Saturday, December 29, 2012

Review: Naked City: Tales of Urban Fantasy edited by Ellen Datlow.

Curses by Jim Butcher: Harry Dresden is tasked with removing a curse from the Chicago cubs, inflicted by the fair folk, that prevents them playing well in the world series. Very humorous batter between Harry and one of the female fair folk and uses the Chicago setting to greater effect than any previous Dresden story. Lacks the usual tension though. 7/10.

How the Pooka Came to New York City by Delia Sherman: After being saved by a mortal a pooka decides to accompany him to the new world and attempt to repay the debt. Clever use of Irish folklore. 7/10.

On the Slide by Richard Bowes: An actor embroiled in a legal case that could make some very dangerous people angry if he testifies tries to find a way to go back in time. Well fleshed out characters but a touch too predictable. 6.75/10.

The Duke of Riverside by Ellen Kushner: Alec, a disgruntled young nobleman comes across to the darker side of town for someone to kill but instead falls in love with his would-be-assassin. Things get more complicated when he inherits the dukedom and his relatives have a trial period to challenge him for it. Some impressive world-building with a society based on very set rules or manners. Some of the story is told from a bystanders point of view which was a nice touch, although some characters feel too inaccessible. 7/10.

Oblivion by Calvin Klein by Christopher Fowler. A disgruntled house wife who takes retail therapy to an extreme goes on a rampage when her credit card declines. A very original perspective but lacks direction at times and is let down by the ending. 6.5/10.

Fairy Gifts by Patricia Briggs: Years ago a vampire named Thomas was given freedom after helping a fairy in peril. Thomas is called on again when the fairy finds herself in trouble yet again. A very well developed protagonist and a very well worked twist. 8.25/10.

Picking up the Pieces by Pat Cadigan: Jean recounts a trip to Berlin in 1989 when she is forced to travel to Germany to aid her irresponsible younger sister who has run out of money while looking for a lost boyfriend. Amidst events the Berlin wall is coming down and the boyfriend has a secret of his own. Jean is a very well-developed and likable character and the author made some good story decision making by keeping her on the cusp of the strange events without going into unnecessary detail. Great example of not letting events overshadow the character 7.75/10.

Underbridge by Peter S. Beagle: Richardson is a middle age college lecturer who takes on a position at Seattle. There he encounters a homeless man and realizes he has a strange connection to the Frement Bridge troll. One of the stronger pieces in this collection. Richardson is a quirky character and Beagle portrays him brilliantly, perfect little twist at the end. 8.75/10.

Priced to Sell by Naomi Novik: Follows a group of real estate agents as they try to find properties for some supernatural clientele. It’s a quirky concept but Novik doesn't really take it anywhere, so winds up a touch disappointing. 6/10.

The Bricks of Gelecek by Matthew Kressel: An embodiment of destruction, part of a band that erases cities from existence, begins to question what he does when he encounters a girl whose art inspires creation. Strongest of the bunch. Top notch world-building and character development and really makes the reader think. Strong conclusion seals the deal. 9/10.

Weston Walks by Kit Reed: Weston is a wealthy man who lost his parents at a young age which has led to him not letting people get close to protect himself. He runs walking tours of the city but when one goes wrong he encounters a girl who won't leave him alone. This one was all over the place and at times non-sensical Reed fails to nail down the character's personality to any degree, the story fails to go anywhere and the ending is weak. 4.5/10.

The Projected Girl by Lavie Tidhar:Danny, a young Jewish boy uses his bar mitzvah money to buy a magician’s journal and realizes that a lifelike painting of a young woman may be more than what it seems. Great tone and Tidhar captures the character and setting perfectly. Another good example of not letting events overshadow the character. 8.75/10.

The Way Station by Nathan Ballingrud: Beltrane, an old hobo, goes in search of his long lost daughter but the ghosts of the New Orleans flood haunt him, literally. Very strong imagery in this piece and the central character is well realized but does go off in a bit of a tangent which hurts the story. 7/10.

Guns for The Dead by Melissa Marr: The newly deceased Frankie Lee is looking for a job but when he encounters gun store owner Alicia he is in for a job interview he won't soon forget. Interesting world-building but the confrontation plot feels a bit contrived and rushed. 6.75/10.

