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.

22 April, 2014

REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO: A HANDFUL OF STARDUST


DOCTOR WHO:
A HANDFUL OF STARDUST
TIME TRIPS BOOK 5
BY
JAKE ARNOTT

ISBN: 978-1-44814-185-2
Pages: 34
Publisher: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing
Published: 3 April 2014

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

The TARDIS is diverted to England in 1572, and the Sixth Doctor and Peri meet John Dee – ‘mathematician, astrologer, alchemist, magician, and the greatest mind of our time’. (‘Only of your time?’, the Doctor asks, unimpressed.) But what brought them here? When the Doctor discovers that Dee and his assistant have come across a ‘great disturbance in the cosmos, in the constellation of Cassiopeia,’ he realizes that they are all in terrible danger.


    From the cover copy above it is easy to draw the conclusion that this will be a pretty much straight forward Doctor Who adventure where the Doctor encounters  something wrong in the past that needs fixing. It is however a little bit misleading, and I don't mean that in any bad way. There is just that there is quite a bit more to it than that, and that bit gives this story a little extra. I don't want to give anyone any spoilers, but I think many will get a kick out of discovering who turns up here.

   I immediately took interest in this novella from the moment I saw John Dee's name attached to it. Dee's appearance is much more than just a gimmick, the story actually centres around the alchemist, and his assistant. Interestingly, there is a feeling that this time what the Doctor does actually has a real impact in our history. I found that a nice touch. (No, not saying any more: Spoilers!)
   However the above mentioned isn't the main part of the story, that is left for another character. And it is nice to see that character again, even if it is just briefly. This briefness is something that should be mentioned. The story is very short, and that makes it feel a bit rushed. It isn't really though, there is nothing missing from the narrative as such, and I can't say that I felt that more was needed to make the story complete. It was more of a feeling that this was over too quickly, compliment to the authors skill actually.

   Arnott is without doubt a skilled writer. He manages to create a lot of suspense and adventure in few pages here. There is plenty happening in a short space here, without, as previously mentioned, the story feeling rushed. For someone who has limited knowledge of the classic incarnations of the Doctor, (that's me - more about that at a later date,) this worked very well. The Sixth Doctor doesn't get that much description, but I still felt that I got a sense of how he is.
   There is more that could be said about this story, but I want to stick with having spoiler free reviews on the blog, so there isn't really anything left that I feel needs commenting on. 

   Overall this is a very good, and quite short story. It is a full Doctor Who adventure though, there is nothing missing from it. The things I haven't mentioned in my review, because of the "no spoilers" policy, is something I think will be very welcome to both new and old Doctor Who fans. Anyone with interest in John Dee and his doings should also find this interesting. Even with its short length I have no doubts about recommending anyone who likes Doctor Who getting this story. And those that enjoy short Science Fiction should also find this satisfying.

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

REVIEWS: Click here for a full list of Doctor Who reviews.

LINKS: Jake Arnott   Ebury Publishing

18 April, 2014

COVER REVEAL ROUND-UP (XXII)

   This cover is by Todd Lockwood, and it will grace this follow up to A Natural History of Dragons when it comes out from Tor in March 2015. You can read a bit more about it here. I think this is a really great cover, but this doesn't really do the art full justice, so here you have the full cover:

(Clicking on this should give you a better look at it.)


   Coming from Angry Robot 29 July this year, with art by John Coulthart, we have this interesting cover. There is really a lot of detail in this, and the art makes for a quite intriguing visual. Not only is the art itself something I wouldn't mind having on my wall, but as a cover it makes me want to check out the book.


   This cover is for the concluding volume in the Hellhole Trilogy. It will be out 12 August 2014 from Tor, and the art is by Stephen Youll. I really like this art. It's pretty surreal as an image, and that appeals to me. I'm interested in what is behind this, and I now have plans to check out the Hellhole books at some point.


   This one is from Tor Books, and is for the semi-sequel (author's words) to Mainline. When it comes to the release date...that is a little unclear. When I first saw the cover late last year (, apparently long after it was first revealed,) it had a 12 August 2014 release date attached. When putting this post together I have seen two different dates, 1 April 2015 and 1 August 2015. It doesn't really matter for the cover though; I like it a lot. It's a really striking piece of art, and I will be on the lookout for this whenever it is out.


   Joey Hi-Fi art is what we have gotten on the sequel to Blue Blazes, coming from Angry Robot 30 December 2014. There is a lot of details here, and a lot going on in those details. But even so, the black & white and red cover gives a bit of a subdued feeling. I like this one, and by the look of it I should try to get the first book read before this one's out.


