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 September, 2012


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


ISBN: 978-0-356-50143-7
Pages: 342 +extras
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 5 July 2012

On the cover:


She’s the undead matriarch of a Britain where the Aristocracy is made up of werewolves and vampires, where goblins live underground and mothers know better than to let their children out after dark. A world where technology lives side by side with magic, where being nobility means being infected with the Plague (side-effects include undeath) and Hysteria is the popular affliction of the day.

Xandra Vardan is a member of the elite Royal Guard, and it’s her duty to protect the Aristocracy. But things get complicated when her sister goes missing. Xandra will not only realise she’s the prize in a dangerous power struggle – but she’ll also uncover a conspiracy that threatens to topple the empire itself.

   This novel stretches the usual Steampunk setting into the present day. But it is not the present day as we know it, but an Alternate History present day that is the home to the denizens we are with familiar seeing in Victorian times.
   The setting itself is pretty much what you would expect from a Steampunk novel that has the werewolves and vampires from modern Urban Fantasy, but that doesn't mean that this is a formulaic novel. There are lots of great ideas here, and Locke manages to take the elements that make up the novel and make a very entertaining story out of them.

   Locke puts a very nice twist on the origin of werewolves and vampires that I found very interesting. In fact he whole worldbuilding is very nicely done, there's much history too it, and it has many very interesting elements. There's actually quite a bit to take in here, and that is something I really appreciated. It shows that Locke can create a vivid world, and has the skill to make it come alive on the page.

   The characters are also done in a realistic fashion. Xandra comes especially alive, and we get a very good insight into her. That events take her to places that are unfamiliar and uncomfortable to her adds to both her depth and her strength. She's a strong female, who is both special, and for what she is, also feels realistic. Xandra is definitely a character who is worth spending some time with.
   Supporting Xandra are quite a few diverse characters, along with some historic persons who add to the realistic feel of the novel. All of these are well realised, and are interesting in their own right. They never feel like they exist just to be "scenery" for the main character.

   On to the story. Locke gives us a story that has action and mystery from the start. Central to it is a conspiracy that Xandra is thrown into. Along the way there are lots of twist and turns, the pace is fast and there is plenty of tension.
   Locke is very good at getting the balance been a fast pace and the building of tension. There is a sense of never quite being in the know that runs through the whole novel, and as we learn more we get dragged into the events. There's a real sense of the story developing before our eyes, and being taken along for the ride. And it is a thoroughly entertaining journey to go on.

    This is a very good example of the Steampunk/Urban Fantasy crossover genre done right. The setting is well developed enough to satisfy fans of Alternate History, and the werewolf/vampire elements will be great for fans of that type of Urban Fantasy.
   Locke has created a great world, and some great characters well worth spending time with. And I look forward to future installments in this series.

LINKS: Kate Locke  Orbit

27 September, 2012


Cover art: Michael Whelan


ISBN: 0-345-30306-7
Pages: 332
Publisher: Del Rey
Originally published: December 1982
This edition published: February 1984

On the cover:
(Taken from the Random House web site)

Nine years after the disastrous Discovery mission to Jupiter in 2001, a joint U.S.-Soviet expedition sets out to rendezvous with the derelict spacecraft, to search the memory banks of the mutinous computer HAL 9000 for clues to what went wrong . . . and what became of Commander Dave Bowman.

Without warning, a Chinese expedition targets the same objective, turning the recovery mission into a frenzied race for the precious information Discovery may hold about the enigmatic monolith that orbits Jupiter.

Meanwhile, the being that was once Dave Bowman, the only human to unlock the mystery of the monolith, streaks toward Earth on a vital mission of its own . . .

   This is the second book in Clarke's Space Odyssey quartet, and follows 2001: A Space Odyssey. It does function as a direct sequel, and it does a very good job of bringing the reader back to the world of the first book.

   The novel starts out on Earth, but quickly move on to another expedition to Jupiter. Despite having the same destination as in the previous book we get a wholly different journey this time. And Clarke is really good at giving us a realistic feeling for how this journey passes.
   There's quite a bit of hard science involved in the "space exploration" side of this story. And that is something I found very interesting, despite it being dated. Although a lot has happened in the thirty years since this book was published there's still a very good sense of realism, and for me the parts that have been dated by later discoveries didn't impact my enjoyment of the story.

