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 March, 2013




ISBN: 978-1-4215-2772-7
Pages: 576 (+extras)
Publisher Haikasoru
First published: 1999
First English publication: 26 February 2003
This edition published: 17 November 2009

   Aided by the 2000 movie based on it, this is a novel that became an almost instant Cult Classic. Or rather the movie did, I don't actually think that many people have read the novel. Which I find a bit sad, since the novel is in many ways very different to the movie. (As are most novels with a movie based on them.)

   The novel doesn't waste time, it isn't long before the setting is established and the action starts. Interestingly, and often ignored, the setting is Alternate History (,the novel is set in 1997), and it is a world that is much more brutal than the one we live in. Takami doesn't shy away from the brutality of the "program" depicted in the book, descriptions of deaths are on level with what you usually find in Horror books.
   Adding to the visual descriptions of the deaths are the glimpses we get into the thoughts of both victims and killers. We get really close up to what is going on in a way that makes the impact greater, and that can get uncomfortable at times. You will be thinking about what is happening, these are not Hollywood deaths, but "real" deaths. They get even more real in a way because you get an insight into why a group of schoolchildren do these things, there are some fairly philosophical thoughts on this in the novel.

   Paranoia, fear, and distrust pervade the novel. The characters are put in a really extreme situation, one they cannot escape and which effects each one in different ways. There are three characters that are the main focus of the story, but there are lots of short chapters that see things from other individuals point of view. This means that even smaller players gets their thoughts across and leave their mark on the reader.
   Takami writes very good characters, and they will get under your skin. Even though the situation they are put in is so extreme as to be almost absurd, the characters remain relatable. I became very invested in the main characters and what they went through, halfway through the book they felt like old friends.
   One of the strengths of the book is showing how desperation can lead ordinary people to do extreme acts, there's plenty of that here, and there is no cushioning of that. But the structure of the book explains many of the motives the characters have for their actions. Even the "villains" of the story are explored in quite a bit of detail.

   At the surface this story can be simply described as "students are forced to kill each other", but that doesn't even begin to describe this novel. I've already mentioned above how it is a story about ordinary people in an extreme situation, and that gets closer to the essence of it. But there's even more to it. There are lots of themes touched upon in amongst all the carnage, and despite being action-filled in some ways it reads much more like a  philosophical novel. Especially representative of this are the glimpses we get of  the alternate world the story is set in.
   The story has a lot of tension to it. Structurally there are lots of shorter chapters, with many of the cast getting their own viewpoint. This structure makes you get closer to the overall story, while at the same time never being sure who is really a relevant player.
   Towards the end there are several twists and turns. It's hard to know what is really going to happen, and at least some of the developments will not be expected.
(Note: Seeing the movie will ruin some of this. If you haven't seen it yet, I can't urge you strongly enough to wait until after you have read the novel. -If you have seen the movie, as I had, it's best if you read the novel when it has been a while since you saw the film. Going directly from the movie to the novel is a really bad idea.)

   All in all this is a very powerful novel. It is brutal in many ways, for some perhaps too brutal, but it never feels gratuitous. It will however get under your skin in some way. And the story will stay with you for a while, there are underpinnings that demand that you think about them.
   In many ways this is a novel that defies traditional genre classification. It's Alternate History, Near Future Science Fiction, Dystopic Science Fiction, and definitely a comment on society and human nature.
   This is a novel that in my opinion deserves to be read by many more people, and I urge everyone who reads this review to give it a try. It should be required reading for anyone who likes any of the subgenres, or themes, that I have mentioned above.

LINK: Haikasoru

27 March, 2013


   It's been a long time since I did one of these posts so these aren't necessarily newly revealed, but they are covers I want to spread around. And I could easily have done at least twenty more, so there is some selection process going on here...but anyway...let's just get on with the book cover porn.

   This one was actually published on Monday (25 March), by Anachron Press. The cover art is by Sarah Ann Langton. I think it's a good cover that suits the title very well. It certainly made me curious. -And let's face it, who doesn't like a skull.

   From Atom we have the cover to the Second book in the Finishing School series by Gail Carriger, with a release date of 5 November. I reviewed the first book yesterday, and I think this cover suits the series very well. It also fits in nicely with the first book's cover.

   The Hodder (UK) cover for King's follow up to The Shining, coming 24 September. It's a new Stephen King novel, so they could basically have put anything they wanted to on it, but I think this one is very good. (I like cats.)

   These are the covers to the first two books from Angry Robot's Crime imprint Exhibit A, they'll be out 2 May. I really like them both, especially the one for Penance. And I'm also looking forward to reading these, I read too little Crime these days.

