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.

15 February, 2013


Cover by Will Staehle


ISBN: 978-0-85766-192-0
Pages: 416 +Extras
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
First published: 27 December 2011
This edition published: 5 January 2012

On the cover:


 It's a parallel-universe, Prohibition-era world of mooks and shamuses that is the twisted magic mirror to our bustling Big Apple. It's a city where sinister characters lurk around every corner, while the great superheroes who once kept the streets safe have fallen into deadly rivalries and feuds. Not that its colourful residents know anything about the real New York...until detective Ray Bradley makes a discovery that will change the lives of all its inhabitants.

   If you have read Crime Noir, you'll recognise both the atmosphere that this novel creates and its 20th century setting. But it's not as simple as that, this isn't "just" Crime Noir but rather a mix of genres. Christopher blends Crime Noir with superheroes and parallel universes, and he does it in such a way that his novel retains the rugged realism of Crime Noir.

   The story starts off in a way that isn't out of place in any 1930s set crime novel, but that changes very quickly, and we are soon transported into the realm of SFF. Structurally however the story stays in the realm of Crime Noir. It moves rather slowly, and it can feel frustrating at times that the answers to all the questions the novel poses take a long time to get answered. But that is not a flaw, Christopher deliberately holds his cards to his chest while he builds the characters and setting.

   The slow pace is wonderful for the atmosphere of the book, and Christopher really pays back the readers patience when he gives us the answers to the many mysteries we are presented with along the way. It's impossible to predict what will happen, or what role many of the characters eventually will have in the story. This makes each revelation more powerful, and adds a lot to the depth of the story.
    Although the pace is slow, the story never gets dull. Christopher's writing is great throughout, and he's very good at holding on to the readers interest. And more importantly there's no authorial cheating. When the answers come they do so in a way that feels natural to the story, and there is no revelations that come out of the blue.

   There is also quite a bit of action in the book, especially towards the end. The action is very well done, it is written in a way that creates a lot of tension, and the change of pace from the slower build up gives it a very nice urgency.

   When there's a mix of different genres, like in this novel, there's always a danger that some element of it feels like it is put there as an afterthought. That is not the case here at all, the SFF elements and the Crime Noir flow together seamlessly, and it is definitely all needed to make the novel a whole.
   I never felt that anything suffered in the mix either, there's full development of all the genre parts of this novel.  The crime, superheroes, and parallel universe all are fully developed. And together they make something that feels fresh and exciting.

   All in all this is a wonderful debut novel, there's not really any flaws at all. Whether your preference lies in parallel universes, crime, or superheroes, this is a novel that should find its way into your hands at the earliest opportunity. The world, the characters, and the story are all excellent and together they will give you a great reading experience.

LINKS: Adam Christopher  Angry Robot Books

14 February, 2013


Art by Paul Young


ISBN: 978-1-908844-09-5
Pages:  320
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
First published: 2 October 2012
This edition published: 4 October 2012

On the cover:
(Taken from the Strange Chemistry website)

15-year-old Julie Richardson is about to learn that being the daughter of a witch isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. When she and her best friend, Marcus, witness an elderly lady jettisoned out the front door of her home, it’s pretty obvious to Julie there’s a supernatural connection.

In fact, there’s a whisper of menace behind increasing levels of poltergeist activity all over town. After a large-scale paranormal assault on Julie’s high school, her mother falls victim to the spell Endless Night. Now it’s a race against time to find out who is responsible or Julie won’t just lose her mother’s soul, she’ll lose her mother’s life.

   I was planning to review this book on release, but then I went into my unplanned blogging hiatus. And when it comes to reviewing this book, I'm glad that happened. It gave me time to get a better perspective on the book. You see, I didn't really connect with it. And when I first planned to review it I blamed that solely on the book. Now that I can look at it from a distance of a few months, I've realized that it was actually mostly down to me, and I am capable of giving a much more objective review.

   Lets begin with what I didn't like, or more correctly what made me not connect with the book. There's a romantic angle to the story that is given quite a lot of space. I'm not generally a fan of romance in SFF, and the way it was done here was not to my taste at all. Not because it was badly done, it isn't. Cummings has captured pretty much dead on the awkwardness of teenage/first love. And that was why I had such a problem with it. You see, I'm rapidly approaching forty and am done with that a long time ago. In fact I've turned into quite the cynical bastard when it comes to awkward love, and teenage style drama. (I could go into details here, but this is a book review, not my autobiography.) That it is captured pretty much exactly as it actually is, when seen in retrospect, made it uninteresting to me.
   This problem was magnified for me by the feeling I got that the "love angle" took away from the main story. The "drama" did slow down the other parts of the story, and that was annoying for me considering how I felt about it in the first place.
   But as I said above, this was my personal feeling about something I didn't connect with. Something I perhaps, as someone about twenty years older than the main target audience for the book, wasn't really the right person to connect with anyway. So I'll say again, that this part of the story was both well done, and realistic. So if it is something you like, it will definitively be something that should make you pick up the book.