   Alongside the scientific exploration of the solar system, we also get another story that is much more fantastical. And this is a part of the story that adds a lot to the novel as a whole. The return of Dave Bowman, and his part of the story, is fascinating. It does however provide quite a departure from the rest of the book.  It's almost metaphysical, and it takes some effort to get used to the shift in direction.
   Despite this being quite different to the feeling of the rest of the story, it does as I said add a great deal to it. And Clarke shows himself to be very capable of blending two so different elements into a coherent whole. The more fantastical elements would not have worked so well without having a grounding in the more mundane elements of the rest of the story.

   From the start this novel moves at quite a quick pace, it doesn't take long before we are thrown into events. There are some real surprises for the reader before we even get to what is the physical destination of the novel. These add quite a bit of suspense and wonder.
   Suspense and wonder are really the essential elements of the story. The suspense is not only there in the events that unfold, but there is an eerie atmosphere to what is going on that creates some real tension. Clarke keeps his cars close, and it is really hard to get any sort of grip on what is going to happen next.
   As for sense of wonder, there is a lot of it. There are things happening here that are really mindblowing, and they can really stretch your imagination when you try to grasp what is happening. Especially events towards the end make this a work of great imagination.

   Overall this is a really great follow up to 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you have read that book, or seen the film, I'd urge you to get this book and see what Clarke has in store next. The expansion of ideas is great to experience, and it is great reading for those that like near future Science Fiction.
   The more fantastical parts of this novel will make it suitable for those who like their Science Fiction to not be constrained to hard science. And the space exploration part is very much a must for those that find that fascinating.
   This is another great Science Fiction novel from Clarke.

Review: 2001: A Space Odyssey

Link: Del Rey/Spectra

26 September, 2012


  Quite a few covers this time, as I'm trying to catch up with some of the covers I've missed in previous posts, and there's some very recent reveals as well.

First two covers for the same book, Terry Brook's Bloodfire Quest. At the top the US one, and at the bottom the UK one.

   These are two very different covers. And I don't think there's much doubt that the UK one, with art by Stephen Youll, is the superior one here. (Only too bad we get that annoying "sticker" on it.)
   I like the cover a lot. It's a classic fantasy cover, but it's still not a design that has been done to death. And the creature whose skull that is looks really interesting. The book is out 19 March 2013.

This is the cover to the third Department 19 book by Will Hill, Department 19: Battle Lines. It fits very well with the two previous ones, and I like the style of them. Having read the first book, and having the second on my TBR pile, this is a book I'm looking forward to. It's out 28 March 2013 in the UK.

The follow up to Alchemist of Souls, The Merchant of Dreams, by Anne Lyle. Art by Larry Rostant. Having just read the first book, I can say that this cover very much captures the feel of the world. It's also a book I look forward to getting my hands on.

Another book two, this time The Glass Republic by Tom Pollock. I like the fact that this cover, as the cover to book one The City's Son, is really stylish and simple.

Pantomime by Laura Lam, with cover art by Tom Bagshaw, is out from Strange Chemistry in February 2013. This is a really intriguing cover, and it looks really good. Having been inspired by the cover to read the synopsis/cover copy on the publisher's website, I'm even more interested. So there's no doubt that for me this cover grabs attention.

Another cover from Strange Chemistry. This time it's by Steven Wood for A. E. Rought's Broken. This cover looks really good, although not very original in my opinion. But despite being of a woman in a dress, I think the background and title makes it stand out a bit. And again it's a book I had to find out more about.

Rounding up the trio of Strange Chemistry covers this time is the one for The Holders by Julianna Scott. I like covers of this type, those with a mysterious/magical object and nothing much else. Although I must say that it reminds me of the movie Romancing the Stone. That statement needs a bit of explanation...The Norwegian title of Romancing the Stone is Kampen om den grønne diamant, which translates as The Battle for the Green Diamond.

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination is a title that really grabs your attention. And I think the cover fits that title perfectly. I'm very curious to see what this anthology, edited by John Joseph Adams and out from Tor next year, brings to the table.

And while we are on the subject of mad scientists, here's the cover for The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, coming from Angry Robot in February 2013. I like this cover, not sure why exactly but it just sort of calls to me.

