This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

16 April, 2014

REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO: KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES

Cover by Two Associates/Woodlands books

DOCTOR WHO:
KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES
TIME TRIPS BOOK 3
BY
NICK HARKAWAY

ISBN: 978-1-44814-187-6
Pages: 49
Publisher: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing
Published: 6 February 2014

On the cover:
 (From the publisher's website.)

Deep in the gap between the stars, the TARDIS is damaged by a temporal mine. It’s not life-threatening, but the Tenth Doctor will need a while to repair the damage. But he’s not alone. The strangely familiar-looking Christina thinks the Doctor has arrived in her bed and breakfast, somewhere in Wales. In fact, the TARDIS seems to have enveloped Christina’s entire town – and something else is trapped inside with it. A violent, unnatural storm threatens them all and – unless it’s stopped – the entire universe.


   This is a story from the end of the Tenth Doctor's time. And it is unmistakenly the tenth Doctor too, you can clearly hear Tennant speak his lines in your head while you read this. Harkaway has managed to capture the personality of the tenth incarnation perfectly. The author has also found room for some signposts as to when this is happening, I'll refrain from divulging the biggest one, since I thought it was a very pleasant surprise myself. There's also a tie to a story of the Doctor's future, a nice Easter egg for those that remember that particular incident. 
   So the story is placed into the canon of the television show, but it is certainly not constrained by it in any way. This story stands very well on its own, and it is a very good one too.

   The narrative starts quite literally with a bang, as mentioned in the cover copy above the TARDIS hits a temporal mine, and from there the story takes some very interesting turns. Harkaway is good at hiding where his plot is taking us, it takes quite a long time before we get any certainty to what is happening. This certainly heightens the suspense, but it also allows the Doctor to shine. The author really shows off the curiosity and inquisitiveness the Doctor has, something that has made him such a lovable hero to so many people.
   There is a sense of fun and wonder throughout the story, even though it is quite far from a humourous story. What we do get is a story that is pervaded with a sense of tension. We know all the time that something serious is happening, and the author manages to really make the reader feel it. 

   It's not unusual for the TARDIS to be an important location in a Doctor Who story, but the way it is done here feels fresh. There's another location here that is totally new, and that has a very interesting history behind it. One that isn't immediately clear.
   Harkaway has managed to make the locations very much part of the story, as well as something that adds to the mystery and suspense. The ambiguity when it comes to where we are is very well done, and the reveal of the reality behind it was a satisfying one.

   All in all this is a very enjoyable Doctor Who story. It has some very interesting ideas behind it, and they are very well executed. For me this was an excellent addition to the Doctor's world, and I think it will be of interest to Science Fiction fans who are unfamiliar with his written adventures.
   For those Doctor Who fans that miss the Tenth Doctor this is an absolute must. If you haven't got this yet you really should point your browser at your preferred e-book retailer, you won't regret it.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the publisher/NetGalley.


15 April, 2014

REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO: INTO THE NOWHERE

Cover by Two Associates/Woodlands books

DOCTOR WHO:
INTO THE NOWHERE
TIME TRIPS BOOK 2
BY
JENNY T. COLGAN

ISBN: 978-1-44814-183-8
Pages: 49
Publisher: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing
Published: 16 January 2014

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

The Eleventh Doctor and Clara land on an unknown alien planet. To the Doctor’s delight and Clara’s astonishment, it really is unknown. It’s a planet the Doctor has never seen. It’s not on any maps, it’s not referenced on any star charts or in the TARDIS data banks. It doesn’t even have a name. What could be so terrible that its existence has been erased?


   This novella opens with the interesting premise that there is actually something that neither the Doctor nor the TARDIS knows anything about. Anyone familiar with Doctor Who will be aware that this is like having a giant red button with the words "Do not press this button" below. For the Doctor it is an irresistible invitation to find out what happens. The premise was refreshing, but what was more interesting to me was how it played out. Especially how it made Clara feel at the beginning of the story.

   Clara is somewhat of a stand in for the reader here, but she has some very interesting thoughts on how the Doctor reacts to his lack of a clue as to what is going on. I won't spoil the details for anyone, but what she goes through in the story, and the conversation she has with the Doctor about it later, s to my mind something really significant. It brings another level of realism to a long established character. Not an entirely new insight, but the way it is presented, and handled, here adds some depth. The extra introspection that the written format affords does allow Colgan to delve just that little bit deeper, and it does give the story that little bit extra.

   The story itself more or less follows the standard pattern for a Doctor Who story; He, and the companion, land on a planet, something is not quite right, the Doctor runs off to find out what is going on. But things aren't quite as simple as that outline suggests here, there is an undercurrent that I mentioned in the previous paragraph.
   However, the undercurrent doesn't overpower the base story. The basic adventure story is absolutely enjoyable in its own right. It is one of the Doctor stories that leans more towards the scary side of the spectrum. There is a real sense of danger, and there is plenty of suspense throughout. You might be convinced that nothing major can happen in a novella from such a big TV-series, but Colgan's writing leads to a sense of peril that at times is so high that you will forget about that.
   There is also a very good resolution to this story, one that didn't in any way feel like it was forced. Of course the Doctor does his thing, but this time it isn't something that is pulled more or less out of thin air. It was a pleasing ending, and a very fitting one to the story that preceded it.

