Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: Humanity's Fire Book 1 - Seeds of Earth by Michael Cobley


Posted by David

When I say Michael Cobley, you might remember a heroic fantasy series form a few years ago, the Shadowking Trilogy. Yes it’s the same Michael Cobley but he has made a leap form heroic fantasy to a big space opera.

Ok so this story basically runs something like this:

Earth is faced with an alien invasion at the hands of The Swarm, and in a last desperate attempt to survive they launched three colony ships.

150 years later the decedents of the colony ship Hyperion made a new home for themselves on the world Darien, alongside their new and enigmatic allies the Uvovo, denizens of the planet’s forest moon.

Suddenly the colonists lives are turned up-side down when they receive a message form an Earthshpere vessel on its way to Darien, along with their strange allies the Sendruka Hegemony, who seem to posses their own devious agenda.

An ancient device is found on Darien possessing unimaginable power; a mechanical leviathan awakens across the galaxy with dark intent; the other colony ships will be found and the Darien colony must hide a dark and powerful secret; will the galaxy be drawn into a new interstellar war?

What can I say, I loved this book and I cant wait for the next one The Orphaned Worlds.

Ok, first of all the simple things in life; the chapters are short and each one is titled with the name of the character you will be following in that chapter. This makes it easy to follow the several lead characters in the story and helps avoid you getting lost or confused.

The world created by Michael is vast and I do mean vast, containing multiple alien species, alliances, histories, cultures, shapes and sizes. The aliens are distinctly alien and the words are unpronounceable.

There are several elements that are very familiar and takes me back to things like the Zerg from Starcraft as the Swarm, the colony ships as a last desperate attempt to save humanity and so forth. This might rob the sense of uniqueness but personally I found no problem with it.

On the opposite side there are many aspects that are very creative as well, such as the theory of hyperspace and its multi-layers, the warpwell ( not telling you what that is) and the uvovo themselves.

The plot is very well laid out with lots of twists and turns as the story proceeds. Even though there are multiple characters each with their oven storyline, Michael keeps them well apart, and when they meet up it’s perfectly done.

The characters are well formed and relatable, and easy to fall in love with; my personal favorite was Chel the uvovo, and Kao Chih, a colonist form one of the other colony ships on a desperate and dangerous mission to reach Darien. Each character has just enough mystery, drama, action or suspense tied to them to make you come back time and time again.

Now the biggest complaint I had was the complexity of the story at times; like I said Michael creates a big world with layer upon layer of detail which can become a little overwhelming at times. But the breaks I took between reading sessions grew shorter and shorter the deeper I plunged into the story.

All in all this was a rich, well laid out read that was definitely not a disappointment.

Sure it has it’s flaws but then again it also has some amazing space battles, later on in the book, and intriguing mysteries, to ensure you stay reading right from the start of the book.

Well done Michael!

I give it a well deserved 8/10

Also, if you want to find out more about Michael, visit his blog by clicking this link, and go ahead and order your copies here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog. :-)

Review: Once Bitten by Kalayna Price


Posted by David.

Hey everyone, ok so I’m back with another review, so let’s dive into it straight away.

Kalayna Price’s Once Bitten.

Ok so my abstract for the story would say something like:

Kita Nekai has not had the best of luck lately; she is on the run not just from someone but her entire people. She is the Dyre, the future leader, of her people, a clan of shape shifters, but she did not want that life so she fled from her world and came to ours. Now she has hunters out looking for her in every city and town. But that’s not the worst; she has also been turned into a vampire against her will and been accused of accidentally creating a stray shape shifter who has gone insane and is killing innocent girls in the city of Haven. To prove her innocence and avoid a death sentence she must find this rogue and bring his body to the Judge, a sorcerer from another realm.

At least she is not alone as she has the help of her old friend Bobby, also a shape shifter, her new sire Nathanial, and Gil an apprentice sorceress who has decided to write her thesis on Kita. They stand by her through the whole adventure, whether she wants there help or not.

I have to say this was really a fun story to read and I enjoyed every moment of it. Its not a particularly long read but still worth the time.

It’s the first volume in the Haven series which surprised me a bit because at the start of the book I was sure I had stumbled into the middle of an already running series. There is a lot of talk about things that have already happened, but when I did a bit of research it turned out to be the first one.

It’s basically an Urban Fantasy which is evident from the start as you get a very good description of a dirty, foul, morbid slums-like environment which I particularly like.

The characters were enjoyable, but I actually found myself being irritated by Kita’s hardheadedness at times. The story only spans over a few nights so there is no room to really develop the characters but you still see the changes in Kita as she starts to accept her life as a vampire.

The storyline is fast paced as they must race to find the rouge in two night or else Kita will be executed. You don’t really sit back and relax as you follow them running away form hunters, being confronted by the vampire council, investigating the rouge, and dealing with Kita’s stubborn attitude.

This is the type of book you pick up when you need a break after reading a particularly intense story like say Seeds of Earth which I will be reviewing next.

All in all I will definitely read the next one just to see what happens next, but if you want to try out Once Bitten yourself it has already been released so our SA readers can find it Exclusive Books.

To get more info about Kalayna Price, check out her page at Bell Bridge Books or her official website, and place your Amazon US order here and your Amazon UK order here. :-)For those in SA, please use the link at the top of the page.

