Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Review: Lamentation by Ken Scholes

The city of Windwir is home to the Androfrancine order, a semi-religious group that attempts to discover and preserve knowledge from lost times. The Order doles out the knowledge they feel the world is ready for and this coupled with their massive library has made Windwir the center of the Named Lands. This changes instantly when the city is utterly destroyed by an ancient spell throwing the Named Lands into turmoil. The sole survivor of the catastrophe is a young apprentice of the order Nebios, who awaited his father on the outskirts of the city. Watching everything he knows destroyed will change the young man forever. Forces throughout the named lands converge on the ruins of the city. Sethbert, the Overseer of the Entrolusian City states, arrives first. Sethbert claims responsibility for the catastrophe and plans to use it to dominate the named lands. With him is his consort Lady Jin Li Tam, who acts as a spy for her father who undoubtedly has plans of his own. Hot on their heels is Rudolfo, general and prince of the wandering army, who is determined to see that justice is done. Petronus, a former pope of the order who faked his own death, also realizes that the destruction means he will have to come out of hiding.

Scholes divides each chapter into short point of view scenes from multiple characters. This enabled the author to set a steady pace throughout. The characters themselves are well realized with varying and interesting motivations. The concept of having a major disaster and then having the characters react to it is an original and interesting one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

There were only two minor issues that could have been improved. The author is so focused on the political machinations that we never get to witness a major battle in the ensuing war. The ending was slightly rushed as well with some things falling too neatly into place for my taste.

Overall a solid debut from Scholes. Interesting concept and excellent world building. 8/10.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Review: The Heir of Night by Helen Lowe

Malian is the heir of the House of Night, the most important house in an alliance of the Derai clans that protect the world against the demonic Swarm. Shortly after her father, the Earl of Night, returns to their keep they are invaded. Many of the keep's residents are killed and Malian herself only escapes with the aid of Kalan a young temple initiate and the wandering fire, an allay of the houses that was thought long lost. During the invasion Malian learns that she too has powers and means that she can no longer be her father's heir and is regulated to the priestly caste. Malian and Kalan also learn that she is foretold to unite the houses once again and decide to leave the world they know so she can better learn to use her abilities. But of course the Swarm still hunts her.

Lowe creates an interesting world with a rich and varied history. The Derai and their counterparts the Swarm came to the world of Haarth from beyond the stars. We get glimpses of the other peoples that inhabit the world through the heralds and Rowan Birchmoon and I am interested to see how Lowe will flesh this out in later books.

I was extremely impressed with the way this history actively impacted the characters and the decisions they made and also how it led to their own misconceptions. For example the Derai have been split along two castes due to a historical event and the author shows how this impacts the characters thinking and decision making. All of the viewpoint characters are richly realized and highly believable.

The only minor gripe I had was a slight unevenness in pacing initially but Lowe quickly fixed this as the novel progressed.

Overall although utilizing many fantasy conventions Lowe successfully mixes them in a rather unique way. 8/10.

Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Advent Ghosts: When will Santa come?

“When is Santa coming?” Jimmy spluttered as he was racked by another fit of coughing.

“Soon son.” Peter replied tucking him in.

Peter briefly contemplated putting the presents out immediately but he swatted the thought away like an irksome fly. It was late and bed beckoned.

It was his wife who found Jimmy the next day curled in a ball in the living room. His fevered brow had cooled to match the snow outside. Jimmy would never see another Christmas.

Every Christmas eve as Peter lies awake he hears the echo of Jimmy's voice asking him when will Santa come?

Review: Soldiers of Legend: Betrayals by Danielle Kazemi

Alexander leads a group of super soldiers whose sole purpose is to locate ancient knowledge that will better mankind. His world is turned on its head when he overhears their benefactor, a man known only as the commander, discussing selling him and his fellow soldiers to the highest bidder. Alexander delves deeper and learns that instead of aiding mankind his troop are simply being used to find ways to make better soldiers. Alexander attempts to escape and save as many of his fellows as possible. However not all of them are easily convinced and Hadrian decides to use the situation to try and take Alexander's place as leader.

It is very hard to look past the poor quality of writing in this novel. The sentence structure is ungainly, word choice simplistic and there is a great deal of repetition. Whilst typos aren't present on every page they are common enough that another round of editing would have been useful.

The story is told predominantly from Alexander and Hadrian's perspective. Both characters come across as simplistic, self-absorbed and one dimensional.

The plot is far from convincing. It unfolds haphazardly and is reminiscent of something a six-year old would come up with whilst playing with his action figures. The super soldiers are supposed to be a highly trained and sophisticated military force but never come across that way.

Overall I found it exceedingly difficult to get through this novel and cannot recommend it. 3/10.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Review:Infinte Sacrifice by L.E. Waters

Maya is in for a shock when she passes away and finds herself at her favorite beach side spot from her childhood. There she is confronted by Zachariah, her spirit guide, who explains that she must first review her previous lives before moving on to be reunited with her loved ones. After some discussion Maya agrees and begins experiencing her earliest past lives again.

The book is divided into four main sub-stories of Maya's past lives, a High Priest in ancient Egypt, a mother in Sparta, a kidnapped Irish boy enslaved by vikings and a doctor's wife in plague ravaged London. It is clear that Waters has done a great deal of research on the time period's concerned and is able to give each a unique and authentic feel.

With the stories broken into life-changing moments Waters is able to keep a steady pace. Unfortunately the characterization suffers a bit for this and at times can feel uneven. The doctor's wife Elizabeth was wonderfully portrayed and developed but a few of the others were less so. Using the lesson Maya soul was learning throughout the lives was a clever way to link them but I would have liked to see the links explored further.

Overall the author delivers a very clever concept and brings an authentic feel to each story. Some of the characters could have been better developed though. 7/10.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Review: Hawkwood and the Kings by Paul Kearney

The holy city of Aekir has fallen to the Merduks. Instead of uniting against the threat the West begins to fracture. Prelate Himerias attempts to use the confusion to gain power for the church by leading purges of so-called heretics in Hebrion. King Abeleyn attempts to resist where he can be aligning with some of the other kings and implementing other measures. As part of these plans he authorizes his cousin to outfit an expedition across the great Western ocean where another continent may or may not exist. The expedition is led by Captain Richard Hawkwood, who has little choice but to take it to save his crew, and includes many magic-users among the passengers fleeing the purges. However there may be forces that do not wish them to find the continent.

The world building of Kearney is very impressive and the world he creates is like a shadow of our own. The Ramusian states are based on Christian Rome, the Merduks on the Muslim kingdoms and western continent on the Americas. The level of technology is a mix of medieval and more advanced elements including firearms.

Viewpoints are varied across the various factions and include an interesting cast of three-dimensional characters. Pacing is one of Kearney's real strong points and he is able to keep the story moving along nicely through some areas which could have really slowed things down, ie the voyage.

Overall Kearney delivers a well-paced story fulled with political intrigue and interesting characters. 8.75/10.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Review: Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky

The Wasp empire has launched an all out assault on the city of Tark and Salma and Totho find themselves caught in the middle of the siege. Meanwhile Major Thalric has been sent to Vek to try and persuade them to invade Collegium. Thalric's encounters with Stenwold and Cheerwell have left him confused, internally questioning his own beliefs though he fights this down with a passion. Stenwold has returned to Collegium and makes a latch-ditch attempt to persuade his fellows of the threat the wasp empire poses to the lowlands. The wasp emperor Alvdan is offered immortality by a mysterious prisoner though that prisoner may have his own agenda in mind.

Whereas the first book was more about back alley espionage Dragonfly falling is definitely an all out war novel. Tchaikovsky does a great job in describing large scale battles and the insect-kinden powers and steampunk twists gave them a fresh flavor.

I was very impressed how the author demonstrated the way the events of the first book effected some of the characters (especially Stenwold, Thalric, Totho and Salma) and definitely feel the characterization took a step forward in this novel.

The worldbuidling was again impressive with new cultures and kinden explored.