   From Strange Chemistry, we have this Dominic Harman cover. It is for the follow up to Cracked, and this will be out in August 2014. I think I have mentioned earlier in one of these posts that I like the image of a skull, and as images of skulls go this is a really good one. I actually think this would work very well as a full sized poster.


   This anthology will be out 18 September 2014 from Robinson. You can see more of the authors involved at the publisher's page for it. The art is serviceable, in fact it is a pretty good Steampunk cover. But what excites me about this anthology is the authors involved. I think I need to get my hands on this.


   Also from Robinson, this one coming 16 October 2014. As it says on the cover, this is the 25th anniversary for these, and you can see traces of the earlier books in this cover. It's a good cover for a Horror Anthology, and it is one I like.


   From Tor/Seven Seas, we have this graphic novel of the famous novel. It will be out 8 July 2014. I have read the novel, and I liked that quite a lot. This cover is fitting for the story I know, so that makes me like this. But of course the interior art will be pretty crucial, and I am curious to see that.


   A double bill to end this post. The top cover is the US one, coming 7 October 2014 from Del Rey. The bottom one is the UK one from Gollancz, coming 20 November 2014. I think both of these are good covers, and I like them both. They are different though, so which one you like will probably depend of personal cover art preference. The UK cover is more to my taste, but I have absolutely nothing against the US cover.

17 April, 2014

REVIEW: DOCTOR WHO: SALT OF THE EARTH


DOCTOR WHO:
SALT OF THE EARTH
TIME TRIPS BOOK 4
BY
TRUDI CANAVAN

ISBN: 978-144814-188-3
Pages: 39
Publisher: BBC Books/Ebury Publishing
Published: 6 March 2014

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

The Third Doctor and Jo Grant arrive for a well-deserved holiday of sun and ‘blokarting’ on a salt lake in Australia in 2028. Weird sculptures adorn the landscape – statues carved from the salt. People have been leaving them in the salt lakes for years – but these look different. Grotesque, distorted figures twisted in pain. They don’t last long in the rain and the wind, but they’re just made of salt... Aren’t they?


   Canavan does not waste her time, you are given a very powerful opening. It's chilling, and it gets to you. It also introduces us to a non-human supporting character that is perhaps the best thing about this story. It's definitely a bit of a strange story, it has both a very limited cast, and a very limited setting. I am not really familiar with the Third Doctor, but have gathered that this is somewhat of a signature for this regeneration. Or at least that the limitation to an Earth setting is. 
   As an introduction to an incarnation I have only read about, this worked very well though. Canavan fleshes out what I have previously just read about, and makes it come to life. It is also interesting to see how the companion, Jo, definitely belongs to the time she originally comes from. Sure, there are updates to the technology based on what has come since then and it is set in our future, but this still feels like somewhat of a period piece. It gives off the vibe of the period when he third Doctor was on the TV screens.

   I said it was a bit of a strange story, and it is. It's actually quite hard to place this story in any conventional storytype, but it will be somewhat familiar to Doctor Who fans. This isn't one of the action filled Doctor stories, but we do get a bit of running. The lack of action doesn't hamper the story though, and it would feel wrong if some was shoehorned in.
    There is some tension as the story progresses, and a feeling of real peril. It does move fast though, everything happens within the same day. The limited time does somewhat detract from any great suspense to what is happening. When the length of the story is this short, both in pages and narrative time, it doesn't provide much space for a slow build, and I felt it could have needed more of that.
   It is not that this is a bad story in any way, but it is a bit unfulfilling. Even though it is well told it does feel a bit too pared down to the bones, and I would have liked a bit more meat on it. That said, this is a very typical Doctor Who story in the sense that it feels a little bit rushed, and that things are resolved perhaps a little bit too quickly towards the end.

   Overall this is a good story. It excels in creating a feeling of being at the setting, and time period of Jo/the Third Doctor. and for me it is an interesting look at an unfamiliar incarnation of the Doctor. As mentioned above, the end left a little bit to be desired. But that is pretty much usual when it comes to a lot of Doctor Who (, for me at least).
   If you want a short and straightforward Doctor story, this is a very good choice. And for those that miss the Third Doctor and Jo Grant this will be welcome. As a quick introduction to the Third Doctor, I found this very interesting and it makes me want to experience more of his adventures.

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


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 clich├ęd "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