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.

24 February, 2012


Cover illustration: Jon Sullivan


ISBN: 978-0-330-51252-7
Pages: 582
Publisher: Tor UK
First published: 22 March 2002
This edition published: 2 October 2009

On the cover:


Three travellers arrive on the remote planet Spatterjay - Janer, bringing the eyes of the hornet Hive mind; Erlin, searching for the ancient sea captain who can teach her to live; and Sable Keech, on a vendetta he cannot abandon, though he himself has been dead for seven hundred years.

On its vast waterscapes only the native hoppers dare risk the voracious appetites of the planet's wildlife. Somewhere out there is Spatterjay Hoop himself - and other notorious villains who need bringing to justice for the hideous crimes committed centuries ago during the Prador Wars.

But time is running out. For one of the most brutal Prador is about to arrive, intent on exterminating all remaining witnesses to his wartime atrocities...

Major hell is about to erupt in a chaotic world - where minor hell is already a remorseless fact of everyday life...and death.

   This is one of those SFF novels that can be hard to define into a sub-genre. There's no doubt that it is Science Fiction, but much of the story is set in an environment that is much more typical of Fantasy. Ships sailing on an ocean is usually something that you find in Fantasy, or perhaps more often in Historical Fiction. Added to that there is also an element of Horror here. Not only in the titular character, but in many of the indigenous creatures of Spatterjay.
   So the question then is if this somewhat strange mix comes together and works as more than a collage? -I have to say it does, more than that - it is one of the greatest strengths of the novel.  Asher manages to use the elements from the different sub-genres to create a world that is in many ways more alien than it could have been by not being constricted by only Science Fiction "rules".
   Despite being as unfriendly as it is, Spatterjay is a very interesting world. It is well realised and by the end of the novel you'll have had a good introduction to its history and how it works in the narrative's present.

   The story is a really compelling one. It takes a while before it gets going, and there are layers added to it throughout. The pace starts out as rather slow, but like a steam-train once it gets going it builds up speed rather quickly and at times reaches a breakneck pace. 
   There are several threads that drive the story, each of them related to a different character, and each of them interesting in themselves. Asher manages to weave these threads in and out of each other with a deft hand, creating a story that comes together very satisfyingly.

   Asher has populated his world with a pretty large cast of characters. They are a varied cast, and they all feel real. Of course not all of them get the same amount of pages to give them depth, but they are still given enough time to show us who they are. 
   The main characters are an interesting group of different beings. And following their journey is an enjoyable experience. There's room for different races, species, and even artificial intelligence in the cast. They are diverse enough to not get close to boring, and they have different motivations and agendas that creates tension and excitement.

   The only problem I had with the novel was the different POVs. They change frequently, and I at times felt this made it difficult to get a feel for what was happening. It did in no way ruin the story, but it did make it a bit harder to stay immersed in it. 
   Towards the end I felt this worked much better, and I am not completely sure if it was because this mode of storytelling works better when the pace of events is greater, or if I was just getting used to it. Either way, I don't think this should discourage anyone from picking up the book unless they hate frequent POV changes.

   This was the first time I read a book by Neal Asher, and although he comes highly recommended by bloggers I trust, I didn't really know what to expect. (I tend to avoid reading too much about books I know I'm going to read.) I was not disappointed by those who recommended the book. This is a type of adventurous story that I enjoy very much. 
   I would say that this is one of the Science Fiction books I have read that would be easiest for Fantasy fans to pick up. And I would urge anyone who enjoys Fantasy, and is curious about Science Fiction to pick it up.
   All in all this is a great story set in a well realised world, with lots of action, and enough mystery and depth to make it really interesting. I'm certainly going to pick up more of Asher's books in the future.

23 February, 2012


Cover illustartion: Bose Collins; logo images. Shutterstock
Cover design: Harper Collins Publishers


 ISBN: 978-0-00-736356-8
Pages: 489
 Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
Published: 31 March 2011

On the cover:




When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency.

Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against…

   I've always liked reading about covert government branches,  especially in non-fiction. So I must say that I was a bit skeptical going into this novel, (in fact if it hadn't been for a blogger friend of mine I probably wouldn't have gotten it,) too much knowledge of how these things function in real life can make it hard to suspend your disbelief at times.
   I did have some trouble with this in a part of this novel, there is a section that I felt was a bit poorly done in that regard. It certainly fits the story of the novel, but it did feel like realism was put aside for the convenience of getting the action going. And I think it could just as easily have been done in a realistic fashion without impacting anything else happening in the story.
   But as I said above I have read a lot about these things and I doubt many people will even notice it. And it didn't impact my overall enjoyment of the novel.

   It's a pretty gutsy move by Hill to use vampires in his book, and the way he integrates them into previously known fiction lore takes even more guts. (Nope, won't tell you which vampire mythos he's building on, it's a nice thing to discover for yourself.) The back story of both vampires and Department 19 are linked, and Hill presents much of this in retrospective chapters that are spread throughout much of the book.
   This technique doesn't always work in a novel, but here it works perfectly. What could have been irritating interruptions to the main story instead works as a welcome history lesson. The choices on when these retrospective chapters come is also very well done, mostly they serve as breathing space in a very action filled and fast-paced story. And they also adds most of the excellent world-building that makes this novel stand out from many of those that have a similar theme.

   As said in the previous paragraph, this is an action-filled story. There's a lot happening in the few days that the story takes place. At times it feels more like an action thriller than the Urban Fantasy it arguably is. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, and as already said the action is backed up by great world-building. 
   The main character, 16 year old Jamie Carpenter, is also an interesting character. At times he may seem to adult for his age, but only in a minor way. He never feels like someone twice his age that is "shoehorned" into being a teenager for the sake of being a Young Adult protagonist.
   Hill has also managed to create a cast of supporting characters that are interesting in their own right. They all feel real and not like part of the scenery of Jamie's story.

   All in all this is an excellent novel for anyone interested in vampires, covert military organisations, or just wants to have some action in their SFF stories, whatever their age is. It is also has a great male Young Adult protagonist, and should suit a teenage boy who wants to read something in a SFF setting perfectly.
   I am really looking forward to the next installment in Hill's Department 19 series, this is a great "light" read with dept to it.

Bonus: Check out the author's website for a free Department 19 story.

17 February, 2012


Cover image: Imagestate
Cover Design: Blacksheep


ISBN: 978-1-85723-030-7
Pages: 216
Publisher: Orbit
First published: 14 March 1991
This edition published: 27 May 1993

NOTE: This is a collection, but it is marked as a Culture book on Banks's website, and I'll go with what the author says .

   As usual I'll give my review of each story before saying something about the collection as a whole.


   This is a brilliant short story. It evokes a great image of the road of the title, and it may be an image that will stay with you. The story is pretty basic, but it ends in a way that wasn't expected. And that ending made me laugh. A great start to the collection.


   Wrobik Sennkil is in debt, and is given an offer he can't afford to refuse. Banks manages to put quite a lot into this tale, set in the Culture Universe. We get enough information about the main character that we understand his background, and we see his motives. There is also quite a lot of suspense involved here. This is not a bad introduction to the Culture books, should you feel the need to try out a shorter story before you go on to the novels. It works well as a short story on its own, but it is also a great story for those, like me, who enjoy Banks's Culture novels.


   This is a somewhat strange story. On the surface it's about a herder who's unhappy in love. But Banks has added another element to it that makes it so much more than that. I found it a very interesting story, and as far as Science Fiction short stories go I have to say this is among the ones I've enjoyed the most.


   A man is alone on the plains of a planet. Inside his sentient space suit he's trying to reach help. Banks manages to get across the loneliness of walking across a deserted planet beautifully. Not the most suspenseful story I have ever read, but despite guessing early on where it was going I liked it a lot thanks to Banks's great writing.


   When mysterious capsules start to spontaneously appear on earth the Americans are at the forefront of making use at what is inside them. This story is at times so surreal that it is a joy to read. Banks shows off a great sense of humor while telling an interesting story. This is great as it stands, but I would have loved to see it expanded to novel size. But that it is great enough that you don't want to leave it isn't really a shortcoming.


