Monday, September 30, 2013

Comics Round-Up – Constantine & Lucifer (DC, Vertigo)

Still haven’t been reviewing as many comics as I had been earlier in the year, but I recently started reading two very good series – one brand new and on-going (Constantine), one already completed (Lucifer). I enjoyed them both very much, so I thought I’d show them some brief love on the blog.



Writer: Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes | Artist: Renato Guedes (#1-3), Fabiano Neves (#4) | Colors: Marcelo Maiolo

Liar, cheater, manipulator... John Constantine is all of these, and yet he uses these skills and more to protect the world from the darkest corners of the DC Universe.

Spinning out of both Hellblazer (which spanned 300 issues, and was Vertigo’s longest-running series) and also Justice League Dark, this series gives John Constantine its entire attention. I’ve only dipped in to Hellblazer, and certainly haven’t read nearly enough to consider myself overly familiar with the character or conversant with his part, but I enjoyed what I had read. The dark focus on the occult and supernatural were like catnip to me, and they were also what made me try Justice League Dark (which I have been enjoying quite a bit, too).


This series is written by Jeff Lemire, who also recently took over JL Dark. It’s a really good opening to the new series, I think, and we get a good introduction to Constantine’s character. It’s dark, deliciously so, and Constantine is his charming-anti-hero-self throughout. He’s not afraid of sacrificing others for the “greater good”, either – making him not a whole lot better than his antagonists. The end of #1 was particularly gruesome and startling, but these four issues are filled with visually and narratively stunning work. The main villains in this particular story (still incomplete at this stage) is the Cult of the Cold Flame, who have cropped up in JL Dark, too. I’ll certainly be reading more of this series. Recommended.

(Issue #5 is part of the Trinity War story-line, so I’ll be reviewing that as part of an Event review, in a few weeks’ time.)


Lucifer-Vol.01LUCIFER, Vol.1 – “Devil at the Gates”

Writer: Mike Carey | Artist: Scott Hampton (Sandman Presents…) & Chris Weston | Inks: James Hodgkins | Colors: Daniel Vozzo

From the pages of THE SANDMAN, Lucifer Morningstar, the former Lord of Hell, is unexpectedly called back into action when he receives a mission from Heaven. Given free reign to use any means necessary, Lucifer is promised a prize of his own choosing if he fulfills this holy request. But once he completes his mission, the Prince of Darkness’ demand shakes the foundation of Heaven and Hell. Now as his enemies unite to stop his reemergence, Lucifer gathers his forces as he prepares to launch his new revolution.

Collects: Sandman Presents Lucifer #1-3, Lucifer #1-4

This is an excellent, independently intelligible spin-off from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (of which I have only read the first book).

In the first of these two story-arcs, we join Lucifer at his Los Angeles club, Lux. I’m not really sure how to review this book. It’s excellent, certainly, and wonderfully dark. It reminded me of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series (which is excellent and highly recommended). Lucifer is called up to help out Heaven one last time, in return for a particularly generous reward. The former Lord of Hell sets off on a very strange, dream-like journey. People’s wishes are coming true, and the consequences are starting to become devastating. Teaming up with a “victim” of this plague of wish-granting, Lucifer needs to get to the bottom of the mystery, before the world wishes itself into chaos.

In the second story, the first of Lucifer proper, we begin in Hamburg, where a set of mystical Tarot cards tries to influence the world around it. We get some neo-Nazis, hate crimes, and all of the seven deadly sins exaggerated and enhanced by the influence of the Tarot cards. Lucifer intervenes, in order to bring balance back to the world.

I really liked the alternative location – for once, we weren’t in the USA or UK, which I certainly welcomed. It’s still early days, but we start to see how the series will shape up in the future. I don’t want to spoil things (from either of the two stories), so this is perhaps a rather thin, unsatisfactory review. Nevertheless, I think this is an essential read for anyone with a taste for the darker sides of fiction and comics. Heaven and Hell are popular tropes in speculative fiction, but Lucifer Vol.1 offers a genuinely original spin, and is both written and visualised brilliantly.

I liked this so much, I bought volume two before I had even finished it. I’ll be starting that very soon indeed, so will hopefully have a review up in the next week or two. Deliciously dark, this is a must-read.


“House Odds” by Mike Lawson (Atlantic)

Lawson-08-HouseOddsThe Latest Joe DeMarco Political Thriller

Washington D.C. fixer Joe DeMarco has been asked to handle a lot of difficult situations over the years for his boss, congressman John Mahoney. But nothing has ever been quite so politically sensitive, or has hit so close to home, as the task Mahoney hands DeMarco now.

Mahoney’s daughter, Molly, has been arrested and charged with insider trading. An engineer with a high-flying technology firm, she allegedly placed a half-million dollar bet on one of the firm’s clients. DeMarco’s job is to clear Molly’s name and keep his boss clean. But how did Molly get her hands on so much money to invest in the first place? Before long, DeMarco uncovers that there’s far more to Molly’s case than meets the eye, and the risk to Mahoney is more than just a little political embarrassment.

In this eighth novel featuring Congressional fixer Joe DeMarco, we get a look at the sordid underbelly of Beltway politics, complete with manipulative gangsters and politicians, crooks and thieves. I’m a big fan of this series, ever since I read the first in the series, The Inside Ring in a single day. Each new novel has been an addictive, well-written and expertly-plotted thriller. House Odds is no exception.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Short Story Reviews, Flintlock Fantasy Edition: “Hope’s End” by Brian McClellan & “The Penitent Damned” by Django Wexler

Two new short stories from the new wave of flintlock fantasy authors

McClellanB-HopesEndHOPE’S END by Brian McClellan

Captain Verundish has two problems. On campaign with the Adran army and far from her homeland, she is helpless when the young daughter she left at home is threatened. To make matters worse, General Tamas has put her lover in command of a Hope’s End — the first charge through a breach straight into the teeth of enemy cannon and sorcery. To save the people she loves, Verundish will have to come up with a deadly solution...