From Tor we have the cover for Brandon Sanderson's Young Adult novel The Rithmatist with art by Christopher Gibbs, out in May 2013. Looks very Stempunk-y to me. Not a bad cover, but it still feels a bit meh to me.

This cover for Joe Hill's NOS4R2 is really good, I like it a lot. No information on the novel yet, but the title obviously refers to vampires, and the license plate says 1931, so I'm guessing it will be set at that time.

I've already had a cover for this book up here. I'm not sure if the previous cover is the US one or an earlier version, but this is the UK cover for Banks' new Culture novel, The Hydrogen Sonata. There's nothing really special about it, but it fits in perfectly with the previous Culture covers from Orbit, so I like it.

That concludes a rather long cover reveal post. I hope you find at least some of these covers interesting. And as always I welcome any comments you have.

25 September, 2012


Cover by Sarah Coleman


ISBN: 978-1-908844-00-2
Pages: 320
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Published: US/Can/E-book 2 October 2012, UK 4 October 2012

On the cover:

Ananna of the Tanarau abandons ship when her parents try to marry her off to another pirate clan. But that only prompts the scorned clan to send an assassin after her. And when Ananna faces him down one night, armed with magic she doesn’t really know how to use, she accidentally activates a curse binding them together

To break the curse, Ananna and the assassin must complete three impossible tasks—all while grappling with evil wizards, floating islands, haughty manticores, runaway nobility, strange magic...and the growing romantic tension between them.

   This is a novel that have much in common with Fairy Tales, and its setting is very much reminiscent of A Thousand and One Nights. There's also elements here that are reminiscent of traditional Epic Fantasy. After a beginning that is bound to a single city we are taken on a quest, and this quest blends Epic Fantasy with Fairy Tale in a seamless manner.

   Clarke is very good at getting the Fairy Tale feel of the novel across. It's established early and never lets go as the novel progresses. But these elements don't constrain the novel, and it becomes apparent as the story progresses that it is not a simple Fairy tale re-telling. Instead it is a Fantasy novel that soon takes you on a journey through an interesting landscape.
   I'm always a bit skeptical of the "quest format" of Fantasy, but I needn't have had any worries here. Clarke makes the journey a very interesting one, and the change in scenery as the story progresses makes it a very interesting journey of discovery. From the desert setting of the beginning we are taken to different landscapes that become a great backdrop to this tale.

   Although the story does follow a similar path to other Fantasy novels out there, there is more than enough here that sets it apart, it never feels like it's just following a formula. Clarke's main strength when it comes to the story is making the events that happen along the way unpredictable. Even when you get a sense of where the story is going she manages to get there in ways that were unexpected.
   While the larger through line of the story is interesting enough, there are also many small events here that are really interesting and add to the story a great deal. Clarke is very good at adding great deal of exposition and worldbuilding without bogging the story down. There's lots of little details here that makes the atmosphere of the world in the novel come alive, and that is a world where it is well worth spending some time.

   There's a great deal of magic in the world Clarke has created. And that element of the book is done in a great way. It's certainly not wholly original, but what we are presented with here feels very fresh.
   We do get a good idea of magic's place in this world, and it feels like an integral part of it and not as an afterthought on the author's part. The way magic is done also feels very realistic, which in my opinion is a great strength in a novel like this.

   We also get some very interesting characters here, especially in Ananna - who is also the one telling us this story. Clarke manages to get across early on what type of character Ananna is, and as the novel progresses we get to see her show herself as a well rounded and realistic person. She never become just a vehicle for the story, but stays believable in all she does throughout the story. Ananna does have her flaws, but those only make her become more alive, and they don't make her come off as annoying in any way.

   The other main character, Naji, the assassin, is also very well realised. At first he seems a pretty standard mysterious figure, but as we get to know him better we see that he is much more than that. And despite him not always being the most forthcoming type, he does reveal that he has sides to him that make him feel like he's very much an individual formed by his past.
   We also meet quite a few other supporting characters along the way. Not all of them are as well developed as the main characters, but we do get to know them as more than just extras needed to get the story moving. There's especially one of them that stands out, and I think we may see more to her later. Clarke is very good at getting her characters come alive to the reader. They are interesting, and realistic, and are well worth spending a day with.