   A very thoughtful story with a strong ending. A really don't want to say more about it than that you really should read it.

   This novella brings back Contact operative Diziet Sma from Use of Weapons. It is her retelling of what she experienced when Contact comes to Earth. Although it is revealed pretty early on in which year this happens, I'll leave it up to those that want to read this to discover for themselves when this is. It may be a surprise for those that have read other Culture books.
   We get a very detailed look at how the Culture, or more specifically Contact, approaches other civilisations here. And it adds significantly to the understanding of how the Culture operates, more so than the three Culture noels I have previously read.
   Banks also takes the opportunity here to comment quite a lot on humanity, but he avoids becoming too preachy about what he says about us. What Diziet Sma, and the rest of the Contact operatives, learn about humanity is not presented as black and white facts, but as interpretations of an alien civilisation. Something that in itself is a very interesting concept.
   This is an excellent addition to the Culture universe Banks has created, and if you have read the Culture novella and somehow missed this I urge you to do something about that at the earliest opportunity. The novella is a great standalone, but I would discourage people from from reading it before they have read at least one Culture novel. I think it is much stronger if it is an addition to the Culture rather than your first contact with it.


   This is written a way that may be a bit hard to read. But if you go along with it you'll discover that there is a lot of meaning hidden in the text. A strong ending to the collection.


   An almost flawless collection. This really showcases that Banks is truly a master of shorter than novel storytelling. The stories are varied enough that they don't feel repetitive, and the quality of them is high. Whether or not you usually read short stories and novellas, I'd urge you to pick this up if you are a SFF reader.

03 February, 2012


Cover art: Jon Foster
Cover design: Jamie Stafford-Hill


ISBN: 978-0-7653-1841-1
Pages: 414
Publisher: Tor
Published: September 2009

On the cover:

   In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest. Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska’s ice. Thus was Dr. Blue’s Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine born.
    But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.
    Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city. Just beyond it lives Blue’s widow, Briar Wilkes. Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenage boy to support, but she and Ezekiel are managing. Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.
    His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

   Wow! Are you actually allowed to write Steampunk that isn't set in Victorian London? Kidding aside, it is actually refreshing to see some Steampunk that isn't set in London for a change. The location here is Seattle, Washington (State), USA. A city that Priest manages to make come alive very well in her novel.

   I really like the way the book opens with an "excerpt from a history book" prologue. It means there isn't the need for so much infodumping at the beginning of the book, and it also helps place the story in its historical context.
   The story itself opens relatively slow, but gives us a great introduction to Briar Wilkes and her son Zeke. Both of them are interesting characters in their own right, and Priest early on makes it clear what kind of relationship they have, something that serves to make both of them both more sympathetic and relatable.

   Priest is good at building up to the action with a look at the world in which the story is set. When things "really" start to happen, you are already well aware of the local environment. And there is enough information to get a good idea of what the status is within the larger world of this Alternate History world.

   There's quite a bit of action in this book. Priest writes very good action scenes, and she doesn't let the action overpower the storyline. They come more as an added bonus to what is already a suspenseful story.
   Much of the suspense in the novel comes from the setting and the atmosphere it provides. There is a constant sense of the characters being isolated, moth literally and figuratively. And this works very well, you understand the sense of dread that the characters feel and Priest's prose draws you into it.

   Along with writing a suspense-, and action-filled novel, Priest has also managed to find room for a couple of rather big mysteries. And she manages to delay the revelations of them for a long time without it becoming annoying , and when she eventually gives us the answers they are worth the wait.

   What made me most happy about finishing this book is knowing that there are more novels in this series that I can move on to, and I really look forward to doing that.
   This is a very good novel, it works great both for Steampunk and Alternate History fans, and I don't think Survival Horror fans will go away disappointed if they try it out either.
   A book I don't hesitate to recommend to anyone that likes a good adventure set in a vivid and realistic world. And a great introduction to Steampunk for those that haven't tried that  out yet.

Links: Cherie Priest  Tor/Forge  Tor/Forge Blog