And Go Like This by John Crowley: The world's population is transported to New York City. This piece just did not work for me and feels like it’s been phoned in. No real characters, no clear ending and goes nowhere. 3/10.

Noble Rot by Holly Black: Agatha is a delivery girl working for a Chinese take-away who develops a soft spot for one of her clients, a dying rock star. The two main characters are well realised and the supporting cast just as strong. The plot seems to be going one way and then cleverly twists in a different direction. 8.25/10.

Daddy Long Legs of the Evening by Jeffrey Ford: A young boy's brain is taken over by a spider. Years later he remerges and decides to prey on the unfortunate residents of the city of Grindly. Perfect tone and darkly twisting plot make this piece really work. 8/10.

The Skinny Girl by Lucius Shepard: Hugo Lis is a photographer who specialises in taking photos of dead bodies. One day he comes face to face with a woman claiming to be an incarnation of death herself. Strong lead character but the plot can be a bit flimsy at times. 6.75/10.

The Collier's Venus (1893): Professor Jeremiah Ogilvy is visited by an old flame who wants to investigate a mysterious woman who has emerged from a rock in a Colorado mine. Another piece which nails the tone perfectly. Strong characters and ending.8.75/10.

King Pole, Gallows Pole, Bottle Tree by Elizabeth Bear: The genius Loci of Las Vegas Jackie and Stewart are confronted with a strange old woman who uses captured ghosts to restore her memory. When Jackie starts losing his memories as well they are forced to investigate. Strong world-building and solid pacing. 8/10.

Overall a descent collection with some very good pieces. The weaker stories generally suffered from a poor structure and lack of a really defined ending. 8/10.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Review: Kitty Goes to Washington by Carrie Vaughn

With the supernatural world exposed, partly due to Kitty Norville's radio talk show, a hearing is called by the senate in Washington to look into these matters specifically the role of the Center for the Study of Paranatural Biology. As the only semi-celebrity paranatural Kitty is invited to testify. However the chairman of the hearings, a bible-thumping senator, has his own agenda and the vampire mistress of Washington may have her own plans for Kitty as well.

Vaughn does an excellent job in creating a believable supporting cast in this novel. Each character has their own agenda for the hearings which keeps things very interesting. The pacing is also better controlled then the first book.

One thing missing from this novel is a sense of tension that was done very well in Kitty's first adventure. For 90% of this novel Kitty is in no real danger and this does hurt things a bit.

Overall strong characters and pacing but more tension would have helped. 7.75/10.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Advent Ghosts 2012: It was Christmas After All

The old man wolfed down the mashed potatoes as if he hadn’t eaten in days. For all Jillian knew he probably hadn’t. After he finished she would give him a bath and a warm bed to sleep in. She wouldn’t normally open her home to a stranger but it was Christmas after all.


Jimmy smirked at the plump woman. By morning she would be robbed blind. Of course she might not see morning. He hadn’t quite decided yet but loathed the pitying look in her eye. After all she was the fool. Did she think buglers took Christmas off?

Monday, December 17, 2012

Review: Brayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett

Arlen Bales is an apprentice Messenger due to go on his first overnight trip with an experienced messenger, Curk. Circumstances force Arlen and Curk instead to be assigned a dangerous shipment of thundersticks to Count Brayan's gold mine. Along the way Arlen gets mixed up in a forbidden love affair, encounters a snow demon and embarks on a risky plan to rid himself of one-arm the furious rock demon who stalks him.

Brett does an excellent job in capturing Arlen's character and motivations in this novella. It certainly stands very well on its own and no prior knowledge of Brett's other work is required, making it a decent entry point into the series. On the downside not a great deal of significance to the plotlines in the series as a whole takes place.