Overall Tchaikovsky shifted gears in his second installment and delivered another fine read. 8.5/10.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Review: The Hermetica of Elysium by Annmarie Banks

Nadiria is a young serving girl living in Barcelona in the late fifteenth century. Unlike many other servants Nadiria has a unique set of talents, she speaks, reads and writes a number of languages some taught to her by her mother and some by her master so she can manage his books. Nadiria's life is turned upside down when she is roused one night to translate a dying man's last words. Soon after she is kidnapped by the deceased man's brother, Lord Montrose, and his companions. Nadiria makes a deal with her captor's, trading her help for freedom, and the group sets off to recover a tome of archiac knowledge that could prove deadly if it falls into the wrong hands.

Nadiria is a vibrant, rich character that the reader can't help but immediately fall in love with. Together with an interesting group of supporting characters the story sets off at a steady pace. I was impressed with the unexpected directions that the plot took and Banks did a great job of steering clear of a number of tired conventions. With most of the action restricted to rather remote areas it is hard to get a real sense of the time period or the areas concerned though there is enough promise to suggest Banks will intergrate these better into future instalments.

There were some slight pacing issues near the end where there seemed more of a focus on setting events up for the next book and this led to the lack of a clear ending.

Overall Banks does a brilliant job of creating an excellent cast of characters and an interesting plot. The lack of a clear ending does put a minor damper on things but it was still an engaging read. 8.5/10.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Review: The Diviner by Melanie Rawn

Azzad al-Ma'aliq is a frivolous young nobleman, content to spend his days in the pursuit of attractive young women. All that changes when the Sheyqa Nizzira slaughters all of his kin. Azzad barely escapes into the desert with his horse Khamsin. There Azzad almost perishes but is saved by a mysterious group of desert healers known as the Shagara. Azzad begins amassing his own fortune convinced he has been spared to seek vengeance for his family but Nizzira is aware of his escape and sends hunters of her own after him.

I quite enjoyed the Mediterranean-Near eastern world and societies Rawn created here. The cultures are all very well thought out and each has their own nuances that bring the world to life. In typical Rawn fashion the story follows the lives of Azzad and two of his descendents Alessid and Qamar over many years.

The purpose of the prequel is undoubtedly explaining where the magic in the Golden Key came from but this narrow focus does create a few problems. During Alessid's portion I would have liked to have seen a greater focus on the battles and the empire building portions as these would have been highly interesting. Qamar's part felt a bit too rushed especially the latter portion to truly give the finale the power it deserved. Indeed for readers who have not read the Golden Key the whole purpose of the finale would mostly be lost.

Overall Rawn makes decent return to high fantasy, though the Diviner may not stand as well without reading the Golden Key as she would have liked. 7.25/10.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Review: Three if by Air by Patrick Koepke

Nathaniel Hewitt is a young man living in Boston during the American War of Independence. After he is caught up in the Boston Massacre Nathaniel becomes a firmer believer in American independence, four years later he travels to the first Continental congress where he falls in love with Constance Whitegate daughter of a adamant loyalist. When war breaks out Nathaniel joins the local militia, all the while still corresponding with Constance. When the Americans begin to build their own air fleet Nathaniel jumps at the opportunity to join despite the fact that they are outclassed and outnumbered by their British counterparts.

The story has two main elements; a romantic element with Nathanial and Constance' forbidden love and an alternative history/fantasy element. Koepke does a good job in balancing the two. Naturally comparisons will be made to Naomi Novik's work and like Novik, Koepke does an excellent job in matching the narrative to the time period concerned.

I really enjoyed the way the author incorporated the gliders into the story. The way they function is well thought out and explained and fits rather seamlessly within the time period. The gliders are incorporated well without overly dominating, having very definite sets of strengths and weaknesses.

Both major protagonists are well considered and believable. My only minor grip is that I would have liked to have seen some of the supporting characters fleshed out a bit more.

Overall a very interesting and entertaining read. 8/10.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Review: Beyond the Shadows by Brent Weeks

With the Godking dead Cenaria at last has a chance to recover. Terah Graesin has seized the throne but Kylar is intent on placing Logan Gyre there, whether he likes it or not. Dorian has infiltrated his dead father's kingdom in an attempt to find the woman he loves but is soon caught up in the fight for succession and forced to take the throne. Meanwhile a group of vurdmeisters have used the Godking's death as an excuse to try and claim power for themselves.

Like the previous volume Beyond the Shadows comes across as far too chaotic with simply too much going on. As a result a lot of important scenes feel rushed which gives the novel very serious pacing issues. It is pretty obvious that Weeks had five or six books worth of material here. This is a real shame as he is certainly a more talented author than this book makes him look and there are some really good ideas floating around. Dorian's struggle with himself and the cost of Kylar's immortality could have been really interesting if given enough time to develop. I would really like to see Weeks focus more in future works, like he did so well in his first novel.

Overall Beyond the Shadows is even more chaotic in it's predecessor. There is a good book (or five) in here somewhere but it really struggles to come out. 6/10.

Review: Derby Scribes 2011 Anthology

This Anthology is a collection of short stories of Derby Scribes members and supporters.

In The Spirit of Darwin by Simon Clark. Lloyd Jefferson meets Sir Charles Darwin who wants to harvest his mind. Original tale that certainly shines a light of hope on the human condition. 7/10.

Brylcreem and Pipe Tobacco by Simon Clark. Tale about a woman who seeks the approval of her dead husband before marrying again. It has a satisfying if somewhat predictable conclusion but the constant repetition of brylcream spoiled this one a bit for me. 5.75/10.

Stump by Victoria Charvill. Tale about a little girl whose pets keeping dying and a guinea pig she calls stump. Doesn't really go anywhere and felt too rushed. 5/10.

Leaving Jessica by Jennifer Brown. Tale about a woman forced to change identities or be found by the mob. Well written but needed a stronger conclusion. 6/10.

Last respects by Richard Farren Barber. Follows a man's experiences in the trenches during the second world war. Lovely imagery in this piece though the conclusion was a bit rushed. 7/10.

The Wake Up Call
by Alison J Hill. A man tries to cover up a hit and run accident while he was drunk. Nice twist. 6/10.

The Gallery
by Conrad Williams. Set in the future where reading is highly regulated and controlled and possessing any unsolicited texts will get you killed. Definitely the stand out piece for me. Williams builds an interesting and convincing world in a short space with very believable characters. 8.5/10.

Dave's Dinosaur
by Peter Borg. Dave is awoken by his wife because a dinosaur is outside their tent. Borg has a strong writing style and voice but the story suffers due to having no clear conclusion. 6.5/10.

An interstellar Taxi Ride by David Ball. An intergalactic diplomat unwillingly interacts with a taxi driver. Genuinely amusing piece. 7/10.

Obsolete by Christopher Barker. An old man who is under house arrest hatches a plan to escape. A nice solid piece, well structured. 7/10.

The Smell of Fear by Neal James. A group of puppies plan an ambush on the local bully. A little predictable. 6/10.

As whole the collection is a bit of a mixed bag with some really solid pieces and others that need some work. About half the stories suffered structurally with no real ending. 6.5/10.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Review: Alcatraz Versus The Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson

The librarians have the city of Tuki Tuki, capital of Mokia, under siege. The knights of Crystallia are not prepared to send aid, instead concentrating on the defense of Nalhalla. Alcatraz and Bastille formulate a plan to aid the besieged city by sneaking Aclatraz into the city so the knights are forced to rescue him. Once in the city Alactraz suddenly finds himself in charge and forced to make some difficult decisions.

It is always an advantage when having something, whether it be a book or a film, aimed at the middle-grade or young-adult market work on a number of different levels, ie having something it for adults as well as the target audience. Shrek is a perfect example of this. The Alcatraz books were too, until this volume that is.
I can't help feeling that Sanderson would not have been connecting with his target audience.

As in previous volumes Sanderson has fun playing around with writing conventions but his 'chapter' theme was certainly not as impressive as what he got up to in previous volumes. There is definitely some things thrown in for his regular readers but I doubt the middle-grade brigade is going to know who Asmodean is. In the end the balance is just not right with too much of a skew towards his regular readers. As a narrator Alcatraz can also come out as downright offensive to the reader at times and this another aspect where the balance has been lost.

