Baldacci-HellsCornerUK The Latest Camel Club Novel

On the night of the State Dinner honouring the British Prime Minister, Oliver Stone witnesses an explosion as the motorcade leaves the White House. A bomb has been detonated in what looks like a terrorist plot directed at the President and the Prime Minister.

In the aftermath, British MI5 agent Mary Chapman, an experienced, lethal operative with an agenda of her own, is sent to assist and coordinate the investigation alongside American authorities. Stone, together with Harry Finn, Alex Ford and the rest of the Camel Club, is drawn into the inquiry.

But everything is not what it seems, and what happened in the park may not have been the actual plan. It seems the mysterious attackers had another target in their sights, and it’s up to the Camel Club to stop them, or face the catastrophic results.

Easily the best of Baldacci’s series, The Camel Club books offer an interesting take on the American political thriller. Oliver Stone is a great, complex character with a colourful (and lethal) past, and each new novel offers more insight into his character and background. His companions are alternately kooky and your typical straight-laced federal cop, trying to get used to Stone’s unorthodox methods. The premise of this novel sounds, again, pretty original and with great potential. I’ll review this as soon as I can. Hopefully it’ll live up to my high expectations.

Patrick Rothfuss, The Wise Man’s Fear (Gollancz - March)

Rothfuss-2-WiseMansFear The epic Kingkiller Chronicle, continues

“There are three things all wise men fear: the sea in storm, a night with no moon, and the anger of a gentle man.”

An escalating rivalry with a powerful member of the nobility forces Kvothe to leave the University and seek his fortune abroad. Adrift, penniless, and alone, he travels to Vintas, where he quickly becomes entangled in the politics of courtly society. While attempting to curry favour with a powerful noble, Kvothe discovers an assassination attempt, comes into conflict with a rival arcanist, and leads a group of mercenaries into the wild, in an attempt to solve the mystery of who (or what) is waylaying travellers on the King’s road.

All the while, Kvothe searches for answers, attempting to uncover the truth about the mysterious Amyr, the Chandrian, and the death of his parents. Along the way, Kvothe is put on trial by the legendary Adem mercenaries, forced to reclaim the honor of the Edema Ruh, and travels into the Fae realm. There he meets Felurian, the faerie woman no man can resist, and who no man has ever survived. Under her tutelage, Kvothe learns much about true magic and the ways of women.

In The Wise Man’s Fear Kvothe takes his first steps on the path of the hero and learns how difficult life can be when a man becomes a legend in his own time.

And so continues the Kingkiller Chronicle, the story of Kvothe. I’m reading The Name of the Wind at the moment, and I’m eager to know how Kvothe’s tale progresses. The pace of the series is a bit slower than I would like, but there is no denying Rothfuss’s skill as an author. Highly enjoyable, and rather immersive, this novel is expected to dazzle readers all over again.

*     *     *

As well as these new novels, I thought it would be a good idea to just mention some other novels I’ll be reading in the final month of 2010 and early months of 2011 – specifically, the long-neglected series that have been collecting dust on my shelves for far too long.

Joe Abercrombie, The First Law series & Best Served Cold (Gollancz)

Abercrombie-TBIUK1 I don’t really know why I haven’t got around to this series, yet – I’ve started The Blade Itself before, but really wasn’t in the mood for fantasy at the time (so I stopped before I got grumpy with it), and I’ve read the first chapter of Best Served Cold (which I thought was great). I’ve also been a long-time reader of Abercrombie’s blog, so I really have no idea why I keep putting the series off…

I shall finally remedy this next year, or possibly over Christmas. Abercrombie’s novels have, like a lot of other Gollancz books, been bumped aside by other novels I’ve been sent for review. I don’t know why I keep doing so, but it’s probably because of Reviewer Guilt – that sense that one should be reviewing what we’re sent by publishers, rather than stuff we’ve bought ourselves… It’s an irrational feeling, but I think other bloggers and reviewers sometimes suffer from it.

MD Lachlan, Wolfsangel (Gollancz)

Lachlan-WolfsangelReimagining the Werewolf myth

The Viking King Authun leads his men on a raid against an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but Authun demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy. A prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory. But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witness to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the troll wall. And he places his destiny in their hands.

And so begins a stunning multi-volume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal viking king, down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki - the eternal trickster - spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history, and over into our lives.

Another Gollancz orphan that I’ve been wanting to read ever since I first heard about it. I love Norse Mythology (I even took an elective module in Old Norse during my third undergraduate year), and coupled with my conviction that what Lachlan does with the werewolf mythology will be nothing like Twilight, this novel should be a perfect selection. I shall get to it ASAP (it’s ready and waiting on my Kindle), and hopefully before the second in the series, Fenrir, is published in May 2011. 