   The book literally gets off to a flying start. The reader is thrown right into the middle of things without any form of setup at all. This can be a bit jolting, but it works very well in pulling you in and hooking you into the novel. There's an instant "need" to see where this is heading.
   Cummings writes very good action sequences, and the book is at its best when there's paranormal events going on. As you can gather from the title, this events are poltergeistly (, surely that is a word,) in nature for the most part. But we do get to see the main character, Julie Richardson, engage in a more direct confrontation in the later stages of the novel. This is also very well handled, and Cummings manages to convey a lot of tension when he writes the action.

   Being a book with a witch as the main character there's of course some magic in the novel. This is well handled, and has a solid foundation in real magic. But having said that, and having read quite a bit about magic myself, I did feel that it could have been a bit more focus on the hows and whys of magic in this story. There's a slight tendency to it being taken as granted. Or perhaps a better way of saying it, is that I felt like Cummings did take for granted that the reader was familiar with the basics of magic. To me this made the magic in the book a bit bland, it doesn't really have something that sets it apart from other books that contain Wicca style magic.
   That being said, there are some really interesting ideas about magic, especially when it comes directly to Julie, in this book. I expect that to be explored in a follow up volume.

   All in all, this very much has the feeling of a first volume. An introduction, or a set up, for a character. And it does that job very well, you come away with the feeling that this is  a setting, and a set of characters, that you would want to return to at a later date.
   I've mentioned the romantic angle of the book extensively. But despite my problems with that, I think this is a good book. It is worthy of a read, and there's enough in there to keep even the non-romantic interested.
   For those that are interested in witches working in modern times, I would say that this is an essential read. And the above mentioned romance should be perfect for those that like that.
   I know I will be returning to a follow up to this book, and I'm looking forward to see what happens next with Julie. (Hopefully she gets laid before the next book so there's not so much frustrating romance.)

NOTE: And ARC of this book was given to me by the publisher.

13 February, 2013


Cover photographs by Getty Images
Cover design by R. Shailer/TW


ISBN: 978-0-857-52010-4
Pages: 344
Publisher: Doubleday
Published: 21 June 2012

On the cover:

1916: the Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong, and the wind in the leaves in the trees. Where have the mud, blood and blasted landscape of No Man's Land gone?

2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Cop Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive - some said mad, others dangerous - scientist when she finds a curious gadget - a box containing some wiring, a three-way switch and a...potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way Mankind views his world for ever.

And that's an understatement if ever there was one...

   Parallel Earths isn't a new concept in Science Fiction, but the way it is handled here brings a new angle on it. The concept here is a great one, and it is something that can really be explored in a myriad ways. Unfortunately the way it is explored here leaves a lot to desire.
   The book starts out really slow, jumping back and forth in time, and doesn't really move forward for a very long time. There's too many threads at the beginning of the book, at times it felt like reading a collection of story ideas or a short story collection set in the same world. These different threads do add some flavour to the world the story is set in, but they do feel repetitive and they don't really add much to the novel overall.
   For me it was also frustrating that these different stories brake up the flow of the narrative. There is simply too many "false starts", making the book feel choppy and jumbled. Considering the relatively short length of the novel they felt more like padding added for length than anything else.

    Far from everything is wrong with this novel. I've already mentioned the great concept, and there are some interesting characters too. Perhaps the most interesting character isn't actually human at all, but an AI. It's kind of a bold move to have the main character play against an AI for large parts of the book, but it works very well.
   There are two interesting secondary characters too. One of them is introduced at the beginning, and the other we  meet much later in the story. Both of these seem well rounded, and they do serve to get the reader much nearer the main character. Apart from that one of them has quite an interesting story of her own that we get to follow.

   Where the novel excels, is in the worldbuilding/concept. The central idea of an endless number of parallel Earths is absolutely excellent, and what we learn about how that works is fascinating. It quickly becomes obvious that this is a setting in which anything can happen, and as such it's impossible to see where the story is going.
   And since I'm back to the story, I must mentioned that the ending was a bit of a letdown. Not because it isn't very interesting, because it is, but the cliffhanger ending comes as a disappointment when so much time has been "wasted" earlier in the novel. You are left with the feeling that you have read only half a novel, and that the story is really just beginning, by the time you turn the last page.