Sadly the fourth Alcatraz installment while still amusing does not work as well as it's predecessors. 6/10.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Review: The Ashes: A Celebration by Roland Perry

As the title suggests this book is about the ashes, the longest running series in test cricket pitting Australia against England. Perry focuses on what he considers the biggest impacts, individuals and events, in the competition's history; 1: the 2005 Ashes 2: Lawrence-led Aborigine tour of England in 1868 3: W.G. Grace 4: The 1882 win by Australia at the Oval 5: Bodyline 6:Don Bradman 7: The 1977 Centenary Test 8: The Packer Revolution- World Series Cricket 9: Ian Botham 10: Shane Warne.

The decision to start with the 2005 series was an apt one, considering the interest this brought back to the contest. Switching then to the Laurence-led tour, or what was effectively the prehistory of the Ashes, was interesting and made a good change of pace.

If you're interested in cricket at all then this walk through the games history is for you and Perry certainly has a concise and very readable style. The problems for me came about mid-book. It is obvious that the author is rehashing a lot of his previous work, especially from autobiographies of Keith Miller, Don Bradman and Shane Warne. Some of the Bradman and Warne chapters in particular seem to have very little to do with the ashes. The story also follows a very aussie-centric perspective especially the further you progress into the book and I for one would have preferred a more balanced approach.

Overall cricket lovers with find enough here to keep them interested but a greater focus and a more balanced approach would have made a better read. 6.75/10,

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Review: Small Favor by Jim Butcher

All things considered Harry Dresden has had a surprisingly quiet year. Of course Dresden and quiet aren't known to go together so that quickly changes. Harry is attacked at the Carpenter's home by a group of Gruff's, goat-like enforcers from the summer court. The reason for this attack becomes apparent when Queen Mab of the winter court appears and announces that she is cashing in one of the favors Harry owes her. It seems Chicago crime boss John Marcone has been kidnapped and Mab wants him rescued. For unknown reasons Summer don't want this to happen. Meanwhile Sergeant Karin Murphy calls Dresden on a rather peculiar case; a large building has been cut in half by magic. As always Harry soon finds himself in bigger trouble.

There is a lot going on in this book with a number of competing factions all with their own agendas. Things could quite easily have got too chaotic to follow but Butcher does a great job in keeping everything well mapped out. The big stand out for me was that Butcher has improved a lot at keeping twists hidden until the moment he springs them out on the unsuspecting reader.

If you have come this far you know by now what to expect from a Dresden novel and Butcher delivers yet again. 8.5/10.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Review: The Last Goddess by C E Stalbaum

Nathan Rook is a man who deals in information. When a contact offers to sell him an ancient coffin, complete with a living breathing woman inside he knows he may have stumbled across the greatest discovery ever or possibly the greatest hoax. Everything about the woman's appearance indicates she is the Messiah and when she awakes she demonstrates incredible magical abilities. However she has no memories and doesn't believe she is the Messiah. Rook vows to help her and also realizes that, Messiah or not, she can be used as incredibly dangerous tool in the wrong hands.

Tryss, daughter of the queen, finds herself in the unenviable position of being used as a political tool by her mother. Her mother wishes to create a lasting peace by marrying off her daughter to the son of a prominent politician. Tryss has no interest in politics but initially goes along with it, until her fiance attempts to rape her. She is intent on escaping by any means necessary even if it means accepting the help of a shady senator.

First things first I have never come across such a perfectly hidden and brilliantly effected twist ever and the author needs to be commended. The world Stalbaum introduces is an interesting mix blend of science fiction and fantasy elements. I have seen enough to be intrigued but the story is very focused throughout the book so we miss fully exploring it. This is by no means a bad thing and leads to good pacing but I hope to see a bit more of the world and cultures in future installments.

The characters themselves are fully realized and easy to sympathize with and 'screen' time is split well enough to see them all develop.

Overall I absolutely loved the concept and I have never seen a twist pulled off quite so well. 8.5/10.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Review: The Neon Court:Or, The Betrayal of Matthew Swift by Kate Griffin

Midnight Mayor Matthew swift is summoned bodily by magic to a burning tower. There he finds Oda, warrior of the order, who has what should be a fatal chest wound and has a strange habit of now saying "we" when she means "I." In the confusion of escaping the tower Oda kills a Daimyo of the Neon Court who attacks Swift and Oda. The Neon Court believes their ancient enemy the tribe is responsible and Lady Neon comes to London demanding Swift's help in the coming war.

The story starts out at a breakneck pace but Griffin is able to manage the pacing very well interspersing the action scenes with a decent amount of downtime in which the characters really develop. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of of Swift's relationship with his apprentice Penny and his employee Dees. An employer-employee relationship is not exactly typical fare for fantasy but that's what makes it interesting.

Griffin once again does all the things she has done so right in previous installments. The Urban magic concept is still fresh and innovative. The banter of Swift (particularly with Penny in this one) is entertaining without being distracting.

My main concern before reading this one was the similarity of the structure of the first two installments. Griffin makes enough of a break from this to keep me satisfied.

Overall the Neon court once again demonstrates that Griffin is urban fantasy's best kept secret. 8.5/10.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Review: The Great Bazaar and other strories by Peter V. Brett

Whether this novella is great or a disappointment really depends on what you are expecting from it. If you are expecting a collection of self-contained short stories set in Brett's world than you are out of luck and in that the title is somewhat misleading.

The novella is made up of three main parts. The Great Bazaar is a short story set between chapters 16 and 17 of The Warded Man which explains how Arlen found the location of Anoch Sun. This takes up about two-thirds of the novella and is reasonably self-contained, acts as a bridge between the first and second novel (which focuses strongly on the desert setting) and has a nice twist at the end. Two deleted scenes follow, the first is would take place at the beginning of The Warded Man and is the first thing Brett actually wrote in this series and the other is a scene from Leesha's perspective. Brett does go into detail about why the scenes were cut so this is obviously of interest to people who are keen to see the writing process. It is similar to the extras Brandon Sanderson has on his website though Brett does not go into the same level of detail as Sanderson.

Overall I enjoyed this novella has it catered to a lot of things I'm interested in. Of course there is a valid argument that everything contained here could have just been put on Brett's website. If you are looking for an introduction to the series I would advise giving this one a miss and starting with very good The Warded Man. 7/10.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Review: Hades' Daughter by Sara Douglass

After the pregnant Ariadne is spurned by Theseus in favor of her younger sister she sets about enacting her revenge. She strikes a deal with the shade of her murdered half-brother the minotaur Asterion and with their combined power they destroy the games, magical protection wards, of the Greek cities plunging the Mediterranean world into a downward spiral. Asterion is free to reincarnate himself as a result, however Ariadne left the game intact in one minor Greek city intending her descendents to recreate the game, betray Asterion and sieze power. Now hundreds of years later Ariadne's descendent Genvissa puts this plan into action. She appears to Brutus, heir to the Troy game, as Artemis and promises him power and the rebuilding of a new and better Troy in Llangarlia (in Britain). As part of her plan Genvissa sends Brutus to Mesopotama, the only city with an intact game, to test him. However Genvissa did not foresee Brutus taking the princess Cornelia forcefully as his wife and while Genvissa believes Asterion is netralized he may be able to make use of Cornelia for his own purposes.

The historic aspects of this novel are very well researched. The story itself has definte echoes of the style of a Greek tradegdy and works all the better for it. I found the concept of all of the disaters that occured in the hellenic world in this period being part of Ariadne's revenge a particularly interesring twist.

Douglas presents the characters in an interesting light casting none of them as heroes or villians of the piece, all having a somewhat reasonable agenda. Brutus and Cornelia and their dysfunctional relationship take centre stage and while both of them do rather despicable things Douglass does an excellent job of keeping sympathy for them. Cornelia's character develops very well throughout the novel and the descision to have some chapters told from her first person perspctive was a shrewd one.

Overall Douglass produces an interesting tale that will appeal to both fans of fantasy and historic fiction. 8.5/10.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Warriors edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

In the opening Martin states that this is a collection of stories about warriors that rather than be defined by a specific genre are an eclectic mix. That is certainly the case with every from Fantasy, Historical fiction, science fiction and contemporary fiction represented. The editors' goal were to simply have a collection of well written stories and in that they have succeeded.

The King of Norway by Cecelia Holland. Historic fiction piece on Vikings going raiding. Holland utilizes an authentic and appropriate 'voice' for this piece and creates an impressive atmosphere. 7/10.