Lachlan-FenrirHere’s the blurb (and artwork, of course) for book two:

The Vikings are laying siege to Paris. As the houses on the banks of the Seine burn, a debate rages in the Cathedral on the walled island of the city proper. The situation is hopeless. The Vikings want the Count’s sister, in return they will spare the rest of the city. Can the Count really have ambitions to be Emperor of the Franks if he doesn’t do everything he can to save his people? Can he call himself a man if he doesn’t do everything he can to save his sister? His conscience demands one thing, the demands of state.

The Count and the church are relying on the living saint, the blind and crippled Jehan of St Germain, to enlist the aid of God and resolve the situation for them. But the Vikings have their own gods. And outside their camp a terrifying brother and sister, priests of Odin, have their own agenda. An agenda of darkness and madness. And in the shadows a wolfman lurks.

M.D. Lachlan’s stunning epic of mad Gods, Viking and the myth of Fenrir, the wolf destined to kill Odin at Ragnorok, powers forward into a new territories of bloody horror, unlikely heroism, dangerous religion and breathtaking action.

Sounds bloody marvellous! I think I’ll be pre-ordering this, depending on how much I like Wolfsangel.

There are actually quite a few Gollancz orphans at the moment (Tom Lloyd is another author I have neglected), but as the months pass, I shall do everything I can to finally catch up with these authors and their novels. I am already remedying this with Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind, and will do so again with Abercrombie and Lachlan very soon.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Capsule Review: “The Hunter’s Kiss” Trilogy, by Melinda M. Liu (Orbit)

Reviewed by Shevaun Fergus


Daemons and Mystical Tattoos… a new voice in Urban Fantasy

During the day, Maxine’s tattoos are her armour and she is invincible. At night they peel from her skin to take on forms of their own, leaving her human and vulnerable, and revealing themselves to be demons sleeping beneath her skin. But these demons are the best friends and bodyguards a woman could have. And Maxine needs bodyguards. She is the last in a line of women with power in their blood, trained to keep the world safe from malignant beings who would do us harm.

Nomad born and bred, demon hunter Maxine Kiss has always relied upon herself to fight the darkness that surrounds her, and the predators – human, zombie and otherwise – who threaten the earth.

Ten thousand years after its creation, the prison dimension that kept the worst of these from us is failing, and all the Wardens save Maxine are dead. She must bear the burden of her bloodline and join the last wild hunt against the enemy.

The Hunter’s Kiss series has a premise with great potential – tattoos that come to life at night, demons who keep their host (‘canvas’?) company and protect her in her vulnerable state. Unfortunately, however, I didn’t feel that this series quite fulfilled its promise.  This should have been epic – and it certainly tries to be – but the books are simply too short to accommodate fully the sweep of events Liu attempts to pack into them.

This is a pity because the author’s writing isn’t bad at all; but, with no space for a proper back story and exploration of the characters, I found the characterisation a little thin, and I didn’t find myself able to identify with the protagonist.

These are novels that are packed with action, and you expect the story to move quickly, but here the plot races on without giving the reader much chance to digest any information or gain any full understanding of events and characters. There are several points where history is tantalisingly hinted at or seen, particularly in the third book, but we are not granted a pause to examine in any depth motive, cause and effect, thereby denying us the chance to properly identify with and understand Maxine, Grant (love-interest), Jack (Maxine’s grandfather) and who or why they are the way they are. The bits of back story we do get are thrown in almost as an afterthought, and too much is withheld. Rather than leaving the reader in pleasurable suspense, it leaves you slightly frustrated.

Compared with other Urban- and High fantasy series, such as the True Blood series by Charlaine Harris, or the novels of Garth Nix, the Hunter’s Kiss trilogy felt unfinished, almost rushed, with too many blanks unfilled and questions left unanswered.

With plot twists that are a little too predictable, and enemies who are more caricature of evil villains, the series didn’t quite live up to all that it promised. The series isn’t dreadful, by any means, but overall this series just didn’t do it for me, though as a bit of light reading on the morning commute it served its purpose more than adequately. Overall, then, the series needed fleshing out a bit more, in order to give it broader appeal and live up to its epic potential.

Capsule Review: “Blonde Bombshell”, by Tom Holt (Orbit)

Reviewed by Shevaun Fergus

Holt-BlondeBombshell The woman who has it all, including an explosive personality

The year is 2017. Lucy Pavlov is the CEO of PavSoft Industries, home of a revolutionary operating system that every computer in the world runs on. Her personal wealth is immeasurable, her intelligence is unfathomable, and she’s been voted ‘Most Beautiful Woman’ for three years running. To put it simply – she has it all.

One thing, however, is not quite right in Lucy’s life. She doesn’t realize it yet, but she is in fact a bomb.

And not just any old bomb. Lucy is a very big, and very smart bomb, and her mission is to blow up the planet known as Earth.

In classic Tom Holt style, little of the plot of this brilliant novel makes any sense… All of his novels have plots that are quite zany, as he throws in Douglas Adams-esque strangeness. And, as with all the best of his work, it just doesn’t matter.

Canine aliens are going mad from pop music arriving at their planet from another world, ours. The solution? To bomb ‘Dirt’ (their name for Earth). So, they send a smart bomb – a very, very, very smart bomb. A sentient bomb in fact.