My rating 7/10

Review: 40 Years by Bernd Struben


Jill over at Strider Nolan Media got into contact with me and asked me to read and review this a while back already, but now I find myself wishing that I had gotten to it sooner! :-) 40 Years is an enjoyable, exciting SF novel!

40 Years is basically about war in all its bloody, gory glory. I’ve never fought through one (and hope never to do so), but some would say it’s necessary. Is it really, though? Must thousands or millions die just to prove how strong a particular government is? Imagine, if you will, this scenario:

Your side has the uber-firepower, the numbers, the training. The ‘enemy’ doesn’t. You land upon their soil, wanting to take it for your people, and then can’t understand why the ‘enemy’ is fighting back, even though they don’t have a hope in hell of winning. But when one of your men is struck down, oh, now there’s righteous anger, and you alone can score hundreds of kills in a minute. Is this war? You have to ask yourself that, because I can practically assure you that similar events have taken place in our history.

These are the kinds of questions Bernd tackles in 40 Years.

We are introduced to Captain Brink D’Mar, a respected and talented Augmented Combat Personnel officer fighting alongside his fellow ACP soldiers in a race to claim as many habitable planets for the Empire of Man as possible; you see, there’s an other race claiming planets, too, but when they find a new planet, they systematically kill every living organism on the planet before settling it. They’re called Pfrlanx, and the Empire of Man is engaged in the Great Race with them.

At the end of the Race will come a lull-period, and then the Great War will begin. Wars need warm fighting bodies and weapons to fight with, and any habitable planet, including the sentients, if any, living on it, will just have to do what they can to provide for whichever side finds them first.

When D’Mar and his fellow ACP’s reach a new planet, 40 years from the nearest staging area, they have only one intention – get in quick, subdue the native population, prepare the way for civilians, and get out. But there’s a surprise waiting for them on the planet, and by the end of the novel, they will all have made choices that will affect the rest of their lives.

Bernd can write! Following D’Mar and his fellow ACP, it comes through clearly that Bernd is one of those people who knows people – the dialogue is rich and varied, suiting the moment or event, with each character having his own voice and distinct personality. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, plenty of moments when you can’t help but sit back and really think about you’re reading – Bernd has got a gift that makes us look long and hard at the one thing humanity is always engaged in -war- and realize that it’s not all CNN updates. He brings a humanity to his story that many authors struggle to find and use.

The action in 40 Years is great! We are treated to very cool machines, ground-based and flight-capable, weapons, armor-suits, nano -technology, you name it, its there. There are some gruesome moments, but that’s war, folks -and I do like the gruesome stuff, anyway- and some very cool “Wow!” moments, spread so well throughout the novel that you practically zip through it. There is no slowing-down here – the plot picks up steam and holds that pace, right to the end.

What was also handled very well was the worldbuilding or information that Bernd lets us know about. When we are told about the history of the Empire of Man and the genesis of the Great Race, it’s never boring and is well-placed; it serves as a hook to pull you deeper into the story with you hardly noticing because it’s so interesting. :-)

One thing that people might have an issue with is the length of 40 Years, and the character development. It’s a short, quick read, perfect for those off-days when you don’t need to go to work, so don’t expect to sink away for days; but it works. I just couldn’t help feeling that if the book had been longer the characters would have been cooler – D’Mar is practically the only character we fully get to know. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as if the other characters in 40 Years are cardboard cut-outs – there are plenty, and they’re all wonderful and cool, but they would all have been nicely well-rounded and fleshed-out if they had gotten more time to develop.

All in all, 40 Years is great! It’s a welcome addition to the Military SF genre, introducing some great characters that no-one would mind reading about, and is sure to set Bernd up as a future bestseller! I look forward to the sequel, 40 Years Later, and to every other book Bernd will write! :-)

7/10

To order your copy of 40 Years, click here for US and here for UK; those in SA, please use the link at the top of the page. Also, check out Strider Nolan Media’s website for info on them and their other titles.

Be Fantastic!

An Interview with Philip Palmer




You know how sometimes life becomes so busy that you have to sacrifice a few less-important things to get focused on the really important ones? That’s what happened with Philip, and why this interview took so long to get onto the blog. :-) After all, the man is not just a SF / Space Opera Author; he works in TV too. :-) But in retrospect, Philip’s timing couldn’t be better – with his latest novel on the way, this interview will give his fans (and I am most definitely one of them) some insight into his thought-processes, and wont spoil Red Claw at all. :-) So, without further a-do, I give you Philip Palmer!

First of all, welcome to the South African SF-reading public, Philip, and thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. :-)

It’s a real pleasure Dave.

Here’s my first question: Were you smoking something when you wrote Debatable Space? ;-)

I’m tempted to try some illicit drugs as a way of calming myself down a little; my natural metabolism is WAY too high. But I prefer to use endorphins – Nature’s natural narcotic.

I do like safe formulaic writing – when I’m looking for something to read on a Friday night. But when I write, I want to take risks. We’ve all read so many novels, seen so many films; so I want to know, what else? And how else?

Will you please tell us a bit about yourself? Your work in TV, influences, etc?

