Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cover Art! Weird West and a Fae P.I...

Having just written that title, I find myself wanting to read a novel about a fey detective (you know, just for a change) Maybe one day... But I'm digressing before I've even got going. The Red Bull is kicking in at exactly the wrong time.

There was once a time when I wasn't all that keen on the covers that Titan Books dressed their work up in. Don't get me wrong, it did the job but it felt very 'by the numbers' instead of trying to stand out. Not any longer though, check out these bad boys :o)

John Joseph Adams does great anthologies and it's great to see a UK publisher start to release them over here, long overdue in my opinion. I have a passing interest in the 'Weird West' so would have picked this up anyway but mention of Tad Williams, Elizabeth Bear, Seanan McGuire and Kelley Armstrong has got me eager to get reading. As far as the cover goes; an eye catching yet well balanced mix of 'Wild West' fonts, occult and western symbols against a 'parched' background. The cover does everything asked of it and then a little more, it looks gorgeous from where I'm sat.

Mick Oberon may look like just another 1930s private detective, but beneath the fedora and the overcoat, he’s got pointy ears and he’s packing a wand. Among the last in a line of aristocratic Fae, Mick turned his back on his kind and their Court a long time ago. But when he’s hired to find a gangster’s daughter sixteen years after she was replaced with a changeling, the trail leads Mick from Chicago’s criminal underworld to the hidden Otherworld, where he’ll have to wade through Fae politics and mob power struggles to find the kidnapper and solve the case.

I loved the hell out of 'The Conqueror's Shadow' and 'The Warlord's Legacy' so will definitely give 'Hot Lead, Cold Iron' a go in the hope that it will be similar. I also like the sound of Urban Fantasy in a historical setting (as oppose to the normal present day/near future stuff) so that's got me interested too.
The cover? I'm really into the colour scheme (if you can call it that). The black and white captures the stark feel of what I'm guessing will be a grim old setting; the subtle use of the green gives the cover an otherworldly feel that doesn't over power things. I'm all for subtle :o)

How about you guys, what do you think?

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

‘Tough Times All Over’ – Joe Abercrombie

Another day, another short story having its moment here on the blog. Joe Abercrombie is an author that I really need to be reading more of (well, start/finish ‘The Heroes’ anyway) and ‘Tough Times All Over’ seemed like as a good a place as any to find my way back in. In case you’re wondering; this is another story taken from the ‘Rogues’ anthology, a book that is already proving to be a handy book to dip in and out of on the daily commute. Seriously, if I didn't already have a copy I would buy ‘Rogues’ when it is published but any way…

‘Tough Times All Over’ tells the tale of the courier Carcolf and the somewhat circuitous route that one of her packages takes through the city of Sipani. I got into this story right away as, unlike GRRM’s contribution (reviewed further down the page), Abercrombie stuffs ‘Tough Times All Over’ chock full of rogues; you literally cannot read a single paragraph without tripping over a rogue up to something nefarious. It was because of this approach that I became well and truly absorbed in a tale full of thievery, daring escapades, well known characters making a return and at least one character that I would really love to see appear again. ‘Tough Times All Over’ is a glorious romp (with loads of surprises and twists, the story ends just before the flow of these becomes overly repetitious) and Abercrombie adds a human touch to the proceedings which means that the tale isn’t just a Technicolor piece of fluff. Rogues are roguish but there is always a very good reason, whether it’s because they’re in debt up to their eyeballs or they just like the thrill of being the best. A little bit of motive can go a long way and here it certainly does a fine job of fleshing characters and providing a hard edge to a fun tale.

On a day when London commuters are going through hell again (thanks for nothing RMT and TFL…) a story like ‘Tough Times All Over’ is a bit of a godsend. Thanks for that Mr Abercrombie!

Monday, 28 April 2014

‘A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Vol. 3’ – Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

In King’s Landing, Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell—the Hand of King Robert Baratheon—is surrounded by enemies. Some are openly declared, such as Ser Jaime Lannister and his sister, Queen Cersei. Others are hidden in the shadows. Still others wear the smiling mask of friends. But all are deadly, as Eddard is about to discover.

Nor is the enmity between Eddard and the Lannister siblings the sole source of friction between these powerful noble families. For Tyrion Lannister, the Imp—whose stunted, twisted body houses the mind of a genius—has but lately won his freedom from Lady Catelyn Stark, Eddard’s wife, who had accused him of attempting to murder her youngest son, Brandon. Now he seeks out his father, his restless thoughts bent on revenge.

Far to the north, the bastard Jon Snow, newly sworn to the Night’s Watch, takes the first faltering steps toward a destiny stranger than he could ever dream—a destiny that will bring him face-to-face with unspeakable horrors from beyond the edge of the world.

While across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen, wed to the great Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo, and pregnant with his child—a son prophesied to conquer the world—will see her own destiny take an unforeseen turn.

I've really been enjoying these adaptations but now find myself in the position where I just want to get this review out of the way and move on to something else. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still enjoying these graphic novels but Abraham and Patterson have settled into such a well-oiled routine (putting the books together) that it’s actually impossible to say anything about this volume that I haven’t already said in the last two reviews. I’ve tried but I just can’t.
Daniel Abraham knows exactly what he is doing and shows that he has no intention of letting GRRM’s labyrinthine plot get away from him. Tommy Patterson’s art gets better and better; hints of Tomas Giorello’s work (in the lightness of the penciling) really appealed to me and I’m looking forward to volume four. There will be a volume four at some point and I’m hoping that will be where this arc ends, dragging it out to another volume would be one book too many. And that's it really; great storytelling as ever but nothing to write home about because all I'd be doing is just repeating what I write home about last time.