This is a pretty interesting story. A “Hope’s End” is the first charge against a fortress or other reinforced emplacement. It is pretty much guaranteed death. Tamas likes to select those who bought their commissions to lead these hopeless endeavours. In this case, however, Captain Verundish is in love with the man chosen to lead the next Hope’s End. With trouble back home (her husband is an asshole, and threatening the welfare of her daughter), the story actually opens with her contemplating suicide. Instead, she decides to volunteer to take over the Hope’s End, with the expectation of dying and guaranteeing her daughter’s financial future. Naturally, not all plans go according to plan.

Anyone who was disappointed at the lack of female characters in Promise of Blood will be pleased with Captain Verundish. She’s an interesting character, and I like the way she handles the personal and professional tests she’s presented with. The battle scene is pretty good, too – it’s focused, tightly-plotted, and not over-written. It is followed by an example of how good a leader Tamas is off the battlefield. It’s nice that McClellan has actually paid attention to developing our understanding of why Tamas is such a beloved leader – rather than just telling us that he is, and letting that be the end of it. It’s a good story. (This is set when Tamas’s son, Taniel, is only two years old.)

Well written, this is another good introduction to McClellan’s writing and fantasy world. I really like the way the author has been releasing these short stories to add more to our overall picture and understanding of the pre-coup world. Certainly recommended, and a must-read for fans of the novel. This has only increased my anticipation for The Crimson Campaign

Also on CR: The Girl of Hrusch Avenue Review, Interview with Brian McClellan, Guest Posts Favourite Novel and Protagonist Ages in Epic Fantasy


Wexler-PenitentDamnedTHE PENITENT DAMNED by Django Wexler

Alex is a master thief, with dark magic to give her an edge. When she goes up against Duke Orlanko’s Concordat secret police, though, she may have taken on more than she bargained for...

I read Wexler’s The Thousand Names recently, and thought it was a very interesting start to a new series. In The Penitent Damned, the author takes us far from the location of his novel, and back to a city under control of Duke Orlanko. Alex, the protagonist, has always had special abilities which have given her an edge in her chosen profession. Schooled by a former master-thief, she has taken a job in the city. Frustratingly, to go into much more detail about the story will ruin it (it’s a very short story). We get a glimpse of more of what is going on behind the scenes. We learn just a little bit more about certain events at the end of The Thousand Names, which opens up some intriguing possibilities for the next book in the series. All very cryptic, but I think if you read the novel, and then this short story, you’ll see why I don’t want to go into too much detail. We get to see more magic in action, this time around (which didn’t feature as much in Thousand Names). And it was very cool, giving rise to some good action scenes.

Even if you haven’t read the novel, though, this is a pretty good introduction to Wexler’s writing style and fantasy world. I’d recommend it to anyone who hasn’t yet decided if they want to read The Thousand Names, as well as fans of the novel. Wexler is, I believe, definitely an author to watch. A very satisfactory short story, discussed in a rather unsatisfactory review. Sorry about that.

Also on CR: Interview with Django Wexler, Guest Post on Terry Pratchett

Saturday, September 28, 2013

On “OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN”, “TRANSFER OF POWER” & an Author Appreciation


Director: Antoine Fuqua | Writers: Creighton Rothenberger, Katrin Benedikt | Cast: Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Angela Bassett

I finally Watched OLYMPUS HAS FALLEN, tonight. I thought it was really good, too. A political Die Hard for the modern age, perhaps? The movie is action-packed, very well-paced (I never got bored, and never felt like the screenplay or movie as a whole was padded with anything that was unnecessary). It is quite brutal, though – but in a “realistic way”, if that makes sense? Gerard Butler (the hero, and a member of the Secret Service) offers a very good portrayal of a hyper-efficient, highly-trained killer (former special ops, etc.). There’s no “flash” to the fight scenes, he doesn’t suddenly break into any wire-work or seamless, stylised martial arts. It’s quite chilling, in its brutal directness. Here’s the extended trailer…

So. Why is there a picture of Vince Flynn’s TRANSFER OF POWER? Well, because there are some startling similarities. Transfer was the first Flynn novel I read, and introduces readers to Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s best operative (translation: assassin). Here’s the synopsis:

What if America’s most powerful leader was also its prime target?

On a busy Washington morning, the stately calm of the White House is shattered as terrorists gain control of the executive mansion, slaughtering dozens of people. The president is evacuated to an underground bunker, but not before nearly one hundred hostages are taken. One man is sent in to take control of the crisis. Mitch Rapp, the CIA’s top counterterrorism operative, determines that the president is not as safe as Washington's power elite had thought. Moving among the corridors of the White House, Rapp makes a chilling discovery that could rock Washington to its core: someone within his own government wants his rescue attempt to fail.

Friday, September 27, 2013

An Interview with TONY BALLANTYNE


I’ve been aware of Tony Ballantyne’s novels for quite some time, now. I read some of his Penrose novels when they first came out, and have been eagerly awaiting something new. Next month, Solaris will be publishing Dream London, which I will be reading very soon. Graced with a stunning cover by the ever-excellent Joey Hi-Fi, the novel promises to be rather excellent. I had the opportunity to interview Ballantyne, about his work past and present…

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Graphic Novel Round-Up (September)


I’ve not been keeping on top of graphic novels and comics as I had been – just been too busy and distracted. Nevertheless, this weekend I was able to catch up on some, so I decided to write very quick reviews of those that stood out.