I’ve had a gipsy life as a writer – a bit of this, a bit of that. I worked as a script editor, and a script reader – David Puttnam was my boss for many years, when I was a humble reader. I’ve been a TV development executive, a TV script editor, I wrote for the British cop series The Bill, I’ve even been involved in the production side of things, for a company called Lucky Dog.

Working in TV taught me about story – how to tell a story, how to brainstorm a story, and how you need to never underestimate your audience when telling that story. (Which of course most British TV shows do ALL the time – but it’s good to know your enemy!)

Will you please take us through the process of writing the book – what led to Lena popping into your head, any ‘eureka!’ moments where something worked even better than you thought it would, and seeing your book on the shelf for the first time?

I really don’t know where Lena came from; I just had that voice in my head, and I listened to it. I knew I wanted an “unreliable narrator”, someone self-deceiving, but ultimately loveable. And the moment Lena started talking to tinbrain, her remote computer – the tone and energy of the book was all there.

I started with a mind full of hazy ideas – solar yachts, space pirates, the notion of writing a story that was a yarn, not an interior monlogue. And then each section leaped into place as I continued through the book. The Cambria sequence was a particular delight for me.

Some stuff I had to work at – building up Peter Smith’s character, getting the balance between Lena’s thought diary and action-adventure. But most of it really was eureka stuff.

And I remember I went with a friend into Blackwell’s Bookshop on Charing Cross Road, just before the official publication date of the book – and found 3 or 4 copies on the shelf, which had snuck out early. My friend actually bought one, and got me to sign it! Now that was a good moment. Then a few seconds later, my wife phoned up to tell me the roof was leaking and we had an infestation of ladybirds in the bedroom. So I said, ‘Yeah, but who cares? My book’s on the shelf in Blackwell’s!’

The main concepts that you dealt with, such as Emergence and Primary Imagination; did they grow out of telling the tale, or did you know from the beginning that you wanted to deal with them?

Before I started writing, I did quite a bit of science reading to get my head in that space, and it was then that I became fascinated by emergence. It just struck me as the only answer I know of to that vital question; how does this stuff actually happen? Evolution explains how complicated things evolve, by surviving or dying out; but how do simple things get to be complicated things? Why isn’t the universe just a great big mush of mess? If entropy and chaos are the natural state of things then, huh? Explain a snowflake!

The concept of Primary Imagination is something that has always intrigued me. At University I was a huge fan of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who wrote ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, and who also wrote philosophy, and coined the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief’ to explain how we read and actively perceive fiction – and that phrase is still the best definition ever of the amazing magical thing that happens in our heads when we read a book, or see a film.

And it was Coleridge who coined the phrase Primary Imagination – based on his reading of Immanuel Kant – and guess what, it makes absolute sense. We each of us create the world, every time we look at it. We find pattern and beauty when we perceive matter that is actually made of atoms inhabiting weird quantum states, we see colour because of the way light interacts with our eyes, we make the real “real”. How cool is that?

You’ve given life to some incredible characters in DS; did any of them ever sneak up and surprise you with something you hadn’t planned?

Kalen’s ‘miaow’ was a bit of a shock to me. And Alby was the character I loved writing most – because he is so unpredictable, and hard to define, and so effortlessly powerful. I would love to have a friend like Alby.

You spoke of Michael Crichton’s novel Prey in the ‘Extras’ section at the back of DS; what are your opinions on ermergence and the ‘Hollywood’ threat of AI? (I say ‘Hollywood’ threat because it’s such a money-maker there)

Prey was indeed a great influence – Crichton (bless his memory) is such an uber-nerd that he actually has a reading list at the back of the book – which I devoured voraciously. The reading list proves he knows what emergence really is – a powerful ‘theory of everything’ for biologists. But he’s also smart enough to know that you can’t have a book without a villain; so he quite shamelessly uses emergence as a way of creating monsters.

I can’t be judgemental about that – I use the same approach myself all the time. You take the truth – great concepts in science – profound ideas – then you make a rattling good yarn out of them. So though I don’t really think emergence and nano-technology are any kind of urgent threat to us; it’s cool to write stories in which that is so!

You left clues all through the novel as to the final fate of Peter; how was it writing the particular character that did the deed?

The clues were particularly cunning because I didn’t really know that was going to happen at the end. But, without giving anything away – I wanted magic in the closing sections of the book, and hope I achieved that .

Lena is vibrant and emotional and utterly fearless (when it suits her); Will Lena (and Flanagan, and the rest of the pirates) ever return? We certainly miss her (all of them) already. :-)

I’d love to write another Lena and Flanagan book, and hope to do so. I’d be wary, to be honest, of making a series of books about the characters – because that might make them seem ordinary, and it’s their extraordinariness that defines them.

But I do have a notion for a follow-up novel, featuring Lena’s son (a son she didn’t know she had) in cahoots with Flanagan and Lena, on a mission at the far edge of the galaxy…But I have a bundle of other ideas too, so I’m not sure which ones I’ll write next.

And finally, what’s next for you, and for us? Already working on the next novel?

I’m having a joyous time at the moment writing my third book, a noir sci-fi novel set several hundred years later than Debatable Space, in what I call the Exodus Universe. It’s a detective drama, a murder story, it has killer aliens, it has it all really! That should be ready to send to my editor (DongWon Song) in the autumn I hope.

