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 October, 2013


Cover by Jon Foster


ISBN: 978-1-59606-308-2
Pages: 201
Publisher: Subterranean Press
First published: 30 July 2010
This edition: 15 December 2011

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)

Maria Isabella Boyd’s success as a Confederate spy has made her too famous for further espionage work, and now her employment options are slim. Exiled, widowed, and on the brink of poverty…she reluctantly goes to work for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency in Chicago.

Adding insult to injury, her first big assignment is commissioned by the Union Army. In short, a federally sponsored transport dirigible is being violently pursued across the Rockies and Uncle Sam isn’t pleased. The Clementine is carrying a top secret load of military essentials—essentials which must be delivered to Louisville, Kentucky, without delay.

Intelligence suggests that the unrelenting pursuer is a runaway slave who’s been wanted by authorities on both sides of the Mason-Dixon for fifteen years. In that time, Captain Croggon Beauregard Hainey has felonied his way back and forth across the continent, leaving a trail of broken banks, stolen war machines, and illegally distributed weaponry from sea to shining sea.

And now it’s Maria’s job to go get him.

He’s dangerous quarry and she’s a dangerous woman, but when forces conspire against them both, they take a chance and form an alliance. She joins his crew, and he uses her connections. She follows his orders. He takes her advice.

And somebody, somewhere, is going to rue the day he crossed either one of them.

   It's not exactly a secret that I like the A Clockwork Century novels (, see the link to my reviews below,) so I was really excited to finally get my hands on this one. Of course there's a certain danger that you set yourself up for disappointment when you let anticipation build up for any form of art and/or entertainment. Not that I was really worried, Priest has definitely been good to me in that regard previously, and she doesn't disappoint this time either.

   We're at a new location for this series, actually several new locations; Chicago, Kansas City, and Louisville among them. This is very much centered around dirigibles, including the Clementine of the book's title. This makes for a structure that gives is very good for the kind of action adventure structured story we are getting here.
   As before the alternate history aspect is very solid here. It's clear that this is a world that is real enough that we'll do fine without a set location, or a permanent set of characters. And this time Priest has abandoned a story element that has united the other books in this series. There's still a connection to the other novels through some characters. But Priest's world is perfectly capable of supporting independent stories, and I wouldn't mind seeing this alternate Earth explored further in the future.

   The characters here are two very different people (, as stated in the cover copy above). Priest takes their differences and uses it to a great advantages when she showcases their different positions in a world where the US Civil War is still fought. They have some of the same personality traits, but that just highlights how much they come from totally different settings in life even more. Although I must stress that they are certainly much more than just mirror images. They just happen to both be the type of character that can drive this type of action-oriented narrative.
   Having two such individuals in such a short story shouldn't at first glance work, but Priest has made it seem like a completely natural way to tell a story. They do not crowd eachother out, but give us different threads of the same story, and we get a much richer tale because of it.

   The story is really a good one too, although it must be said that it has a bit of a prologue feel to it. Although to be perfectly honest that could just be me wanting to read a six to eight hundred story following where this one ends.
   Writing in such a limited space has left us with a story that is really pared down, there is nothing here that is unnecessary. In that regard this feels like a two hundred page short story. The story itself is not cut down though, it's a full action packed adventure with airship-pirates, spies, and secret weapons. It does in fact have much of the same pacing as an Action Thriller. It's a fast flowing story with action and suspense, but it is still filled with enough details to give us a nice glimpse of the wider world.

   All in all this was a very enjoyable book with more depth to it than I had expected. It's Steampunk with more than a bit of the depth many have said is lacking from the genre. It's also Steampunk that is geared towards the Alternate History end of that genre, it's totally lacking in the Victoriana we so often see. 
   But first and foremost this is a great story with plenty of action. I think it will appeal to anyone who has found Action Thrillers appealing, for those that like Alternate History or Steampunk this is a must. And it is a great "starter book" for those that are curious about the Alternate History end of Steampunk.
   For me this just cements Priest as one of the great writers of modern day Steampunk, and as a SFF author it is worth paying attention to.

REVIEWS: A Clockwork Century reviews.

LINKS: Cherie Priest  Subterranean Press

24 October, 2013


   This cover is designed by Jo Thomson at Tor UK, using Shutterstock images. It's for the first volume in The Blackheart Legacy trilogy, and it will be out in February 2014. I've wanted to read this book for a long time, and I'm really glad it has gotten such a great cover. Really looking forward to getting a hold of this. (And it comes out the month of my birthday too.) -You can read how Liz reacted when she first saw it here.