   Overall this is a very good Doctor Who story. It has all the ingredients that make the Doctor such a good character to follow on an adventure, and they are used to great effect by Colgan. This is a tightly written story that has everything a story needs. The beginning makes perfect sense, if you are familiar with the Doctor (- and if you are not you will understand him by the end of the story), it then builds nicely up towards a satisfying ending. This is not just a good Doctor Who story, but a good novella in itself.
   For fans of Doctor Who, and especially the eleventh Doctor and Clara, this is an absolute must. For those that want a quick Science Fiction novella this should also be a satisfying little adventure. And even though it is early days in the series yet, it looks like Time Trips will be an excellent first trip into written Doctor Who for those that haven't ventured there before.


14 April, 2014

DOCTOR WHO WEEK

Me outside my TARDIS.*

    Easter is not going to be as was planned for me. Originially me and Jo was going to go to Eastercon in Glasgow. It did however become clear last week that we simply could not afford to do that at this moment. So I figured I should do something on the blog this week, instead of taking a break for Eastercon as planned. The choice of what to do wasn't really that difficult: Doctor Who!

   I have been lucky enough to get several of BBC Books/Ebury Publishing's Time Trips novellas for review from NetGalley (, I already reviewed the first one), along with the Tales From Trenzalore anthology of shorts. So the rest of this week on the blog will be dedicated to reviewing those. Although I might sneak in a cover reveal round-up post too.
   So strap in and get ready for some time-travel.

*May in fact be a picture of me outside the police box that is located in front of the police station in Wetherby.

11 April, 2014

REVIEW: A FEAST FOR CROWS

Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson

A FEAST FOR CROWS
BOOK FOUR OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-58202-4
Pages: 976 (+ appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Dell
First published: 8 November 2005
This edition published: 26 September 2006

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

WARNING: THIS COVER COPY CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM PREVIOUS BOOKS.
The review is however spoiler-free. (Apart from naming characters who have survived.)

 It seems too good to be true. After centuries of bitter strife and fatal treachery, the seven powers dividing the land have decimated one another into an uneasy truce. Or so it appears... With the death of the monstrous King Joffrey, Cersei is ruling as regent in King’s Landing. Robb Stark’s demise has broken the back of the Northern rebels, and his siblings are scattered throughout the kingdom like seeds on barren soil. Few legitimate claims to the once desperately sought Iron Throne still exist—or they are held in hands too weak or too distant to wield them effectively. The war, which raged out of control for so long, has burned itself out.

But as in the aftermath of any climactic struggle, it is not long before the survivors, outlaws, renegades, and carrion eaters start to gather, picking over the bones of the dead and fighting for the spoils of the soon-to-be dead. Now in the Seven Kingdoms, as the human crows assemble over a banquet of ashes, daring new plots and dangerous new alliances are formed, while surprising faces—some familiar, others only just appearing—are seen emerging from an ominous twilight of past struggles and chaos to take up the challenges ahead.
It is a time when the wise and the ambitious, the deceitful and the strong will acquire the skills, the power, and the magic to survive the stark and terrible times that lie before them. It is a time for nobles and commoners, soldiers and sorcerers, assassins and sages to come together and stake their fortunes...and their lives. For at a feast for crows, many are the guests—but only a few are the survivors.


   This book opens very well. It seems to be a new beginning for the whole series, it feels fresh and interesting again. Granted, there is yet more courtly intrigue introduced, but we are diversifying from what we have seen in the three previous volumes. There are some very interesting new viewpoints introduced. And we finally get some real movement in some of the storylines that went around in circles in the last book. It doesn't last long though. We soon go back to the same old things that dragged the previous book down.

   It is well known that this is a book that was "split in two". It doesn't really show much, mostly it is noticeable in the characters that are off screen here. Unfortunately that reveals the main weakness of these books: Too many viewpoints.
   The novel seems leaner and more focused with a group of characters cut out of the loop. And it is actually pretty refreshing to not get reports on the major events repeated several times. But we do get some new point of view characters, and it means that we are not losing anything near the number of PoVs to what is absent here.
   It doesn't help that some of the new locations we are taken to are far more interesting than what we have been stuck with for the first three volumes. And it is kind of inescapable for the reader to ask themselves why we didn't go to these places before.