Meanwhile – book number 2 is to be published later this year. It’s called RED CLAW, and it’s similar to DEBATABLE SPACE, despite being totally different in every single respect. It’s not a space opea, it’s a thriller set on a planet rich in deadly aliens. And the main characters are a bunch of scientists who, like me, are geeks; geeks in peril no less.

Orbit have put a lot of work into designing a cover and approach for the new novel that will, we hope, make it stand out. The cover is “pulp”, but with attitude; and it’ll be published in the rather snazzy “B Format” – the paperback format that’s used for Iain M. Banks’ books here in the UK.

RED CLAW is my love song to the old fashioned ‘bug eyed monsters’ genre – the twist being, each of the bug-eyes monsters in my story has a Latin name, and a beauty all its own. It’s really a novel about the joy of discovery, and the naturalist’s love of nature – with a bunch of killer doppelanger robots shooting the hell out of everyone along the way.

Thanks, Philip, for giving up your time to answer these questions, and for writing such a brilliant novel! We wish you all the best!

A pleasure – and let’s keep in touch.

***

Philip's second novel from Obrit, Red Claw, will be available soon! :-) So pre-order your copies here for US, here for UK and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the page. To give you a bit of a taste of Red Claw, here's the cover:


Check out this link to Philip's site, and order your copies of Debatable Space here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, use the link at the top of the blog. :-)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: The Secret War by MFW Curran



Hey Guys & Girls, please join me in welcoming my first fellow-reviewer, David Jooste! :-) We met at a party for one of our friends and got to talking about SFF; I invited him to review books on the blog, he agreed, and this is his first review! :-) There’ll be plenty more coming from David, so stay locked on this blog! :-)

Ok guys and gals so here it is, The Secret War by F.M.W. Currar.

This was really a great read and I enjoyed every moment of it. I have not really delved into a historic fantasy novel before so this specific type of fantasy is still new to me. However I was not disappointed in the book at all, it was full of anticipation and intrigue, a nice twist here and there, characters you learn to love and lots of adventure.

Let’s see a basic abstract of the story line would flow something like this:

Napoleon has lost, the battle of Waterloo is over, the soldiers can finally rest, and this is good news for all especially William Saxon and his adopted brother Kieran Harte. Then scavengers find a mysterious artifact, a bronze pyramid, on one of the dead corpses in the battlefield. With the discovery of this artifact the brother’s lives are plunged into a world filled with demons, vampires, warrior monks and angelic beings more enigmatic than any.

The brothers have no choice left to them but to leave behind their family and embark on a journey that will see them through a battle on the high sea, a secret order hidden in the Vatican and bloody confrontations on the battle field. But most of all each brother will be faced with a decision that will change their lives forever, most likely parting them in the process.

Will they survive the battle, will they make the right choices, will they see their family again?

So what did I think of this? Well whenever I can’t put a book down it’s definitely a good thing, and I could not put this one down at all. I kept going page after page, chapter after chapter, it was that good. Now I will admit it was not the best book I have read this year so far but it’s definitely up there, and will recommend it to all my friends.

The first chapter was a little loose to me, it did not really catch me but boy-o-boy when the Scarimadean (the bronze pyramid) was activated and all the destruction that it brought forth, I could not stop reading. So basically I’m saying get through chapter one and don’t worry about the rest, that is as laid back as the book will be, after that Matt takes you on an adventure you will not regret.

The first big thing for me was the demon, damn those things just don’t die, and if your imagination is as good as mine they are pretty darn ugly. Matt also takes no shortcuts in detail especially when it comes to the gore so be ready for a messy ride. Remember this is the revolution so they still use muskets, swords and cannons meaning loads of blood, especially, for some reason decapitation.

But Matt does not leave the battles on the battle-field, he also gives us a nail biting encounter on the open seas, and introduces us to the enigmatic Dar’uka.

The main likes for me was the intricate story that unfolds before you, the action hardly ever stops, there is a good dose of mystery, loads of secrets and once more the in-depth storyline. I would have liked a bit more out of the main characters all you really see is the small change in Captain William Saxon as he becomes a great leader and Lieutenant Harts fall into despair and anger after the loss of his lover at the hands of a demon. Apart from that not a lot happens to our characters, its just one long action packed adventure (don’t get me wrong I’m not complaining).

From what I hear there will be lots of time for discovery as Matt has several follow-ups planned for the future, I will definitely look forward to the sequel to The Secret War, The Hoard Of Mhorrer,and a sister novel that will deal with the existence of the Dar’uka. Will definitely be waiting for them.

But back to this one, as I said so many times in this review, brilliant. The storyline is great, constantly moving and full of adventure, which more that makes up for the few downsides.

Personally I love a story that ends with a twist and man, does this one have a twist in it for you, not bad, really really good. You will not expect it or see it coming; both brothers have to make a choice that will influence the rest of their lives and will take them in different directions all together, so trust me it’s big and well worth the journey to get there.

I love a story that ends this way!

Ok so that’s it, adventure-packed, full of fantasy, set in a historical background(so there is some familiarity), all in all a well rounded novel. A definite for my bookshelf and yours.

8/10 (would have said 7 but decided the character flaw was not enough for a low mark when looking at the storyline)


To order your copies, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog. Also, check out the author's website here. :-) And as an added bonus, check out the interview with the author at the great blog, Un:Bound!