   For the second book in the Bloodsounder's Arc we have this one, coming from Night Shade Books in early summer of 2014. This is a very traditional character/action oriented Fantasy cover. I like those types of covers, and I like this one.

   From Tor UK, out 10 April 2014, we get this cover. It's really beautiful, there's no doubt about that. I still get a little bit of cognitive dissonance, because this looks more like a movie poster to my brain.

  This is a Joey Hi-Fi cover. Done for South African publisher Umuzi, and the book is due for a April 2014 release. It's certainly different, and downright eerie. But I like that about it, and I think this is a very good cover.

   A Black Sheep cover for a June 2014 Gollancz release. This certainly has a special look, and it really draws the eye. I like for the retro feel it has.

   The final cover today is from a children's book that is published in Norwegian 14 November by Aschehoug. The cover illustration is by Svein Nyhus. This book is based on the viral hit song "What Does the Fox Say?", and is written by the Ylvis brothers (, those who made the song). You can look at the Norwegian press release about it here.

23 October, 2013


Cover art by Darren Tan


ISBN: 978-1-78200-409-7
Pages: 80
Publisher: Osprey
Published: 22 October 2013

On the cover:
(From the publishers website)

Born in the dark days of the great crusades, the warrior monks of the Knights Templar vowed to defend pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. Yet strangely, there are few historical records of the Templars ever fulfilling this task. Instead, their history is one of bloodshed and conquest, wealth and power, dark secrets and conspiracies. Today, the story of the Knights Templar is intimately linked with the story of the Holy Grail. But what exactly is this ancient artifact, and how has it been used to manipulate history for the last one thousand years? This book, based on the notes of the recently deceased historian, Dr. Emile Fouchet, attempts to unlock the secrets of the Knights Templar. It begins with an examination of their historical origins, their growth in the early middle-ages, and their supposed destruction under the charges of heresy. From there, it uses the clues left by the Templars themselves to reconstruct their secret journeys as they moved the Holy Grail from Europe to the New World and back. It also charts the secret, three-way war that is still being fought between the Templars, the Freemasons, and the Catholic Church. Finally, the book reveals the greatest of all Templar conspiracies, the attempt to found a new world order under the auspices of the European Union.

   The Knights Templar have been a staple of many a secret history through the years. Which is really no wonder considering their relatively short existence, and the manner in which they were disbanded. Their origins during the Crusades, their wealth, and the charges brought against them by the Catholic Church certainly lends itself to speculations around what was really going on.
   Arguably the most famous Templar conspiracy theory surrounds the Holy Grail. It's what, among others, Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code hinges upon. There is a Holy Grail theme here too, but it's not the same one as the one Brown and others have speculated about. And I did find the Grail theory in this book to be a very refreshing one. It goes in a direction that was new to me, even though I have read a lot of these types of theories throughout the last twenty to thirty years. 
    What Davis does with the Grail here ties nicely into another important aspect of the Templars. It adds quite a bit of credence to the theory presented, at least in that part of it. It's where the book is at its strongest.

   Although the book does present a fresh take on the theories surrounding the Templars power in Medieval times, and their supposed survival into modern times, it does suffer from a problem of length. There's simply too much history crammed in to way little room here. This is much more a brief synopsis than a full case made for the theory, and that is a shame because what we get here is mostly very good.
   I would very much have liked to see this spread out over a couple of hundred more pages, and given more depth. But that is really unfair criticism of what this really is, which is a short book that gives us a brief glimpse into a very interesting secret history.

   I'm very interested in history, particularly the Medieval period, so I have read quite a few books about the period the Knights Templar existed in. Davis does the period justice in his writing here. There's lots of well researched information about the period, and that goes for the rest of history up to the present day too. But that is not really the point of such a book like this, the point is more that the story seems believable.
   And mostly this seems very much like real history, something hidden from "the masses". The Medieval parts having to do with events during the Templar's official existence is  pretty solid, and there's no holes in it. When it moves through history towards our time, it does however become a bit to grand in my opinion. There's a bit too much focus on putting the Templars at the centre of a few too many events. And that takes away from both the depth at which things are explored, and the credibility of them.

    When we move into the 20th century the book becomes vaguer. Supposedly because of the death of the person who unearthed the information in the first place. I found this framing device to be a bit cheap. It's not really needed for the plausibility of what is presented, and it has been done so to death in the conspiracy theory novel that it is something that wouldn't seem truthful even if it were to happen in real life.