Reviewed: East of West, Vol.1; Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol.3; Astro City, Vol.1, Archer & Armstrong, Vol.1

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

“Floating City” by Sudhir Venkatesh (Allen Lane)

VenkateshS-FloatingCityA thoroughly engaging study of hustlers, strivers, dealers, call girls and other lives in illicit New York

After his insider’s study of Chicago crack gangs electrified the academy, Columbia University sociologist Sudhir Venkatesh spent a decade immersed in New York’s underbelly, observing the call girls, drug dealers, prostitutes and other strivers that make up this booming underground economy.

Amidst the trust-funder cocktail parties, midtown strip clubs, and immigrant-run sex shops, he discovers a surprisingly fluid and dynamic social world – one that can be found in global cities everywhere – as traditional boundaries between class, race and neighbourhood dissolve. In Floating City, Venkatesh explores New York from high to low, tracing the invisible threads that bind a handful of ambitious urban hustlers, from a Harvard-educated socialite running a high-end escort service to a Harlem crack dealer adapting to changing demands by selling cocaine to hedge fund managers and downtown artists. In the process, and as he questions his own reasons for going deeper into this subterranean world, Venkatesh finds something truly unexpected – community.

Floating City is Venkatesh’s journey through the “vast invisible continent” of New York's underground economy – a thriving yet largely unseen world that exists in parallel to our own, at the heart of every city.

I first came across Sudhir Venkatesh’s name in Freakonomics – as, I’m sure, did many non-sociologists. In Levitt’s book, Venkatesh contributed a small selection of his work with the crack gangs in Chicago. This study would go on to form much of Gang Leader For A Day, the author’s previous book. Venkatesh is a rare academic: he can write in such an engaging, riveting style, that his books read almost like novels. In Floating City, the ethnographer turns his gaze on New York City and its underground economy. This is, while flawed in minor ways, easily one of the best non-fiction works I’ve read in a number of years.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Upcoming: “The Dark Blood of Poppies” by Freda Warrington (Titan)

Warrington-BW3-DarkBloodOfPoppiesI’m intrigued by Freda Warrington’s Blood Wine series. It was first released near the height of the vampire vogue – authors such as Anne Rice had established the genre as far more varied and ambitious that mere heaving bosoms and strained bodices. This year, Titan Books began re-issuing the series, which started with A Taste of Blood Wine (A Dance in Blood Velvet is due to hit shelves in October 2013). Last week, this cover for the third novel in the series was unveiled. And it’s another stunning, attention-grabbing one, too.

Here’s the original synopsis, from the 1996 edition (which I nabbed from the author’s website) – I don’t know if Titan will be changing it for their 2014 edition, but I assume it won’t be too different:

The ballerina Violette Lenoir has fallen victim to the bite of the vampire Charlotte. Her fire and energy have fuelled a terrifying change and a dreadful realisation; that Violette has become Lilith, the demon mother of all vampires.

Haunted both by what she has done and by Violette’s dark sensuality, Charlotte and her immortal lover Karl are drawn towards the dancer and the terrible destiny that has fallen on her shoulders.

But other, far more dangerous shadows are gathering around Violette. To the vampire Sebastian and to the dark heirs of Kristian, she threatens to wreak havoc with their plans to bring all of mankind under their dark wings.

Innocently embroiled in the endgame, courtesan extraordinaire Robyn Stafford finally meets her match as she is torn between the two ultimate lovers: Sebastian, and Violette ...

As someone pointed out on Twitter, that is a very Black Metal cover – everything from the title to the model’s make-up does remind me of band photos from Terrorizer and Metal Hammer… It also has a smidgeon of Black Swan in there (ok, a fair bit…). I’m intrigued to read this series, and luckily I have the first book on my tottering TBR Mountain. I’ll hopefully get to it at some point in the not-too-distant future.

The Dark Blood of Poppies is due to be published by Titan Books in April 2014. A new, fourth novel in the series – The Dark Arts of Blood – is also meant to be coming out next year (October).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Recent Acquisitions…


It’s been another bumper month for intriguing titles. I sometimes wonder if there’s really any point in offering an introduction to these posts… It’s kind of obvious what they’re all about. There have been other books acquired, of course, and this doesn’t include the comics or graphic novels (would including those be of interest?), nor eBooks (of which there is an ever-growing number).

Friday, September 20, 2013

“The Violent Century” by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder)

Tidhar-TheViolentCenturyA strange-yet-brilliant blend of Watchmen-style Super-Heroes and John le Carré Spy Fiction

They’d never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account... and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?

The Violent Century is, much to my shame, the first novel of Tidhar’s that I’ve read. And it’s quite the impressive accomplishment. Tidhar is not a stranger to pushing the envelope – see, for example, his World Fantasy Award-winning Osama – and in The Violent Century, he has created an original, engrossing fusion of noir-ish super-heroes and gritty espionage thriller. The publicity material that came with the ARC managed to capture it very well – “Watchmen meets John le Carre”. This is a very good novel.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

An Interview with PAULA BRACKSTON


Paula Brackston lives in a wild, mountainous part of Wales. She is an author and Visiting Lecturer. Before becoming a writer, Paula tried her hand at various career paths, with mixed success. These included working as a groom on a racing yard, as a travel agent, a secretary, an English teacher, and a goat herd. Everyone involved (particularly the goats) is very relieved that she has now found a job she is actually able to do properly – and that is, write fiction. Her latest ‘series’ is The Shadow Chronicles, the second book of which – The Winter Witch – is published tomorrow in the UK.

Who is Paula Brackston?

A descendent of the Witches of the Blue Well, possessed of dangerous magic and ancient knowledge, cunningly disguised as an ordinary mortal, mother of two, walker of the dog, maker of meals, who also writes a bit.

The Winter Witch, the sequel to The Witch’s Daughter, will be published tomorrow by Constable & Robinson. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader, and what can fans of the first expect in the second?