So, erm… yeah. Volume Three won’t surprise you at all but if you've read this far then you will be happy with that. ‘A Game of Thrones Volume Three’ doesn't need to change as it’s doing just fine thank you very much. Makes it really awkward to write about though… (I’ll be there for Volume Four though, of course I will) 

On a slightly different note, I'm two episodes into the first season of 'A Game of Thrones' and am loving it. I have a lot of catching up to do...

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Cover Art! 'Fearsome Magics' (Edited by Jonathan Strahan)

Every so often, I'm mooching through other people's blogs and think to myself, "wow, I want to blog about that!" Thanks to Gav and No Cloaks Allowed then for pointing me in the direction of the cover art and TOC for the latest  New Solaris Book of Fantasy. I enjoyed the absolute hell out of 'Fearsome Journeys' (well, the bits that I read) so I'm looking forward to reading this new anthology already. It will be published in October this year just in case you were wondering.
But anyway... Have some cover art,

Very much along the same lines as 'Fearsome Journeys' then which is definitely a good thing. Don't waste your time trying to fix something that isn't broke after all. I reckon it will look just great sat next to its older brother on my shelf.
As far as the TOC goes...

  • Introduction, Jonathan Strahan
  • The Dun Letter, Christopher Rowe
  • Home is the Haunter (A Sir Hereward and Mr Fitz story), Garth Nix
  • Grigori’s Solution, Isobelle Carmody
  • Dream London Hospital, Tony Ballantyne
  • Safe House, K J Parker
  • Hey Presto!, Ellen Klages
  • The Changeling, James Bradley
  • Migration, Karin Tidbeck
  • On Skybolt Mountain, Justina Robson
  • Where Our Edges Lie, Nina Kiriki Hoffman
  • Devil’s Bridge, Frances Hardinge
  • The Nursery Corner, Kaaron Warren
  • Aberration, Genevieve Valentine
  • Ice in the Bedroom, Robert Shearman
You know what? Out of all these authors I think I've only read K.J. Parker and Nina Kiriki Hoffman so 'Fearsome Magics' automatically becomes a book full of potential where anything could happen. I like that in a book so I will definitely be picking it up. How about you, do any of those authors jump out as 'must read'?

Friday, 25 April 2014

‘The Rogue Prince, or, a King’s Brother’ – George R.R. Martin

A consideration of the early life, adventures, misdeeds, and marriages of Prince Daemon Targaryen, as set down by Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown.
Anyone looking to get a little extra fix of ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ could do a lot worse than pick up the anthologies that GRRM edits with Gardner Dozois. I've still to read some (OK, most) of them but I know that GRRM has a rather welcome habit of popping ‘ASOIAF’ stories in these collections; usually right at the end.

With the forthcoming ‘Rogues’ anthology (I would have loved to have seen a ‘Rogue Squadron’ story here but can totally see why that didn't happen…) GRRM has given us a tale of the ‘Rogue Prince’ Daemon Targaryen and how his actions helped contribute to the tragic ‘Dance of Dragons’. I've got to say that Daemon doesn’t come across as particularly roguish in my eyes; sure there is a large amount of whoring and general dallying with royal cousins etc but the staid tones that GRRM has his narrator adopt rob Daemon’s actions of the kind of vibrancy that you would expect from a rogue. This isn't a story so much as it is a recounting of events and while there is a lot to recommend ‘The Rogue Prince’ the energy that it really needed to thrive just isn't there. GRRM also doesn't do himself any favours having Gyldayn question the veracity of the sources and introduce contradiction to the tales. Not only does Daemon come across as not particularly roguish but the reader is left wondering if certain things actually happened at all…
I get why GRRM took this approach and, when you look at the tale from its perspective as a historical text it’s an approach that works very well (posing the kind of questions that such a text would ask). It just doesn’t seem to work in the context of the collection that the story is a part of. Oh well…

That’s not to say that ‘The Rogue Prince’ doesn't work at all though. As a tale of dragons, courtly intrigue, a king who just wants a quiet life and knights hitting each other with big swords it’s an awesome read that I found myself really getting into. What I love most of all are the little details that open up GRRM’s world and leave you wanting to find out more. This time round it was mention of the Black Swan, a courtesan who rose to rule the city of Lys in all but name. Martin has a lot to finish off first but I’m hoping that one day, little asides like these will blossom into much longer works.

‘The Rogue Prince’ is an odd one then. While it has everything that makes GRRM’s work compelling reading it feels like it doesn't quite work as part of this anthology. Enjoy it for what it is though and I reckon you’ll be fine.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

‘V/H/S 2’ (2013)

I watched this the other night, a night when Elana would only stay asleep if I was holding her and walking backwards and forwards. Half three in the morning isn’t a great time to be awake but it’s the best time to be watching horror films, even if they aren’t actually that good.
Okay, that’s not entirely fair on ‘V/H/S/2’, a collection of four short horror features connected by a story of private detectives that come across a stash of old video tapes and watch them in order to try and solve a case. The framing narrative is rather weak and doesn’t seem to have a lot of point to it other than to get us to the videos themselves. There are a couple of moments that are meant to make you jump but they are signposted so clearly that they do anything but… On to the films themselves and it’s a case of ‘six of one and half a dozen of the other’. Two aren’t up to scratch while the other two are very well done indeed. I would say that though as one of them features zombies… ;o) Here are the films then…

‘Phase 1 Clinical Trials’

A man is fitted with a camera in his eye and ends up seeing a lot more than he bargained for... While there were some moments that really made me jump I couldn’t get away from the fact that I’ve seen this all before  (in ‘The Eye’ which was brilliant, give it a go) and that sense of tiredness in the concept overshadowed the moments of genuine fear.