   Frustration is perhaps the expression that best covers my reaction to this novel. There are actually many great things here: Sam Tarly's journey, Arya Stark getting somewhere at last, going to Dorne, and Brienne of Tarth getting her own chapters. But it is just a bit too little, and too late by now. What feels fresh here is bogged down in the same old storylines as before.
   What is also very telling here is that Martin tries to give us a deeper insight into some of the characters, and he fails. The characters don't really seem to develop as much as change in the way needed for the plot to hang together. And it has become very clear that the plot is growing like a bunch of weeds, and that it needs serious amounts of pruning before it can be accused of being a landscaped garden.

   Another thing that must be mentioned when it comes to fresh things happening is something that happens about halfway through the book; suddenly we are introduced to religious military orders. Granted we have seen religion in the story before, but then it was presented as something special. Here we suddenly have not only the aforementioned religious orders, but religion as something that is central to a lot of people's lives. It seems to have been pulled out of thin air.
   It isn't the only thing that comes seemingly out of the blue, but it is the most blatant. Several other things seem also to be something that, as a reader, I would have expected to be made aware of by the author before this. At times these things come now they seem like they are here to get the story out of the corners it has been painted into.
   There is a general problem with the novel in that sense too. We get so many chapters that seem to go absolutely nowhere. It just seems to run on empty, like Martin keeps writing even though he has nothing to tell us. This would still feel bloated at half the length it is.

   Everything isn't bad though. There are some very interesting turns of the story here. And as I mentioned above the new locations add some much needed freshness to the story. Martin still has a hold on me as a reader, but I must admit that he has had that grip since A Game of Thrones. As someone who is mostly a completist in his reading, I have basically been invested in this series since book one. This is not so bad that I want to give up on it either, but like watching the last season of LOST, I have given up hope of the ending being as satisfying as the beginning of the story promised.

   Neither when it comes to quality nor originality is this essential Epic Fantasy for the genre reader. But it would be silly not to say that it has reached a cultural significance where you perhaps should make an effort to get through this series. Reading with a less critical eye than I do would probably make you see much less of it flaws, and without the kind of extensive notes I keep it will be much harder to notice how much of the plot is standing still.
   This is an interesting read, as is the series as a whole, but the entertaining aspect of it has been somewhat lost for me. There is a however a very good story at the centre of this increasingly bloated and messy series of books. I am determined to slog it out to see it to its end, and I am sure I am not the only one who is left with that feeling after investing enough time to make it this far.

REVIEWS: A Game of Thrones   A Clash of Kings   A Storm of Swords

LINKS: George R.R. Martin   Bantam Dell

10 April, 2014

REVIEW: LONG LIVE THE QUEEN

Cover image by Steward Noack/Don Sipley
Cover design by Lauren Panepinto

LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
BOOK THREE OF THE IMMORTAL EMPIRE
BY
KATE LOCKE

ISBN: 978-1-405-51197-1
Pages: 306 (+Glossary)
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 12 November 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

Xandra Vardan thought life would be simpler when she accepted the goblin crown and became their queen, but life has only become more complicated. The vampires, werewolves and humans all want the goblins on their side, because whoever has the goblins - wins.

With human zealots intent on ridding the world of anyone with plagued blood and supernatural politics taking Britain to the verge of civil war, Xandra's finding out that being queen isn't all it's cracked up to be, and if she doesn't do something fast, hers will be the shortest reign in history.


   This is the third book in this series, and I would advise those who thinks it looks interesting to start with the first book. These books will work much better if they are read in order. That being said, it is by no means impossible to grab this without reading the previous two volumes, I would just not recommend it if you don't want to miss out.

   There is a real fast pace to the plot of this novel, Locke doesn't give you many chances to catch your breath as the story moves rapidly forward. The writing style makes the pages fly by, but the main thing that makes this book a quick read is a story that has the pacing of an Action Thriller. There really is a lot happening here, and it pays for the reader to pay attention. Some of the chapters are brimming with information, and at times the novel feels like it is underwritten considering how much is happening. While there is more than enough action here to fill a novel this size, it never overshadows the plot itself, or the worldbuilding for that matter.

   When it comes to the story, that is really full of surprising turns. There is a lot of suspense throughout the novel, and that is one of the things that drives the reader onward. We get some revelations that come right out of the blue, but they are not cheats. Everything is present in the background, and even though it has been hidden from the reader earlier it is fits in perfectly with the world this is set in.
   I never got the feeling that the author was doing anything else than telling the story. With pacing, action, and suspense like this you can get a story that relies too much on "coincidences", Locke manages to avoid that very nicely. It feels like this is a world that has been mapped out so well that there is no need for authorial "cheating".

   I think that is what impresses me most about this book, and the two previous ones, -the worldbuilding. This is very much a Steampunk world, of the kind that mixes in a lot from Urban Fantasy, but at its base is an excellently realised Alternate History of the British Empire.
   Having read quite a bit of Alternate History, it is important to me that the changes from the history we know feel organic -that it feels like this is something that could actually have happened. And while it may seem strange to say that so is the case here, I feel it is. Once you get accept the initial premise that allow for vampires, werewolves, and goblins, this is actually a plausible history of an alternate version of our world. I think the worldbuilding is really that good.