Arriving in orbit, confronted with no planetary defences whatsoever, the bomb is forced to make some decisions. Throw in a genius computer programmer, sentient languages, bank robbery by teleport, and the alien abduction of a small boy’s pet, and the world gets just that little bit loonier.

It is very difficult to review Blonde Bombshell without giving away some of the best gags, so take my word for it and give it a go.

Thanks to great writing, and a fun plot, I loved this book.

“The Lion”, by Nelson DeMille (Sphere)

LionThe_R.indd John Corey returns to hunt down a long-time foe

John Corey, former NYPD homicide detective and now a special agent for the Anti-Terrorist Task Force, is back. Unfortunately for Corey, so is Asad Khalil, the notorious Libyan terrorist otherwise known as “The Lion”.

When last we heard from him, Khalil had claimed to be defecting to the U.S. only to unleash the most horrific reign of terror ever to occur on American soil. While Corey and his partner, FBI agent Kate Mayfield, pursued him across the country, Khalil methodically eliminated his victims one by one and then disappeared without a trace.

Now, three years later, Khalil has returned to America to make good on his threats and take care of unfinished business. The Lion is a killing machine once again loose in America with a mission of revenge, and John Corey will stop at nothing to achieve his own goal – to find and kill Khalil.

It’s been a while since I read the previous John Corey thrillers (which I read all in one go), and I’ve been eagerly awaiting the protagonist’s return. It’s a decade since The Lion’s Game was published, but only a year-and-a-half has passed in this series’ timeline. (This locates the story in between Night Fall, which ended with 9/11, and Wild Fire.)

All of DeMille’s novels I have read thus far have been superb. They are gripping, thought-provoking, timely (if not prescient), and entertaining. His characters are well-rounded, quirky, entirely realistic, the action is exciting, and his plots are believable and expertly crafted. So, as you can imagine, I came to The Lion with very high hopes indeed…

After a slightly slow start, as DeMille gets readers comfortable with the setting and characters again, the pace and progression of the plot pick up and have the comfortable feel that his previous Corey novels had. The Lion is set very soon after the events of 9/11: emotions are still raw, and law enforcement is angry, on high-alert, and looking for payback (by Corey’s own admission).

Demille is one of the few authors to successfully and skilfully make the transition from writing Cold War novels to War on Terror novels, while maintaining high levels of quality. In a genre of thriller that is becoming over-saturated with FOX-News-ready novels, DeMille certainly, easily stands out as one of the better authors writing today,

DeMille’s characters are well-rounded and well-realised on the page. That being said, despite my familiarity with John Corey’s less orthodox, politically incorrect style, I found him to be a little annoying at times (certainly in the first few chapters, which could be a huge obstacle to new readers). His sarcasm and ‘man’s man’ persona are laid on a little too thickly in the first couple of chapters, which really turned me off. He came across as crass, rather than cynical, and slightly misogynistic. It’s been a while since DeMille wrote the previous Corey novel (Wild Fire, which I thought was excellent), and perhaps one of the problems with the characterisation of our protagonist is that DeMille maybe had quite a few years’ worth of material and ‘jokes’ that he really wanted to include. This came across over-done and made Corey slightly obnoxious, and therefore difficult to connect with. The rest of the cast are, on the other hand, pretty ‘standard’ (in a good way) for this sort of thriller.

Asad Khalil, especially, is well-written, even if he bears a lot of resemblance to characters we’ve read in Vince Flynn’s and Brad Thor’s novels. He’s back in the US intent on revenge against the US and Corey, who foiled his previous revenge-plan in The Lion’s Game. What makes him stand out are his inventive attacks (the aftermaths of which are sometimes painted in particularly grisly detail), and his ability to evade Corey’s Anti-Terrorist Task Force and their inept countermeasures.

DeMille’s writing is fluid and well crafted, and the dialogue feels natural. The author’s wry, cynical humour remains – even if, as mentioned above, it doesn’t always work perfectly. The story is very black-and-white, as can be expected from this sub-genre of thriller, but it would have been nice if there was a little more nuance (which Flynn and Mills, especially, are very good at incorporating into their works).

The Lion is a solid War on Terror, cat-and-mouse thriller. Corey and Khalil are well-matched adversaries, which allows the novel to play out nicely. DeMille’s skill as an author is still evident, but in a field that has some truly great established and up-and-coming authors, The Lion falls a little short, and I didn’t feel it lived up to the quality of authors like Flynn, Thor, Brett Battles, Alex Berenson, and Kyle Mills, who write with (in my opinion) a fresher style and voice. It’s ‘standard’ terrorist-thriller-fare, and not of the quality or originality that one might hope from such a gifted and established author. Corey was also not as worthy a protagonist as in previous novels, and I’ll admit that I had some difficulty moving beyond some of the things he said and thought (again, particularly in the first 10-15% of the novel – DeMille has apparently stated that Corey is written as politically incorrect as he can manage to write, a reaction to his belief that characters become more PC over time).