BrackstonP-2-WinterWitchAh, well, you see, there are no sequels, as yet. Each book in The Shadow Chronicles is a stand alone. They have in common an exploration of witches through the ages, following the experiences of a witch as the main character. All kinds of witches, in different eras and settings, each with their own distinct magic and story.

What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

I live in the Brecon Beacons National Park, so I wake up each day to the most inspirational landscape you could imagine. That certainly formed the basis of not just the setting for The Winter Witch, but the characters such a place produces too. More generally, I am inspired by wilderness and wildness, by individuals who make their own way in the world, and by courage. Particularly courage, I think, as I am such a timid creature. I love inhabiting brave characters who overcome adversity. It makes me feel stronger, and I hope that works for my readers as well.

Excerpt: THE WINTER WITCH by Paula Brackston (Constable & Robinson)

Very happy to be able to share this extract from Paula Brackston’s latest novel, The Winter Witch (the sequel to The Witch’s Daughter). The novel, part of the Shadow Chronicles series, is published today by Constable & Robinson in the UK.



Chapter 4

How dare he touch my books! He was rifling through my possessions, as if they belong to him now. As, indeed, they do. As I belong to him, I suppose. Am I to be left nothing of myself ? I lift the lid from the crate once more, just to reassure myself that nothing has been taken. No, they are all here. He was looking at Pilgrim’s Progress. Has he ever read it, I wonder? Has he any interest in stories? I have seen no books in the house thus far. Perhaps he keeps them to himself, in his room. The room he will no doubt expect me to share with him one day. What would a man like Cai read? A man who has lived all his life in one place, save for droving, what would he choose to read?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013



Very few fans of genre fiction and comics will be unaware of Christopher Golden. He has been writing for a couple of decades, now, mainly horror (or horror-inflected) work. Many will know him for his novels, his anthology work, and also his comics work – including the Baltimore books with Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola. He has a new short story collection coming out next month, through ChiZine, and has an impressive number of other projects he’s currently working on. I caught up with him (via email), and grilled him about writing, horror, and what he’s working on now…

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Christopher Golden?

At 46, you’d think I would have an answer to that, but I’m still working it out. I’ve been writing full time since 1992, with the sale of my first novel, OF SAINTS AND SHADOWS. Since then, I’ve written or co-written or edited about a hundred books, mostly fiction in the horror, fantasy, mystery, and thriller genres. I’ve written comics and short stories, video games and an animated web series, radio plays and screenplays.

Your short story collection, Tell My Sorrows to the Stones, was published by ChiZine last month. How would you introduce the book to a potential reader? Is there a unifying theme for the stories within?

GoldenC-TellMySorrowsToTheStonesI’ve written short stories for as long as I’ve been writing novels. My previous short story collection, The Secret Backs of Things, collected everything I had done up until that point. But it felt to me as if somewhere along the way I reached a point where I felt as if I’d actually sort of figured it out – this whole short story thing. I’m not saying I don’t like any of my older stories. I like them just fine, most of them. But I do feel as if I grew up a little bit somewhere in there, passed a kind of threshold where I understand the form better than I had before. I often say that my novel Strangewood was when I grew up as a novelist. I think the stories in Tell My Sorrows to the Stones represent a similar maturing, only this time in short story form. There’s more thought in them, for me. More reason for them to exist than the other ones had. A lot of them are about folklore and imagination and belief in general – not religious faith, but faith in ourselves and how dangerous it can be to misplace that sort of faith.

An Interview with GEOFFREY GUDGION


Let’s start with an introduction: Geoff Gudgion?

In one paragraph; I was a scholarship boy who was never bright enough to realise I’d have been happier as a writer than a businessman. Until, that is, I had a spectacular row with my boss and stepped off the corporate ladder. Long before that epiphany, I left school at 17 to join the Royal Navy, who later sponsored me to read Geography at Cambridge University. Both experiences were formative in teaching me to string words together.

Your debut novel, Saxon’s Bane, is published by Solaris. How would you introduce the novel to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?

Saxon’s Bane is a thriller with a supernatural twist; past and present collide during the excavation of a Saxon warrior’s grave. The writing challenge, and the fun, was to interweave the present day with a Dark Ages legend, and to bring the two stories together in a plausible climax. Although it’s not part of a series, the main characters will probably reappear in a future book. There’s a fey, fit archaeologist who develops a preternatural understanding of her project. Her character has, ahem, legs.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Upcoming: “The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates” by Peter Warner (Thomas Dunne)

WarnerP-TheMoleAnother book I spotted in the publisher’s catalogue (I do like going through them, from time to time). This sounds a little different, and one more for the thriller crowd, although it may appeal to a wider audience, given the synopsis…

The fictitious memoir of an unlikely foreign spy planted in Washington, D.C., in the years after World War II

Recruited by a foreign power in postwar Paris and sent to Washington, Winston Bates is without training or talent. He might be a walking definition of the anti-spy. Yet he makes his way onto the staff of the powerful Senator Richard Russell, head of the Armed Services Committee. From that perch, Bates has extensive and revealing contacts with the Dulles brothers, Richard Bissell, Richard Helms, Lyndon Johnson, Joe Alsop, Walter Lippman, Roy Cohn, and even Ollie North to name but a few of the historical players in the American experience Winston befriends — and haplessly betrays for a quarter century.

A comedy of manners set within the circles of power and information, Peter Warner’s The Mole is a witty social history of Washington in the latter half of the twentieth century that presents the question: How much damage can be done by the wrong person in the right place at the right time?

Written as Winston’s memoir, The Mole details the American Century from an angle definitely off center. From Suez, the U-2 Crash, the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and Watergate, the novel is richly and factually detailed, marvelously convincing, and offers the reader a slightly subversive character searching for identity and meaning (as well as his elusive handler) in a heady time during one of history's most defining eras.