Review: Godspeaker Book 1 - Empress by Karen Miller


As I confessed to Karen herself a while ago, I have something to confess to you all, too: Empress was the first book by Karen I’ve ever read. Sure I’ve read the prologues to Empress, The Riven Kingdom and to both of Mage-books, but Empress was the first. And why did I start with Empress and not The Innocent Mage? Well, I didn’t have The Innocent Mage at the time, only The Riven Kingdom, and Empress ended up being the first book I ran into. And I’m glad, because after I finish the Godspeaker series (of which Empress is the first book), I can get into her Mage-books and experience Karen’s raw talent. And trust me on this, Karen is a born storyteller!

Empress begins with Hekat, and ends with Hekat. Who is Hekat? She is a slave girl, a she-brat who is useless to her father because he needs sons to work, and when Traders come through their village, he sells Hekat to them, pushing her along the first steps of a journey that will make her the most powerful person in the land of Mijak.

The greatest aspect of this book is the voice Karen uses to tell the tale. Mijak is a land of slaves, warlords and godspeakers (holy men who are called to divine the wants of a brutal deity) and there is very little space for anything else than what the god has made known as your purpose. Only the high godspeakers of Mijak’s various territories are learned men, and perhaps Traders; if it is not in your purpose to learn how to read or write, you are not taught. Slaves are only taught to increase their value when it comes time to sell them, and warriors are taught to kill, warlords to direct that killing.

As Hekat makes her way through Mijak, she learns that Mijak is divided into territories controlled by various warlords and that these warlords do not get along; but Hekat is lucky and is taken to the greenest, biggest Mijaki city, Et-Raklion.

As Karen spins this tale for us, the characters live, and not only because they are so unique in temperament, personality, quirks and outlook. They also live because they don’t speak like lords and ladies or street urchins or smart-mouth youths. They are, by and large, primitive, and do is their way of life; this all is brought home by the voice Karen uses – there are no ‘big’ words, to hints of technology, to eloquently spoken philosophical concepts or sciences that can be learned. These people live to serve the god.

The action is great and suitable – the violence is brutal, and characters are put into positions where they make choices about themselves that no sane person would… at least, no sane person who did not know of the god. And yet, even through this violent lifestyle, there are those, too, who remain good, although the ‘bad’ guys are some of the coolest you might ever get to know. I say ‘bad’ because there aren’t really any bad guys. There are zealots, yes, who will do anything to serve the god as they were taught, and there are those who are so desperate to hold onto what they have, even though it is meager, because it is all they have. Some take power freely, others are born to it. But every character serves a purpose, driving the story forward in their own unique way, bringing a richness to the tale that only the best in the business of writing can match.

Even Mijak is rich in personality and detail, though the detail doesn’t overwhelm. We are shown a way of life that might have happened for us, or could still happen. The worldbuilding in Empress is deep and layered, serving to spice the story instead of cover it in icing, and when we are eventually told a portion of the Mijaki’s history it’s almost as if we knew, anyway, because of the way Karen layers the information.

And at its core, Empress is also a cautionary tale, a warning that all of us should take to heart. It is about getting exactly what you want, and then losing your humanity because of it. It’s about believing in a higher power so blindly that your life has no meaning without it and you lose the knowledge of who you are. It’s about trying so desperately to live up to ideals that others have pressed upon you that you forget you have desires for yourself and your future. It’s about using power to fulfill yourself, about using religion to subdue and enslave instead of allowing it to bring enlightenment.

And much, much more. All in all, Empress was an invigorating, enlightening read. I looked at the world with eyes that saw and understood a bit more, and I travelled to a far away land that terrified and beguiled me. And I understood that Karen Miller is going to be a long-time force in fantasy because she’s one of those writers that doesn’t lose sight of the humanity in any situation. A great, great read!

9/10


To order your copies, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the page. Also, don't forget to visit Karen's website here, and her LiveJournal here. :-)

Review: A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin


Matthew Swift died two years ago, attacked by a hungry creature of shadow. But only his blood remained – his body was never found. A service was held with an empty casket, and those who had known him moved on with their lives. London moved on.

Two years passed, and the Tower rose. Fueled by vast amounts of money, the Tower ruled anyone like Matthew Swift. And those who would not be ruled were taken care of. Silenced. Because the Tower was all-powerful, pervading every level of society. Even those levels invisible to the majority of the populace; because London hides much, and also reveals to those who have the eyes to see. They are magicians and sorcerers. Like Matthew Swift. And on an evening like any other, Matthew Swift returns to life… And the Tower will fall.

There we go, my own summary of the book. :-) Sound interesting? Well, it is, believe me! It took me around two months to get to this book (the life of a reviewer is filled with books, I love it!), and when I started, I was reading two other books at the time – The Modern World and Dawnthief, and then, just for the hell of it, I squeezed in a Star Wars novel, too- so I would read about three or four chapters at a time, rotating books as I went. Out of necessity, you understand. :-) But every time I picked up A Madness of Angels again, and as I was pulled deeper in this alternate, terrifying and beguiling London that Kate Griffin had created, it was an absolute chore to have to put it down.