 ‘A Ride In The Park’

A man goes for a bike ride in the park and is attacked by the living dead… Now I know I keep saying that I’m getting tired of zombies and I am, the whole thing has been done to death. I really got a lot out of ‘A Ride In The Park’ though, with its slow build-up of tension showing off some un-nerving moments and exploding into a bloody climax with some surprises. I also loved the way the helmet-cam gives you a little insight into what zombies get up to when they’re not chasing the living. Okay, the answer is ‘not a lot’ but even so, I just loved the way it was shot.

‘Safe Haven’

The highlight of the film for me, if you can call a story of suicide cults and demon births a highlight… It was though, the directors hold nothing back and you’re literally assaulted by a full on stream of shock  and gore that you can’t take your eyes off. Every time you think it’s done, something else happens and I couldn't help but watch. Absolutely amazing (if you could call it that, you know what I mean…) and one that I can’t stop thinking about.

 ‘Slumber Party Alien Abduction’

This is a tough one to call. ‘Slumber Party Alien Abduction’ has loads of genuinely creepy moments that are spoiled by the aliens being announced by a deafening horn. It makes you jump once and then it gets tiresome very quickly. By the end, I was severely tempted to mute the TV and see if that made things any better but the film ended soon after that. ‘Slumber Party Alien Abduction’ could have been brilliant but, sadly, was too damn noisy to do the job it could have done.

‘V/H/S 2’ was really hit and miss then but when it hit the spot it was superb (which just made the ropey bits even more irritating). I’ll have to go back and give ‘V/H/S’ a go now, has anyone seen it?

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

‘A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Vol. 2’ – Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

After a long time away from this series, I find myself coming back to ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ with fresh interest. If it’s not the TV series, that I still need to get round to watching (buying the box set is only the first step) it’s the books on the shelf that are gently reminding me that it has been a while since I picked them up.

Given that I’ve developed a habit of falling asleep in the bath most evenings and I have other books that I’d like to read first, reading the graphic novels seemed like a good compromise. If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see what I thought of the first book; I read the second volume over Easter and it was as engaging a read as the first one. We all know the story already but here’s the blurb anyway, just in case you need to jog your memory a little. It was amazing how all the plot came flooding back to me, even though it’s been a long time (years) since I picked the first book up. But yeah, sorry, blurb…

The sweeping action moves from the icy north, where the bastard Jon Snow seeks to carve out a place for himself among bitter outcasts and hardened criminals sworn to service upon the Wall . . . to the decadent south and the capital city of King’s Landing, where Jon’s father, Lord Eddard Stark, serves as the Hand of King Robert Baratheon amid a nest of courtly vipers . . . to the barbarian lands across the Narrow Sea, where the young princess Daenerys Targaryen has found the unexpected in her forced marriage to the Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo: love—and with it, for the first time in her life, power.

Meanwhile, the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, accused by Lady Catelyn Stark of the attempted murder of her now-crippled youngest son, must call upon all his cunning and wit to survive when he is captured and imprisoned in the lofty dungeons of the Eyrie, where Lady Stark’s sister—a woman obsessed with vengeance against all Lannisters—rules. But Catelyn’s impulsive arrest of the Imp will set in motion a series of violent events whose outcome is fated to shake the world at the worst possible moment. For now is not the time for private feuds and bloodthirsty ambitions.

Winter is coming . . . and with it, terrors beyond imagining.

So, counting volume one that’s four hundred and eighty pages of graphic novel to get through two thirds of one book (although it could end up being more, I haven’t read the third volume yet). Not only am I interested to see how Abraham tackles later books (‘A Feast for Crows’ and ‘A Dance with Dragons’ in particular), if that is the intention, but I also find myself wondering how long a graphic novel adaptation of a series can be dragged out at this pace. Three, maybe four, graphic novels to a book; it will look great on the bookshelf but will people remain interested for that long? I guess we’ll have to wait and see on that score.

That’s one for the future though. Right now, we have a story that Daniel Abraham is handling with customary aplomb. He has a very good feel for what needs to stay in the book and what can be merely hinted at; the end result being a tightly plotted tale that takes in the original book as a whole. It could have been a rambling mess if Abraham had stuck to the book but he clearly appreciates the limitations of the graphic novel format and it really pays off.

All I wanted from Tommy Patterson, after reading volume one, was a little more variety in character’s facial expressions (he does everything else superbly). This is ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ after all, no-one really smiles here. I’m pleased to say that Patterson delivers here and captures just what events mean for the characters with some really touching expressions. If I can have more of that in volume three then I’ll be a happy man.

It’s hard to write anything about the actual story that hasn’t been said already but as far as the adaptation goes, Abraham and Patterson have got it spot on here with a book that really draws you into Martin’s world. The more I read these books, the more I want to go back and read the originals and that can’t be a bad thing at all.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The 'Covert Chocolate Eating' Update Post!

So I took a little break from the blog and had a lovely time in Plymouth for a few days over Easter, mostly spent with Elana sleeping on me. I had a great time, hardly got any reading done at all but that turned out to be just what I needed to recharge my batteries and get all excited about books again. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s why fill your free time with something that you don’t really want to do? I can’t see the point in that at all ;o) Nope; I had one child sleep on me, played ‘rescue the princess’ with the other and ate chocolate while no-one was looking. You can’t ask for more than that really.

That’s not to say that I didn’t get any reading done at all. Hey, it’s me :o) I polished off the second ‘A Game of Thrones’ graphic novel (more on that later this week) and managed to read a little more of ‘Blade of Tyshalle’ (which is shaping up to be incredible by the way). For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel the need to go out and buy books because I’d made bad choices in my holiday reading. Happy days :o)

There were a few books waiting for me when we got home; not loads and that’s the way I like it right now. Some interesting stuff though; go on, have a look…

Yep, my new 'Game of Thrones' box-set also made it into the picture (it's way past time that I started watching it) and in one of those moments that just happen, the camera flash has rendered Ned Stark headless. It's almost like my phone knew...
But onto the books. I didn't read 'The City' when it was first published so got going on that last night. Initial thoughts? It's like a really slow burning book version of 'Gladiator'... I'm only a hundred pages in though so there's time for all that to change. 'Tithe of the Saviours' has an amazing cover, HERO FIGHTS TENTACLES!, but I haven't read the first book (erm... 'Something of the Saviours'?) so I can't see 'Tithe' being read at all.
'The Letter for the King' has piqued my interest for reasons that I'm still unsure of, couldn't tell you when it will be read though. Maybe it's the whole 'knights in armour thing', maybe it's the lovely looking cover. Don't know...