Peter Warner’s The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates is due to be published in October 2013 in the US, by Thomas Dunne Books.

Upcoming: “Day One” by Nate Kenyon (Thomas Dunne)

KenyonN-DayOneI stumbled across this today, and thought it sounded pretty interesting. In my way, that meant I decided to share it on here. [Ok, by “stumble”, I mean “found in the catalogue which I was reading”…]

I’m a sucker for post-apocalypse New York stories – Adam Baker’s Terminus being the most recent example. Here’s the synopsis – so there was little chance that I wouldn’t be interested in this:

Scandal­-plagued hacker journalist John Hawke is hot on the trail of the explosive story that might save his career. James Weller, the former CEO of giant technology company, Eclipse, has founded a new start­up, and he’s agreed to let Hawke do a profile on him. Hawke knows something very big is in the works at Eclipse – a major computing breakthrough – and he wants to use the profile as a foot in the door to find out more.

After he arrives in Weller’s office in New York City, a seemingly normal day quickly turns into a nightmare as anything with an Internet connection begins to malfunction. Hawke receives a phone call from his frantic wife, and just before the phone goes dead, she indicates that someone is trying to break down the apartment door. Soon, Hawke and a small band of survivors are struggling for their very lives as they find themselves thrust into the middle of a war zone – with no obvious enemy in sight.

The bridges and tunnels have been destroyed. New York City is under attack from a malevolent entity that can be anywhere and can occupy anything with a computer chip. It is deadly. It is brilliant. And it wants to eradicate the population of New York. Somehow, Hawke must find a way back to New Jersey and his pregnant wife and young son. Their lives depend upon it… and so does the rest of the human race.

Nate Kenyon’s Day One is due to be published by Thomas Dunne Books in October 2013. Kenyon is the author of Bloodstone and The Reach, both of which were Bram Stoker Award finalists. His other fiction includes The Bone Factory, Sparrow Rock, StarCraft: Ghost Spectres, and Diablo: The Order.

Covers, US vs. UK Edition: “The Six-Gun Tarot” by R.S. Belcher (Tor & Titan)

Spotted the UK cover in Forbidden Planet in London today, and was moved to share it on here. I’ve been aware of R.S. Belcher’s The Six-Gun Tarot since it came out in the US (published by Tor), but it seems to have also been quietly released in the UK, recently, by Titan Books. Here are the two covers…


Out of the two, I definitely prefer the UK cover (on the right). Really cool. If that doesn’t grab your attention, here’s the synopsis:

Nevada, 1869: Beyond the pitiless 40-Mile Desert lies Golgotha, a cattle town that hides more than its share of unnatural secrets. The sheriff bears the mark of the noose around his neck; some say he is a dead man whose time has not yet come. His half-human deputy is kin to coyotes. The mayor guards a hoard of mythical treasures. A banker’s wife belongs to a secret order of assassins. And a shady saloon owner, whose fingers are in everyone’s business, may know more about the town’s true origins than he’s letting on.

A haven for the blessed and the damned, Golgotha has known many strange events, but nothing like the primordial darkness stirring in the abandoned silver mine overlooking the town. Bleeding midnight, an ancient evil is spilling into the world, and unless the sheriff and his posse can saddle up in time, Golgotha will have seen its last dawn…and so will all of Creation.

I’ll be sure to review it as soon as possible (I already have it).

“Before the Fall” by Francis Knight (Orbit)

KnightF-RD2-BeforeTheFallRojan Dizon’s second outing – good, but unfortunately doesn’t live up to potential of book one


Rojan Dizon just wants to keep his head down. But his worst nightmare is around the corner.

With the destruction of their power source, his city is in crisis: riots are breaking out, mages are being murdered, and the city is divided. But Rojan’s hunt for the killers will make him responsible for all-out anarchy. Either that, or an all-out war.

And there’s nothing Rojan hates more than being responsible.

Back in January, I developed a bit of a book-crush on Fade to Black, the first book in Knight’s Rojan Dizon series. (I believe “ZOMG!” and “amazeballs” were used in the review…) It was with great anticipation, therefore, that I awaited the arrival of Before the Fall. As it turns out, though, this sophomore novel did not live up to my expectations. It retains the marvellous world (well-realised and atmospheric), fascinating and dark magic system, and generally interesting characters. But… Well, there were a lot of issues that I ordinarily would only have expected in a debut novel. Sad to say, this just didn’t grab me as much as the first.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Upcoming: “Coffin Hill” #1 (Vertigo)


I’m really looking forward to this. Out of all the “bigger” comics publishers, I am really falling for a lot of Vertigo series. COFFIN HILL, which will be published on October 9th 2013, looks like yet another series that will appeal to my (rather dark, twisted) taste.

The cover is by Dave Johnson, and the variant by Gene Ha. Inaki Miranda, who handles art duties on this title, is an awesome artist, and one of my favourite recent finds – she worked on Lauren Beukes’s excellent run on Fairest, and put together some of the most striking panels and full-page spreads I’ve ever seen.

Coffin Hill is written by Caitlin Kittredge (who I have no experience reading). Kittredge is the author of the Black London series.

COFFIN HILL stars Eve Coffin, a rebellious, teenage lowlife from a high-society family with a curse that goes back to the Salem Witch trials.

Following a night of sex, drugs and witchcraft in the woods, Eve wakes up naked, covered in blood and unable to remember how she got there. One friend is missing, one is in a mental ward—and one knows that Eve is responsible.

After a stint as a Boston cop that ends in a bullet wound and unintended celebrity, Eve returns to Coffin Hill, only to discover the darkness that she unleashed ten years ago in the woods was never contained. It continues to seep through the town, cursing the soul of this sleepy Massachusetts hollow, spilling secrets and enacting its revenge.

