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.

31 March, 2011


Cover Art: Steve Stone
Cover Design: Jamie S. Warren Youll


ISBN: 978-0-553-58894-1
Pages: 719
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publishing Date: 1 June 2006

On the cover:

 An orphan's life is harsh - and often short - in the mysterious island city of Camorr. But young Locke Lamora dodges death and slavery, becoming a thief under the tutelage of a gifted con artist. As leader of the band of light-fingered brothers known as the Gentlemen Bastards, Locke is soon infamous, fooling even the underworld's most feared ruler. But in the shadows lurks someone still more ambitious and deadly.

Faced with a bloody coup that threatens to destroy everyone and everything that holds meaning in his mercenary life, Locke vows to beat the enemy at his own brutal game - or die trying...

   I don't know if this is the slowest fantasy book ever written, but it is definitely the slowest one I have ever read. 
   The prologue is a great introduction to the the story, but it takes about 300 pages before it gets going. Not only is the main story slow, but Lynch has put interludes between each chapter, and this slows down the pace even further. It doesn't help that these interludes have next to nothing to do with the main story, and seldom add any new information.
   When the main story picks up pace, the interludes continue to interrupt and slow down the flow. The interludes with back story should, in my opinion, have been condensed into a part 1. And the rest  of the interludes contain things that are better left for an appendix.

   I've already mentioned the slow pace of the first half of the book. Normally I don't have a problem with an author using time to establish settings and characters, but that is not really what is going on here. We do get a good idea of how the city is by the end of the book, but we never get close to the main character. Locke Lamora is an enigma at the start of the book, and although we get a good insight into how he ticks as the book progresses we never see what makes him tick. This made it pretty hard for me to have any sympathy for him, or even care much about him.

   However, if you manage to get through the first 300-400 pages of the book the action kicks in. And when it does it never really lets up - with the exception of the interludes I mentioned. There is a wonderfully executed build up to the climax of this novel, and it comes to a very satisfying conclusion.
   Lynch's writing is also very good, and is what kept me reading through the novels first half. There is absolutely no doubt that he is a very good writer who has tons of potential. And although the beginning is slow, the latter part of this book made me excited to read more of the story of Lamora. I just hope we get to know him better in the next installment Red Seas Under Red Skies.

   This was a hard review to write, not least because I still have trouble coming to a conclusion that unifies the two halves of this book. The first part is pretty boring, and very slow. The second part is pretty fast paced and interesting. All in all it is a good book, but it is severely let down by its monstrously slow beginning, and that is what keeps it from being a great novel.  
   If you can handle the slow beginning, I would however advise you to get the book. There is much to love here. I know I will re-read it when the last book comes, but I think I will read the interludes with back story after the prologue as a part one and save the rest of the interludes until I have finished the main story and see if that helps with the pacing issues.

LINKS: Scott Lynch   Bantam Spectra

24 March, 2011


Cover Art: Larry Rostant


ISBN: 978-0-85766-090-9
Pages: 352
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Publishing Date: 26 March 2011*

On the cover:

The colony planet of Eighty-Six looks as dull as all its fellow new worlds to veteran journalist Lex Falk, but when a local squabble starts to turn violent, and the media start getting the runaround from the military high command, his interest is seriously piqued.
Forbidden from approaching the battle zone, he gets himself chipped inside the head of a combat veteran – and uncovers the story of a lifetime. When the soldier is killed, however, Falk must use all his resourcefulness to get back home again… and blow the lid off the whole damn thing.

   The title of this book tells us much about it, embedded was a phrase I'm sure all of us heard several times during the US led invasion of Iraq. And it is, at a start at least, what this story is about. What happens in the beginning of the book, when journalist Falk comes to planet Eighty-Seven, is a very realistic portrayal of how journalists work. And for me that immediately set a tone of realism for the whole novel. And I wasn't disappointed.

   It doesn't take long for the story of war journalism to turn into a more traditional tale of military science fiction, and once it does the action starts. There is plenty of action throughout the story, and Abnett doesn't pull any punches. He describes a bloody and dirty conflict, that owes more to Joe Haldeman's The Forever War than to Star Wars. This is of course a good thing, in my opinion.

   I've already mentioned the journalistic angle, and the action, but there is much more to this novel. There is a layer of suspense that runs through it, and it is hard to know where the story will take you. This is a great strength, and something that made it hard for me to put down.
   There is also a very serious element in the book that I was afraid would feel preachy. Fortunately Abnett handles this very well, and it adds to the story without feeling intrusive.

   Whether your interest lies in planet bound military science fiction, a good war story, or a different twist on war journalism this is a book you should pick up. It's fast, relentless, and has an ending that I at least did not see coming. 

NOTE: An ARC of this book was supplied to me by the publisher

* 26 March 2011 is the release of the Forbidden Planet only Hardcover edition. The electronic release is 29 March 2011. UK release 27 April 2011 and USA/Canada release 29 March 2011.