   From PS publishing, this cover is by Pedro Marques, the book is at the printer right now and should be out shortly. It's got a "Comic Book feel" to it (, and reminds me of The Preacher). I don't know anything about the book, but this cover makes me want to find out more about it.

   From Tor UK we have the cover to the first book in a new series that will be out 10 October. I like it a lot (, which may have a bit to do with my interest in heraldry), it evokes an imperial feel -and I want to see where Newton has gone with that.

   The cover for the fifth book in the Clockwork Century, coming from Tor in November. I really like this series, and I love this cover. Really can't wait to see what this one's all about.

   Cover by Martin Bland for the sequel to vN, it should be out 25 June  It's in the same style as the cover to the first book, and it's a great one. Really liked the first book, and has been looking forward to more from Ashby, this cover makes me want to read the book now!

   From Strange Chemistry and ARGH!, Oxford comes this cover, the book is out 7 May. I love Astronomy photos, so  this cover is a big hit with me.

   This cover, by Sarah J. Coleman,  is for the sequel to The Assassin's Curse. The book will be out 4 June from Strange Chemistry. Same style as the first book, and since I have read that I think it's a style that fits very well with the story. And I for one look forward to reading about the creature depicted.

   Cover by Michael Karcz for Orbit, release date 3 September. I'm pretty much a fan of landscapes on SFF books. But I'm not sure this really is an SFF book since it says "A Novel of the Ice Age" and I have no further info on it. It doesn't really matter though, the book will find it's way into my home and a part of  the reason for that is because of the cover.

   Out from Little Brown 22 October. I really like this cover. Again it's landscape, and the red at the bottom of it seems to suggest this will be a Horror novel. Based on the cover alone I would be getting this. And since I have read the cover copy, I will definitely be getting it.

  Lastly for this time, there's the cover to the follow up to The Long Earth, coming from Doubleday 20 June. I felt the first book had a lot of potential it didn't quite live up to, but judging by this cover I think this one is going to be really good.

   As usual I welcome any comments you may have. Is there any covers that really caught your eye?

26 March, 2013



ISBN: 978-1-907411-58-8
Pages: 312
Publisher: Atom
Published: 5 February 2013

On the cover:

It's one thing to learn to curtsy properly.
It's quite another to learn to curtsy and
throw a knife at the same time. 

Welcome to finishing school.

Fourteen-year-old Sophronia is a great trial to her poor mother. Sophronia is more interested in dismantling clocks and climbing trees than proper manners, and the family can only hope that company never sees her atrocious curtsy. Mrs. Temminnick is desperate for her daughter to become a proper lady. So she enrolls Sophronia in Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality

But Sophronia soon realizes the school is not quite what her mother might have hoped. At Mademoiselle Geraldine's young ladies learn to finish . . . everything. Certainly, they learn the fine arts of dance, dress, and etiquette, but they also learn to deal out death, diversion, and espionage - in the politest possible ways, of course. Sophronia and her friends are in for a rousing first year's education...

   Etiquette & Espionage is set in the same world as the Parasol Protectorate series. However it is not necessary to read any of those books before you read this, it is set before them but is not a prequel. But if you have read the Parasol Protectorate series, you will welcome seeing characters from that series making an appearance.
   The novel contains a lot of the same combination of humour and action, in a Victorian Steampunk setting, that has made Miss Carriger a name in SFF circles. If you are unfamiliar with that, a short description would be Humorous Alternate History Victorian Steampunk Fantasy. (That is not really an established SFF subgenre by the way.)

   The tone of this novel is set early on. By the end of the first chapter we have gotten a good glimpse into the feel of the novel. We have also learned quite a bit about where Sophronia comes from and what kind of person she is. But that is just the beginning of the story, as the book progresses, we follow Sophronia on what is essentially a discovery of one of the hidden sides of the world she lives in.
   Miss Carriger has a knack for creating characters that it is pleasant to spend time with. I found Sophronia to be a very enjoyable character to follow. She's smart, tough, resourceful, and not afraid to go her own ways when she feels it is called for. That doesn't mean she's perfect, but the flaws she has make her all the more realistic and relatable.
   Sophronia is joined by quite a diverse group of supporting characters, most of which are more than interesting enough to follow in their own right. Although some of them exist to fulfil certain task in the narrative, they still come across as believable characters. And the whole cast of this novel put together makes for great company in your reading.

   From early one it's clear that the story contains both action and mystery. Mostly we follow Sophronia's unravelling of what is actually going on, something that is handled very well,. The revelations come naturally, and that Sophronia is ignorant of what the school really is allows us discover it along with her instead of in infodumps. This makes the narrative flow more organically.