   So, great story and excellent worldbuilding, that leaves only the characters. I can't find any faults with them either. Xandra Vardan is one of the great female main characters in Steampunk. She is very well realised, and although she can kick several kinds of ass, she comes across as very realistic. Throughout the trilogy she has had a very good progression, and I feel I have been witnessing her come into her own. As this book ends we see a more grown up Xandra, one that has been through quite a journey.
   There are plenty of other characters here that add to the world Xandra inhabits. The supporting cast is excellent as well. They do not feel like they are put there to serve the plot, but like they are an integral part of the world they live in. Locke deftly manages to avoid stereotyping, with the possible exception of the somewhat clichéd "werewolf boyfriend". But even he is likable, and he is a great addition to the cast of the novel.

   Overall I was very pleased with this novel. The Immortal Empire books have been a real joy to read, and they are an excellent Steampunk trilogy for those that like their Steampunk to come with a large side order of Urban Fantasy. If you are unfamiliar with this SFF subgenre, I would recommend these novels as an excellent starting point.
   The only real complaint I have is about the ending of this book. Not that it is in any way bad, in fact it is very good. It did however come as somewhat of an anticlimax for me. Although we get a great ending to this trilogy, it feels a bit like I have just witnessed the end of the beginning of Xandra's story. So, even though this is billed as the final The Immortal Empire book, I am hoping for further stories set in this world, and I will be there ready for them if they should ever show up.

REVIEWS: God Save the Queen   The Queen is Dead

LINKS: Kate Locke  Orbit

09 April, 2014

COVER REVEAL ROUND-UP (XXI)

   The UK edition of Stephen King's latest, coming in 3 June from Hodder & Stoughton, has gotten a cover. (An animated version can be found here.) It's quite different from the US one in style, but the image is somewhat similar. I really like this one. Which is no surprise. I like the Hodder & Stoughton covers for Stephen King quite a lot, and this is no exception to that.


   This should be out on 3 June also, but this time from Night Shade Books. It certainly has a very good Horror feel to it, and the art looks really great. Definitely one of those covers that would make me look twice in the bookstore. And considering what it is, I would then pick the book up.


   This is an Epic Fantasy from a debut author. It will be out in late April from South Africa's Fox & Raven Publishing. The art is by Rashieq Sasman, with cover design by Hannes Strydom. It's an interesting cover, and I like these type of covers for Epic Fantasy, so this one got me interested. If like with me this has gotten you interested in finding out more, you can do so here.


   This is the cover for the first book in a new series from Charlaine Harris called Midnight, Texas. It's out 8 May from Gollancz. You can see a nice animated reveal thingy here. I must admit that I haven't read any of Harris's previous books (, although that may change in the near future as my sister-in-law has all of the Sookie Stackhouse ones), but this cover looks interesting to me. I'd pick this up to see what it was all about if I found it in the SFF section of the bookstore.


   From Angry Robot we have this cover, with art by Alejandro Colucci. It's for the second book in The Majat Code and the novel will be out 29 July 2014. It's a very good cover, the art is excellent. This is absolutely good enough to stand out among a group of Fantasy covers, and that would definitely make me want to pick the book up.


   This, from Tor Books, is the follow up to the award nominated Blindsight, it will be out 26 August 2014. The art is by Richard Anderson. I hadn't looked up this book, or the previous one, yet. But this cover made me take a quick peek while I was writing this post. (Which is how I found out you can get Blindsight for free here.) It's a very good Science Fiction cover, one that belongs to a style that will always make me look at the novel.


   Out from Gollancz in September this year. This novel has got a cover with art by Chris Gibbs and in-house design by Jamie Tanner. This cover immediately caught my eye, there is just something about that that means I'm drawn to it. (No, not the eye in the middle.) Reading the cover copy here hasn't made me less interested, so I think I will pick this one up.


   Another novel of The Malazan Empire, this one out 3 July (on Kindle only?) with a paper release to follow 5 August from Tor Books. The art is good but I think I can spot some copy/pasting going on, and that seems a bit lazy. Other than that it is fine, but then again I am not sure I would use a cover that will put many people in mind of the Wall from A Song of Ice and Fire.


   This cover is for the final spoof/mash-up book of the Original Star Wars Trilogy. (The good one.) It will be out 1 July 2014 from Quirk Books. To be honest, I am not really interested in the book as a concept. It just doesn't hold enough of an appeal to me to be worth spending money, or time, on. The cover is however an interesting one, and I quite like that. Would make for a good poster for those that like both the Bard and Star Wars.


   I did the US cover for this last week. This is the UK one, and it is coming 3 July from Harper Voyager. I mentioned last time that I thought that cover looked more like a UK one. Well, it still does, but this one is also quite typical of some UK covers. I must say that I do like this better than the US one. It is still quite stylised, but the addition of a painting with some figures in it draws me in a bit more than the US one.