   To sum up my thoughts, I liked this book quite a lot. It's a nice and brief presentation of a Templar secret history that stands out a bit from the others I have read. It does feel a bit slight because of its few pages, but for someone wanting a quick introduction to these themes it is perfect.
   There's enough here to interest the seasoned conspiracy theory reader, and it is presented in such a way that a newcomer to these sorts of books will get a good grip on it. For those interested in Knights Templar or Holy Grail theories, this is definitively a must-buy. And I would highly recommend it to anyone who found Dan Brown's books enjoyable.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this from the publisher/NetGalley.

LINKS: Graeme Davis  Osprey

21 October, 2013



ISBN: 978-0-345-54524-4
Pages: 288
Publisher: LucasBooks/Random House Del Rey
Published: 24 September 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website)

Times are desperate for the Rebel Alliance. Harassment by the Empire and a shortage of vital supplies are hindering completion of a new secret base on the ice planet Hoth. So when Mid Rim merchants offer much-needed materials for sale, Princess Leia Organa and Han Solo lead an Alliance delegation to negotiate a deal.

But when treachery forces the rebel ship to flee into territory controlled by pirates, Leia makes a shocking discovery: the fierce marauders come from Leia’s homeworld of Alderaan, recently destroyed by the Death Star. These refugees have turned to pillaging and plundering to survive—and they are in debt to a pirate armada, which will gladly ransom the princess to the vengeful Empire . . . if they find out her true identity.

Struggling with intense feelings of guilt, loyalty, and betrayal, Leia is determined to help her wayward kinspeople, even as Imperial forces are closing in on her own crippled ship. Trapped between lethal cutthroats and brutal oppressors, Leia and Han, along with Luke, Chewbacca, and a battle-ready crew, must defy death—or embrace it—to keep the rebellion alive.

  This novel brought back a lot of memories to me. It's set two years after the Battle of Yavin (, the destruction of the first Death Star). And it has Leia, Han, Luke, Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 in it - this is in the middle of Original Trilogy territory.
   On one hand the nostalgia is a good thing. Star Wars set in that period is the most important thing when it comes to getting me interested in Science Fiction in the first place. On the other hand it means this novel has to compete with the memory of a lot of the comics that Marvel published in the 1980s (and that I read in Norwegian translations). Honestly, I think the two cancel eachother out. The nostalgia is balanced with me having read many stories with these characters. I have already seen these characters outside the movies, so while I want to reminisce, I don't want repetition of what I've seen before.

   Wells has written a story that definitely fits in with the feel of 1980s Star Wars. It captures the action-filled Space Adventure vibe that drew me, and many of my friends, into the world of George Lucas & co perfectly.
   When this story starts out, it concern the practical realities around establishing something that will be familiar to fans of the movies. It's a nice hook, and an interesting look behind the scenes - so to speak - of the rebellion against the Empire. In itself that would be something that is interesting, although to many it could become a bit mundane. But this doesn't go that straight path, it very quickly veers off to become a much more action filled and exciting story.

   There's lots to instantly like here. Pirates, battles, betrayals, peril, action, get the picture (- don't think there's a need for me to sound like an '80s movie trailer). This is fast paced, action filled, with a lot of tension and suspense. Of course there's little suspense as to what will happen with the main characters, most of us have already seen them in two movies set after this. But Wells introduces us to some very interesting new characters that you are never certain where will end up.
   And that isn't the only tension you get in this story. Wells is excellent at getting you close to the action, and feeling the peril the characters are in. Even with the characters from the film you sometimes forget that you know where they are at a later time. Wells pulls you in with writing that makes you live in the moment of the story, and that is a great strength of this novel.

   The characters are important in this story, and of the familiar ones it's Leia Organa that shines the most here. It's good to see her at the forefront of events, and being the one who initiates much of what happens. We get to see Leia in some depth here, and she handles herself very well. Wells manages to show off Her Holiness to great effect and really make her come alive.
   There's also some very interesting new players here, one of them is very much connected to Leia. And that works very well, it means she has someone to play - and show herself off - against. It is also handled well. For me it was in some ways the deciding point of what I felt about the novel. This is something that could have broken this novel for me if it felt artificial, like something put there for the sole purpose of showing off Leia. Fortunately it doesn't. It adds a lot of depth to the story, and raises the stakes. It's the element that lifts this above the average Star Wars Extended Universe story for me.