   Despite it's many flaws this is a novel that is worth reading. It presents a great setting, and just that would make it a worthy read. The story is really good to, when the authors allow it to move forward. As always, it is also very interesting to see Pratchett try his hand on a non-Discworld setting. And as this book has set up everything in detail, I have great hopes for the next volume, and will eagerly be awaiting it.

Review: I Shall Wear Midnight

Links: Terry Pratchett  Stephen Baxter  Transworld Books

05 February, 2013


Cover illustration by Larry Rostant


ISBN: 978-0-241-95989-3
Pages: 469
Publisher: Penguin
First published: 3 March 2011
This edition published: 1 March 2012

On the cover:

Juan Cabrillo and the crew of the Oregon are up against their smartest foe yet - but in their midst there is a traitor . . .

After losing their contract with the US government because of a daring raid too far, Cabrillo and his crew of mercenaries with a conscience are earning money the hard way: doing dirty, dangerous little jobs in the world's trouble spots. Now they've accepted a mission deep to find a missing adventurer deep in the jungles of Myanmar.

But it is not long before Cabrillo and his team realise that they have been set up.

Cabrillo - betrayed, tortured and played for a fool - is angry that he's been used as a pawn in someone's deadly scheme. But with the US nuclear launch codes up for grabs and a madman bent on using them to hold millions of lives to ransom, he hasn't time to worry about revenge.

He's got to save the world first . . .

   This is an Action Adventure book, and as such it follows certain rules of that genre. Among those are that what happens isn't necessarily going to be very realistic, and there is a certain amount of "coincidences" that are necessary to make the events in the book happen. In short, Action Adventure is a genre that isn't very realistic, but has much in common with Hollywood Action Thrillers. If you have seen a James Bond, Indiana Jones, or Die Hard movie, you will be aware of what level an Action Adventure novel is aiming for.

   Cussler's novels are characterised by there (almost) always being a certain archaeological element present. (Often a mythical treasure.) So is also the case here, but it isn't as central is it is in some of Cussler's books. Something that is a bit of a disappointment if you are as interested in archaeology and history as I am. Especially since the opening hints at a very interesting historical connection that would have been great to see explored further.
   But the historical artifact is connected to an element that is pretty much straight out of Science Fiction. The way the historical artifact is connected to the Science Fiction element is nicely done, and came as a surprising revelation. It wasn't at all what I expected from Cussler.
   However the Science Fiction element is also presented in a way that has been seen several times before, especially in the very end of the book, making the nice twist to the story loose much of its impact. At least for me.

   The action scenes are the strength of this book. They are well written, and give a sense of peril and suspense. But there is a feeling at times that some of the action would have worked better on the screen than on the page. The writing is very filmatic, and that doesn't always work as well in the text. 
   The slower scenes are not nearly as satisfying. There's is too much description of unnecessary details, and there's too much infodumping. On top of that the story does rely too much on coincidences and sudden "eureka-moments", even for an Action Adventure novel. I feel this could have been better if it was toned down a bit. As it stands, the level of suspension of disbelief is a bit too high.
   Even though I can usually be pretty forgiving when it comes to the level of realism in this genre of novels, there was a bit too much here that was over the top without having to be.
   I must also mention that there were a few chapters that I felt was unnecessary to the story. And they did actually hurt the level of suspense by revealing things a bit earlier than necessary.

   From what I've written so far this looks like a  novel to avoid, but that isn't really the full story. I have mentioned all the problems I had with the novel, but there's still quite a lot I like about it.
   There is actually a good story in this novel, if you look past its flaws. As mentioned before there is good action sequences, and there's some nice twists to the plot. It's fast paced Action Adventure that is good entertainment for some hours. And compared to other works in it's genre, I'd say that this isn't really suffering in comparison. Unfortunately it does suffer when you compare it to Cussler at his best, this is far from the best novel to bear his name.

   All in all it's a good novel for fans of Action Adventure who know what to expect from the genre, and are looking for a fast paced novel to entertain them for a few nights.
    If you are a fan of Clive Cussler, and the Oregon Files in particular, this is a novel that you should read. As a Cussler fan myself, I do hesitate to recommend it to newcomers to his book though. There are plenty of better novels from his hand if you want to explore his particular rand of novels.
   -So, not really a bad novel, but failed to live up to both its potential and what you would expect from Cussler.

Links:  Clive Cussler  Penguin