Remember Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers film adaptation? Remember Bobbie’s thought-reading typewriter? Bobbie wouldn’t even have to sit down and write – the machine she had built tapped into her thoughts, and would type and type and type while she did whatever she wanted. I’ve got a sneaky suspicion Kate’s got the typewriter in her study. :-) I can see her walking the streets of London, just experiencing it, and the typewriter at home taps out everything, filling pages and pages and pages while Matthew does his thing in her head. Why? Because this is one of those not-normal books. There is no clear structure to the prose, not formula followed. Kate pulls you in by your eyes and throws you into what seems like an ocean of description, and you’re swimming through sights, sounds and scents. I’ve never been to London (my only trip out of South Africa so far has been a trip to visit my parents in Perth), but damnit, it felt like I was there, reading this book! I felt the street under my shoes, watched the shadows moving (and became gradually more terrified of them, and of my own), smelled the stink of garbage and exhaust fumes and cigarette smoke and fish-and-chips and the scent of the Thames over everything; I saw the lonely lamp-posts, the huddled buildings, the crawling black beetle-like taxis, the throngs of people. Reading this book really does take you there, to the heart of London, and I’m so glad that I got to read this book before ever seeing London for myself, because when I do eventually get there, I’ll be looking underneath the surface, trying to find the Kate Griffin’s London, trying to find the magic and the electric blue angels. She is that damn good! :-)

And I wouldn’t mind ol’ Matthew as a tour guide; and bugger the taxis, we’d use the bikers. :-)

I’m not going to spoil Matthew for you – let’s just say that he may be suffering from a bad case of grammar-confusion. ;-) The poor man isn’t sure how to refer to himself half the time! :-) But it works, and Kate handles the transitions beautifully. She knew exactly when and because of what Matthew would… well, :-) read and find out, and does a stellar job of building tension and mystery with it throughout the book. When the time comes to reveal the truth about Matthew, you also realize that you actually knew all along, that the clues were there for all to see – but Kate distracts you with beautiful prose, making your head swim with every sense we take for granted in our lives. Through Matthew, you may just learn to really notice that strange smell, or really listen to that out-of-place sound, or really look at your surroundings. I truly to believe that the world hides plenty from us, and all we need to do is really open ourselves to it to see and hear and taste and touch and smell.

The other characters are also really cool, especially Charlie of the whiskers, Oda of the guns, and even ol’ Mr Bakker. They all, and many more besides, bring a richness and a variety to the tale that make you feel as if you’ve been partaking in a banquet of exquisite different tastes that, push away even the thought of a full stomach!

But, I have to be honest here, the real stars of the tale…? The urban magic of London. I defy you to walk through London and not try to find the magic, or to let it find you. Kate pulls off what very, very few novelists do, these days – you actually end up thinking Maybe there really is magic out there. Maybe I can really pull heat from the electricity feeding my PC or laptop, maybe I can have a chat with those who travel the Last Train or see through the eyes of rats and pigeons. Kate leaves you with the belief that magic exists, and that you only need to acknowledge that it does for it to reveal itself to you. And then I’m not even talking about the creatures that stalk Matthew Swift, or the dragon- Oops, I’ll let you discover them for yourself! :-)

All in all, this was a book that I hoped wouldn’t end. I wanted to submerge myself completely and continuously in the unseen London of Matthew Swift. I wanted more and more magic to be revealed, wanted to meet more of the magicians and sorcerers and everyone else inhabiting that unseen London, but I was still left satisfied and thrilled and, above all, hopeful, at the end of the tale. I want to follow Matthew down again, into his London, because maybe, just maybe, his London is the same as the London you all (who have been there) know, and our the eyes of our mind need to open just a bit more to see it and take it in. :-)

If Stephen King and Clive Barker ever collaborate on a project, and bring to bear their own unique tastes and talents, A Madness of Angels would be the result – they would see things in London that no-one else had ever imagined… no-one except, perhaps, Kate Griffin.

A stunning, gorgeous tale! :-)

9/10


To order your copies, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please click the link at the top of the page. Also, don't forget to have a look at Kate's site here. :-)

Review: Chronicles of the Raven - Dawnthief by James Barclay


First things first – this was one hell of a ride! :-)

When I sat down to read Dawnthief, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I hadn’t read any of the author’s work before, so I had nothing to expect except a good yarn. And I’ll admit this, too – this is the first Heroic Fantasy novel I’ve read, and now that I have, well, lets just say that I’m going to enjoy catching up! :-)

Since the series of books dedicated to The Raven are plentiful and I’m ten years late in reading the book, I wont rehash the plot – just google it, or better yet, follow the link to James’ site at the end of the review and check it out there. Instead, I’ll dive right into my impressions of the book.

The cover of the edition I have is wonderful, first of all. Its elegant and uncluttered, though I’ll admit that I would have liked to have seen a Raven on the hilt, or even etched into the blade.