23 March, 2011


Cover Illustration: Keevil Design
Cover Design: HarperCollinsPublishers


ISBN: 978-0-00-733276-2
Pages: 350
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Publishing Date: 27 May 2010

On the cover:

Nicodemus Weal has trained at the stronghold of Starhaven since he was a boy. His mentor, the famous wizard Magister Shannon, taught him how to cast spells made from luminescent magical runes, how to peel written words off a page and make them physically real. Initially, Nicodemus showed great promise. Able to forge runes with great speed, he was once thought to be the Halcyon - a powerful spellwright prophesied to prevent the apocalypse known as the disjunction.

There was only one problem: Nicodemus couldn't spell. Every time he touched a magical text, he unintentionally corrupted it, creating a dangerous, potentially deadly misspell. Now aged twenty-five, while his peers advance as wizards, he is still an apprentice, dealing with the devastating knowledge that he has failed to live up to prophecy.

But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are factions who believe someone like Nicodemus could hold great power - power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will...

   Charlton is quick to get the reader into the story. And he is also quick to introduce a central mystery that is  
both interesting and intriguing. The mystery part of the story is presented to us in the first couple of chapters, and while this seems pretty ordinary at first the setting makes it something else entirely.
   While the story at times can seem predictable, there are several layers of complexity added as it progresses, and it takes several turns that I didn't expect. It is not an especially long novel, for fantasy, but it contains a lot of action and suspense. One of Charlton's strengths is that he does not overwrite, but lets the story flow without unnecessarily slowing it down.

   I love fantasy that has history, a world that has seemingly organically grown, and Charlton presents us with that. It is not done in info dumps, but is trickled out at natural points as the story progresses. By the end of the novel you'll have an idea of the world Nicodemus inhabits that makes it interesting to see what comes next. 
   Even in the somewhat constricted world of Starhaven we get glimpses into the politics and conflicts of the wider world. Something Charlton does very well. The rivalries between different groups is handled with skill, and adds a lot to the story.

   What separates this most from other works of fantasy is the magic system. Charlton has created a language based magic system that at first seems pretty straight forward and simple, but as we learn more it comes apparent that it is very complex. 
   The magic is also in many ways integrated seamlessly into the story. And not used as a way of getting the characters out of impossible situations as we often see in fantasy. It is great to see magic in fantasy presented in a way that feels fresh and original.

   In conclusion, I can say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable and suspense-filled debut from Charlton. It is not a book that is overly taxing to read, and it has a legacy rooted more in the traditional epic fantasy than the "gritty" or "new weird" that seem to be the vogue these days.
   I'd recommend this to any fan of fantasy, but especially to those that enjoy a good and complex magic system.

21 March, 2011


   Genre For Japan is an initiative that I wholly support. And I urge everyone else to do the same. Here is the press release with the info you need. Read it, and go take a look at the site:

Press Release: Time to Donate Prizes!

We’ve all heard the news and seen the horrific pictures coming from Japan in the aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami – and no doubt we’ve all wondered how to help.

Following the example of Authors for Japan, where bids are now closed, we’d like to introduce Genre for Japan, a chance for the comics, science fiction, fantasy and horror communities to unite and show our generosity to those who need it right now.

We are planning to run auctions for genre-themed prizes and we need YOU to donate. We are looking for really fantastic prizes: examples might include signed first editions, coaching sessions with agents for that perfect submission letter or original artwork!

Some of the prizes already donated include a year's supply of books from Tor, signed artwork from Solaris Books and editing/critiques from professional authors and editors.
The prizes will be auctioned on our website, through JustGiving, in aid of the British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal.

If you have something really special to donate, please drop us a line at including information such as a starting bid amount, a sentence or two about the item, and whether you wish to send the prize to a central collecting point or would be willing to post it to the winning bidder. Photos would also help us to list the item, if relevant.

The deadline to receive offers of prizes is 25th March, with the auction set to begin on 28th March.

Find out more information on our website:
Follow us on twitter: @genreforjapan
E-mail us:

Genre for Japan is organised by:
Amanda Rutter: reviewer and webmistress at Floor to Ceiling Books
Jenni Hill: editor for science fiction, fantasy and horror publishers Solaris Books
Louise Morgan: author and interviewer for the British Fantasy Society
Ro Smith: writer and reviewer; blogger at In Search of the Happiness Max
Alasdair Stuart is the editor of Hub magazine.

18 March, 2011


Cover Image: Getty Images
Cover Design: Blacksheep


ISBN: 978-1-85723-146-5 
Pages: 309
Publisher: Orbit
Publishing Date: 1988

On the cover:

The Culture - a human/machine symbiotic society - has thrown up many great Game Players, and one of the greatest is Gurgeh. Jernau Morat Gurgeh. The Player of Games. Master of every board, computer and strategy.