   All in all this is a great Star Wars story for those that want to reminisce about the days between the end of Star Wars and the beginning of Return of the Jedi. And it is a great place to start for those that wants to know more about the days of the Original Trilogy. It is also a good Space Opera tale in its own right.
   Wells writes great action and adventure set in space, and you don't have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy this novel. I can recommend this to anyone who wants a "fun romp" between the stars.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley.

REVIEW: Emilie & the Hollow World


LINKS: Martha Wells  Star Wars at Suvudu (Del Rey)

16 October, 2013


Cover photograph by Kamil Vojnar/Getty Images


ISBN: 978-1-444-72069-3
Pages: 242
Publisher: Hodder
First published: 5 April 1974
This edition published: 13 October 2011

On the cover:

Carrie White has a gift - the gift of telekinesis.

To be invited to Prom Night by Tommy Ross is a dream come true for Carrie - the first step towards social acceptance by her high school graduates.

But events will take a decidedly macabre turn on that horrifying and endless night as she is forced to exercise her terrible gift on the town that mocks and loathes her...

   Carrie is Stephen King's debut novel, but there is really nothing that tells you that. This reads more like the work of someone who has been writing for quite a while. Someone who has already found their voice, an author who is sure of himself. 

   It becomes clear pretty early on that this novel does have a theme that I'd argue is the Stephen King trope - growing up/coming of age. In this case it is also in some ways a retelling of the "ugly duckling" tale... Except this being King, there's not a Fairy Tale happy ending. The story stays quite far away from that.
   Carrie's coming of age in this novel is something that happens on several levels. There's what happens in the shower at the beginning of the book, her telepathy, and her going to the prom. The last one is the central event of the book, the place where all that Carrie is comes together and reaches a peak.

   Before I go any further, I have to talk a bit about the structure of the novel. I have already said that this is not structured as novels are as a standard, and it isn't. This novel does not have one continuous narrative text. There is a storyline that, with a few exceptions, is continuous, but it doesn't consists of one narrative text. It's a narrative text that is interspersed with book excerpts, official testimonies, and excerpts from news reports/news wires.
   This shouldn't really work. It is disruptive to a "clean" narrative, and something like this will usually mess with the readers "immersion" into the novel. Here it doesn't do that, instead it adds to the atmosphere of what is going on. And it even increases the tension that is building. In my opinion much more so than if this had been handled with different points of view. (There are different points of view in the novel.)

   I mentioned tension in the previous paragraph, and to me that is what best describes what this novel gives you. There's not really much suspense, we are told early on that something major will happen. So even if you somehow have managed to completely miss anything about what Carrie is about, you will not be surprised that something happens.
   What makes this great is that the lead up to the events is a constant building of tension. You know there will be a bang, and at times you almost hold your breath waiting for it to come. There is a sense of impending doom hanging over everything that happens, and a lot of what we learn adds to that feeling. Everything, in and around Carrie, builds up the level of tension. And when all that is finally released, it almost comes as a relief.

   Carrie is a very interesting and sympathetic character. What we learn about her, both about her school life and her home life, makes us feel for her. She is definitely an "other", an the treatment that she is given because of that is something that is both thought-provoking and unpleasant to read about. This is however not a novel that is heavy handed when it comes to trying to make you feel empathy with Carrie. That is something that happens naturally as we learn about her. And even towards the end of the book, it is clear that she is pretty much an innocent.
   There are other characters here than Carrie. Three of them are important parts of the narrative. These characters does not only serve to give us a glimpse into those things that Carrie is not aware of, they also gives us a perspective on Carrie as a person. In this way they are supporting characters, but they are important and integral to the story. 

   This is a very short novel, but one that gives you much more than its page numbers would suggest. The story is excellent, once it has hooked you it will not let you go until it ends. And along the way it will give you a page-turning, tension filled, journey through the darker corners of growing up as an outsider.
   There is no doubt that this is a powerful and accomplished novel. It is arguably one of King's best ones, and is essential for anyone who is a fan of his writing. In my opinion this is also an excellent place to start reading King. And I urge anyone who has not read any of his novels to pick it up. This is Psychological Horror at its best, and a great introduction what makes King such a popular writer.

BONUS LINK: You can see some of the covers Carrie has had through the years over on Hodderscape.

BONUS FACT: I was 44 days old when this novel was first published.