The Lion is recommended for readers who love the author’s previous work, or anyone looking for a reliable, solid thriller.

John Corey Series: Plum Island (1997 – good, but a little slow to get going), The Lion’s Game (2000 – great antagonist, great plot), Night Fall (2004 – a solid thriller), Wild Fire (2006 – easily the best of the series, with an interesting premise)

For Fans of: Vince Flynn, Tom Clancy, Kyle Mills, Brett Battles, Alex Berenson, Frederick Forsythe, Lee Child, Jack Higgins, Andrew Britton, Tom Cain

Saturday, November 20, 2010

On the mend… (Excuses, excuses…)

Just a quick comment about the relative inactivity on the site recently: I had surgery on November 11th, and have been convalescing in the wilds of Northumbria, with limited internet. Not to mention also a little befuddled by pain meds.

This means I have no idea if any books have arrived over the past week, so I do apologise for not saying thank you for anything sent through – I will do as soon as I get back home.

I’m on the rapid mend, however, so normal posting and reviewing should resume mid-next week.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

“The Broken Kingdoms”, by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Untitled-1Gods & Mortals. Power & Love. Death & Revenge. She will inherit them all…

In the city of Shadow, beneath the World Tree, alleyways shimmer with magic and godlings live hidden among mortalkind. Oree Shoth, a blind artist, takes in a homeless man who glows like a living sun to her strange sight.

However, this act of kindness is to engulf Oree in a nightmarish conspiracy. Someone, somehow, is murdering godlings, leaving their desecrated bodies all over the city. Oree’s peculiar guest is at the heart of it, his presence putting her in mortal danger – but is it him the killers want, or Oree? And is the earthly power of the Arameri king their ultimate goal, or have they set their sights on the Lord of Night himself?

At the end of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, Jemisin’s world was turned upside down, as the truth about their gods was revealed to the Arameri elite. In The Broken Kingdoms, set a decade later, the author takes us into a different level of society – in this second volume she takes us into the lower classes.

The new perspective allows Jemisin to further flesh out the world she has created, and the ‘commoner’ perception of the changes to the social order are interesting, giving the novel a very different feel to Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. Thankfully, however, the author doesn’t spend too long world-building. In some ways, this was strange – the lives of the commoners living beneath the World Tree are entirely different from those who formed the sole focal point of the first novel. But then again, Oree’s blindness allows for a more interesting approach to the world: descriptions are different for starters, focusing more on smell and touch, and also the impressions these sensations bring to Oree’s mind.

Certain aspects of life in the city are changing, particularly the religious core that formed around the worship of Itempas, the ‘Bright Lord’. After the godly coup of Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, religious uncertainty reigns. As Oree says at one point,

“For centuries, millennia, the world has danced to a single flute. In some ways, this has been our most sacred and inviolable law: thou shalt do whatever the hells the Arameri say. For this to change… well, that’s more frightening to most of us than any shenanigans the gods might pull.”

The changing edicts from the Arameri have left many confused and adrift, no longer trusting the change in their daily routines (Itempas, after all, was also god of order). Another major change to life in the city is the return of the ‘godlings’ – children of the Three. Their interactions with humans is a central part of the novel, and through Oree we get a sense of their lives among the mortals – their whims and desires, their follies and fantasies. They’re a fascinating addition to the world, and each has their own aspect or affinity that dictates, in part, what their lives are. There were a handful of godlings in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but in the time that has passed since then, the godlings have been allowed back into the world, where before they were restricted to higher plains.

Once again, I love what Jemisin has done with the ‘gods-walk-among-us’ theme, the different levels of god-hood, and how they interact with human society. The ‘godlings’, the children of the Three primary gods, each have a characteristic or affinity based around their nature. For example, in one of Oree’s flashbacks to her early years in the city, she is followed by a mercy godling, because she was drawn to the potential of Oree’s death that day. Madding, Oree’s godling friend has an affinity for checks and balances, which makes him a surprisingly successful businessman.

Oree’s guest, who she christens ‘Shiny’, is a complete puzzle to her – one she tolerates and has more-or-less given up trying to understand. Her strange gift allows her to see magic, but nothing else, and Shiny has unusual qualities that are only slowly revealed to her. When this revelation comes, I must say she takes it surprisingly well (just as she does a revelation about herself). As mentioned in the book’s synopsis, Shiny glows magically at dawn and sometimes during the day – he is not a godling, but neither is he human. He is something so much more, and throughout the novel he struggles with his nature and the curse he suffers. He very slowly opens up to Oree, as she gets sucked deeper into conspiracy that surrounds the dead godlings, and eventually develops a wary affection for her.