There's nothing I want more right now than some 'Fighting Fantasy' style action in my reading. I need something short and snappy though, not a book that makes a resounding thud when it hits the floor (it was an accident...) I want to go on a quest that takes a couple of hours (*wistful*'Deathtrap Dungeon'*wistful*) not a quest that, if the size of the book is anything to go by, looks like it could last for days. I'm filing this one under 'hmmm, maybe...'

And this was waiting for me when I got back into the office,

I don't know if I'll be reading the whole book but there's certainly a number of stories inside that I'm eager to give a go so look out for them being talked about here.
Any of those books catch your eye? Did anyone here read the first 'Saviours' book?

David Gemmell Awards - Shortlist Announced

While I was having a little Easter break, more on that later, the Gemmell's shortlist was announced during Eastercon. Thank you for letting me know ;o) If you haven't seen it already, the shortlist looks something like this...

Legend Award for Best Novel

•The Daylight War—Peter V Brett (Harper Collins UK)
•Emperor of Thorns—Mark Lawrence (Harper Collins UK)
•The Republic of Thieves—Scott Lynch (Gollancz)
•A Memory of Light—Brandon Sanderson and Robert Jordan (Tor/Forge)
•War Master’s Gate—Adrian Tchaikovsky (Tor UK)

I can't really say a lot about this as the only book I've read from the list is 'Warmaster's Gate' and that was the original manuscript. Do I want any of them to win? Y'know, I wouldn't mind seeing 'Emperor of Thorns' win just because the first book was so good. What? That's my criteria on this slightly dull and gloomy morning, deal with it ;o)

Morningstar Award for Best Debut Novel

•The Garden of Stones—Mark T Barnes (47 North)
•Headtaker—David Guymer (Black Library)
•Promise of Blood—Brian McLellan (Orbit)
•The Path of Anger—Antoine Rouaud (Gollancz)
•The Grim Company—Luke Scull (Head of Zeus)

Same deal here really. I've read a chunk of 'The Grim Company' and about three pages of 'The Garden of Stone' (really need to get back into that...) If Black Library can be bothered to mobilise their fanbase to vote then 'Headtaker' will take the 'Morningstar Award'. You heard it here first.

Ravenheart Award for Best Cover Art

•The Republic of Thieves—Scott Lynch, cover art by Benjamin CarrĂ©
•Emperor of Thorns—Mark Lawrence, cover art by Jason Chan (HarperCollins UK)
•Skarsnik—Guy Haley, cover art by Cheol Joo Lee (Black Library)
•Promise of Blood—Brian McClellan, cover art by Gene Mollica and Michael Frost (Orbit)
•She Who Waits—Daniel Polansky, cover art by Rhett Podersoo (Hodder)

Aha! The only award I feel half qualified to comment on seeing as it's a case of just saying which cover is the prettiest ;o) My vote here goes to Rhett Podersoo's cover for 'She Who Waits' ; not only because it is the prettiest cover but I think more people should be reading the 'Lowtown' books anyway and if an award points more people in the direction of the book then that's a good thing. Right?

I'm still not a huge fan of the awards (they still strike me as a popularity contest rather than an award based on any kind of merit...) but good luck to everyone on the shortlists ;o)

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

‘Doctor Who: Illegal Alien’ – Mike Tucker & Robert Perry (BBC Books)

The Blitz is at its height. As the Luftwaffe bomb London, Cody McBride, ex-pat American private eye, sees a sinister silver sphere crash-land. He glimpses something emerging from within. The military dismiss his account of events - the sphere must be a new German secret weapon that has malfunctioned in some way. What else could it be?
Arriving amid the chaos, the Doctor and Ace embark on a trail that brings them face to face with hidden Nazi agents, and encounter some very old enemies.

I love ‘Doctor Who’ books, they’re a not very secret but definitely guilty pleasure of mine. If they’re not helping me catch up on stories that I never saw on TV, they’re filling in gaps in between the Doctor’s journeys and giving us even more stories to get into. The old Target novelizations will do me for half of my daily commute but ‘Illegal Alien’ is about three times the length and so has kept me going for a bit longer. It’s fair to say that ‘Doctor Who’ is one of those things that you either ‘get’ or you don’t and if you don’t get it then you’re unlikely to be picking the books up anyway. That automatically makes these books ones for fans only but the good news here is that ‘Illegal Alien’ falls very much into the ‘one that fans will very much enjoy’ category.

‘Illegal Alien’ has all the ingredients that any ‘Doctor Who’ story (book or TV show) needs to be successful, a lot of adventure all playing out for high stakes and being manipulated by someone who might just have outsmarted the Doctor himself. You have the iconic villain (in this case, the Cybermen) getting up to no good amongst a human cast who think that they are in control of things whilst being anything but. The Cybermen are great anyway but Tucker and Perry really bring them to life on the page with a real sense of presence alongside the destruction that they are able to wreak. This is one of the darker ‘Doctor Who’ books that I have read(maybe even the darkest) with the horror of the blitz combining with the horror of how the Cybermen increase their number. Tucker and Perry really take advantage of the fact that you can write stuff in a book that they would never let you show on TV. You have to experience some things by yourself to really get the full effect and these passages very much fall into that. All I’ll say is that the ‘Cyber baby’ is not as cute as it sounds, it’s not cute in the least bit..
Tucker and  Perry also really lay on the horrors of the blitz as well as the wider war itself; not only is the appropriate respect paid to a turbulent point in history but the constant bombing etc takes the reader’s attention off important plot stuff until it really matters and is a big surprise. We also get a sense of urgency as both sides are racing to use captured Cyber technology in order to win the war. People will do anything if they can then say that they are trying to do the right thing, this is used to develop certain characters in interesting ways over the course of the book.