15 October, 2013


   This debut novel will be out 13 February 2014 from Headline. The art is by Patrick Insole. I love this cover, I think it is absolutely great. It's a cover that sticks to the tried and tested (-there is a dragon-) but still manages to be different. -Really looking forward to getting my hands on this one!

   This cover by Amazing 15 is for the sequel to Emilie & the Hollow World (review). It will be out 4 March 2014 from Strange Chemistry. I liked the cover to the first book, and this is a perfect companion to that. I like this cover style in general, and having read the first book, I know it fits very well with the inside of the book.

   Coming in February 2014 from Gollancz. This cover has art by Andreas Preis, and is designed by Craig Fraser. This cover drew my eye the first time I saw it, it's different enough to stand out. I like it, and the style it is done in. -The title also looks very interesting.

   Art by Alejandro Colucci, out 25 March 2014 from Angry Robot books. This is the sequel to the soon to be released Heartwood. I really liked the first cover, and I really like this one. -Looking forward to soon be reading the first book.

   You may remember this title from an earlier cover reveal post. This cover is for the PS Publishing edition, and it's by Pedro Marques. It's a very good cover, and it does make you look at it more than twice.

   So over to five covers from Gollancz, for their re-issue - in Hardcover - of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books. The covers are all by Joe McLaren. You can get the release dates, and see more of the covers, here.
I like these covers. They may have a simple style, but they are very good at capturing the books they represent.

14 October, 2013


Cover by John Coulthart


ISBN: 978-0-76537-402-8
Pages: 350
Publisher: Tor Books
Published: 15 October 2013

On the cover:
(Taken from the publisher's website.)

The world Dower left when he went into hiding was significantly simpler than the new, steam-powered Victorian London, a mad whirl of civilization filled with gadgets and gears in the least expected places. After accepting congratulations for his late father's grandest invention—a walking, steam-powered lighthouse—Dower is enticed by the prospect of financial gain into a web of intrigue with ominously mysterious players who have nefarious plans of which he can only guess.

If he can locate and make his father’s Vox Universalis work as it was intended, his future, he is promised, is assured. But his efforts are confounded by the strange Vicar Stonebrake, who promises him aid, but is more interested in converting sentient whales to Christianity—and making money—than in helping George. Drugged, arrested, and interrogated by men, women, and the steam-powered Prime Minister, Dower is trapped in a maelstrom of secrets, corruption, and schemes that threaten to drown him in the chaos of this mad new world.

   This is the sequel to Jeter's 1987 novel Infernal Devices (review). This book doesn't follow directly on from the previous one though, so you can jump straight to this one without a problem.

   Jeter is perhaps best known for inventing the term Steampunk, and this novel quickly shows it belongs to that genre by introducing a pretty fantastic steam-driven contraption very early on. Mind you, we are talking the original style of Steampunk here, there's a complete lack of werewolves or vampires.
   This story is firmly set in Victorian times, but not the rose-coloured version that we see in some modern Steampunk. Jeter's alternate 19th century Britain is a much darker place than that. There's room in this novel for the darker sides of industrial progress, and it doesn't ignore the plights of the working classes. This makes for a realistic alternate historical setting, at least when it comes to the societal side of things.

   While the setting is socially realistic, Jeter chooses to stretch things a bit beyond realism in some of the technology, and especially in this technology's interaction with humans. This is where the novel in some ways leaves Steampunk and veers into Weird Fantasy territory. Not that the former is ever gone from the novel, the latter is added to it.
   The weirdness of some aspects of the setting is something that really stuck with me, there are some really bonkers ideas in here. It does require a bit more of the reader to accept the weird things in this novel than perhaps is usual in Steampunk. But to me that is really a strength.
   Jeter's alternate Victorian London is in many ways an alien place, there's more than "window-dressing" that makes this London different to our London. The "steam" is much more integrated here than is usual, and the changes it has caused are huge. The technology also has effected the setting in a really significant way. All of which are done well, and in my opinion are significant strengths in this book.

   There is more to good Alternate History than just having a good setting. Without a story to back that up you are left with nothing much more than a technical manual. The story here is a very interesting one, and it makes great use of the world it is set in. The Weird Fantasy aspect of the novel is certainly present in the story as well as in the technology. It doesn't take long before we are introduced to concepts that requires a bit of outside the box thinking.
    The weirdness is also a reason why it's near impossible to predict what comes next in the story. After being introduced to a plot early on, the reader more or less just has to try to keep up with the twists and turns of the narrative. This is actually a great strength of the story. Unpredictability is a watchword here, and not knowing what happens on the next turn of a page is part of what makes this a very compelling read. It's not the only thing though, it really is a fascinating story for those that can handle all the weirdness.
   Our guide through this story, George Dower, is very much the person at the centre of events. Very little happens without him present, or him hearing about it. The latter is because Dower is the only viewpoint character of the story. This works very well on the story level, and adds a certain amount of suspense by not letting us know anything outside of what Dower himself is either experiencing, or is aware of. It is also a style choice that can make this book a bit of a hit or miss experience.