Forever Bound by Joe Haldeman: Science fiction piece that recounts the tale of a group of young people drafted into the army and surgically linked together to operate war machines. Emotionally satisfying but the lack of action prevents it moving from very good to great. 7.25/10.

The Triumph by Robin Hobb: Historic fiction with a touch of fantasy. Recounts the last hours of a Roman general captured during the first Punic War. Very well structured and good use of POV shifts. 8.5/10

Clean Slate by Lawrence Block: Contemporary fiction. Tale of a serial killer's deranged attempts to reclaim her innocence by killing every man she has ever slept with. I really struggled to relate with the protagonist in this one. 6/10.

And Ministers of Grace by Tad Williams: Science fiction thriller. An assassin, from a society of religious fanatics, is sent to kill a political figure from an atheist one. The amount of world building and character development Williams manages to cram into this one is impressive. 8.5/10.

Soldierin' by Joe R. Lansdale: Historic fiction piece about a group of Buffalo soldiers' clash with a group of Apache. Humerus and another one with an interesting and unique voice. 7/10.

Dirae by Peter S. Beagle: Urban fantasy. Tale about a mysterious vigilante thrown into dangerous situations seemingly at random. This one starts out a little strangely but I absolutely loved it. Interesting with a great twist. 9/10.

The Custom of the Army by Diana Gabaldon: Historic fiction. An electric eel party goes wrong and ends in a duel where John Grey accidentally kills a man. Grey is shipped to Canada while things cool down and aids in the taking of Quebec. Generally well written but feels cluttered with too much going on. 6/10.

Seven Years from Home by Noami Novik: Science Fiction. Recollections of a woman sent to an alien planet to play both sides in a conflict but ends up going native. It's nice to see Novik expand her range and there is some impressive world building in this one. 8/10.

The Eagle and the Rabbit by Steven Saylor: Historic fiction. Tale about the capture of a group of Carthaginian fugitives and the game a Roman soldier uses to try and make them slaves. Powerful and well written. 8.5/10.

The Pit by James Rollins: Contemporary fiction. A dog is kidnapped and forced to compete in a fighting pit. At first glance I wouldn't have expected it but this is by far the most emotionally intense story in the collection. Brilliantly written and perfect ending. 8.75/10

Out of the Dark by David Webber: Science fiction. An alien army arrives to conquer earth and finds some unexpected resistance. This was well written if not exactly highly original. I found the twist a bit unnecessary. 8/10.

The Girls from Avenger by Carrie Vaughn: Historic fiction. Follows a group of WASPS as they try to found out the circumstances of one of their own dying and stumble onto a cover up. Moves along nicely but a touch predictable. 7.5/10.

Ancient Ways by S.M. Stirling: Fantasy. Follows an unlikely pair of warriors as they attempt to save a princess. Fun and light read. 7.5/10.

Ninieslando by Howard Waldrop: Historic fiction. An allied soldier is caught in no man's land and discovers a society of Esperanto speaking men. Certainly the oddest story in the bunch and one of the weaker ones. Very little action and possibly trying too hard at sending a political message. 5.75/10.

Recidivist by Gardner Dozois: Science Fiction: Another one of the weirder ones. AI's have broken away and humanity has become their plaything. Two men attempt to strike back. 6/10.

My Name is Legion by David Morrell: Historic fiction. The French foreign legion find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict. Another emotionally driven piece with great character development. 8.75/10.

Defenders of the Frontier by Robert Silverberg: Fantasy. The remnants of a garrison realize that the enemy has been defeated for some time and their own people have forgotten them. Different from the other Silverberg work I've read. Interesting concept and well-executed. 8.25/10.

The Scroll by David Ball: Historic fiction. A captured French engineer is tormented by a cruel Moroccan monarch who believes he has his life mapped in a scroll. Dark and well crafted tale. 8.5/10.

The Mystery Knight by George R.R. Martin. Fantasy. Sir Duncan and his squire find themselves at a tourney with some nasty undercurrents. 8/10.

Overall Warriors is undoubtedly the best anthology I've read to date, with many quality reads. Some people may only pick this up for Martin's tale but if offers so much more. 8.5/10.

Review: Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky


Years ago Stenwold Maker, a student artificer, and some of his fellow students discovered the existence of an expanding empire slowly devouring city after city with a highly trained and ruthless army. They attempted to halt the wasp empire's advance at the city of Myna but failed when they were seemingly betrayed by a member of their group. Stenwold escaped back to the city states of the Lowlands where he attempts to warn anyone who will listen about the coming threat. All his pleas fell on deaf ears. Now seventeen years later the Wasp empire has finally turned its attention to the Lowlands. Only Stenwold, his allies and a group of his students stand in their way; Stenwold's adopted daughter and spider-kinden Tynisa, his niece Cheerwell (who has some self-esteem issues having lived most of her life in Tynisa's shadow), The half-breed artificer Totho and the artistoractic swordsman Salma. However the wasps have grown far more cunning.

The first thing that hits the reader in Tchaikovsky's debut is the outstanding world building. in the early history of his world humanity was plagued by giant insects. Through some long forgotten means humanity bonded itself to these insects, gaining some of their attributes and creating a number of different races. We are treated to a good look at a number of such groups and the concept leaves lots of room for growth in future installments. In addition there is an interesting element with an industrial revloution having taken place and displacing the former moth upper class, with races like the industrious beetle and ant-kinden taking center stage.

The prose is highly accessible making for a fast paced and enjoyable read.

The characterization is also impressive. I particularly enjoyed Stenwold's perspective myself and liked the contrast with figures like a Gandalf or a Belgareth. While the aforementioned characters seem so in control Stenwold is much more fallible. There was obviously a risk of coming across too black and white with the wasp empire as the very obvious villians. Thankfully some of the story is told through a wasp officer, Thalric's, perspective and his motiviations while often conflicting are certainly understandable.

Overall an impresive debut highlighted by impressive world building and characterization. 8.5/10

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Splatterism: The Tragic Recollections of a Minotaur Assailant (An Upbuilding Edifying Discourse) by CS Hand

Evander, the last living minotaur, attempts to commit suicide by throwing himself into a hole. The attempt fails when he instead lands on two witches and unwittingly saves a sorcerer named Scammander. The two then set off on a series of bizarre adventures presumably trying to destroy the world.

As a concept this one promises so much, a tongue in cheek look at fantasy villains should be hilarious, unfortunately it just doesn't deliver. The biggest problem with this novella is that it doesn't make a lot of sense. I am more or less inferring that the two protagonists are trying to destroy the world from what I read in the blurb rather than what is actually in the story. What we have is a series of bizarre adventures with very little to tie each other together or any rhyme or reason in themselves. This extends to the world itself which is cobbled together from cliche fantasy races.

There are too many info dumps, in the form of little stories about some of the supporting characters, for a work of this size. This gives the text a cluttered feel.

The only positive is the occasional funny and clever quip between the characters. Sadly the byplay of the two protagonists is overdone and wears thin after awhile. The story is told firsthand from Evander's perspective, who is the most realized of the characters introduced though sadly he is a rather tiresome group of contradictions. He is suicidal and continually drones on about how miserable life is. Despite this aside from his one failed attempt he never tries suicide again and kills anyone who tries to put him out of his misery.

I desperately wanted to like this one, the concept promises so much, but unfortunately it is disorganized and non-nonsensical. 4/10.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Review: Lilith's Tears by David Jones

Shipwrecked on an uncharted island Captain Trebane finds himself battling despair and the savage natives who occupy the island. When he discovers evidence that Serena, the woman he believes he loves, may have survived the shipwreck he sets off into the interior where he finds a strange white cathedral at the island's center. Before he could discover much more he is beset by the natives, saved only by an aged pirate named Sarn. Sarn explains that the savage natives are in fact sailors from other shipwrecks who have been cursed with a savage immortality by a strange pool on the island known as Lilith's tears. Trebane is initially skeptical but once he accepts this strange discovery he is more determined than ever to rescue Serena from the savages and their strange overlord Torn.

Jones' major strength as a writer is undoubtedly his considerable descriptive abilities. The world literally comes alive under his skill immersing the reader in this strange island land. However at times this strength becomes a weakness; with many sections of the story suffering from over description. There were entire paragraphs which felt redundant as they were simply repeating previous information. This creates a bit of a pacing issue.