07 April, 2014

REVIEW: THE FORBIDDEN TERRITORY



THE FORBIDDEN TERRITORY
DUKE DE RICHLEAU BOOK 1
BY
DENNIS WHEATLEY

ISBN: 978-1-44821-255-2
Pages: 271
Publisher: Bloomsbury Reader
First published: January 1933
This edition published: 10 October 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)


The Duke receives a coded message from his missing friend, Van Ryn who, while hunting for treasure lost during the Soviet takeover of Russia, is now in prison somewhere in that vast country.

Along with the Duke, good friends Simon Aron and Richard Eaton set off on a secret mission to secure his escape. Without official papers they lead a thrilling caper, hunted by the Secret Police, through Siberia and across the plains of Soviet Russia.


   If you thought the conventions of Adventure novels was somewhat new, this is a book that will disabuse you of that notion. Everything you would associate with Action Adventure is present here: Highly unlikely coincidences, "forgotten" treasure, characters that are as stupid/smart as the plot demands, and "truly evil" bad guys. It just shows that most things under the sun are not new. And that lack of realism in Adventure novels is a long tradition.
   Not that there is anything inherently wrong with these conventions. It just helps as a reader if you are aware that they are there, and that you are ready to accept that that is the way plots like this work.

   The pacing is a bit different to what the modern Action Adventure reader will be used to. This is a bit more sedate, a bit more measured in its approach. The writing style of more than 80 years ago does take a little bit to get used to, it's a bit different from a modern novel. I didn't have any problems once I was past the initial period of adjustment. At least not with how the novel was written. It is obviously a bit old fashioned, but anyone interested in this sort of story will easily overlook that.
   There are some things in the novel that will seem strange, or perhaps even offensive, to modern readers. This book cannot escape the period it was written in. And in a novel that is mainly set in Soviet Russia that means we get a virulently Anti-Communist thread running through the novel. Being British it is also incredibly pro the deposed Romanov dynasty. Having read a bit of the history of the inter-war period I was ready for that, but someone who happens upon it may be surprised. 
   
   Well, enough with the history of the 1930s, on to the novel itself.
   It starts fairly slowly, well, it continues on rather slowly after we get the initial "quest" revelation in the first chapter. It takes a whole lot of time before we see any action. And the first instance of action is brief, and how it goes down is very out of the blue. Something that happens a few other times in the novel, we aren't forewarned about what people are capable of here. We hardly know them at all. The narrative is not very intimate when it comes to the characters, but more about that later.
   When we do get some sustained action later on, it becomes clear that Wheatley is good at writing it, and it is surprisingly brutal too. The author is also accomplished at creating suspense. Granted, some of it comes from the reader being left mostly in the dark, but there are some really suspenseful passages here. 

   Going back to the characters. I mentioned above that we don't really get to know them. There is a distance from the narrative to the inner workings of the characters. They all seem pretty stereotypical to me. But that is something that must be taken with the caveat that I don't really know how stereotypical they would have seemed at the time this novel was originally published.
   What is certain tough is that the characters are described mostly by what they do, we get few deeper insights. This means that sometimes things can happen in the plot that will have been impossible if we had known the characters better. This doesn't so much contradict the stereotype I mentioned above, it complements and expands it. Our distance from the characters makes for a plot that can go places that are pretty unbelievable, and all the reader can do is feel a bit cheated that the author gave you no forewarning that the character was in any way inclined to do what just happened.

   I found this to be a very interesting novel to read. It is actually very enjoyable, although the plot is a bit thin. I like the entertainment of Adventure novels though, and that means that I can overlook a plot that is a bit on the thin side. This is entertaining, but more than that it is fascinating to read an Action Adventure novel that is as early as this and seeing how the time it was written in affected it.
   If you like Action Adventure that has few pretensions of realistic plotting, and where coincidences crop up pretty often (, i.e. if you are a fan of Hollywood plotting), or at least can overlook that for an entertaining journey, then you could do much worse than checking this novel out. And, if like me, you are a fan of Clive Cussler, or other modern Adventure writers, then I urge you to get hold of this book so you can see where those kind of novels came from.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the publisher/NetGalley.

LINKS: Dennis Wheatley (Fansite)  Bloomsbury Reader

The Duke receives a coded message from his missing friend, Van Ryn who, while hunting for treasure lost during the Soviet takeover of Russia, is now in prison somewhere in that vast country.

Along with the Duke, good friends Simon Aron and Richard Eaton set off on a secret mission to secure his escape. Without official papers they lead a thrilling caper, hunted by the Secret Police, through Siberia and across the plains of Soviet Russia. - See more at: http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-forbidden-territory-9781448212552/#sthash.W0lF6yXW.dpuf
9781448212552
9781448212552
9781448212552

04 April, 2014

REVIEW: A STORM OF SWORDS

Cover art by Larry Rostant
Cover design by David Stevenson

A STORM OF SWORDS
BOOK THREE OF A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE
BY
GEORGE R.R. MARTIN

ISBN: 978-0-553-57342-8
Pages: 1128 (+appendix)
Publisher: Bantam Books
First published: 31 October 2000
This edition published: 2011*
(*First mass market paperback edition: 4 March 2003)

On the cover:

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, victim of the sorceress who holds him in her thrall. Young Robb still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world.
And as opposing forces maneuver for the final showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost limits of civilization, accompanied by a horde of mythical Others-a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...