   Jeter has written this novel in a very distinct style, one that is also there in Infernal Devices. It takes some getting used to, as it is a step away from how modern SFF books are usually written. The style here is very Victorian in feel, something that I suppose could make the book feel old-fashioned. I however think it adds quite a lot to the atmosphere of the novel. The first person perspective becomes very close to what is happening because it gives you the feeling of reading something that is part of that time - even though what you read about is definitely not part of something that happened in our reality at that time.
   But as I mentioned above this can be hit or miss. The first person perspective means that there is quite a lot that has to be related to Dower, and depending on your personal preferences these passages can become a bit too much. I had some problems with it at first, not because it was badly done but because it does make the novel feel slow at times. However, when I got into this style of writing - because this is a feature, not a bug - I stopped having any problems with them.
   When you do get into the style, and the story starts flowing, it becomes natural that you have some wordy passages that explain things to our protagonist. And I must say that in retrospect I not only thought this worked very well, but I can't really see how the same effect could be accomplished by doing it in any other way.

   Overall this a novel that is a great example of Steampunk as Alternate History, and the added Weird Fantasy aspects makes this feel very much fresh despite the old-fashioned style it is written in. Jeter gives us something quite different from what is expected from modern Steampunk, and this novel is all the better for that. It may not be the easiest book in the world to get into, but when you do it does reward you for the slight effort.
   This is a thrilling ride into a very strange Steampunk world, and I would heartily recommend this to anyone who likes either Steampunk or Weird Fantasy. Jeter shows he is still a master of the SFF subgenre whose name he coined,

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley.

10 October, 2013


Cover by Larry Rostant at Artist Partners.


ISBN: 978-0-85766-278-1
Pages: 519 (+ acknowledgements)
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Published: 18 December 2012

On the cover:

Exiled from the court of Queen Elizabeth for accusing a powerful nobleman of treason, swordsman-turned-spy Mal Catlyn has been living in France with his young valet Coby Hendricks for the past year.
But Mal harbours a darker secret: he and his twin brother share a soul that once belonged to a skrayling, one of the mystical creatures from the New World.

When Mal’s dream about a skrayling shipwreck in the Mediterranean proves reality, it sets him on a path to the beautiful, treacherous city of Venice – and a conflict of loyalties that will place him and his friends in greater danger than ever.

   The second book in a trilogy can sometimes become bogged down in being nothing more than a transition between a beginning and an end. This is not the case with this second volume. It is of course the middle volume in the sense that it does follow on from a book it helps to have read, and that it doesn't hide that there's another book to come, but we do get a story that has both a beginning and an end here.

   After the events of the first book, we have left London behind when this book begins. Although I was fascinated by Lyle's alternate history London, I think going abroad was a good choice. Expanding the setting means that there is also room to explore several aspects of this alternate history. Especially the skraylings get put into a bit of a larger context by the change of surroundings. And perhaps more importantly, the change of setting gives us a natural backdrop to learn more about the skraylings and their place in this version of the Elizabethan Era.
   This is perhaps the aspect of SFF in general, and Alternate History in particular, that fascinates me the most. I am into history, so I like my SFF to have a sense of history behind it. To have grown "organically" from some point into what I am presented with. Especially important for anything with an alternate timeline, of course.
   Lyle doesn't disappoint in this regard, there is a solid history in the background of this story. And despite the introduction of the alien skraylings, it feels very real. It is a tangible, vivid world, that feels like it is really alive. The feeling that this is Historical Fiction is present throughout.