Trebane is certainly an interesting character and I enjoyed his POV as the author shows us exactly what makes him tick. I was reminded a bit of Naomi Novik's work in how effectively Jones' was able to capture the time period's nuances and mannerisms.

At the halfway point in the novel the POV switched from Trebane to Torn and Serena. Torn's POV didn't work as well for me. At times he and therefore the rest of his eternus felt like bumbling buffoons and this cut the tension considerably with the return to Trebane's perspective. I realize that the author was going for a tragic figure with Torn and to a degree succeeds but then should have found another way to create the needed tension, perhaps by emphasizing the malignant unseen evil force on the island to a greater degree.

The finale was pulled off brilliantly and the twist was certainly a satisfying one.

Overall Jones' shows a great deal of promise in this novel. A greater focus on cutting down unnecessary paragraphs will certainly help him take his game to the next level. 7.25/10.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review: Sailing to Sarantium by Guy Gaveriel Kay

Artisan Caius Crispus lost both his daughters and his wife to the plague. His only solace is in his work though even that is barely enough to make him want to go on living. A summons arrives from the emperor in Sarantium inviting Caius' partner Martinian to come to the capital and work on the newly erected sanctuary. Martinian urges Caius to go in his stead citing his age and the fact that Caius has been doing most of the work in recent years so the summons is by right his. Caius is initially reluctant but a meeting with queen Gisel a monarch barely hanging onto power because the various hostile forces wanting to seize Batria are locked in a deadlock, changes his mind. The queen wishes Caius to take an offer of marriage to the emperor and once again unite east with west.

Once again Kaye's world-building is phenomenal.The world in this book is based on the Byzantine period in Roman history and masterfully brought to life. Religion was an area of particular interest, largely a mix of paganism and a christian-like faith. The schisms that existed in the official faith and the coexisting of the paganism were particularly fascinating.

While Caius is the main view point character Kay introduces several others across the narrative. Even though some of these view points are only a few pages in length Kay builds up each of them and almost instantly gains the reader's sympathy and interest in each case.

Overall yet another fine offering from Kay. 9/10.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Review: The Born Queen by Greg Keyes

Anne Dare now sits on the throne of Crotheny. Using her growing powers she sets about driving the Church out of her kingdom, an action that leads to open warfare with Hansa. Queen Muriele leads an embassy, along with her bodyguard Alis Berrye and knight Neil MeqVren, hoping to preserve peace. Though Anne may have other ideas for the embassy. Aspar White is slowly mending from his injuries unsure of his next move. The decision is quickly taken out of his hands when Fend's creatures find him and he is reminded by the Sandlewood witch that he still owes her a favour. Stephen Darige has hit a standstill as he searches for Virgenya Dare's journal and the arc, though events may overtake him soon enough.

In my review of the Blood Knight I mentioned how I enjoyed the way Keyes hinted that things might not be as cut and dried with the characters morality as they first appeared. He takes this several steps further in this volume, giving hints that Stephen, Anne, Muriale among a few others might not be the heroes we believe them to be and that Robert, the church and Fend may have the right of it.

I really love the way Neil, Stephen and especially Anne have grown up throughout this series and Anne really steps up in this one. Pacing worked well here and the hectic pace of the finale was brilliant.

There were a few slight disappointments for me in this conclusion. Firstly I wanted the Church's position to take a more original turn and had every reason to believe that they would. Sadly by the end of this volume that is clearly not the case. After all the effort Robert spent in tricking Leoff into writing the death inducing song I found his plan for it to be rather redundant. I think his character as a whole was a bit of a waste of potential and felt his ending was too rushed.

Overall a strong ending to an enjoyable series, despite the missed oppurtunties in a few areas. 8/10.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Review: Children of Dune by Frank Herbert

Set nine years after the events of Dune Messiah, The ecological transformation of Arrakis has preceded far, bands of plant life encroach even further on the diminishing desert. Paul's children and heirs Leto and Ghanima see the empire's destruction in this as the giant spice-producing sand worms are beginning to die out. They also suspect that their aunt and regent Alia has succumb to one of her inner voices and his designs on cementing her own rule. This rule has steadily began to slip as dissidents are rising in the ranks of the Fremen , culminating in the emergence of a blind preacher leading sermons against the regime. A preacher who may or may not be Paul himself. Against this backdrop members of the displaced house Corrino have plans to snatch back power by assassinating the twins. Jessica, the twins grandmother, makes an unexpected return to Arrakis but whether she intends to protect the twins or is part of Bene Gesserit plot is unclear.

One of my main problems with the first two Dune books were the antagonists. The Barron Harkonen was far too cliched and the goals of the the antagonists in Messiah were very unclear and largely ineffective. No such problem exists this time around. Herbert brings in many competing groups with their own goals and there is much less emphasis on 'bad guys' versus 'good guys'. The pacing is a lot better than it was in Messiah and much more actually happens making for a much more satisfying read.

My only major issue with this one is that Herbert doesn't do a good job in explaining how the 'inner voices' work in Alia and the twins. Logically the memories of these voices should extend up to the point of procreation of the next generation. However the Barron's voice clearly has memories well beyond this. But if these memories are taken up until death as clearly implied there should be no question whether Paul is in fact the preacher as Alia and the twins would know courtesy of Paul's inner voice.

Overall despite this flaw I found Children of Dune to be hands down the best of the Dune books I've read to date. 8/10.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Review: White Night by Jim Butcher

Harry Dresden is called in by Karin Murphy to investigate what appears to be a routine suicide. Murphy believes it is a little too textbook and is proven right when Harry discovers a magical calling card referencing the exodus quote of killing witches. Harry quickly discovers that this is just the latest killing and it appears someone is targeting the low level magic users of Chicago, that someone also seems to be leaving clues that Harry is supposed to find. When evidence emerges that the killer might be his half-brother Thomas, Harry is determined to find the real killer.

Anyone who has read the Dresden files before will recognize the structure of this book. Harry runs around finding clues and getting into trouble for most of the book which is concluded in a massive confrontation between Harry, his allies and said bad guys. Although we've seen this all before I don't have any issues with it and if ain't broke don't bother fixing it.

An area where Butcher has certainly brought his A game in this one is the characterization. The two main issues are Harry's relationships with Lasciel the fallen angel trying to possess him and his half brother Thomas. Harry seems to be drawing on Lasciel's help almost indiscriminately. As always the story is told from Harry's perspective and form this it is obvious that he doesn't see a problem in using Lasciel'a abilities whereas in previous books he wouldn't have done this. It conjures the image as Harry as a drug user; he simply doesn't realize he has a problem. Others begin to notice the changes in Harry's demeanor and an increasing propensity for Harry to lash out in anger. At the same time Laciel seems to being turned by Harry's soul. I loved the ambiguity here and the way Butcher hinted it could go either way. Although the issue is seemingly resolved by the end of the book I get the feeling Butcher might be heading in a very different direction with this. Harry's trust in Thomas doesn't seem to waver much and I loved the hints Butcher dropped in about where this one was going and the rather amusing conclusion.

Other characters go through some pretty intense development as well. I loved the moment the normally unflappable Ramirez snapped at Harry for keeping secrets right before the books major confrontation. Harry's apprentice Molly also does some much needed growing up.

Overall Butcher continues to deliver as he always does with this series and with the increased character development seems to have taken it up another step. 8.5/10.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Review:Shiewo: A Fantasy Flight to Adventure by Ciye Cho

Felix is a painter living a rather drab existence in the colourless city of Galvanary. One evening he is awoken by voices outside his apartment and a pair of thieves make off with his roof. Felix chases after them and soon learns that they are a rather unusual crew of a flying ship called the Odyssey who need the roof to complete the ship. The ship is Captained by a young woman named Shiweo who, along with a talking cloud named Theo, a giant bamboo man and a foul tempered goldfish, is on a quest to find the Wishing Fish the being who created the universe of Orberana and will grant one wish to whoever finds it. Felix unwittingly accompanies them and his life quickly gets a whole lot more interesting.

Remember that old saying about not judging a book by its cover? While I think that ought to be expanded to include not judging a book by it's blurb or title. Neither of these really caught my interest and I decided to read this book more on a whim. I'm Glad I did.