Bored with success, Gurgeh travels to the Empire of Azad, cruel and incredibly wealthy, to try their fabulous game ... a game so complex, so like life itself, that the winner becomes emperor. Mocked, blackmailed, almost murdered, Gurgeh accepts the game, and with it the challenge of his life - and very possibly his death.

   The central premise of this novel is games, or to be more specific, a game that is complex enough to run an empire. Not the most common of science fiction principles, but a very interesting one.
    Banks is very adept at getting his concept across to the reader. First by introducing us to the game-player Gurgeh and his life. Through Gurgeh we get a very good idea of how the Culture treats games, and what position they have in society. The introduction of a world run by a game is done in such a way that you never get the feeling that Banks is talking about something hypothetical, but instead it feels both plausible and real.

   The story itself is great, it has the plausibility that in my opinion is needed to get immersed in SFF, and it doesn't lack in suspense. Banks manages to keep the info dumping integrated to the story, and it doesn't slow down the narrative.
   It is a rather short book, and is a quick read. That doesn't mean that it lacks complexity. There are many parallels to our world here, and if you feel like it this is a novel that is a great springboard for analysis. Even the descriptions of the Culture's differences to the Empire of Azad serves to highlight that we are in a wholly different world from what we know. But at the same time it is not lacking in references to real-world society.

   There is much to learn about the Culture here. And as this is the second novel Banks has written about the Culture, that is a good thing. He is expanding on his creation too great effect. And the shadow of the much larger world that exists outside the novel is very much present.
   This book is not an action-filled space adventure, but an immersion into a different culture in a future setting. It is a type of social science fiction I thoroughly enjoyed. If you are at all interested in science fiction for more than big guns and spaceships I advise you to read this book, it is one I know I will re-read sometime in the future.

Note: This novel is marked correctly by the publisher as "A Culture Novel". It is not a direct continuation of the events in Consider Phlebas, the novel that preceded it. But it is set in the same universe, and although the two novels are very different, they are part of a series.

Review: Consider Phlebas

Links: Iain M. Banks  Orbit

16 March, 2011


Cover Illustration: Tom Hallman
Cover Concept: Lisa Litwack


ISBN: 978-0-671-02423-9
Pages: 732
Publisher: Pocket Books 
Publishing Date: 22 September 1998

On the cover:

Four years after the sudden death of his wife, forty-year-old bestselling novelist Mike Noonan is still grieving. Unable to write, and plagued by vivid nightmares set at the western Maine summerhouse he calls Sara Laughs, Mike reluctantly returns to the lakeside getaway. There, he finds his beloved Yankee town held in the grip of a powerful millionaire, Max Devore, whose vindictive purpose is to take his three-year-old granddaughter, Kyra, away from her widowed young mother, Mattie. As Mike is drawn into Mattie and Kyra's struggle, as he falls in love with both of them, he is also drawn into the mystery of Sara Laughs, now the site of ghostly visitations and escalating terrors. What are the forces that have been unleashed here - and what do they want of Mike Noonan?

   This is one of those Stephen King books that you usually won't hear about. And let's face it, most people, even those who like the horror genre, seem to have trouble coming up with titles for King's books that hasn't been filmed.
   I almost never seek out reviews of books by authors I like before buying them. And with this book I started reading it without knowing anything about it. In fact I didn't even read the flap copy (,the "On the cover:" above,) before starting it.

   King doesn't waste time pulling you into this story. By the end of page one, we know that the wife of main character Mike Noonan has died, and by the end of page two we have been told there is something mysterious connected to her death. By this time I was hooked.

   This is one of King's novels where a writer tells us his story, and this time it is done in first person. The choice of first person works very well, King uses it to really get us to know Noonan, and it certainly adds to the suspense that we get inside his head.
   King uses the first seventy or so pages to get us to know Noonan before ratchetting up the tension. For me this worked excellently, when things started to happen I was already invested in Noonan's story. And the set-up part doesn't feel boring or unnecessary.

   The central theme here is a ghost story, and it is this that gives the novel its horror aspects. But there is also much more than that. There is human drama in abundance, all excellently done by King. We get the almost obligatory small-town setting that King is the master of, and a cast of very interesting characters.
   I have trouble thinking of anything that weakens this story, and it is in my opinion worthy of a high placing on the list of good King novels. Whether you like Stephen King, ghost stories or suspenseful human drama this is a book I can heartily recommend.
   If you are a King fan, and have yet to read this, you really should make it a priority in my opinion.

I'll leave you with a great quote from the book (, found on page 102 in the edition I have read for this review):

I like people who read actual books, and not just because I once wrote them myself. Bookreaders are just as willing as anyone else to start out with the weather, but as a general rule they can actually go on from there.

Reviews: The Shining
               Four Past Midnight

Links: Stephen King  Simon & Schuster (Pocket Books)