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.

28 July, 2010


Cover illustration: Paul Young

ISBN: 978-0-575-09029-3
Pages: 692
Publisher: Gollancz
Publishing Date: 15 April 2010

On the Cover:
Adventurers. long loathed for their knowledge of nothing beyond murder and thievery, they are the savages, zealots, heathens, monsters; the thugs of society. And Lenk, a young man with a sword in his hand and a voice in his head, counts  them all as his sole and most hated companions.

His otherwise trivial employment under an esteemed clergyman is interrupted when bloodthirsty and eloquent pirates, led by an ageless demon risen from the depths of the ocean, pilfer the object of their protection: The Tome of the Undergates, the key to opening a door that guards the mouths of hell. A hell the demons want out of.

Against titanic horrors from the deep, psychotic warrior women, and creatures forgotten by mankind, Lenk has only two weapons: a piece of steel and five companions who are as eager to kill each other as they are to retrieve the book.
   There is a lot of Fantasy out there with focus on worldbuilding and near perfect heroes going on noble quests, so to read action-filled Sword and Sorcery feels like a breath of fresh air. And that is what Tome of the Undergates is, a good honest Sword and Sorcery adventure. Sure there is elements of  Quest Fantasy here but it doesn't take over and the book stays Sword and Sorcery for me throughout.

    There's been a lot of talk of the "200 page fight scene" that opens this book. I found this quite exaggerated, there is a lot of fighting in the first part of the book but there is also much more. Sykes is good at delivering information to the reader through the thoughts of the heroes as they are fighting. And there are several passages in between the fight scenes where you get more information about what is going on. I also felt that Sykes managed to get the personality of the adventurers across nicely.

    The action is handled very well by Sykes, and so is the interplay between the characters. What can be both a bit confusing and annoying is the fact that Sykes does not reveal much background to the reader. It takes quite a bit of time before you find out what is going on, and even then much is hidden. But as you progress in the story it becomes clear that this is done deliberately, and I felt that Sykes revelations towards the end of the book pays off the patience of waiting for answers. And I also felt that there is a lot here that is being saved for future installments, and I look forward to finding out more about these characters.

    As I stated at the beginning of this review Tome of the Undergates is Sword and Sorcery, although I must say there is a lot more Sword than Sorcery. The book reminded me a bit of Michael Moorcock's Elric, but first and foremost I was reminded of Robert E. Howard's Conan.
    So when the name Venarium pops up about halfway through the book, I immediately thought "Aha, Conan!". (Note: Venarium is the Aquilonian fort inside Cimmeria where Conan participates in his first mayor battle at the age of fifteen.) But not taking anything for granted, I used the wonder of modern social media to ask Sam Sykes if this was the case. This was his answer:

   "Hah, not really, no. I had no idea there even was a Venarium until Tome was finished. It's just based off Venarie, the magical source."

   And that got me thinking about a quote from Robert E. Howard of how he felt that he was relating events that had happened, and how when he couldn't write Conan later felt that the man had stopped standing at his shoulder and moved on. (The whole quote is found here, beginning at the sixth paragraph from the bottom.) -And who knows, maybe the spirit that dictated Howard in Texas has moved on to Arizona...

   Tome of the Undergates is a book for people who like the action and adventure of Sword and Sorcery. If you're a fan of Robert E. Howard's Conan, as I am, you really should get Sam Sykes' debut. And after you read it, I'm quite sure that you will join me in eagerly awaiting the next installment in the series.

LINKS: Sam Sykes  Gollancz


26 July, 2010


 Cover design: Lauren Panepinto
Cover photograph: Derek Caballero
Cover model: Donna Ricci

ISBN: 978-0-316-07414-8
Pages: 374
Publisher: Orbit
Publishing Date: 1 April 2010

Usually I start these reviews with the Flap Copy (what many people call the publisher's blurb), but as Gail Carriger says on her website this gives away the ending to Soulless, the first book in the series. So I'll just have to write my own very brief flap copy:
Strange happenings in London makes Alexia travel to Scotland. 
There she has to investigate while dealing with the intricacies of werewolf pack-dynamics.