   All in all this is a very good Fantasy story. Clarke takes us on a great journey, in very good company. The style the book is told in fits in perfectly with the story and adds to the novel as a whole. The Fairy Tale elements make it a great books for fans of Fantasy based around that, and the quest format makes it worth reading for fans of Epic Fantasy. And it's a novel I wouldn't hesitate to recommend to Fantasy fans of all ages.
   Clarke has managed to create a set of very compelling characters that inhabit a well realised and interesting world. A world it is well worth travelling to.
   I really enjoyed this story, and I can't wait to follow it further in later volumes.

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

Links: Cassandra Rose Clarke  Strange Chemistry

24 September, 2012



ISBN: 978-0-45119-101-4
Pages: 489
Publisher: Signet/Penguin USA
First published: 1996
This edition published: 1 September 1997

On the cover:
(Taken from King's website)

It's a summer afternoon in Wentworth, Ohio, and on Poplar Street everything's normal. The paper boy is making his rounds; the Carver kids are bickering at the corner convenience store; a Frisbee is flying on the Reeds' lawn; Gary Soderson is firing up the backyard barbecue. The only thing that doesn't quite fit is the red van idling just up the hill. Soon it will begin to roll, and the killing will begin. A quiet slice of American suburbia is about to turn to toast.

The mayhem rages around a seemingly still point, a darkened house lit fitfully from within by a flickering television screen. Inside, where things haven't been normal for a long time, are Audrey Wyler and the autistic nephew she cares for, eight-year-old Seth Garin. They're fighting their own battle, and its intensity has turned 247 Poplar Street into a prisonhouse.

By the time night falls on Poplar Street, the surviving residents will find themselves in another world, one where anything, no matter how terrible, is possible…and where the regulators are on their way. By what power they have come, how far they will go, and how they can be stopped-these are the desperate questions. The answers are absolutely terrifying.

   This novel is set in (what I assume is) a typical American suburb. The horror aspect of this novel is all about what happens when this idyllic setting gets turned completely on its head.
   As always King is excellent at setting up the ordinary life, and then subverting it by turning up the horror. The reader will quickly get a sense of where we are, and how this little neighbourhood functions. But that feeling of familiarity quickly disappears, and the suburb turns into a place of terror within few pages.

   As is usual with King we get to know the characters pretty well, although this time the novel is set mostly in a very short period of time. We do however get a longer storyline of a couple of the characters, and this works very well. The characters are pretty diverse, and we get to see some very different reactions to the events of the novel, to me this heightened the realism of it.
   The action in this novel is pretty much a constant, there's an almost relentless stream of it. This actually works very well, it sets a fast pace for the novel and makes it feel shorter than it actually is. King also writes these action scenes very well, and although there's a lot of them they don't feel repetitive.
   However, there are times when the action is seen from many points of view when it can become a bit difficult to follow. There are many characters involved, and it's not difficult to loose track of who's where. This passes, but can become a bit confusing while it's going on.

   Action isn't the only element of this book, there's a strong supernatural element here. This element is excellently described, and we get intimately connected to it through the point of view characters. We get to follow closely how this develops through the diary of one of the characters, and this is a really interesting story. It shows how it develops and deteriorates.
   This element is also what connects this novel to its companion novel Desperation. The connection becomes clear pretty early on, and we find out more about it as time passes. Some of the characters are shared with Desperation, and there are parallel events in both novels.
   I read this after Desperation, and I would suggest others do the same. I'm not sure there would be the same impact of recognition if you start with The Regulators, and there's some events in this novel that will have no significance if you haven't read Desperation first.

   All in all I think this is a very good novel. There's plenty of action to supplement the supernatural, and as such I'd recommend it as a starting point on King for those that are more into action novels. There's also more than enough of the Horror element to satisfy fans of that.
   That this is a companion volume to Desperation doesn't mean that you have to read both. ( Although as I suggested above, if you plan to, start with Desperation.) I first read this long before its companion, and it works very well on its own.
   This my not be the best of King's novels, but it is more than good enough to deserve to be read by both fans of King and those that have yet to discover his writing.

You can find a review of Desperation here.

OTHER STEPHEN KING REVIEWS: The Shining  IT  The Dark Half  Bag of Bones  11.22.63  Four Past Midnight  Just After Sunset

LINKS: Stephen King  Penguin (USA)