   I have to make a brief mention of the setting, or more precisely, the school. I won't tell you what form it physically takes, because I thought that was a very nicely done revelation in the book. But I will tell you that I really liked the way the school functioned. It seems natural when you get it described in the way it is, despite of course being wholly fantastical in nature. Miss Carriger has really managed to create something that feels realistic while still being a wonderful Fantasy creation. In some ways the school itself becomes a character itself, and it has several layers to it.

   So to sum up, another brilliant novel by Miss Carriger. A seamless blend of Steampunk, humour, and Victorian boarding school drama -with a good dollop of action, mystery, and adventure. Definitely a recommended read for those who like their Steampunk to have a sense of humour, and anyone who likes a good rollicking story. It is a great starting point for anyone not familiar with Miss Carriger's work.
   Fans of Miss Carriger who have put off getting this because of the Young Adult label should head for the nearest bookstore at once (, or maybe wait until tomorrow if it's not open). This doesn't fall short in comparison to the Parasol Protectorate books in terms of depth (, although to be fair...there's a lack of werewolf sexing in it.)
   After reading this book, I must say that the knowledge that there's three more books to come in this series is very welcome, this is the beginning of what looks to be another greatly enjoyable series from Miss Carriger.

25 March, 2013


 Cover art by Lee Gibbons


ISBN: 978-1-90884-412-5
Pages: 352
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
First published: 6 November 2012
This edition published: 8 November 2012

On the cover:

The distant and unloved colony world of Russalka has no land, only the raging sea. No clear skies, only the endless storm clouds. Beneath the waves, the people live in pressurised environments and take what they need from the boundless ocean. It is a hard life, but it is theirs and they fought a war against Earth to protect it. But wars leave wounds that never quite heal, and secrets that never quite lie silent.

Katya Kuriakova doesn’t care much about ancient history like that, though. She is making her first submarine voyage as crew; the first nice, simple journey of what she expects to be a nice, simple career.

There is nothing nice and simple about the deep black waters of Russalka, however; soon she will encounter pirates and war criminals, see death and tragedy at first hand, and realise that her world’s future lies on the narrowest of knife edges. For in the crushing depths lies a sleeping monster, an abomination of unknown origin, and when it wakes, it will seek out and kill every single person on the planet.

   Howard's world is an interesting one, not because it is a water planet, but because of how society works there. Much of the worldbuilding is done in the prologue, which is essentially a brief history of the planet of Russalka. I really like that approach to avoiding infodumps. It sets up the scene without slowing down the story, and it cuts down on the need for clunky conversations that exist only to impart information in the story. (I wish more writers of SFF would use this approach.)
   Science Fiction worlds that have been colonised but are not fully developed will unavoidably have at least a shade of the American "Old West" feel to them, but here that is absolutely minuscule. Society here is built not on the usual US/Western, or world government that we so often see in Science Fiction, but instead on Russia. This, along with a non-uniform range of settlements and sub-societies, makes the world Howard has created feel far fresher and more original than a quick glance will make it seem.

   This being a Young Adult novel, the heroine is of course a teenager. And Katya being a teenager is in some ways essential to the plot here, the novel would read very differently if she was an adult, and I don't think it would work as well as it does. Katya's portrayal is not in any way unrealistic, considering how she is described as growing up she acts in a way that feels very natural. She doesn't suffer from the "stupid when it serves the story, but super-intelligent when it's called for" disease that many teenage (, and adult for that matter,) characters suffer from. Instead she comes of as a well rounded person that in many ways is not very different from the people you meet in real life.
   The supporting characters in the novel are also well portrayed. They are fully formed human beings, all of them with their own agendas and histories, there's no cardboard cut-outs whose sole purpose is to fill out the scenery.

   The story doesn't waste time, already in the first chapter there's things happening that are not part of the daily routine for the characters involved, and soon after that it becomes very clear that we are in for quite an adventure.
    Once things start to happen they don't take much of a break before you reach the end of the story. There's plenty of action and a lot of suspense throughout, and Howard handles both of those elements very well. Plenty of tension is created by not really having a clue of where the story is headed, although I must admit there were a couple of minor incidents that were a bit predictable. But overall this isn't the sort of novel where all the tension comes from how things are going to happen, the story gives little away and it's not really clear where the story is headed. There's plenty of twists and turns making for a really good read.

   To sum up, this is a great Science Fiction story. It belongs to the Space Opera side of the Science Fiction genre but it doesn't have many implausible elements, making it a good read for anyone who enjoys Science Fiction -whatever their age is.
   Anyone who's come into SFF from Harry Potter and/or The Lord of the Rings shouldn't hesitate to pick this up to discover more of what the Science Fiction side of SFF has to offer.
   For me this was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and I look forward to getting my hands on future installments of Katya's story.

LINKS: Jonathan L. Howard  Strange Chemistry