   Like the previous book, this is in no way a standalone. This is a series where you have to read the books in order. With so much going on I would usually advise anyone to read the books straight after eachother, or at least in a short timespan, but I am not sure you will get the most out of these books if you do. There are some flaws here that become much clearer when you read them shortly after eachother, so even though you will miss some details with longer breaks in between books I will actually advise you allow yourself several months before moving to the next book.
   I am well aware that this will be very difficult though. Martin is very good at writing in a way that makes you want to get more of the story as soon as possible (, something that explains some of the vehement criticism of the pace at which these books are published). Even though I found an increasing number of problems as I read on, I still was eager to get more of the story. The base story is rather excellent, and Martin writes in a compelling way, what is needed is someone with editing duties who has the guts to cut two thirds of the, increasingly unnecessary, passages the books contain.

   Obviously there are plenty of people who disagree with me that this is a meandering and boring novel with far too many unnecessary chapters, but I wouldn't have had as much problems if I didn't write review notes for each chapter. This is simply so dense that it takes a bit of scrutiny to see the many flaws, and if you are just interested in the story it is perhaps best that you don't try to look deeper into this novel. But when I started out as a reviewer, that is what I tasked myself with doing.
   The most obvious flaw is that there are plenty of unnecessary chapters. Some of them give you nothing that makes the overall story progress, and some have so little that does that it would be better delivered in a paragraph or sentence when next we see that point of view character. And that is another problem, perhaps the largest one, there is simply too many point of view characters here.

    I have nothing against multiple point of view characters. Without checking, I think that Harry Turtledove has a similar number in some of his series to what Martin uses. But there is a problem in that there are more than one characters who are PoV here that have little idea of what is going on, and we get loads of details that seemingly takes us nowhere. Switches between the different points of view seem to be a bit arbitrary too, at times it seems we get a "visit" to a character just so we'll remember they still exist.
    Another problem is the similarities between some of the viewpoints. At times it would be possible to switch names and move whole chapters to another character. This is partly do to the nature of the story. Most of it is going on at the top levels of the nobility, and court intrigue is similar wherever it happens. But there's also similarities between the journeys of the different characters, especially with Arya Stark and Jamie Lannister. Both of them are on the road, and their circumstances are quite similar. Overall there isn't enough of a distinction between what is going on in different places, and at times everything has a tendency to just blurr together.

   Characters are important in any story that spans as widely as this, and like mentioned above, there is a lot of them. Actually there is a whole lot of characters that have significant impact on the story that does not have their own points of view. We don't get close to the characters that we don't follow directly, and their motives are mostly well hidden.
   As for the characters we do follow, they are for the most part very open to us. But there is a huge problem with Martin's need to re-establish characters. At times we are given some insight that tells us something about a character that we already know. I found this very annoying, it's as if Martin didn't trust me as a reader. Like he thinks the readers are either to stupid to get things without it being hammered home multiple times. Or perhaps he has just lost control over the narrative, and isn't himself aware of that he has already established that character trait before. Either way, it makes for tedious reading.

   Not all of the characters will be as interesting, especially when there is so many of them. I found Arya and Daenerys to be the two most interesting ones. They have the most interesting character journeys in my opinion, and we get to see them grow as individuals as time passes. Jon Snow also has an interesting story, but his chapters are hampered by the above mentioned character re-establishing. He hasn't changed significantly since we first saw him, and we don't really need to get further confirmation as to what type of person he is. And he has a storyline that is interesting enough that we don't need any distractions from it.
   What becomes very clear with all the characters though is that they react to what is happening to them, they do not make things happening. (Daenerys is somewhat of an exception to that, but she is also trapped in a situation she has little chance of getting out of.) It becomes grating that with such a large cast of characters, they are all so passive. The constant stream of situations that are set up without the characters involved become pretty exhausting after a while. we get too much of a distance from what is really happening.

   There is certainly an interesting story being told here, or perhaps several interesting stories is a better description of this multi-strand narrative. Unfortunately it is buried in chapter upon chapter of uninteresting happenings, and sidetracks that doesn't seem to go anywhere.
   I get that this is a complex story that spans over a lot, but it doesn't seem like there is actually some authorial control over where this is going. The narrative is terribly uneven. We get page after page of little, or nothing happening, and then we get lots happening that is told with little detail. This is most noticeable with Daenerys, much of her story is told as synopsises.
   It actually looks to me as the structure of the novel doesn't work. That chapters with single point of views is a bad way to tell this story. And I got the impression several times that the narrative was written to fit this structure rather than the needs of the story.