It took only a short while to sink back into Jemisin’s world, and the pacing of the plot grabbed my attention almost immediately. Once again, the novel starts rather choppily, hopping about a little before settling down into the narrative and plot (although, this happens far quicker than in the previous novel). We are quickly introduced to Oree, her life, and her friends, and we feel at home with this cast of interesting, well-rounded and, in many cases, unique characters after just a few pages. She is a blind artist who came to the city after Itempas’s fall, making a meagre living from a stall on a street frequented by pilgrims and staffed by other street artists. Her innate kindness caused her to take Shiny in to her home, care for him and tolerate his mute, fatally clumsy existence. She doesn’t know what or who he is, and frequently finds his taciturn nature frustrating.

The story of The Broken Kingdoms reveals itself within a couple of short paragraphs, quicker than Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, and this makes for a more streamlined (though no-less-satisfying) plot. I don’t think it’s necessary to read Hundred Thousand Kingdoms before reading this, but you would certainly get far more out of this novel (not to mention a whole other enjoyable novel) if you read them both. Oree’s navigation of the conspiracy she gets dragged into, and Shiny’s attempts to come to grips with his new nature and life are brilliantly brought to life on the page, and while Jemisin can sometimes wander into some pretty weird magic, the novel never feels too alien to relate to.

The Broken Kingdoms is not quite as complex as Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, but this can be expected from a second novel in a series. I do wish there had been a little more world-building, or perhaps an alternative perspective to fill in gaps that Oree’s blindness could not, to round out our picture of the lower levels of society. That being said, I think this could seriously have ruined the brisk pace of the novel if it hadn’t been executed properly – so it’s a mixed blessing, I suppose. The author’s style is great: never getting bogged down in exposition, frequently dropping tantalising hints of what is to come, and populating her world with varied and three-dimensional people and creatures.

A novel of compassion, revenge, dislocation and remorse, written on a background of momentous change, Oree’s journey is tough yet she manages to not only survive but grow stronger for it.

Jemisin has once again produced an excellent, layered fantasy novel that stands out from contemporary peers, and deserves your full, undivided attention.

A highly recommended series.

[I have done my utmost to avoid including spoilers for either novel, which has left the novel somewhat difficult to review. There’s a lot more one can say about The Broken Kingdoms – particularly about Shiny and his evolving relationship with Oree and the godlings – but I left it out because I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. I hope, however, that the review still piques your interest in the novel and series.]

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

“Soul Hunter”, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

Dembski-Bowden-SoulHunter Terror and Chaos in the 41st Millennium

The Night Lords form an uneasy allegiance with the Black Legion in order to assault the valuable planet of Crythe Primus. The Imperial world puts up a stern defence, but the biggest obstacle to success will be the disunity and mistrust between the two Traitor Legions.

Will their covenant last long enough for them to succeed in their mission?

This is the first novel by Dembski-Bowden that introduces us to the 10th Company of the Night Lords – a struggling Traitor Legion, specialists in terror-tactics and instilling fear in the enemy, the consummate trained killers. It is a tragic legion, coming to terms with the corruption that is spreading throughout its ranks, as more of their – already dwindling – numbers embrace the Chaos powers. Soul Hunter centres around First Claw (squad) of the 10th Company, informally led by Talos, an Astartes stubbornly holding on to the ideals set down by their Primarch back in the founding years of his Legion. He has to navigate not only the battlefields to which he is dispatched, the politics and alliances between Traitor Legions, and also the lack of trust within the Night Lords’ ranks.

What I like most about Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s (ADB) novels, and his portrayal of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, is that he manages to create multiple layers to the story, taking it far beyond what many would consider standard fare for “tie-in” fiction.

The main characters of Soul Hunter (and also, in fact, the peripheral characters) are a lot more complex and fully-realised than one would find in a lot of other science-fiction novels. The Night Lords, despite their anti-Imperial allegiance, are not just ravening beasts pledged to Chaos. True, a couple of them actually are, but they’re not cartoons, and ADB is able to keep the characters believable throughout the novel.

In Soul Hunter, we get a look into the life and trials of this Traitor Legion, its fast-dwindling forces and archaic wargear, the logistical and infrastructure struggles they face without the vast resources of the Imperium or the Black Legion (the nominal ‘leader’ Traitor Legion, formed from the ashes of the Sons of Horus). The author never goes into too much detail, maintaining the narrative flow, but I thought it was an interesting addition to the narrative and the reader’s understanding of the Traitor Legions, and especially helps explain much of what Talos feels and thinks about his mission and purpose in the galaxy. Talos remains mostly sane, save the gene curse he shares with his Primarch, that of prophetic visions. Squad-mate Uzas, on the other hand – a transplant from another, depleted company – seems to have given in to battle addiction, and is quite uncontrollable when in combat, quite literally becoming a slavering butcher.

There is tension within the dwindling ranks of the 10th Company, between Talos’s squad (no doubt others, too) who cling to a masterless ethos, and those in the Legion who have succumbed (even if only a little) to Chaos. The tension is palpable between Talos and the Exalted, formerly Captain Vandred of the 10th Company, now... something else. The Exalted is an interesting character; in part because it’s not entirely clear what he is – Dembski-Bowden did address this in a post on his website, which mentions that the Exalted’s nature will be explained in greater detail in the second book in the series, Blood Reaver (published May 2011). The Exalted is the exact opposite of Talos: he is impure, mutated almost beyond recognition, simpering in his attempts to attract the attention of the new Warmaster, Abaddon the Despoiler, manipulative of his own forces, yet fearful of the forces that are changing him (physically & spiritually).