   A solid setting doesn't make a book though, it's an important backdrop, but there also needs to be a story in there to make it a novel. Fortunately there is one, and it is one filled with interesting events. These events are centered on the Catlyn brothers' strange relationship to the skraylings on one level, and on the greater scale of the politics having to do with the skraylings' place in the world. Those two parts of the story not only intersect, they are inseparable.
   There is quite a lot going on here, on both personal and geopolitical levels. I'm not giving away much when I say that we will be going to Venice, and that the city will be the springboard for some very interesting events. Things happen fast in this story, but it doesn't actually feel like it all the time. Lyle's style of writing means that the story flows so smoothly that when I finished the book I had a bit of trouble accepting that I had actually read five hundred pages. And I absolutely mean that as a compliment.
   Trying to think through why I almost felt like I was tricked by the pagecount, I came up with a sort of explanation. Lyle is a great storyteller, and she delivers the story without a lot of fuss. Although there are a lot of events that have major implications, they aren't really advertised as such. So at the end of the novel I had to think about if there really was five hundred pages of story here; and that there is. This is free of any padding, and it "reads leaner" than it is. And when you spend time with these characters, time -and pages- really fly.

   The characters here are excellent. Maliverny Catlyn is as excellent a swashbuckler as he was last time, and he gets to do a bit of growth in his personal life. We also get to see quite a few of the supporting characters from last time again, while we get to meet some interesting new faces. But the one who I think really shines this time is Jacomina Hendricksdochter (, that's her with the pistol on the cover). She was prominent last time around too, but this time she really gets to come into her own. We get to see her grow into a women, and take up the fight when needed. And by the end of this novel, we can really see that she has started on a new path in life.

   There really is a lot to love in this novel. Lyle gives us a story that has suspense, intrigue, and action. Set in an alternate reality that feels totally real. The characters feel alive, and are very interesting companions on the journey the story takes the reader.
   This is excellent Alternate History/Historical Fantasy/Historical Fiction, and if any of those three genres sound like they are interesting to you, you should do yourself the favour of picking up Anne Lyle's Night's Masque books. This sequel is simply a great reading experience.

REVIEW: The Alchemist of Souls 

LINKS: Anne Lyle  Angry Robot Books

09 October, 2013


   I'll begin this time with the cover for the third book in Ian Sales's Apollo Quartet from Whippleshield Books. (I've reviewed book one and two.) The cover is by Kay Sales, and it will be available in November. I like this minimalistic approach, it fits very well with both the other covers, and I like the "subtle" hints in the art. This is one I'm looking forward to.

   This one is from Solaris, with art by Jake Murray. The book will be out in December. I really like this cover, the art is great. The perspective is a bit disorienting though, but that is what's really eyecatching.

   Another Terry Brooks Shannara book, this one is coming out in April of 2014 from Del Rey. This is certainly a departure from the last Shannara trilogy's covers (see: here, here and here). I really like this cover, the art is great and it hints at magic. (It also reminds that it's been a long time since I read the original Shannara Trilogy, but that is another story altogether.)

    This isn't exactly a new reveal, but it slipped under my radar. The book is out in April 2014 from Tor/Forge. The cover is by Will Staehle, and you can see different versions of it here. I like this cover, the old style newspaper page layout really appeals to me.

   From Gollancz we have this one, designed by Benjamin CarrĂ©, and released in April 2014. I like these simple, symbolic, covers when they are done well. And I think this one is. You can read what Sam Sykes has to say about it, and the book, here.

   The forth Department 19 book has gotten a cover. It will be published 27 March 2014 by Harper Collins Children's Books. (NOTE: It's a Young Adult book.) The cover falls neatly into line with the previous three, and I like it.

   This one I wasn't even sure I should include. The reason is that despite the inclusion of the weapon this isn't really a cover in the sense that it has cover art. I totally understand that when you have an anthology co-edited by G.R.R.M., you want his name prominently on the cover. Dozois is well known for editing anthologies, so he certainly deserves equal billing.
   So, I understand this cover from a promotional standpoint, the name recognition will certainly make people pick it up. But I don't like this as a cover, I prefer art on  my covers. Preferably something that would look good in a frame on the wall if you stripped off the text.

   Here's one with art by Sarah Anne Langton. It's an anthology that will be out at Loncon 3, in August next year. I love this cover, the thoughts the images on it, together with the title, brings to mind makes me want to read the book.

   I'll finish up with four beautiful covers from Strange Chemistry. And SC has really made a reputation for having very good covers. I think the ones in this "batch" are all great. They are different, but still manage to give a sense of belonging together. All of them draw my eye. -I'll just leave it at that and add some info beneath each.

Art by Steven Wood, coming January 2014.

Sequel to Pantomime. Art by Tom Bagshaw. Coming January 2014.

Coming May 2014. Cover by Argh! Oxford.

Sequel to Zenn Scarlett. Art by Steven Meyer-Rassow.