‘Illegal Alien’ is a dark book then but it’s also a typical Doctor Who book with the Doctor and Ace running all over London and getting into all sorts of trouble before somehow managing to get out of it. It’s no different in that respect from any other Doctor Who story but again, Tucker and Perry avoid any potential pitfalls here by really capturing the two characters and what makes them so distinguishable. They’re doing the same old stuff but it’s the fact that it’s them doing it which makes proceedings so memorable. The fact that there are sub-plots dovetailing in and out of the main plot makes for an engaging read totally unlike some of the more linear tales that I have read in the past. There is always something going on and it all happens at a breakneck pace.

‘Illegal Alien’ is a book that it’s all too easy to get into and not as easy to put down. I was left hoping that the rest of the books in the ‘Monster Collection’ are as good and then I remembered that I reviewed two of them way back on the old blog :o) Click on the links for what I thought of ‘Touched by an Angel’ and ‘Prisoner of theDaleks’.

But back to ‘Illegal Alien’… It’s a great read and I totally recommend it to anyone who’s a fan or thinking of checking out ‘Doctor Who’ books, you won’t be disappointed (I wasn’t).

Monday, 14 April 2014

‘Revival Volume One: You’re Among Friends’ – Tim Seeley & Mike Norton (Image)

As far as comic books go, the old blog was all about following ‘The Walking Dead’, ‘The Goon’ and whatever Conan books I could get my hands on. Times change though; ‘The Walking Dead’ got a little too brutal (and possibly repetitious) for me, work on ‘The Goon’ has slowed down to a crawl (and I didn’t really enjoy the last book anyway…) and as much as I love Conan as a character, I wasn’t a hundred percent sure about some of the stories he was showing up in. I don’t really read any of those books now.

It’s a whole new blog now though and I realised that I needed a new series to follow along with the occasional forays into the worlds of ‘Judge Dredd’ and ‘Ghost’. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt it’s never to look too hard for a new favourite series, it will find you sooner or later and it did when I came across volumes two and three of ‘Revival’ the other week. You can read what I thought over Here and there was no doubt in my mind that I’d be searching out the first volume to see how it all began. I read ‘You’re Among Friends’ on the way into work this morning and the commute just flew by.

If you read my post the other day then you’ll know about the story. If you’re one of those people who like to start from the beginning then ‘Revival’ is the story of rural Wausau and how, for one day, the dead return to life and have to readjust to being back in the world of the living. Some handle it better than others and that’s where Officer Dana Cypress comes in, dealing with crimes involving the revived against a backdrop of the world’s media  focussing all its attention on the town. The most difficult crime to solve though is the one that’s closest to home and it will take all of Dana’s detective skills to even know where to start.

‘You’re Among Friends’ is such an apt title in many ways, not least because Seeley’s gift for characterisation really does make you feel like you’re amongst friends; a small town where everyone knows each other’s business, a town where a night drinking in the bar will feel like the reader’s own local until one of the Revived starts raising hell in order to make a point to… That would be telling. A lot of questions are raised in these opening pages and, again, it’s credit to Seeley that he manages to make all of them fresh and intriguing. This is all down to that characterisation again (you can really get behind these people as they deal with the situation that they’re in) as well as everything playing out against a backdrop that is almost deliberately designed to let these events stand out; nice work again from Mike Norton. It’s all understated but that just seems to make the plot all the more gripping. And if that wasn’t enough, Seeley and Norton combine to give us an opening page (well, the second page but you know what I mean…) that is guaranteed to hook the reader… You might want to click on the picture to enlarge it.

 ‘You’re Among Friends’ sets the scene for future volumes by posing these questions along with a couple of nice moments where you think you have a handle on the plot only to find that you’ve been led neatly into a dead end. The series as a whole has it all and has pretty much cemented my opinion that ‘Revival’ is just the story that people (like me) who are tired of zombies will get a lot out of. People still have to deal with the dead coming back to life but what makes this series stand out is that the dead have to deal with it too.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

‘A Game of Thrones, The Graphic Novel – Vol. 1’ – Daniel Abraham, Tommy Patterson (Bantam)

Every so often I come up against a review that is incredibly difficult to write and for any number of reasons;  a negative reading experience, trying to temper my positive feelings and be objective, really should be doing something far more productive… You know how it is.
I’d actually read this volume a couple of years ago but wanted to go back and revisit it before I got started on the next two volumes which have only come out fairly recently. And here’s the thing, I found that my opinions on the book hadn’t actually changed at all in those two years. Not one little bit. See what I mean about this being a hard one to write?

I wanted something posted here though (because I’m a bit of a completist at heart when it comes to reviewing series all in one place, that is going to come back and haunt me…) so I’m going to sum up what I thought with a few handy quotes from my review way back in 2012. The whole review is Here if you want it. This post isn't so much a review as it is confirmation of what I already thought in the first place, a placeholder if you like… ;o)

What Abraham does then is to take the more important moments in the book, dress these up with some of the minor details and present this to the reader as a fait accompli. It’s an approach that worked very well as far as I was concerned. I felt like I was getting a clearly defined tale that worked very well within the parameters of the format. There may have been plenty missing but it didn’t feel like there was anything missing out and that was the main thing for me.