   To sum up I will have to go back to the first paragraph of the review. This is a story you want to know more of, and Martin writes in such a way that you are eager to read on. (I for one has invested enough time in A Song of Ice and Fire that I would like to read the ending.) It does however fall apart when looked at more closely. It seems unstructured, and at times the narrative goes around in circles. This novel does however end very well, but getting there is a hard journey.
   This is Fantasy on an epic scale, true Epic Fantasy, but this is one for those that are really patient. There is almost as much marriage negotiations and actual marriages here as there is action.
   If you are a patient reader, can ignore meandering plots, and want some truly Epic Fantasy, this is a book for you. Readers who want things to move forward at quicker than glacial pace may be disappointed though.

REVIEWS: A Game of Thrones  A Clash of Kings

LINKS: George R.R. Martin  Bantam Books

03 April, 2014

REVIEW: PIRACY

Cover art by Sarah Anne Langton

PIRACY
FOX POCKETS VOLUME ONE
EDITED
BY
ADELE WEARING

Pages: 104
Publisher: Fox Spirit
Published: 25 June 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

They say worse things happen at sea and here is the proof. From the perils of stealing dreams to the danger of your own imagination welcome to Piracy. Here are tales of the high seas, the skies and even space, filled with fierce women, strange beasts and adventure.


   This is an anthology of short stories and flash fiction. I'll do a quick, spoiler free, rundown of the individual stories before giving my overall impression.

BECALMED by Den Patrick

   A story about the dangers of handling one type of stolen goods. This is a good story. It evokes a great sense of empathy, and I think on some level everyone can relate to it.


THE TROUBLE WITH DAYDREAMS by Catherine Hill

   High sea piracy may not be for everyone we learn in this very short story. I really liked this. It's short, to the point, and it has a very nice ending.


BLACK ETHEL'S BEAST by Kit Marlowe

   In this story a captain duels a stowaway. This is a good story, but one that felt too much of an episode of something bigger to me. Something bigger that I would very much like to read, I hasten to add.


NO QUARTER by Rahne Sinclair

   A raging sea battle is the setting for this story, where magic plays a part. This is full of action. Despite its short length it doesn't stand behind many longer pirate adventures in its invocation of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of breaking timber. An excellent little tale with an epic feel.


LEAVE THE PISTOL BEHIND by Chloë Yates

   A visit from an old acquaintance comes as a surprise in this tale. Very good story whose last sentence brought a grin to this readers face.


PAST LIVES by Jenny Barber

   The catch fights back in this story. A story that gives a very nice twist to an archetypal story type. Very well executed.


NORA by Margrét Helgadottir.

   A woman is attacked by pirates, and shows her true mettle. This story is subdued and effectful. It doesn't shout where it can whisper, but you will want to listen. A really good one.


PLUNDER by Fransesca Terminiello

   A tense tale of a teenager at sea. This has great tension, and though you can sense what the outcome will be, it doesn't stop you from being dragged in by the excellent atmosphere created.


INSURGENT by Christian D'Amico

   Space pirates find a ship with cargo that for them is a jackpot. Apart from the ending feeling a bit like the end of a novel's first chapter, this is an excellent tale.


GERONIMO by T.F. Grant

   Modern piracy has consequences in this story of the future. This has an interesting premise, and it is certainly topical. I found this very interesting, and in some ways chilling.


PIECES OF 23 by Rob Haines

   A tale of swashbuckling on the datasea. This is a fast-paced story set in a very different environment to those stories that precede it in this anthology. It's a very nice and original tale. Quite refreshing.


THE REAL DEAL by R.J. Booth

   An author is kidnapped by a gang of ruthless pirates in this story. This is a good story, one that doesn't signpost where it is going, but it leads you to a satisfying end.


TRUE TO THE SONG by Asher Wismer

   A pirate hijacking that is something out of the ordinary. This is a story with a surprising element in it. An element that very much sets it apart from most other pirate stories you will encounter. A great read.


SILVERMELT by Emma Teichmann

   A musician gets caught up in events he doesn't quite see the scope of. Good story with a bit of mystery to it. It does however end very abruptly, and leaves you wondering if something is missing.


SKYWAY by K.C. Shaw

   A woman grabs an unexpected opportunity in this Steampunk story. This is a brilliant little story. It has plenty of action and adventure, and a very enjoyable plot. 


X MARKS THE SPOT by S.J. Caunt

   A girl catches the "pirate-bug" at a very early age. This is a very enjoyable story. One that will most likely bring a smile to your face. A very nice ending to the anthology.


OVERALL IMPRESSION

   I am not sure I can really pinpoint what the fascination with pirates is. I've read enough about the real history behind what Hollywood serves up to know that their life was mostly very far from glamorous. And yet they still hold a fascination to me, as they obviously do to a lot of other people around the globe. If you are reading this, I will assume that you have been caught by some of the allure surrounding pirates, and is interested in reading stories about them. In which case this anthology will be something for you.