Cho's world building is absolutely fantastic and it is obvious he has invested a great deal of time and energy into it. The world above the clouds is an intriguing one and I look forward to seeing more of it. The characters are all fully realized and fulled with a child-like charm that has the reader rooting for them in the first few pages.

An impressive debut from Cho and one of the better YA novels I've read in some time. 8.5/10.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

News: Russell Kirkpatrick's next book

After disappearing off of the radar for the last twelve months New Zealand author Russell Kirkpatrick has announced he has almost finished the first draft of his next book titled Silent Sorrow, which is the first in a proposed four book series. Kirkpatrick describes it as a Renaissance fantasy set in a world making a transition from religion to magic. Kirkpatrick says its the best thing he has written by far. I thoroughly enjoyed the first books in his first two trilogies (With Path of Revenge being close to a masterpiece) but felt he falls a way in the later books. Hopefully this series will see him fully release his considerable talent.

Review: Swords and Dark Magic Edited by Jonathan Strahan and Lou Anders

This anthology seems to have come about due to a number of the new wave of fantasy authors authors incorporating elements of classic sword and sorcery elements in their work leading to something of a revival. Any anthology with new stories from Abercrombie, Lynch and Keyes was bound to pique my interest.

Goats of Glory by Steven Erikson: I must admit that I have mixed feelings about Erikson's writing. I was so sick of seeing all the 10/10 reviews for Gardens of the Moon, despite it's rather obvious flaws, that I haven't read anything past his second book despite greatly admiring his prose. This short story just might get me reading him again. It is a fast paced tale about a group of soldiers who are tricked into staying the night in a demon infested fort. 8/10.

Tides of Elba: A Tale of the Black Company by Glen Cook: One of the weaker stories in the anthology for me. I found Cook's writing to be sparse and lackluster and the story never engaged me. Basically the black company are told to find a woman, supposedly a leader of a rebellion, but believe they are being set up. 5.5/10

Bloodsport by Gene Wolfe: Some interesting ideas in this one and I liked the prose but it seems to wander around a bit with no clear goal. A knight relating bits of his life, including his part in a chess-like bloodsport and falling in love with a pawn, around a camp fire. 6/10.

The Singing Spear by James Enge: A light but engaging tale about Morlock the maker and his clash with a thief who has gone on a rampage after stealing a magic spear Morlock invented. 7/10.

A Wizard in Wisecezan by C.J. Cherryh: Tale about a wizard who has gone into hiding after his city was taken over by a warlord and a dark wizard. One of the wizards students is compelled to aid a man in overthrowing the warlord. Very convincing voice for the student in this one. 7.5/10.

A Rich Full Week by KJ Parker: One of the gems in this collection. A moderately skilled magician is dispatched to the countryside by his order to slay a zombie, who may or may not be magically gifted as well. Nice little twists in this one. 8.5/10.

A Suitable Present for a Sorcerous Puppet by Garth Nix: Light and humorous tale about an injured knight who winds up in all sorts of trouble by trying to find a birthday present for his puppet companion. 6.75/10.

Red Pearls: An Elric Story by Michael Moorcock: Elric travels to the underside of the world in hopes of finding a white sword but is soon drawn into a family feud involving dragons, pirates and slavers. 8/10.

The Deification of Dal Barmore: A Tale from Echo City by Tim Lebbon: Another beauty. A priestess is trying to have an atheist sorcerer crucified on a wall worried that if he is rescued or dies any other way he will be deified. Highly original tale with some really interesting twists. Of all the stories in the collection this is the one that really pushed the boundaries of moral ambiguity in it's characters. 8.5/10.

Dark Times at the Midnight Market: By Robert Silverberg: Interesting if slightly predictable tale about a magical shop-owner who winds up in hot water after selling a love potion to a minor noble. 8/10.

The Undefiled by Greg Keyes: I was slightly disappointed in this one considering how much I have enjoyed Keyes work to date. A tale about fool-wolf a warrior possessed by a bloodthirsty goddess who becomes involved in a feud between the followers of two deities. Feels a little too much like a piece plucked from a larger tale. 6.75/10.

Hew the Tintmaster by Michael Shea: Humorous and it has its moments but does tend to drag at times. Tale about a barbarian warrior and a painter who are sent into the far future by a wizard to save the world by painting a mural. 6.75/10.

In the Stacks by Scott Lynch: Lynch is certainly on form in this one. Tale about four wizardry students whose exam involves venturing into a semi-sentient library to return some books. 8.5/10.

Two Lions, a Witch and the War-Robe by Tanith Lee: A clever tale about two lookalike strangers who are forced to try and recover a magical robe. 7.75/10.

The Sea Troll's Daughter by Caitlin R. Kiernan: A clever-take on Beowulf. A lesbian warrior kills a troll but the village elders are reluctant to give her the reward they promised without proof. The body eventually does wash up but with tragic results. Kiernan did an excellent job in moving this one in different directions that kept the reader guessing. 8.5/10.

Thieves of Daring by Bill Willingham: Worst story in the bunch by far. I have nothing against the prose but this is nothing more than a fragment of a story that goes nowhere. Lackluster effort. 4/10.

The Fools Job by Joe Abercrombie: Story about Craw and his crew who are sent off to a village in the middle of nowhere to steal 'a thing'. Brilliant tale with Abercrombie doing what he does best. 9/10.

Overall an interesting collection and there are certainly a few authors whose work I have never encountered before who I will be following up on. 8/10.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Review: The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

After months of campaigning in the north the Union army is instructed to be bring the war with Black Dow to a swift conclusion. The two sides converge on an unimportant valley where a forgotten ring of stones (the heroes of the title) rest on a hill. Bremer Dan Gorst a disgraced swordsman and former guard of the king now occupies a redundant office of king's adviser to the war. Gorst seeks either redemption or his own death making him a threat to both sides. Prince Calder, the son of the former King Bethod, is convinced that the new king Black Dow wants to see him dead. He wants nothing to do with the fighting itself but sees an opportunity to gather allies and try to oust Dow. Curden Craw is a veteran of countless battles. He follows the old way and wants to do the right thing. Dow is his chief but Calder is like a son to him and he finds himself caught between the two. Corporal Tunny of the union's first battalion knows what war is all about; how to survive it and do as little as possible. Which is why being saddled with a bunch of raw recruits is a bothersome irritation he could do without. Beck is the son of a famous named man who died at the hands of the Bloody Nine. He is tired of life on the farm and wants to make a name for himself. But he way just get far more than he bargained for. Finree's husband is a good man, weighed down by the deeds of his father he tries to make his way through life with bravery and by doing the right thing. Luckily Firnee is around to balance him through her own ruthlessness and ambition to see that he gets what he deserves.

The first law trilogy was Abercrombie's epic fantasy Best Served Cold was his fantasy thriller and The Heroes is definitely his fantasy war novel. While there are big names on display here Abercrombie does spend a lot of time looking at war from the common soldiers point of view. There are a couple of sequences where Abercrombie will switch POV's along a line on both sides as characters kill each other off which I thought was brilliant and did a great job in building sympathy for both sides. Adding to this was the fact that the actual cause of the war is never discussed in depth although it's obvious it is merely a battleground for Bayaz and his enemies larger battle.

Abercrombie has an uncanny ability to built interesting and unique POV's for his characters and Gorst and Calder were my two favorites by far. Again Abercronbie is able to inject a degree of grim humour into proceedings which ensures that the narrative doesn't get to bogged down with all the violence. The pacing in this one was certainly the tightest we've seen from the author, not surprisingly as the story is centered on the events of a single battle.

Overall this another case of Abercrombie doing what he does best. Highly recommended. 9/10.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Review: River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams

At the conclusion of the first book Reni and!Xabu having finally entered into the computer-simulated world of otherland had met Sellars, the man who left them clues to get onto the network, plus a group of other people in the same situation, namely having loved one's in a mysterious coma. The meeting was disrupted when Dread, an agent of one of the grail brotherhood, killed Atesco the owner of the mayan-like virtual world they were in. The group was able to escape in the confusion but unbeknownst to them Dread is disguised as a member of their group. The group are soon scattered and forced to make their way through a series of virtual worlds where the consequences of even the slightest mistake could be deadly. Meanwhile Paul Jonas, a mysterious man trapped within the network, memory begins to return and he finally begins piecing things back together.