It was also interesting to see that Abraham was able to do this by taking the focus off individual characters and merging everything into one ongoing tale rather than the approach that Martin himself takes (with each chapter devoted to one particular character). Maybe I’ve been out of the ‘Reading ASOIAF Game’ a little too long but things seemed to flow much more smoothly here with a story that gradually unfolds rather than jumping to and fro across continents and even timelines.

I suspect that Tommy Patterson’s artwork will come to grow on me more as the series progresses. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, Patterson really brings the world of Westeros to life (aided and abetted by Ivan Nunes’ colours) but the facial expressions he lends to his characters don’t seem to back up the whole ‘gritty, harsh and Machiavellian’ thing that Martin wants his reader to be a part of. It feels like they’re all smiling at the most inopportune times!  It’s a small complaint though and I think that, as the story progresses, Patterson should be more than up to conveying some of the darker moments to come.

I was up for the long haul two years ago and that’s still very much the case now, look for proper reviews of the next two volumes soon.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Guest Blog! Stephen Deas - The History of the Taiytakei

To mark the publication of Stephen Deas' 'Dragon Queen' in paperback (it has been on the shelves only a few hours less than this post has been up, or something like that) I'm lucky enough to be hosting a guest blog on the history of the Taiytakei, the dominant culture in the series. This is a very long blog post and the reason that I'm posting it so close to lunchtime is that I reckon it will be the ideal accompaniment to your sandwiches and crisps (or whatever you're having in fact). Go on, have a read...

Gazetteer of the Taiytakei Realm

It was long a desire of mine to study the mysterious Taiytakei traders when I was a senior alchemist within the Palace of Alchemy. Their one great hunger was well known to us and made us, in a way, their enemy, for we could not allow any dragon to fall into their hands. I did not understand this in  my early years as an alchemist's apprentice. Later, as greater mysteries and secrets were revealed to me, I knew we could not permit any dragon to be raised where there were no alchemists to dull the growth of its mental capacity, the resurgence of lifetime after lifetime of memory. By then, however, it was too late. I had acquired my fascination. The ways of the Taiytakei seemed strange and mysterious, their abilities remarkable and magical, and although they shared a secret now and then, it was clear to any who cared to look that they knew the order of the world far better and more thoroughly than they would care to admit. We formed a club (not of my own making) of those alchemists most curious to know more. We compiled papers, recording what little we were able to establish of where they came from and what their world was like.

We knew so very little.

Now I am their slave, taken in the last gasp of Speaker Hyram's reign. An alchemist's duty is to serve those who claim mastery of dragons, whoever they are, to keep the world safe from their awakened fury. I left many alchemists behind me, perfectly capable of fulfilling that duty in the world where I was born. Among the Taiytakei I am alone. They say they will take eggs from the King of the Crags and the Prince of Furymouth, although they do not say how. They ask me to build and prepare an eyrie, and have found the most wondrous home for such a thing. Whether they will fulfil their desire and bring dragons to fill this home I am creating, I cannot say. While I wait, I study them, as once so longed to do. Perhaps one day, these documents will find a way back to the land of my birth, and to the alchemists who were once so curious. I have written them in part from what I have seen with my own eyes (such places as Khalishtor, of course, but also the Crown of the Sea Lords and the Palace of Leaves, and I have watched the Konsidar and the Lair of Samim drift far beneath my feet as I float on Taiytakei Glasships). Other places I have described from what those around me say is true. I cannot be sure that what they believe is indeed always the truth, but I do not think any have sought to deceive me, and in matters of simple history and geography, in the simple descriptions of places and palaces, there is no reason why eyes would lie. Other records I have taken from the Taiytakei books, which I devour with unseemly greed. The simple facts of what is where and how they appear are largely beyond dispute. Others remain as impenetrable to me as they have been to the Taiytakei themselves for a thousand years. Beneath the surface, there is much that even the Taiytakei do not understand. In truth, they are perhaps even less masters of their own destinies that we are of ours. I have done my best be truthful. I have sought both myth and reality, and have endeavoured to distinguish them. Inevitably, at times, I will have failed.

I hope the Taiytakei will fail in their hunger for dragons and leave me to my studies, but I fear they will not, and my fear is not for me, but for them. For I am but one alchemist, and they cannot make another, whatever secrets I tell them, and when I am gone, they will face their dragons alone.


Grand Master Alchemist to Speaker Hyram of the Nine Realms, Protector of the Order of the Scales.

A Simple history of the Taiytakei

No records remain of the earliest histories of Takei’Tarr, and one is forced to root around myths and legends that have passed into folklore, looking for what threads may appear, and also among the stories of the other folk, those who are not a part of the culture of the Sea-Lords. The Elemental Men, it seems, have gone to extraordinary lengths to supress any memories and traditions of that time; but still, while it is a death-sentence to even set eyes upon the Rava, which may contain the only true history of those days, certain stories are too widely spread to supress. Such stories speak of a time when the world was one place and there was no storm-dark, although many Taiytakei scoff at the notion and argue that the world has always been the way it is. However, it is a thing of great interest to me that those few myths and legends that do speak of times before the great cataclysm also speak of god-like men of superlative power who dressed in liquid silver, a clear analogue of our own Silver Kings. In the case of the desert peoples, for instance, their earliest histories speak of their tribes having lived “in heaven among the gods,” and the very few descriptions or pictures of this “heaven” refer to the gods as “men of silver”. There are hints and traces of this too in more urban Taiytakei culture, although it is to be found in stories that have since lost their meaning and in old songs and rhymes. It is frustrating not to have more to work with – the desert tribes also consider the Elemental Men to be some semi-divine intermediaries of their gods while the mythical Righteous Ones of the Konsidar are vile demons. Also lacking in is any notion at all of any true gods, even though many of the tribes from which the Taiytakei grew still have their rituals and stories. This is perhaps not so significant to one such as myself, hailing from a land where the Great Flame has faded from grace and most people make offerings to shrines of their ancestors; nevertheless, for the Taiytakei to have no sense of the world's creation nor its creators, no sense of afterlife or of what happens beyond death, and to have reached this view despite their own stories (and the powerful and significant and all-pervasive religions they have encountered in other realms) seems strange. Nevertheless, some taboos exist that are familiar (not burying the dead under the earth, for example – the Taiytakei bury them at sea for the most part) and may have their roots in these long-forgotten traditions.