This is the second novel I’ve read of ADB’s, as well as a couple of short stories, and each time I read his work, I come away very impressed. The author manages to include a smattering of dark humour throughout the novel, and the dialogue and interactions between the Astartes and their brother warriors or, in the case of Talos, with his slaves, is brilliantly written. The rivalries and fragile alliances binding the Traitor Legions together are detailed, and it quickly becomes clear just how damaged the Night Lords are as a Legion – they lack a unifying leader, they are spread far and wide, and more and more of their number are succumbing to the enticements of Chaos. As a fan of the Horus Heresy series, Soul Hunter offered some great new material to telescope forward until 10,000 years after Horus’s defeat and more detail of the Night Lords’ part in the Heresy.

Dembski-Bowden manages to humanise Talos, despite the obvious distance he has from the human race, and the loyalty he engenders in his slaves Septimus and Octavia is entirely believable. The novel is often written from the two slaves’ perspectives, adding another viewpoint of the Night Lord’s mission and tragic descent – Octavia’s recent capture allows for Septimus to fill in some background for the reader, and this too is done very skilfully.

The author’s battle scenes are equally well-scripted: they are never over-long, always sparsely explained and quick. It never feels like violence for the sake of violence, which can sometimes be the case in Black Library novels, and always moves the story along – giving us deeper insight into the characters of, specifically, the members of First Claw and also the Exalted (who excels at void-war, and allows for a very good space-battle sequence that was genuinely gripping).

Delving into the vast wealth of lore and background information that Games Workshop has released over the decades, ADB has brought the Night Lords alive on the page, fully-realised, complex and tragic. If Blood Reaver continues the quality I’ve seen in Soul Hunter and The First Heretic, then fans of the books will be in for another absolute treat.

Anyone who’s read my reviews of ADB’s short fiction and The First Heretic will know just how much I enjoy his writing, but he really is damn good. Many of the same themes run through his novels – loss, disenchantment, betrayal, and the personal struggles of his protagonists. Dare I say it, but I think Aaron Dembski-Bowden is well on his way to becoming Black Library’s best author. If you haven’t read his work yet, then you’re missing out. To repeat a comment from my review of The First Heretic, I would still love to see what he can do outside of the Warhammer 40,000 setting.

Superbly written, utterly gripping, this is sci-fi writing at its very best. A must for all fans of Warhammer 40,000, Soul Hunter will also appeal to newcomers to the universe and sci-fi fans as a whole.

Very highly recommended.

Snazzy Cover Art: “Kultus”, by Richard Ford (Solaris)

Just spotted this through my Twitter feed, thought I’d share it; the artwork for upcoming fantasy/steam-punk novel Kultus:


And, as always, the synopsis:

Thaddeus Blaklok – mercenary, demonist, bastard and thug-for-hire – is pressed into retrieving a mysterious key for his clandestine benefactors. Little does he know that other parties seek to secure this artefact for their own nefarious ends and soon he is pursued by brutal cultists, bloodthirsty gangsters, deadly mercenaries and hell spawned monsters, all bent on stopping him by any means necessary.

In a lightning-paced quest that takes him across the length and breadth of the steam-fuelled city of Manufactory, Blaklok must use his wits and his own demonic powers to keep the key from those who would use it for ill, and open the gates to Hell itself.

Must say, rather intrigued to try this out. The cover’s a little garish, but at the same time eye-catching.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

“The Geneva Deception”, by James Twining (Harper)

Twining-GenevaDeception Tom Kirk’s fourth adventure

A missing masterpiece. A shocking truth. An alliance signed in blood…

For Lieutenant Allegra Damico, the brutal murder of a mafia enforcer offers her an unexpected opportunity to jump start her career. When the body of a senior official at a Vatican-backed bank turns up under similar conditions, it becomes clear the killings are, in fact, the opening shots of a war.

In Las Vegas, former art thief Tom Kirk has agreed to help Special Agent Jennifer Browne handle the recovery of a priceless Caravaggio. The painting, stolen over forty years before, has suddenly surfaced and Jennifer is determined to recover it, but a sniper lies in wait. Tom, accused by the FBI of being involved in the shooting escapes to Italy, crossing paths with Allegra. Realising their cases are connected, they decide to team up.

What they uncover is a vast and powerful conspiracy stretching from the scarred fields of Italy to the marbled halls of the world’s greatest museums. A conspiracy built on the graves of the dead and the blood of anyone who dates stand in its way.

In this fourth Tom Kirk novel, Twining once again showcases his skill at conjuring plots that centre on intricate, international criminal conspiracies and, of course, expensive art.

The previous three novels featuring Tom Kirk were all happily devoured by this reviewer, and it was only through accident that it’s taken me this long to finally get around to The Geneva Deception. While still very interesting, there are some flaws to go along with the author’s obvious strengths.