Like the first book Williams has succeeded in developing a cast of interesting characters with very distinct viewpoints. Most of the action takes place within the virtual worlds and Williams has come up with a few doozies;A cartoon kitchen, an ice age, a warped version of Oz to name just a few. The few scenes in RL (real life) are dedicated to new characters Olga, an online actress who stars in a children's serial and Ramsey the lawyer of Orlando's parents. These two characters seem to have stumbled on a connection between Olga's show and the coma children are falling into but Williams keeps a tight lip on this, just offering tantalizing glimpses. I enjoyed the mystery element that was added by having Dread disguised as one of group and I must admit had fun sifting through the clues William's left to his identity.

There was just one tiny issue that bothered me. Having grown up in Durban, South Africa I was impressed with how well he portrayed the region in the first book. Everything from the layout and the atmosphere was spot on. In this book Renie's father Long Joseph catches a lift with an Afrikaans truck driver, who when speaking says Yah a lot. Ja is the Afrikaans word for yes and is spelt quite differently. A minor blemish I know but after all the obvious research Williams has put in it was a notable oversight.

Overall Williams has once again delivered an interesting read. 8.5/10.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Review: The Thousandfold Thought by R. Scott Bakker

Having survived the siege of Caraskand the Holy War now has an open road to the city of Shimeh. Kellhus has been proclaimed as a prophet and now has total control of the war. Achamian has finally revealed the existence of Kelhus to the other mandate sorcerers but has decided to aid the prophet and teach him the gonsis. Having been humiliated Conphus is exiled by Kelhus but an unexpected turn of events may make him an even bigger factor than before.

The third volume is definitely more psychologically driven than it's predecessor. Cnaiur has seemingly finally succumbed to his madness and Achamian is forced into a position where he has to confront the very fabric of existence. Bakker does an excellent job here and I found it utterly fascinating watching these character's deepest thoughts unfold. I doubt it is for everyone but needless to say I'm impressed.

Pacing was an area in which Bakker controlled the narrative extremely well. For the first two thirds it moved steadily, and with the arrival at Shimeh and the inevitable confrontations it quickened. Bakker switched here to short, sharp view point changes that gave a frantic feel to proceedings. While some of these confrontations were given a good chance to develop, ie Kelhus and Moenghus others felt too rushed. The Cnaiur-Moenghus meeting was over in two pages and after all the build up this was disappointing. Granted that Bakker's has envisioned this trilogy as part of a larger whole I still think it could have benefited from a more solid conclusion.

Overall Bakker once again delivers a satisfying read, though a more definite conclusion would have been welcome. 8/10.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review: The Blood Knight by Greg Keyes

Having finally learned of her uncle Robert's coup of her father's throne Anne Dare sets about gathering a force strong enough to challenge him. However there are those who may wish to use Anne as a figurehead to further their own ambitions. Strange forces are at play and Anne begins to realize that she and her unique new powers may be pawns in a much larger game. Stephen meanwhile is embroiled in a rather delicate situation of his own. Forcibly separated from his companions the foundations of his understanding of the world is tested again as he learns that different factions are in operation in the church. Stephen finds himself charged with the task of recovering the dairy of Virgenya Dare herself. Aspar and Winna set off to try rescue Stephen. This soon turns into a fight for their own survival when a chance encounter with Fend and a woorm lead to them being poisoned by the beast.

Keyes uses the same technique as the previous two installments of ending most chapters on a cliff-hanger before switching view points. Again I feel that this works well in terms of pacing and you can't really complain about it when the next chapter addresses an earlier cliffhanger. The focus is very much on Stephen, Anne and Aspar on this book with Muriele and Leoff, and to a lesser extent Neil and Casio taking back seats. All three characters are forced to confront aspects of themselves that they don't necessarily like.

Having laid the ground work in the first two novels Keyes takes this one in a bit of a different direction; turning some aspects on their head. Where before it seemed obvious where good and evil lay in these books I'm now left wondering whether the 'good' characters are in fact doing the right thing and visa versa with the 'evil' characters. I am certainly anxious to see where Keyes takes this in the final installment.

Overall yet another strong offering from Keyes. 8/10.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: On Dark Shores 1: The Lady by JA Clement

Life for Nereia, an orphaned thief living in the port town of Scarlock, has never been easy. Her parents died when she was in her early teens leaving her to raise her toddler of a sister, Mary, on her own. Nonetheless her inner strength as always gotten her through, allowing her to escape selling herself into prostitution and keeping her sister safely under the radar of Copeland, an uncle of sorts who controls all underground activities in Scarlock. When Copeland rediscovers Mary years later he tries to use her as leverage to force Nereia to participate in his latest scheme. Nereia decides to take Mary and run but Copeland won't let them go that easy, and has more depraved parts to his soul than even he himself suspected.

Clement's greatest strength as a writer is her characterization. It is amazing how well she can breath life into a character, revealing their every nuance in a minimal amount of words. The frequent point of view changes were cleverly used as well to create an even pacing throughout. The world building in this novel was also done well and believable through an almost minimalist approach. Initially the POV characters kept a very insular view, well suited to people who have never left a small town. While some of the other, more traveled characters, later on in the novel left some very tantalizing hints about the larger world that I would very much like to see followed up in future work. My only issue with this novel was the lack of a solid ending. While there is a conclusion of sorts to this chapter in Nereria's and Mary's lives there was a touch too much focus on setting the stage for the next book. This is however a minor blemish and could probably have been eased by shifting the order of a few view points.

Overall Clement has produced a tight, well written debut that whets the appetite for future installments. 8/10.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: The Warrior-Prophet by R. Scott Bakker

Following the events of the last book; the holy war now stands united and begins it's march against the heathen Fanim intent on liberating the holy city of Shimesh. Anasûrimbor Kellhus a Dunyain monk posing as a prince begins to make his move to take control of the holy war and bend it towards his own goal of finding his father. A goal made much easier by his training which enables him to read people and use their own passions to influence them. Kellhus asks Drusas Achamian, a mandate schoolman, to act as his teacher. Achamian is convinced that Kellhus is the harbinger of the second apocalypse and possibly mankind's last hope. The situation severally strains Achamian as he is caught between alerting his fellow schoolman or aiding Kellhus, either course could cause the doom of humanity. Kellhus' actions attract the attention of the consult who have their own plans for the holy war and exert influence through their skin spies who have replaced real soldiers and nobles and they decide that Kellhus needs to be removed.

As the title suggests Kelhus and his development into a messiah like figure is the crux of this novel and the plot line that the others all dance about. The preceding novel setup the characters and history of the world enough that the narrative moves very smoothly throughout this novel. All of the viewpoint characters, including dozens not named above, all have their own agendas and the intersection of these and the political maneuvering that ensues is fascinating. A number of large scale battles are fought as the holy war marches on and it is here where Bakker shines. These battles are told from a god-like perspective which almost makes the holy war seem like a character unto itself.

In sum all of the things Bakker did right in his debut he does again here and the quickened flow of the narrative makes this a touch better than it's predecessor. 8.75/10.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Review: Tome of the Undergates by Sam Sykes

Lenk is a man with his fair share of problems. He is short, his hair has already turned white despite his youth and he is an adventurer; a profession despised everywhere. Not just an adventurer but the leader of a band of adventurer’s who all seem intent on killing each other. The band in question's latest job is escorting an esteemed clergyman, easy enough until a band of eloquent pirates attacks the ship they're on. Even the pirates are confused when a band of fishmen led by a strange demon steal a tome from the priest. Not just any tome but one with the power of releasing demons back onto the earth. After some negotiation Lenk and his band are charged with retrieving the tome from the seemingly invulnerable demon. To top it all off Lenk is beginning to hear a voice in his head telling him to kill...

After the first chapter I began to wonder if this would work; the byplay with the rather eloquent pirates and the infighting between Lenk's companions was interesting but seemed a bit over the top. Could Sykes flesh out his characters and make them more believable? The answer is a resounding yes and the development of the characters is definitely Sykes strong suite and the real focus of the book, which helps when the plot does get a bit over the top. All of Lenk's band has some really strong personal issues that Sykes works through and all are well done. Well all of them except for the possible exception of the priestess Asper. Given the revelations that are presented later in the book I would have liked to have seen this shadowed earlier on as it didn't quite gel for me.