It is accepted, however, by most Taiytakei that some cataclysm once overtook their land. There are many different notions of what this “Splintering” truly was, from being the event that destroyed large portions of the world, wiped the Silver Kings away and gave rise to the storm-dark to explanations far more mundane – those who espouse the latter will argue that the earth-shattering events recorded in the histories of many of the different cultures the Taiytakei have since encountered were unconnected in both cause and time. However, it is clear that some sort of great event once shook Takei’Tarr, and it is my own opinion that the story is sufficiently widespread in disparate origins to suggest a single common event.

Early History – the Elemental Men
The most fertile and prosperous region of Takei’Tarr is and always has been the western coast, and this is where the first kingdoms arose. These early stories of the centuries after the Splintering speak of towns and cities that were built among the remains of something other, presumably the remnants of whatever culture existed previously and has now been lost. These early stories remain, however, fractured and scant. It is only with the coming of the Elemental Men that Taiytakei history truly beings.

Disputes between towns and cities and even kingdoms were settled almost entirely through murder and assassination rather than open warfare. The appearance of the Elemental Men – sorcerous assassins against whom there appeared to be no defence – appears to have thrown these early city states into utter disarray quickly followed by subservience as the Elemental Men styled themselves as the new arbiters of these disputes. From all accounts, their interference in day to day Taiytakei society was extensive but subtle. The establishment of very strict rules for the resolution of disputes, and the existence of an effective and terrifying method of enforcement, cascaded down throughout the society. Taiytakei laws remain strict, rigid, simple, ruthlessly enforced and almost uniformly adhered to. It is hard to assess the influence of the early Elemental Men beyond the system of law that has grown around the Taiytakei, but even the Taiytakei themselves will agree that their rigid laws influenced the growth of their highly bureaucratic means of self-administration, and the threat of the Elemental Men and the severity of all punishments even for lesser crimes has resulted in a system of governance that is very inward looking and prone to analyse its own decisions and actions for possible mistakes. This tends to make the Taiytakei slow to react, but when they do, it is with comprehensive and thoroughly researched actions. The Taiytakei consider that the lack of conflict following the appearance of the Elemental men has allowed them to spend more of their efforts and energies on more creative pursuits and hence their superiority to the cultures of the other realms they have visited; this is called into question, however, when one observes that their treatment of other realms is largely one of exploitation and of systematic efforts to undermine the development of other realms – up to and including fomenting wars on the scale of the War of Thorns on at least two occasions. As the Elemental do not interfere in this, it appears that their doctrine of peaceful resolution of conflict through an unanswerable threat of assassination is limited to their own culture and domain.

Another early impact of the Elemental Men, well documented by the Taiytakei themselves, was the eradication of all organised religion within their sphere of influence. The early Elemental Men were entirely ruthless about this, quite content to murder anyone who tried to oppose their will. Early Taiytakei society appears to have considered the sun and the sea (interchangeable with the moon) as principle deities, with many also worshipping the “silver angels” who were seen as the messengers of the sea-god but almost certainly hark back to the legends of similar creatures prior to the Splintering. The Elemental Men wiped these practices away with such efficiency that almost no records of them remain, let alone any temples or relics. The practice of worshipping local spirits was more tolerated, although public places of worship were forbidden (the shrine to the Goddess of Fickle Fortune atop the Dul Matha is a notable exception; this likely came about because the shrine exists far away from the early influence of the Elemental men, and was well established before they came into contact with it – by which time, attitudes had changed and a more permissive attitude to the shrines of lesser gods was in force).

Rise of the Enchanters
Most of all, the Elemental Men opposed any practice of sorcery. Any showing a talent for sorcery were either dissuaded by simple means or, if they persisted or could not control their talent, were killed. Several notable sorcerers rose nonetheless, and the stories of Abraxi, Ren Shaha and The Crimson Sunburst are widely known and often repeated, frequently with so much embellishment that the truth is all but lost underneath. Certainly all three caused a great deal of trouble for the Elemental Men. It is said that in dealing with Abraxi and her acolytes, the Elemental Men learned almost all of the tricks and turns they would need in later years for dealing with the sorcerers and priest of the Dominion. [Author's note: It is worthwhile to contemplate how the ferocious aversion of the Elemental Men to both worship of the old gods and to sorcery arose, and how, with those values embraced by the Taiytakei as a whole, how they affected their dealings with the Sun King (considered a manifestation of the old sun god on earth) and the Dominion as a whole (highly religious and devoted to exactly those gods reviled by the Elemental Men, and more recently with Aria, whose most powerful sorcerers apparently put those of the Taiytakei to shame)]. Dealing with sorcerers who practiced their art in the shadows soon became something of which the Elemental Men were extremely capable, but the last of the three great magi caused problems of a different kind, for the Crimson Sunburst was also queen of the might slaver city of Cashax, and practised her sorcery in a manner that was both overt and not obviously sorcery, for most of her magics were presented in the form of enchanted devices. Her story is well known (although a hundred versions exist presenting it in a hundred different colours). The Crimson Sunburst proved to be a formidable sorceress who understood the Elemental Men far better than they cared for – several of were killed in attempts to destroy her, and three were famously captured in prisons of gold – the first recorded use of this metal to contain an Elemental Man. Furthermore, her creations – golems and the like – proved remarkably resilient and although they provided little opposition to the  Elemental Men themselves, many of the lesser shapers who served at that time were killed battling them. After the Crimson Sunburst was defeated, several of her acolytes were spared, on condition that they would share the secrets of the golems and other creations, and would forswear sorcery of any other kind. This they did, and became the first Enchanters (and also the first Navigators). The Elemental Men men would later point out that the Taiytakei had filled the western coast of Takei’Tarr, that twelve of the Fourteen Cities had been built and twelve of what would become the thirteen Sea Lorda sat on their thrones, that two hundred years had passed since Ten Tazei had mapped the northern coast of Takei’Tarr, that the world held no more mysteries and this is why they permitted this turn of events. It is often forgotten, among the miracles of glass and gold that now abound, that these first Enchanters pre-date the first crossing of the storm-dark.