   There's a couple of cover related posts I want to bring to your attention. One is this post over on Hodderscape, showing off the different covers for Stephen King's Carrie
   The other one is about some books that are part of a series curated by Guillermo Del Toro. For some reason that hasn't got much attention. Which is really strange to me, I know there's a lot of GDT fans out there. And also, there are some great classic Horror books in that series.

07 October, 2013


Cover illustration by Neil Gower
Cover design by Faber


ISBN: 978-0-571-28817-5
Pages: 324 (+ afterword)
Publisher: Faber and Faber
First published: 3 November 2011
This edition published: 5 July 2012

On the cover:

The year is 1803, Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years, and the orderly world of Pemberley seems unassailable. But all this is threatened when, on the eve of the annual ball, a chaise appears, rocking down the path from Pemberley's wild woodland. As it pulls up, Lydia Wickham - Elizabeth's younger, unreliable sister - stumbles out screaming that her husband has been murdered.

   This is in a way a sequel, as it follows up Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I've not read Pride and Prejudice, and neither have I seen any of the TV or movie adaptions, so my opinion of James's book is not in any way influenced by Austen's work.

   I have read almost all of P.D. James's books, but this one differs quite a lot from those. Sure, there's a murder here too, and there's some doubt about how it really happened. But this story is set in a time before detectives, or even what we would call murder investigations. So this is quite a bit removed from the kind of murder mystery we are used to finding Adam Dalgliesh in.
   Not only is the story-type different. There is also a marked difference in the writing style. James writes this in a way that is pretty close to what it would be at that time (, as far as I know from my limited experience of reading novels from that time). I found it to take a little bit of getting used to that this wasn't a "standard" James book.
   That is not a criticism by the way. It shows that James can write outside of contemporary crime. And in my opinion she can do so very well. The style is very well done, and it feels both authentic and very appropriate. It does of course feel a bit old-fashioned, but that is a feature and not a bug.

   Style isn't everything in a novel, it needs a story to back it up. The story here has a good core, so I'll concentrate on that first and expand from there. At it's core this is a pretty short murder and trial story, and it's pretty good. It is however nothing special. It's simply too slight. There is very little development, the story moves to quickly for that. This also means that we loose any sense of suspense, things just move from one state to another without any build-up. And there are some events happening towards the end that do feel a bit like cheating, and they didn't quite ring true to me.
   I do think that this would have made a good shorter story though, certainly nothing longer than a novella.

   What does give this story a lot of it's "padding" is the surroundings. I use surroundings to mean both the time the story is set in, and the social level it's set at.
   Some of this has to be present. There's quite a bit of space devoted to setting up the surroundings, and getting the atmosphere of that across. And I found that to be very well done by James. I got a real feeling for how these people lived, and of the time they lived in. But even while this was done well it felt a bit infodumpy, it just became too much at times. But this was perhaps more connected to the characters...

   The characters are my main problem with this novel. They are simply a despicable bunch of utter bastards. To me they showed no redeeming features at all. They started of as uncaring upper class twats, and I didn't get any closer to them in a way that made my sympathise with them through the story. On the contrary, what I learned about them made me think much lesser of them.
   They care much about appearances, and how things will effect their standing. They don't seem to have a shred of empathy, or even real feelings. They all seem to calculate everything according to how it will impact their social standing.
   I understand that this is actually realistic. What I have read about the history of that time agrees completely with these people's way of thinking, which is why the French built guillotines. Half way through this book I wanted it to turn into a serial-killer murder spree that left everyone dead before the end.

   As you can see above I really hated the characters, I really can see nothing redeeming in them. That also means that I had a problem with the upper-class setting. The way that is here does not appeal to me at all.
   Despite that, I do not hate the novel. I thought the writing was very good, and the story is pretty good when you put away all the things that annoyed me. It's not one of James's better books, and it doesn't really work as a murder mystery, but it has plenty of atmosphere - although I found that "unpleasant".

   I started by saying I haven't read Pride and Prejudice, and I can't really comment on if this will be a satisfying follow-up for those that like that. What I can say though, is that if you like novels set in that time period, you should like this one.
   Despite being slow in development it flows really well as a novel, and it wasn't a slow read for me. And despite my loathing for the characters I didn't hate the novel. Which I think is a sign it is actually very well written.
   Basically, I think this will be either love or hate for most readers. Those that have read Jane Austen before will probably have a good idea of whether they should give this a try or not.