First, the pros: Twining’s familiarity with the art world (not only the museums, but also the European centres of art – especially those in Italy) is superb, and the detail comes across as natural and unforced. Kirk is a strong protagonist, and Allegra is an interesting addition to the series. The story is well constructed, and Twining takes the reader on quite the tour of Rome. There are a few scenes that feel like The Da Vinci Code, but it’s only because of lazy mental reference to the opening scenes of Dan Brown’s mega-seller in the museum – Twining is far ahead of Brown in turns of style and quality.

Some of the flaws of the novel come hand-in-hand, or as a result of some of its strengths. Twining, a detail-oriented author, has perhaps gone a little too far in The Geneva Deception, as he describes everything in considerable detail. It’s not to the same level as the details of Patrick Bateman’s morning ritual in the opening chapter of American Psycho, but it’s noticeably higher than could be considered wise. Everything is described: we get exact model descriptions of suits, watches, guns and the bullets available to them, vintage cars... It’s sometimes exhausting – certainly in the opening chapters, when Twining hasn’t quite got the plot going yet. Sure, it adds an extra level of authenticity for an art thief to know about the finer things in life, but it also screams a little bit like “Look how much research I’ve done!”

The story picks up around Chapter 15, when the art deal goes wrong in the Las Vegas Casino, and Kirk has to keep things together at the same time as dealing with a significant death (which he seems to cope with far too well). The pacing throughout the novel is just rather uneven and, for me, didn’t match up to the superb quality of his first two novels (The Double Eagle and The Black Sun), both of which I loved.

Overall, this is a good book, and a fun read. Unfortunately, and for reasons I can’t understand, Twining either has written this without strict editorial supervision, or his editor wasn’t paying too much attention. It takes approximately half of the novel before all the events described in the blurb on the back of the paperback have happened. While this isn’t bad per se, it was a little disappointing to know, basically, the first half of the novel before cracking open a single page.

If you like your thrillers a little less break-neck in pace, coupled with intricate plotting and an international setting, not to mention some excellent insight into art and the art black market, then The Geneva Deception should appeal. It’s not the author’s best novel, but it’s certainly still well worth reading.

Friday, November 05, 2010

New Artwork: “Black Halo” by Sam Sykes (Gollancz)

[Thanks to Mad Hatter Review for posting this first]

Just a quick post, but one I wanted to share.

Hot on the heels of my review of Tome of the Undergates, I can now share the artwork for Sykes’s second novel, which has recently been released onto the internets!

Here it is for your viewing pleasure:


I quite like it, to be honest. More striking than Tome’s cover, and the focus on Lenk certainly keeps the feel of the first novel. Not sure what the synopsis is, but as soon as I get hold of it, I’ll post it on here.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Spotlight: “Kraken”, by China Miéville (Tor)


An impossible theft. A legendary beast. A Holy War.

Deep in the research wing of the Natural History Museum is a prize specimen, something that comes along much less often than once in a lifetime: a perfect, and perfectly preserved, giant squid. But what does it mean when the creature suddenly and impossibly disappears?

For curator Billy Harrow it’s the start of a headlong pitch into a London of warring cults, surreal magic, apostates and assassins. It might just be that the creature he’s been preserving is more than a biological rarity: there are those who are sure it’s a god.

A god that someone is hoping will end the world.

Approaching China Miévelle’s Kraken at this point (after months of hardback reviews, and then more paperback reviews) is a rather daunting affair – both as a reader and reviewer. The list of praise and encomiums both in the paperback edition of the novel, as well as listed on the Amazon page, makes me wonder what on earth I could add to the discussion; the comparisons to literary figures and movements leaves me overwhelmed (having stopped studying English literature at aged 16) and intimidated. As a reader, if I don’t love it, I feel somewhat deficient.

I don’t have the most extensive experience with Miéville’s work – I read Perdido Street Station nine years ago (I found it quite heavy-going and not the easiest read), and I’ve also read The Scar twice (which I really enjoyed). Each time a new novel has been published, though, I’ve hesitated or been distracted by something else.

So is this a review or not? Well, no, not quite…

Reading Kraken, it is clear that Miéville’s prowess as an author has grown considerably since I read The Scar – his prose is superb, the flow of his story near-flawless; his characters are brilliantly realised and also realistic; the dialogue natural; his evocation of London (both real and fictional) is brilliant; the weirdness he puts in his novels delightfully twisted and original.

For me, however (and unfortunately), the novel didn’t grab me as much as it perhaps should. For starters, I have never been much of a fan of this genre, and the setting of an alternative London has never much appealed – largely because my experiences with the city are extremely limited, so I guess I can’t relate too well, and I simply don’t like London. This aversion to London-based novels (fantasy or otherwise) is not limited to Miéville’s novels – I couldn’t get into Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, Michael Shevdon’s Sixty-One Nails, or Kate Griffin’s Midnight Mayor. If you are a fan of any of these novels, then China Miéville’s Kraken and The City & The City will be perfect reads for you. However, for me, I just didn’t connect with the setting despite my appreciation for the authors’ talents as writers and storytellers.