Set against the haunted backdrop of New England, COFFIN HILL explores what people will do for power and retribution.


Count me very much looking forward to this. This sounds great. As a bonus, here are the covers (without text, etc.) for the second and third issues:


Upcoming: “The Whitechapel Demon” by Joshua Reynolds (Emby Press)

ReynoldsJ-WhitechapelDemonI’m only familiar with Joshua Reynolds through his work for Black Library (and have particularly impressed with his contributions to the Gotrek & Felix series). I spotted this via his Facebook page, though, and was rather intrigued…


Formed during the reign of Elizabeth I, the post of the Royal Occultist was created to safeguard the British Empire against threats occult, otherworldly, infernal and divine.

It is now 1920, and the title and offices have fallen to Charles St. Cyprian. Accompanied by his apprentice Ebe Gallowglass, they defend the battered empire from the forces of darkness.

In the wake of a séance gone wrong, a monstrous killer is summoned from the depths of nightmare by a deadly murder-cult. The entity hunts its prey with inhuman tenacity even as its worshippers stop at nothing to bring the entity into its full power…

It’s up to St. Cyprian and Gallowglass to stop the bloodthirsty horror before another notch is added to its gory tally, but will they become the next victims of the horror disguised as London’s most famous killer?

In the tradition of William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki the Ghost-Finder, Josh Reynolds presents the Adventures of the Royal Occultist. Join Charles St. Cyprian and Ebe Gallowglass as they race to halt the workings of a sinister secret society and put an end to the monstrous manifestation in... THE WHITECHAPEL DEMON!

The novel will be published by Emby Press in November 2013.

“Steelheart” by Brandon Sanderson (Gollancz/Delacorte)

SandersonB-SteelheartUKWhen Superheroes Go Bad…

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics.

But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics... nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart — the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David’s father. For years, like the Reckoners, David’s been studying, and planning — and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He’s seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

I’m going to keep this review pretty short. As a big fan of comic books and super-heroes, I was very intrigued to see what Brandon Sanderson – best known for his magic-heavy, epic high fantasy tomes – would come up with. As it turns out, Steelheart is a fun, quick-paced super-hero novel. It’s a good novel, with an interesting hook, but it is by no means perfect. While I had a couple of niggles, they were easily overlooked based on the strength of the pacing and streamlined prose.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Upcoming: “The Emperor’s Blades” by Brian Staveley (Tor UK & US)


I thought I had missed all mention of this book until today, when Tor UK unveiled the new cover art (left). The Emperor’s Blades is the first book in Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, and it sounds pretty interesting. As it turned out, though, I’d caught a glimpse of the US cover art a couple of months back (on the right). Of the two, I think I prefer the UK cover, but the US one isn’t exactly hideous. The UK one is very, well, “typical” of the way fantasy and medieval-fiction covers have been developing over the past couple of years, but I do like the colouring.

Check out the synopsis…

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again.

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must bury their grief and prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. He expected a challenge, but after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can take action, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

Meanwhile, the Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital itself. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. And Kaden, heir to the empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways – which Kaden must master to unlock their ancient powers. When an imperial delegation arrives, he’s learnt enough to perceive evil intent. But will this keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades is due to be published in January 2014. I’m very much looking forward to reading it.

An Interview with JAMES MAXEY


James Maxey’s Dragon Apocalypse is a series I have been eager to read for a long while. It has been one of many victims of Kindle Invisibility Syndrome (I bought Greatshadow soon after it came out). Now that I have acquired Hush and Witchbreaker, I’ll be sure to blitz through the series, which so many reviewers (many of whom share my tastes in this sub-genre) have enjoyed. So, without further ado, let’s get to the questions…

Let’s start with an introduction: Who is James Maxey?

I'm a guy who daydreams a lot and has enough discipline to write down some of the crazy stuff that crosses my mind.

Your latest trilogy, Dragon Apocalypse, has been published by Solaris. How would you introduce the series to a potential reader?

First, I refrain from calling it a trilogy, and usually only refer to it as a series. The three books out now constitute one arc of a larger story, but there will definitely be future books featuring these characters. It’s a big world with lots of potential, and my eventual story-arc covers decades.

My short pitch for the series is that it’s “X-men meets Tolkien”. The setting and scope of the tale are definitely epic fantasy, but the characters – and to some degree the plot lines – are more superhero inspired. Every major character in the series has some kind of superpower. Instead of battling super villains, they battle dragons, and also each other.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Joining in the A-to-Z Meme: Books & Comics

A few days back, I agreed to join in a cross-blog “A-to-Z of Comics” series with Abhinav and Bane of Kings. In keeping with the theme and tradition of Civilian Reader, though, I’ve decided to expand the remit to include fiction and other books. Because, you know, I like to do things my way. And I’m difficult. Probably more the latter… A lot of the answers ended up feeling a little repetitive, but there we go. I also dropped a couple of Letters, because I couldn’t come up with anything. Let us begin.



Fiction: Easy – Terry Pratchett. I think Bernard Cornwell is runner-up?

Comics: Huh. I’m not actually sure about this. Probably Ed Brubaker (because of his run on Captain America) or Bill Willingham (because of Fables).


Fiction: Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe, Aaron Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords trilogy… I’m not very good at all at picking single “Best Of” anything.

Comics: DMZ. Easy. (So maybe I can pick them, sometimes…) This series is absolutely superb, and everyone should read it. I’ve reviewed it all on the blog in the past.


Fiction: Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century.

Comics: Gregg Hurwitz’s second story-arc on Batman: The Dark Knight, featuring the Mad Hatter. [As an aside – his Scarecrow storyline is one of the best Batman plots I’ve ever read.]