The World building aspect was a bit erratic. While I am intrigued by the non-human races introduced I found it odd that the some of the more educated members of the band didn't know the Rega are virtually extinct.

Pacing is an issue Sykes has come in for criticism for, though I feel this is largely unfounded. While the initial confrontation on the ship did take up a around 160 pages what many reviewers have failed to note is that the font size is large, making it closer to about 70-80 odd pages in an average book. More importantly not once did I feel this section dragged. The last part of the book on the other hand could have been culled a bit.

Overall Sykes has produced a strong debut, with some interesting characters that develop interestingly across the book. I hope he fleshes out the world a bit more in subsequent books. 7.25/10.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Review: Tongue of Serpents by Naomi Novik

After Lien's decimation of the British fleet the government is fearful of Temeraire's divine wind and this coupled with Laurence's status as a traitor sees both shipped off to the colony in Sydney where they will both be out of the way. The duress of the journey is for them to begin a dragon covert in Australia with three dragon eggs. Upon their arrival Laurence discovers that the governor has been been displaced in a military coup and both sides are clamoring for his support. Feeling that their situation can only worsen by helping either side Laurence and the rest of the corps set off on an expedition to find a pass from Sydney through the Blue Mountains. However on the way one of the dragon eggs is stolen, supposedly by smugglers who may or may not be operating in the area, setting up a chase across the continent to retrieve the egg.

Early on in the series I was concerned that each sequel would just end up following the same structure of the first book, as Throne of Jade obviously does. Victory of Eagles impressed me from this perspective as it was decidedly different from the earlier books and while the same can be said for Tongue of Serpents there are other large problems.

Most of book comprises an overextended travelogue across Australia. The dangers the crew faces from the environment and local fauna lacks the tension that the war and other obstacles the previous book contained. Tellingly neither Laurence nor Temeraire really grow as characters either and having parts of the story narrated from Temeraire's perspective no longer has the novelty value to make up for this. There are certainly some interesting developments in the war that are mentioned in passing but these will only be addressed in a future volume. On the positive side many of the elements that Novik has done so well including Temeraire's charm as character and the byplay of the characters remain, as well as the introduction of a couple of promising dragons. So at least fans of the series should be kept interested.

Overall this would have to be considered the weakest volume of the series with not much happening and the tension sorely missing. Many of the elements that interested readers before however remain. Hopefully a return to form will be on the cards. 7/10.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Review: Against All Things Ending by Stephen R. Donaldson

I'm really enjoying Donaldson's Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant so much so that I'm considering reading the first and second chronicles again. See while I did enjoy them well enough all those years ago I don't know if I really appreciated them. The Covenant books aren't for everybody; if you're looking for a light and fluffy easy-read stay well clear. The Covenant books are highly complex and deeply engrossing; simply put in my humble opinion they are nothing short of masterpieces.

Through the combined power of her staff of law, Loric's krill and Thomas Covenant's white gold wedding ring Linden Avery has successfully brought her lover back to life. But there is a price. Unleashing such a large amount of raw power has roused the worm at world's end which will now devour the Land itself. Not only that but Thomas Covenant has not come back quite as Linden would have hoped for. Being part of the Arch of Time for centuries has left Covenant in possession of virtually all knowledge. Something his mortal frame cannot contain. Covenant struggles to stay in the present falling into cracks in his own mind which leave him in a catatonic state. Linden believes that the problem of the worm is far beyond her and resolves instead to rescue her son from Thomas' son Roger and the symbiotic croyel which has taken control of him.

The first part of the book seemed to lag for me as for about the first hundred pages Linden and her companions seemed to stand around trying to figure out what to do. This is only a minor blemish and the pace picked up after that, contrasting nicely with the breakneck battle and chase scenes to the more sedate traveling scenes. As always Donaldson gets right into Linden's head bearing all of her own insecurities and self doubt like no other author is capable of. This is where Donaldson's work has been labeled depressing and there is no doubt a level of maturity is demanded from the reader. The payoff of the lesson Linda learns is revealed beautifully with her conversation with Stave later on in the book and is well worth it. We also get to see things form Thomas Covenant's perspective for the first time since the second chronicles and it is certainly interesting to observe the effects being in the arch has had on him. The book concludes with same major story arcs resolved for both Covenant and Linden and sets thing up nicely for the finale.

Overall if you've enjoyed Donaldson's writing before you will do so again. 8.75/10.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Review: Exiles vol.1 (1-100) by Marvel Comics

During one of the issues a member of the exiles compares what they do to the 90's television show Sliders. Well close enough I guess. If you look at Exiles as a cross between sliders and X-Men you're right on the money.

A group of six mutants are plucked from their respective lives and dumped into a desert. There a short, balding man in a bow-tie calling himself the time broker, who claims to be a figment of their collective subconscious' informs them that they have become unhinged from time. In essence something has gone wrong in their respective timelines which has ruined their lives (For example Morph is now a jar of ooze lying forgotten somewhere in Beast's lab) this is the result of errors in other timelines causing a domino effect. The only way the Exiles can go back to their lives is to repair the time stream through a series of missions.

Looking at the initial lineup it is clear that the creators wanted to utilize characters that hadn't seen much screen time in the main Marvel universe. Age of Apocalypse Blink leads a team consisting of Mimic (who was an X-Men for a about five minutes in the main universe but leads the team on his own), a version of Morph similar to the AOA version, Thunderbird who was once under Apocalypse's control as his horseman War before breaking free, Nocturne daughter of Nightcrawler and the Scarlett Witch and Joseph son of Rogue and Magneto. With AOA Blink's popularity there was a very real danger that this book would just be about her but this is clearly not the case and all the characters get ample screen time. The character development here is superb and one of my favorite examples is Mimic's struggles to deal with their missions which often require a fatal solution. Mimic is his reality's version of Captain America and he now finds himself put into a position where he has to kill people he knows as heroes. His struggle with how to deal with this is fascinating.

Right from the get go it is obvious that there will be no punches pulled in this series and one of the original lineup is killed off on the first mission. The writers make full use of the advantage that they aren't dealing with characters from the main marvel universe without taking it too far. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the series is seeing the very different versions of the marvel universe the characters get to visit, everything from plague driven zombie worlds to world's without super heroes.

The series continues on very strongly up until about the seventieth issue where it really goes down hill. From that point on the stories don't always make sense and are often rushed and the character development of earlier issues disappears. Still there is a few signs in the 100th issue that the New Exiles might recapture the glory days of the original series.

Overall Exiles is a great series that is strongly character driven. The last thirty odd issues are a bit of a letdown but did enough right that I will check out the new exiles. 8.5/10

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Review: Captain in the Cauldron: The John Smit Story by John Smit and Mike Greenaway

I first became really interested in rugby around 1996/1997 at the age of twelve. One of my Dad's client's had a corporate box at Kings Park and we used to go down to watch the Sharks play virtually every home game. It was also during this period that a young man by the name of John Smit started playing for the Sharks. I watched firsthand while John went from an unknown to the longest serving Springbok captain in history and having the chance to read his autobiography I jumped at it.

First things first; Smit has written this book at the right time, when his career is starting to wind down. There has been a recent trend for sports biographies to come out earlier, (ala Kevin Pieterson) to take advantage of a high profile event (ala England winning the Ashes) and I find this generally lowers the quality as the sport star concerned isn't at the right maturity level and it can degenerate into a mudsling/self praise exercise. No such problems exist here. John strikes the right balance between respecting his peers and not shying away from being blunt when necessary. His takes on Luke Watson and Kevin Putt are good examples of this and I was both impressed and surprised at how frank he was about the politics in Springbok rugby considering he is still playing. Like most autobiographies the story follows John from childhood up until recent times, though the trap of focusing too much on the early days is avoided and the meat of this book deals with the rugby period of his life as it should.

My only criticism would be that there are some areas I would have liked to have seen dealt with that are strangely overlooked, like Smit's feeling on Jake White being pushed out of the Springbok coaching setup after the world cup triumph.

Overall Smit's book is clear and concise and gives an in depth look into the springbok setup. I highly recommend it to supporters of the man himself or Springbok rugby in general. 8.75/10 cauldron