    Changeless picks up almost directly from the ending of Soulless (my review of Soulless here). The first chapter will bring you up to date on what has happened since the ending of the first book. To be fair, the story does not continue on from Soulless, but not only does Changeless contain spoilers for Soulless, but you will of course have a deeper understanding of what is going on if you have read the first book. I for one would not recommend you start here.

   Miss Carriger continues on in the great style she did in Soulless here. There's still plenty of action and suspense, and she has actually managed to ramp up the humour a notch. Not bad when I found Soulless hilarious.
   The world of Alexia Tarabotti is expanded upon, we get lots of new information that fleshes it out and makes it seem even more real. Among the added elements we get a look into are the British Army, dirigible flight, and we get a really good insight into how werewolves function in miss Carriger's universe. All of these elements function perfectly and only added to my enjoyment of the story.

   There are a couple of new supporting character's introduced here. Among them a werewolf and a mysterious French woman. There is also one Scottish character that is integral to the story, but saying anything more would be to risk spoiling, so I'll leave it for you to discover for yourself.
   All the new characters add to the story, and none of them seems thrown in just for the sake of adding to the cast from the first book. Miss Carriger instead uses them to make her story come alive even better for the reader. This is also the case with two characters from Soulless who take on a larger role in this book.

   To wrap up I will just say that this book have made mean even stronger fan of Miss Carriger than I was after Soulless, and for me she has now become a must-read author in the Humorous Fantasy/Alternate Reality(Steampunk)  genre.
   I encourage everyone who likes this type of book to pick up Changeless, after first reading Soulless of course.

   My review of Soulless -Parasol Protectorate: Book the First is here.

21 July, 2010


Cover Illustration: Jonny Duddle

ISBN: 978-0-00-731515-4
Pages: 255
Publisher: HarperCollins Children's Books
Publishing Date: 4 February 2010

On the Cover:

Kyle hasn't seen Mr Mumbles in years. And there's a good reason for that: Mr Mumbles doesn't exist.

But now Kyle's imaginary friend is back, and Kyle doesn't have time to worry about why. Only one thing matters from now on: staying alive...

   This book starts out with a very intriguing prologue, and after reading that I was really looking forward to finding out what happens.
   In the first few chapters of the book you find out everything you need to now about Kyle and his situation. This is done in a natural way, and does not feel forced on the reader.
   Hutchison also sets the tone for the book nicely, it doesn't take long for the first scary thing to happen. And there's plenty of scares to come later in the book, after all this is Horror.

   The first person narrative works very well here. You get an instant feel for Kyle, and how the situation he's thrown into plays with his mind. And Hutchison is also very good at playing with the mind of the reader. It's difficult to get a grip on what is really happening, what is illusion and what is reality, and this helps keep an eerie atmosphere throughout the book.

   The story unfolds at a quite rapid pace, there really is not much of a rest between the action sequences. And there is plenty of action in the book. Hutchison is also very good at keeping you mystified, things that seem ordinary can come back as haunting riddles later.

   This is a very good debut by Hutchison. The story managed to grip me, and I will certainly get hold of the rest of the books in this series. And if you like a good horror story with a few twists and plenty of action along the way, I suggest you pick it up too.

   I have to end this with a little note. As you may have noticed this book was published by HarperCollins Children's Books, and on the back cover there is a label that says 9+. This should in my opinion be treated like video-game labels, not fit for children under nine, but with no upper limit of how old you should be to enjoy it. My + is 27, and I see no problem in recommending this to anyone who likes a good scare regardless of age.

   The next book in the series, Invisible Fiends: Raggy Maggie is out 5 August 2010.

LINKS: Barry Hutchison  HarperCollins Children's Books