Guest Post: “Don’t Build Worlds on Your Doorstep” by Geoff Gudgion

GudgionG-SaxonsBaneEvery novelist, in every genre, builds worlds. Mine aren’t on a distant galaxy but close to home, perhaps a little too close to home. I like to ground the reader in a world that they’ll recognise, then tilt the board slightly so that as the menace emerges they think, “This could happen to me.” It seems, though, that not everyone is happy with this twisting of rules they hold dear.

In Saxon’s Bane, I started by creating an English village that could trace is foundation to a Saxon warlord, Aegl. Back then, there were deer and boar to hunt in the woods, fresh water in the stream, and the ground would be fertile. It was a place for Aegl to ground his spear and plant his generations. Allingley was founded.

“Where is Allingley?” I’m sometimes asked. Readers seem to finish the book knowing the place, and want to go there. They’re disappointed when I tell them it’s imaginary. World-building comes easier to me, you see, when I take elements that I know and blend them into something fresh. The scent of an otherness, for example, in the depths of an ancient wood. Even the old language is recognisable in the traces of Anglo-Saxon that linger in modern English. Allingley would have been Aegl-ingas-leah in Anglo-Saxon, the clearing of Aegl’s people. I can also borrow from established legend, in this case the warrior Aegl or Egil and his wife Olrun, the Swan Maiden. I brought their story to life in this sleepy village on the banks of the Swanbourne, where, nearly one and a half millennia later, the peat-preserved body of a ritually-slaughtered Saxon warrior is uncovered.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

So Many Science Fiction Endings, Distilled into One Panel…

Photo Jun 16, 3 33 44 PM

This is from the great Ed Brubaker’s Captain America: Man With No Face (Marvel, 2009) – art duties provided by Steve Epting, Butch Guice, and Luke Ross.

Upcoming: “Fortune’s Pawn”, “Honour’s Knight” & “Heaven’s Queen” by Rachel Bach (Orbit)

Rachel Bach is the science-fiction pseudonym for Rachel Aaron, the author of the humourous, fun (and therefore recommended) The Legend of Eli Monpress fantasy series – which started with The Spirit Thief. Orbit Books (who publish the Monpress novels) will be releasing Rachel’s Paradox series over the next few months. The first three novels, Fortune’s Pawn, Honour’s Knight, and Heaven’s Queen have already received covers, which are below.


Here is the synopsis for Fortune’s Pawn:

Devi Morris isn’t your average mercenary. She has plans. Big ones. And a ton of ambition. It’s a combination that’s going to get her killed one day – but not just yet.

That is, until she just gets a job on a tiny trade ship with a nasty reputation for surprises. The Glorious Fool isn’t misnamed: it likes to get into trouble, so much so that one year of security work under its captain is equal to five years everywhere else. With odds like that, Devi knows she’s found the perfect way to get the jump on the next part of her Plan. But the Fool doesn’t give up its secrets without a fight, and one year on this ship might be more than even Devi can handle.

Also on CR: Interview with Rachel Aaron

“The Thousand Names” by Django Wexler (Del Rey UK/Roc)

Wexler-ThousandNamesUKOne of my most anticipated debuts of the year – flawed, but does not disappoint overall

Captain Marcus d’Ivoire, commander of one of the Vordanai empire’s colonial garrisons, was resigned to serving out his days in a sleepy, remote outpost. But that was before a rebellion upended his life. And once the powder smoke settled, he was left in charge of a demoralized force clinging tenuously to a small fortress at the edge of the desert.

To flee from her past, Winter Ihernglass masqueraded as a man and enlisted as a ranker in the Vordanai Colonials, hoping only to avoid notice. But when chance sees her promoted to command, she must win the hearts of her men and lead them into battle against impossible odds.

The fates of both these soldiers and all the men they lead depend on the newly arrived Colonel Janus bet Vhalnich, who has been sent by the ailing king to restore order. His military genius seems to know no bounds, and under his command, Marcus and Winter can feel the tide turning. But their allegiance will be tested as they begin to suspect that the enigmatic Janus’s ambitions extend beyond the battlefield and into the realm of the supernatural—a realm with the power to ignite a meteoric rise, reshape the known world, and change the lives of everyone in its path.

I first heard about this novel what feels like ages ago. As is usual for me, I was impatient to read it, but then ended up taking my sweet time getting around to it. It was worth the wait, though, and I think Django Wexler is definitely an author to watch. As with many highly-anticipated novels, I struggled to review it (I finished it well over a week ago). There are lots of things I would like to discuss, but they would be spoilers. There are some nitpicks that feel overly nitpicky (easy to spot in the review). So, I’m keeping this relatively short. The Thousand Names has some minor flaws, but it is nevertheless an ambitious, well-written opening act. I can’t wait for book two, and I think most readers will feel likewise after reading this.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Wait, Marvel’s rolling out what, now…? (This is not a joke, but it reads like one)

AllNewMarvelNow-LogoNot so long ago, Marvel unrolled its not-a-reboot-honest Marvel NOW initiative. In their latest move of re-branding (or added-branding?), the company announced today that in December we will see… All-New Marvel NOW! I find this rather funny. Is this the “and a cherry on top” approach to branding? And I now wonder how long it will be before we see “Ultimate Marvel NOW!”…? Naturally, I meet this announcement with some mockery and sarcasm, but believe it comes from a place of endearment.

Here’s what the press release had to say about it…

“This Winter, the Marvel Universe heads in an exciting all-new direction, as the industry’s top creators like Brian Michael Bendis, Rick Remender, Dan Slott, Jason Aaron, Kieron Gillen & more,  join the top Super Heroes – Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine and other Marvel heroes – to deliver  the best comics on the market with all-new ongoing series, AND must-read .NOW entry #1 issues for all readers!”