Between the covers: The strength of this book is the characters. Without a doubt, The Raven are some of the most colorful, engaging characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of traveling with! When we meet them, they’re in a very tight spot, but that’s nothing if not what The Raven are used to – they stand firm, keep to their way of doing things, and press through…

…. just in time for one of them, Hirad, to stumble into a situation that would have had me soiling myself. When we first meet Hirad he’s no-nonsense and a hard, unforgiving bastard, not to mention a bit dumb when it comes to sorcery and Mages. By the end of the book, he’s gone through so much and survived that if he hadn’t changed I would have thrown the book down in disgust; but Hirad, along with his fellow Raven, are expertly handled – their actions make sense, their thoughts conform to who they are, where they came from, etc and they are all engaging! You’ll find yourself rooting for all of them, and then you’ll be sitting, stunned speechless, when they start dying –

Whoops! :-) Don’t worry, even though I gave that away, most of it occurs early on in the book, and by the time you reach the end, well, lets just say that sometimes a character has to die to become really badass! :-) And here’s another thought regarding The Raven: if they could join forces with the Bridgeburners they would become an unstoppable force. Goodbye, Sauron, goodbye, Shaitan, it was great knowing you.

These guys are really such a cool group that you’ll want to read about them all the time, and I defy you not to have a favourite before hitting page 50. :-)

The action: is incredible! Gore in all the right places, none of it overdone, tension everywhere and some awesome imagery!

The plot: be prepared to be hit by plenty of surprises along the way! Not only will you see all of Balaia and meet a great cast of supporting characters, but you’ll enjoy the ride! There’s no info-dumping here where it isn’t needed: as the tale progresses you get told what you need to know to understand, and none of it overwhelms the action or the characters.

The magic system: one of the best I’ve ever wished I had the ability to use! :-) The Mages in Dawnthief manipulate mana, have all sorts of cool names for what they create, and the descriptions of what is happening during a casting are also damn cool. You actually see the magic forming around you and wince at its effects!

My only issue with the book has nothing to do with the tale itself – it seemed to me that maybe this edition was rushed onto the shelves because I caught, here and there, maybe once every thirty or forty pages, mistakes in the type-setting that made it through to the finished product. They aren’t so glaring that they completely derail you, I promise, but they’re there nonetheless.

All in all, this was a great book, and fans of Steven Erikson and Glen Cook should enjoy it, too; this is a tale about a group of tight-nit soldiers who know do what they do by giving us plenty of moments of laughter, sorrow, jaw-hanging-open exclamations of ‘WOW’ and above all, a tale that anyone who is a fan of fantasy in general will enjoy!

I’ll definitely be getting copies of all The Raven titles – these are awesome, fun books by an author who knows how to grab you by the cajones and make you enjoy it! :-)

8/10!


To order your copies, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog. Also, don't forget to check out James' website here, as well as this site, focusing on Balaia, but beware of spoilers if you haven't yet read the books! :-)


Review: Watchmen - The Movie

We just got back from watching one of the best comic-adaptations I’ve ever seen. There, I’ve said it. I thought the movie was incredible. It didn’t start well, though. The Comedian was getting thrown-around, punched-around, etc and the movie died. The screen went black. Silence. And I, of course, could not fight the temptation. I turned and said to my friends, “Who’s watching the Watchmen? No-one!” :-)

But I suppose that, in the heat of this moment, it’s almost easier to remember the flash and dazzle on the big screen than the panelled pages of a graphic comic. Then again, Watchmen is not exactly a comic, is it? No, it’s something more, much more deep than that. So let’s get to my impressions, shall we?

The beginning of the movie was very, very good. Not only does Zach give us a succinct what-we-need-to-know-in-that-moment history of the Minute Men, he also shows us that the world of the Watchmen is deeply different to our own. Case in point, The Silhouette kissing the nurse – Zach took an absolutely iconic moment and changed it, not only foreshadowing The Silhouette’s demise, but ramming it home just how different their world is. Silk Spectre’s likeness on the bomber that wiped out Hiroshima, too, was a nice touch. Then we get to The Comedian.

Hats off to Jeffrey Dean Morgan. Not only did it seem as if Zach had gotten someone who looked exactly like The Comedian to play the part, it seemed as if The Comedian himself had risen from his alternative-historical grave and taken on the part. Brilliantly acted! And showing how broken he actually is, so early in the movie, worked for me; the Hustler lying on the floor (or the table), drove it home that much harder along with the alcohol and the bathrobe. And don’t even get me started on the Smiley – pure brilliance! Panels from the graphic novel flashed before my eyes, and that excitement led to me realizing – shit, okay, The Comedian is gonna fall, soon, but that’s okay, because Rorschach is coming!

Rorschach. He has to be one of the best characters ever imagined, and seeing him in the flesh, basically, was a creepy, creepy delight. Even when he was just walking with his placard, or watching. Rorschach is, more than any of them, the Watchmen. Jackie Earle Haley did an absolutely incredible job of portraying Rorschach. I realize, of course, that CGI can do a lot to change someone’s appearance, but c’mon, didn’t he look like Rorschach? Wasn’t he just born to play the part?! Even the voice was how I heard it in my head while reading! Damn good job! And the mask…. Oh my lanta (to steal a phrase from the great House of El podcasters), the mask was divine. I will admit here that I didn’t notice the mask changing in the graphic novel; it went right over my head! One of the most important aspects of who and what Rorschach is, and I missed it. But I’m actually glad I did, because Zach brought it home with a sledgehammer. When you look at me, what do you see? A pretty butterfly? A cloud? Awesomeness. His back-story was also handled well – I’m sure many people will agree that his story is the most affecting. I did hope, though, that we could have seen his apartment and the placard – I think that many people won’t make the connection at all, sadly.