   The quality of the stories is high throughout this anthology. Not every story hit me in exactly the right spot, but there were no real duds either. It is noticeable though that the word "piracy" does evoke a very particular image in many people's minds, and that this does lead to similarities between some of the stories. This wasn't a big problem though, and it can easily be avoided by not reading all the stories in one setting. It does mean that the anthology feels stronger when authors move away from the traditional image of piracy and in a different direction.

   Nitpicking about stories being similar when the anthology is read in one sitting aside, I really liked this anthology. It is short, as are the stories in it, and it is all the stronger for it. This is excellent for those that want some short fiction that will fill a few minutes now and then. For those that like their fiction to come with a piratical leaning, this is an absolute must.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the publisher.

LINK: Fox Spirit

02 April, 2014

REVIEW: THE TROOP



THE TROOP
BY
NICK CUTTER

ISBN: 978-1-47671-771-5
Pages: 368
Publisher: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster)
Published: 25 February 2014

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)



Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.


And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another.


   Comparisons with Stephen King, and especially Carrie are pretty much unavoidable with this novel. Not because you have to look at it from that angle, but because the author actually references Carrie in the acknowledgements. Even without that, you would be hard pressed to avoid thinking about King as you read this novel, it's certainly done in a style anyone who has read King will recognise.
   Since the link to King was so obvious while reading it, (the acknowledgements are in the back,)  I will credit Cutter for admitting it so openly. However, being open about your inspiration doesn't necessarily lead to your book feeling more original. And there is a problem in that this feels pretty stale even when taking the inspiration into account. There is little suspense here, the story deviates very little from what I expected it to be.

   I usually avoid comparing what I review to other works, but my hand has been forced here. Unfortunately this book doesn't come out very favourably when compared to King. The influence is very clear to see, and structurally this is not bad. But what King is really good at is making you feel for the characters, and I felt this novel failed to make me to that. 
   There is an emotional distance from the characters you are following that makes you not care very much about them, this greatly lessens the tension when they are in danger. We are told how the characters feel about what is happening, but it feels distant and clinical. I never felt close enough to them to feel the level of empathy needed to really get the emotional impact of the story.

   Several times as I read this book I found myself wondering if this was really a movie script. There are several things that you can see working on the silver screen but that doesn't quite work as a novel. This certainly has some good filmic qualities, the pacing is very good at times and Cutter writes action well. And when it comes to horrific descriptions they are very well written, I'll even go so far as to say they are the highlight of the novel.
   The novel's main letdown is how uneven it is. There are some great passages here, but they are drowned out by the rest of the book. The story is slow and meandering,  and it never quite manages to create enough tension for this kind of Horror.

   I never really got into this book. It was too familiar, without giving me enough of something new to enjoy. There are glimpses of something better here though, but that just suggests that the flaws here are unnecessary. I get the distinct impression that Cutter's attempt to homage Stephen King is what is letting this down, and I have not been discouraged from checking out further stories by this author.
    This is a novel for someone who wants the familiar in their Horror. There is little originality here, and if you are at all bothered by the feeling of having seen it before this isn't the novel for you. If you are not that bothered by the originality and appreciate a good Body-Horror description, there is things to enjoy here.

NOTE: I was given an e-ARC of this novel from the publisher/NetGalley.


And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Troop/Nick-Cutter/9781476717715#sthash.EGnVqUhJ.dpuf
Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Troop/Nick-Cutter/9781476717715#sthash.EGnVqUhJ.dpuf
Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Troop/Nick-Cutter/9781476717715#sthash.EGnVqUhJ.dpuf
Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Troop/Nick-Cutter/9781476717715#sthash.EGnVqUhJ.dpuf
Once every year, Scoutmaster Tim Riggs leads a troop of boys into the Canadian wilderness for a weekend camping trip—a tradition as comforting and reliable as a good ghost story around a roaring bonfire. The boys are a tight-knit crew. There’s Kent, one of the most popular kids in school; Ephraim and Max, also well liked and easygoing; then there’s Newt the nerd and Shelley the odd duck. For the most part, they all get along and are happy to be there—which makes Scoutmaster Tim’s job a little easier. But for some reason, he can’t shake the feeling that something strange is in the air this year. Something waiting in the darkness. Something wicked…

It comes to them in the night. An unexpected intruder, stumbling upon their campsite like a wild animal. He is shockingly thin, disturbingly pale, and voraciously hungry—a man in unspeakable torment who exposes Tim and the boys to something far more frightening than any ghost story. Within his body is a bioengineered nightmare, a horror that spreads faster than fear. One by one, the boys will do things no person could ever imagine.

And so it begins. An agonizing weekend in the wilderness. A harrowing struggle for survival. No possible escape from the elements, the infected…or one another. - See more at: http://books.simonandschuster.com/Troop/Nick-Cutter/9781476717715#sthash.EGnVqUhJ.dpuf
9781476717715
9781476717715