Reading the first few chapters of Kraken, it is clear to me that the praise for Miéville’s writing and prose is entirely warranted, and it was impossible to not be impressed. He just happens to be writing in a genre that simply doesn’t appeal to me, no matter how many times I try to read a novel in it. The author’s imagination seems limitless, weird, darkly attractive, and his ability to transfer it on to the page is nearly peerless. But, despite my appreciation for his abilities and authorial skill, I just couldn’t get into the novel.

For me, Kraken just didn’t resonate. But, as a work of fantasy, it’s impossible to not recognise the author’s achievement and skill, not to mention why he’s won the Arthur C. Clarke award three times.

[Emma is going to give Kraken a try, and if she gets a chance, she’ll write a review of it, too.]

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

“Behemoth”, by Scott Westerfeld (Simon & Schuster)

Reviewed by Alyssa Mackenzie

Westerfeld-BehemothUKv2 Airships in Istanbul

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.

Westerfeld-LeviathanUK In the world of the Leviathan trilogy, the discoveries of Charles Darwin resulted in a technological as well as scientific revolution. By 1914, ‘Darwinist’ countries (Britain and its allies) have developed ‘fabricated’ creatures, which perform the functions usually fulfilled by machines: giant jellyfish are one-man aircrafts, tiny lizards relay messages in human voices, and bats that eat prunes embedded with metal spikes are used instead of guns. In the countries that reject Darwinist practices, or ‘Clankers’, purely mechanical technology has evolved very differently from our own, designed to compete with and (with the prospect of the First World War) to defeat, Darwinist creatures.

Westerfeld introduced this world in Leviathan (published in 2009), through the eyes of Deryn Sharp and Alek Hapsburg and the British airship (and self-sustaining ecosystem) ‘Leviathan’. Leviathan combines great characters and plotting with a truly masterful piece of world-building. Westerfeld creates his alternate history brilliantly, working within and against conflicts and concerns of our history to build his own. His world-building is thoughtful, detailed, and frequently playful (one of my favourite details from the novel is the image of 1914 London renowned for its air quality because of its use of fabricated creatures instead of fuel-burning machines). I thoroughly enjoyed Leviathan, and was very excited to read Behemoth, which continues Deryn and Alek’s story in fine form.

Behemoth picks up where Leviathan left off, with Deryn and Alek together on the Leviathan. Very quickly, however, both leave the safety of the airship, and follow separate paths into the exotic and politically unstable city of Istanbul. In addition to steampunk alternate history and adventure tale, the Leviathan trilogy is a coming-of-age story, for both Alek and Deryn. In Behemoth, both characters are forced to act and think independently, and as each is separated from the adults who have hitherto protected and guided them, we see both characters mature while they face tests to their judgement, strength, and ingenuity. Repeatedly, both Deryn and Alek must decide whom to trust, attempting to accomplish their goals without compromising their safety; as the story progresses, what becomes apparent is that the most important of these decisions will be to trust each other.

As in Leviathan, Westerfeld does a great job of using real-world events and conflicts to construct his narrative. In this case, Winston Churchill’s refusal to hand over a warship purchased by the Ottoman Empire (to which Westerfeld adds an accompanying fabricated creature, the titular behemoth), becomes a diplomatic crisis not only for Britain, but for the allied Darwinists who want to sway Turkey away from its Clanker sympathies. Westerfeld is very skilled at balancing the various elements of his plot, raising the stakes individually for Deryn and Alek, and the broader political situation at hand without any element of his story overpowering another; moreover, he does so in a narrative that is fast-paced, engaging, and above all, fun.

I really enjoyed seeing the world of Leviathan extended beyond the specifically Clanker or Darwinist worlds of Austria and Britain. In addition to showing a different, slightly more organic version of Clanker technology in Istanbul, Westerfeld introduces his first North American to the story: Eddie Malone, an American reporter. Americans seem to take a much more relaxed attitude than any other characters, comfortable with both machines and fabricated creatures. Eddie was one of my favourite new characters. The perspicacious, monkey-like loris named Bovril was also an amusing addition to the cast, showing an ability to pick out the most important (and, frequently, the most awkward or embarrassing) words and phrases from conversation and repeat them. The loris will clearly play an important role in the final book of the trilogy, but how is as yet unclear. Manipulated into Alek’s care by Dr. Barlow, all it seems to do at present is threaten to make trouble.

Behemoth is an excellent read, featuring a fun and suspenseful plot within brilliantly-realised alternate history. Keith Thompson’s illustrations are a great addition to the book – they do a good job of capturing the spirit of Westerfeld’s story and characters. I am definitely looking forward to Goliath.

Highly recommended.

The Leviathan trilogy: Leviathan (winner of the 2010 Locus Award for Best Young Adult Fiction), Behemoth, Goliath (October 2011)