Mr Manhattan. I get a chill just thinking about it. The CGI was incredible, the eyes, the expression-less face, the voice, even the nakedness (and this might sound weird, but I’m very happy that Zach chose to keep it – though, too, people who haven’t read the graphic novel wont understand why he is naked, especially after the scene in Vietnam with The Comedian). Seeing him bursting Vietcong, then them kneeling before him in surrender, and then the incredible violence of the scene in the club – they all worked, because you just knew, without a doubt, that everything that had been human about him was dead. Foreshadowing the climax… His back-story could have been done a bit better, though. It didn’t really come through clearly that he was experiencing his memories, past present and future, as he does in the graphic novel. The scene with his father and the watch-pieces seemed a bit lost, too, without enough there to understand why it was such an important memory to him – but, I will admit, Zach did use it brilliantly as the means for John to die and to be resurrected.

More on the climax later…

Dan slash Nite Owl II. The hair, the expressions, the mannerisms, the silent anger, all acted brilliantly by , thought I did think of bumbling Clark Kent a bit too much. The costume was cool, but cool for comics, not for Watchmen. Though it was great to see the proper costume in that one scene, that made me happy. :-) The dream sequence – awesome! Jaw-hanging-open-drooling-in-amazement moment, no doubt. His moment with Rorschach perfect – finally coming to an understanding and giving Rorschach his one moment of painful humanity.

Silk Spectre II: ahhh, me not like so much. But then again, she was one of the weakest characters in the graphic novel, too. And come on, Zach, she smokes! How could you do the Archie flame-thrower scene and not have her trying to light her cigarette? She looked the part, shiny costume and all, and played the part well, but, like, I said, she’s a weak character, something I guess future rereads might change.

Ozymandias: once again, the costume was an issue for me. Too Batman Forever. I was looking for nipples, and I was happy when I saw them in the proper places. But that was Veidt, through and through. Acted im-peccably! It’s so easy to understand, now, how someone evil is also good. He was portrayed as more inhuman than Dr Manhattan, though, in my opinion, and lacked too much emotion.

Which brings us to the climax. Mr Moore, your ending is gospel, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But damn, didn’t Zach make it believable?! The message behind choosing Manhattan as the scapegoat instead of an engineered alien attack – sheer brilliance! The point of it, I’m sure, came across very well; some evil is, indeed, necessary.

And then back to Rorschach. Man, I almost started crying. That he realizes he is going to die, that he knows he would have done all he could to get the truth out – and then succeeding, too, with New Frontier – but still taking it… the best and saddest moment of the movie for me.

There’s much I haven’t spoken about – the soundtrack, the Mars-sequence, Bubastis, Nixon’s nose :-) , but I wanted to talk about what was, for me, the important aspects of the movie. I’ll be watching it again this coming week, and I think I’ll take a similar tack to Christopher Lee – instead of reading Lord of the Rings every year, I’ll be reading Watchmen. And damn if that DVD isn’t going to be making the walls shake when I get it! :-)

9/10

Review: The Modern World by Steph Swainston


To say that this is a surprising, excellent book that plays with expectations and tropes is an understatement! This is easily one of the best new (well, new in my case) fantasy books I’ve read in a while and I’ll definitely be catching up on Steph Swainston’s work! :-)

Catching up? Yup, you read correctly – The Modern World is book 3 in the series, but let me tell you, I was sucked in from the first word!

That brings up my first point about the book – you don’t have to have read the two previous books in the series to enjoy and understand this book! Steph has written it in such a way so that you don’t get confused or lost, and previous events are explained well without taking up two or three paragraphs. While the previous events are important, especially with regard to character introduction and development, what takes place in The Modern World can stand on its own, too – this is definitely not a filler-volume!

Now, this book also has one of the most terrifying beginnings I’ve ever read – trust me, it’s an absolute beauty! The prologue is so full of tension that you’ll find you’re done with it and breathing like a marathon-runner before you’re actually aware that you’ve finished the prologue! :-) Steph writes the kind of battle scenes that not many working in the genre at the moment can equal!

Another thing that stood out for me about the book was the way Steph uses everyday things that we know – like denim, sunglasses, drugs, etc and weaves them into this fantastical world; it’s definitely fantasy, but a bit stranger than what we know, and also better for it! :-)

Steph’s characters are also awesome – they’re utterly alive, with their own unique mannerisms, way of speaking, complex history and psyches… I really enjoyed the characters, especially Comet and Lightning. :-)

Wait until you get to the Shift and the sentient worms – trust me, you’ll really enjoy those parts of the book! :-)

This is a must-read for fans and followers of Steph Swainston – it’s a great, strong addition to the series that raises the stakes even more for the characters and their world! But like I said, even if you haven’t read the first two books, you’ll still enjoy this!

8/10!


To order your copies, click here for US, here for UK, and for those in SA, please use the link at the top of the blog. Also, don't forget to check out Steph's website here.

And, for those wanting to get into the series, an omnibus edition containing the first 3 books (that's "The Year of Our War", "No Present Like Time" and "The Modern World") will be released in December! :-) Here's the link to pre-order for US and UK. :-)