Avengers-24.NowThis new initiative will start in December, when Avengers #24.NOW (which is Avengers #1 in All-New Marvel NOW!), which is helmed by Jonathan Hickman (Infinity, Avengers) and Esad Ribic (Thor: God Of Thunder, Uncanny X-Force). This issue, the release say, will lead the Marvel Universe in “a bold new direction”. At least one new series will be launched every week. The publisher is going for “unique mission statements, epic scales, and bigger conflicts than ever before” in their new series. I hope this doesn’t mean story is going to take a back-seat to pyrotechnics – at least keep it a little bit more Bruckheimer and less Bay, ok? Judging by the synopsis (brief as it is), I may not get my wish. In Avengers #24.NOW,  the Avengers team must re-assemble like never before after the devastating events of Infinity. In the wake of that game-changer (and the endless, previous game-changers)…

“As a rogue planet hurtles towards Earth, only the mightier-than-ever Avengers can prevent the annihilation of two worlds!”

Hm. Rogue planet. Riiiight…

AllNewInvaders-01In January, ANMN (sorry, I feel silly writing the full title) heads “to the battlefront” with James Robinson and Steve Pugh’s All-New Invaders #1. Robinson, the Eisner Award-Winning writer of (among others) Starman and Earth 2 recently exited his roles and series for DC Comics as part of the (now-well-documented) editorial issues facing Marvel’s number one rival. Steve Pugh has come to prominence for his work on Animal Man (talented fellow). This series actually sounds pretty cool, and I’m looking forward to seeing Robinson et al meet expectations:

“Brothers-in-arms Captain America, The Winter Soldier, Namor, and the Original Human Torch re-band for an all-new, all-different kind of war! But when the Kree Empire discovers a way to weaponize Norse Gods, can these timeless allies survive the deadly cosmic trenches?”

Inhuman-01Also in early 2014, Marvel’s new initiative will be asking, “Are You Inhuman?” (This necessitated a lot of “teasing-but-not-compelling” images that simply had “Is he?” and “Are they?” written on smokey backgrounds…)

This third series, Inhuman, will be written by Matt Fraction (the writer of the incredible, near-perfect Hawkeye) and artist Joe Madureira (Avenging Spider-Man, Savage Wolverine – let’s skip over the fact that Madureira’s name is misspelled in the press-release). Fraction’s involvement makes my ears and interest prick up, certainly, so I am sure I’ll be reading at least the first story-arc. The series “thrust[s] the Inhumans into the spotlight as the newest power players in the entire Marvel Universe.” Showing my ignorance, I have no idea who the “Inhumans” are (or what makes them different to mutants), or what this is all about. Inhumans also unfolds in the wake of the cataclysmic Infinity event, as new Inhumans spring up around the globe forcing the once-secret society out into civilization:

“With Avengers-level powers and abilities, will they chose to stand with Earth’s Mightiest… or against them? As the chaos consumes the globe, discover the fate of King Black Bolt and his royal family as the world becomes Inhuman!”

I have no idea what this means for any of the old Marvel NOW titles. This endless re-branding, though, makes me concerned about following Marvel’s titles. Coupled with the flurry of cross-over events, I’m just not that interested to fork out quite as much money as would be needed to keep all the stories straight. And also because, thus-far, I haven’t been too impressed by the Events, all of which have fallen a bit flat towards the end, and not delivered on the over-hyped promise. At the moment, I’m only following three of the newer series: the aforementioned, awesome Hawkeye, and also Ultimate Comics Spider-Man (really like Miles’s story), and Ultimate Comics X-Men (rather enjoying this, too). I also recently picked up the rest of the pre-Marvel NOW X-Men series (another ComiXology sale), because I like the characters.

[And hey, CBR regurgitated the whole press-release, hyperbole and all! Seriously? No commentary?]

Upcoming: “The Violent Century” by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder)

This is one of my most-anticipated books of the year. Which is great, because I started reading the ARC today! Hopefully, therefore, I’ll get the review up next week. Hodder unveiled the cover today, so here it is…


I really like it, too. Atmospheric, a classic-feel, and I think the limited colour palette was an excellent Idea. Here’s the synopsis:

They’d never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable friends, bound together by a shared fate. Until one night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Now, recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism – a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms, of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields – to answer one last, impossible question:

What makes a hero?

Upcoming: “The Fifth Season” by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit)

Another cover from Orbit’s recent mass-cover-reveal (I’m sharing a few of them today), and another for which I can’t find much other information. I’m a big fan of N.K. Jemisin’s series – I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms and The Broken Kingdoms, as well as The Killing Moon. For some reason, though, Jemisin’s series are ones I seem incapable of finishing… [This is a weird, apparently pathological problem with me.]

I’ll share more information as and when I stumble across it. In the meantime, here’s the cover (it’s rather teasing, doesn’t give too much away, but I like it nevertheless):


UPDATE: Spotted this on A Dribble of Ink, who got the info from The Mary Sue – some more information about the book:

“The Fifth Season is set in a world which has suffered frequent, repeated Extinction Level Events for millions of years, and all life (and magic) in this world has adapted to it. Hundreds of years might pass between these events — easy, plentiful years in which great cities rise, and people have the leisure for art and science and rapid advancement — but then, again and again, the cities fall. The world is littered with the detritus of these times of plenty, and this cover hints at them: past ages of decadence, now decaying; stone that endures beneath flaking gilt.”

Upcoming: “The Path to Power” by Karen Miller (Orbit)

Spotted this over on Orbit Books’ recent mass-cover-reveal post, and I really liked the look of it (dead bodies, mysterious silhouetted figure, grand hallways…):


Sadly, I couldn’t find anything about the story itself, except for this comment from Miller’s website: “Have to continue being a bit hush hush about the story, but I promise I'll reveal more when I can!” Bugger. I’m intrigued.