Overall Brayan's Gold with give Brett's usual readers something to tide them over between novels and provides a decent entry point to those wishing to sample his work. 7/10.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Review: Cursor's Fury by Jim Butcher

Gaius Sextus’, the aging First Lord of Alera, position has been under threat for some time as the heads of the two largest houses Aquitaine and Ceres attempt to subvert his power. Gaius feeds misinformation to one of Kalare’s spies indicating he will adopt Lord Aquitaine as his heir. This is Gaius’ play to take control of events by forcing Kalare to act openly before he is ready. However unbeknownst to the First Lord the Aquitaines have manipulated political events by pushing for the abolishment of slavery through the Dianic League further eroding Kalare's power. This forces Kalare to take action even sooner than Gausis would have expected. He attacks the city of Ceres and takes a number of hostages which prevents a number of the other Lords from acting. Gaius tasks Amara and Bernard with rescuing the hostages but they have to work with none other Lady Aquitine to succeed. Can they trust her? Meanwhile Tavi and his friend Antiller Maximus have joined a legion on the outskirts of the empire, never intended to see action. When a Canim invasion hits the mainland they are forced into action and Tavi finds himself in the unfamiliar position of leadership.

Over the first two books Tavi has grown as a character and continues to do so here being thrust into the unfamiliar role of leading. He really grows up here and Butcher does an excellent job of building his character. Sadly the same cannot be said for Amara who comes across as unbelievably naive for an agent of the crown. Hers is definitely the weaker of the two main plot lines with too much falling easily into place and feeling rather rushed all in all. While most of the villains have a degree of depth Kalare is too one dimensional and comes across as a children’s story archetypal villain. There is a third seemingly lesser plotline with Isana working to save Fade's life, after he was poisoned while protecting her. During this there are major revelations on their relationship to each and Tavi but I was somewhat disappointed. All of these revelations were simply too obvious from hints the previous two books to have any shock value.

Overall Cursor's Fury is a book of two halves. Tavi's story is excellently done but Amara's is underwhelming. This means what could have been a great book instead becomes a good one. 7.5/10.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review: Perfect Shadow by Brent Weeks

Gaelen Starfire was happy to be a farmer, husband and father. That was until his family was brutally murdered. Now he is one of the most influential men and soldiers in the world. Gwinvere Kirena, a member of the nine, wants to take power from the existing Shinga and control of the criminal underworld. She tasks Gaelen with this task by becoming her very own assassin. In return she offers him the identity of his family's killer. Gaelen is however more than he appears, he is immortal and takes the first steps in becoming the wetboy Durzo Blint.

The problem with second two books in Weeks' Night Angel trilogy were the pacing being completely rushed and the excellent character development of the first book being completely absent. This novella suffers from the exact same problems. There are some interesting ideas being bandied about here, I particularly liked Durzo considering how his different incarnations would have dealt with a problem, but all the scenes are too rushed to allow them to develop. What’s more the constant switching to different scenes and narration styles is forced and often times confusing. I also don't feel that this novella can possibly stand on it’s own and anyone who hasn't read the Night Angel trilogy will be lost for the majority.

Overall this novella suffers from severe pacing issues and very little character development. Anyone who hasn't read the Night Angel trilogy should avoid it. 5/10.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Review: Son of Heaven by David Wingrove

In the year 2065 the residents of rural Dorset eke out a living in a world vastly changed after a catastrophic economic collapse twenty years earlier that destroyed state-level governments. A feeling of dread that nobody can quite place begins to take hold. Strange airships appear over the countryside and only Jake Reed realizes what this means. Before the collapse he was a highly placed futures broker and saw first-hand that the collapse was started by the Chinese. He realizes that they are now taking the next steps in their master plan.

The book is divided in two main parts the first concentrating on Jake Reeds life with his son and neighbours in Dorset and the second years earlier in London before the collapse detailing the events leading up to it. Wingrove creates a believable post-collapse world particularly with the organization and remnants of technology, i.e. after twenty years not everything would have disappeared. The characters are generally fleshed out nicely though I would have liked the motivations of the main antagonist, Wang explored more. He is the only character that comes across a bit one dimensional but this is mainly due to seeing him through his rival Jiang's perspective for the majority of his onscreen time.

Wingrove does focus a lot on contrasts, ie between pre and post-collapse society and western and eastern societies, though I can't help feeling that he missed a trick. Modern society is very multi-cultural and Britain’s ethnic population is both diverse and substantial. It would have been very interesting to see British people of Chinese descent’s reaction to the Chinese take over.

Pacing is well controlled throughout most of the novel with the exception for the finale which felt rushed. More time on the interaction between Jake and Jiang and the Chinese political situation would have been of benefit.

Overall a solid novel with impressive world-building a few missed tricks would have elevated it to a classic. 8/10.