The First Navigator
Among the first of these Enchanters was the man who would become the first of the Navigators, Feyn Charin. Given his association with the Crimson Sunburst, Feyn Charin was already a colourful character, and his story is worthy of some length in its own right. An acolyte – and perhaps more – of the Crimson Sunburst, Charin had been measuring the Godspike (with what instruments is not clear, but the only exact measurements currently recorded for the Godspike are said to be those made by Feyn Charin five hundred years ago). After the Crimson Sunburst’s fall, his researches were allowed to continue. After years of apparently achieving nothing at all, one day he flew up into the storm-dark around the Godspike cloud and vanished; when he came back a few hours later, he left the Godspike with all speed, hired the first ship he could find, and sailed it straight into the storm-dark near Xican. All assumed he was possessed by some madness and that he and his ship, the Maelstrom, would never be seen again, but both appeared again three months later. They landed in Xican filled with stories of a strange land filled with winged fire-breathing monsters but no one believed either Charin or his crew. The Maelstrom travelled across the storm-dark a second time, this time bringing back slaves stolen from the coast. It was the first time any Taiytakei had seen a pale-skinned man, and the new spread like fire in summer. Over the next two years, the Maelstrom crossed the storm-dark six more times, taking princes and several Elemental Men. Three years after the first voyage, the Maelstrom made its first voyage to what Charin referred to as the Northern Realm. Although the Taiytakei did not make contact with the Dominion, the absence of fire-breathing dragons in this second realm made it immediately more appealing. A year later, the Golden Crane led a second expedition and the Taiytakei made their first contact with the Dominion. By then. However, Charin himself had become a virtual recluse within his fortress, the Dralamut. Although in later life he did once return to the Godspike, he would not enter the storm-dark there a second time and no navigator since has done so and returned. He died in madness and alone, raving of silver men, his legacy long since taken by his apprentices for their own ends.

The last two centuries of Taiytakei history have been, to Taiytakei eyes, glorious. In their first encounter with the Dominion, the Taiytakei found themselves faced with a culture that vastly outnumbered them was, much superior in its mastery of arcane arts (although with the very significant exception of the Elemental Men, for whom the Dominion have never had a parallel) and was in many ways technologically more sophisticated. Through assiduous planning, ruthlessly uneven trading agreements and the occasional campaign of assassinations, the Taiytakei have establish themselves as the great power of the sea. Taiytakei navigators opened up what is now Aria to the Dominion and then, a century later, engineered its rebellion and a subsequent bitter war which drove the Dominion into a century-long period of stagnation. The Taiytakei may not have sorcerers and sun-fire hurling priests, but their black powder rockets and the lightning cannon and other weapons now make them masters of every world to which they sail – and that is all of them – save one: they do not yet dare to face the dragon princes of my home.

It is perhaps ironic, given their preoccupation with the Dominion for the last three hundred years, that they now feel most threatened by the colony they once helped found and then used to break the Dominion’s spine. While the eyes of the Taiytakei were elsewhere the empire has taken such great strides forwards in such a short space of time. Aria has had gold, a great deal of gold which the Taiytakei and their Enchanters desire and for which they have steadily paid, and now it is that empire that looks poised to challenge them. It will not last, they say. Not while the Taiytakei are the masters of the storm-dark and with the Elemental Men to protect them.

As for the Elemental Men themselves, it is not clear at all how whether and how much they have guided the Taiytakei in their dealings with other realms. They seem detached and aloof, but I am not so sure. I believe the question is not whether, but how much, and wherever I see, here and there in the histories of other realms and particularly the Dominion, the unexpected yet fortuitous deaths of the mighty and the powerful, I must wonder if I see the glimmer of the Elemental Men.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

‘The Shapechanger’ – Robert Holdstock

I’m trying to ‘de-clutter’ my bookshelves at the moment. Don’t get me wrong; there is absolutely nothing wrong with bookshelves jammed full of books waiting to be discovered but my shelves feel a little bit daunting at the moment and I’m not down with that. I want my shelves to be welcoming places, with the promise of a good read to be had, and that’s not the case – hence the de-clutter. This means another trip to the micro-library up the road, tonight, but a happier consequence (in the meantime) is that I’ve started to find books that I had totally forgotten about; books like ‘The Bone Forest’, a collection of short stories by Robert Holdstock. By the way, isn't that a lovely cover? Grafton Books really used to put the effort in as far as that went, shame there isn't more like it these days...

I’d found this book in Plymouth a few years ago, just  after I’d read ‘Mythago Wood’ and was on a mission to read more of Holdstock’s stuff. As is the way with my reading intentions, this morning was the first time I’d actually opened the book… Better late than never and all that :o) I'll be revisiting this book every now and then; for today I thought I'd kick things off with 'The Shapechanger'...

On the surface, ‘The Shapechanger’ is about a case of demonic possession in 8th century England, one that has transformed an entire village and trapped the sons of the village chief. The Wolfhead (some kind of Druid I’m thinking, maybe a little bit more as he claims to have been around for a few centuries) and his apprentice must do what they can to free the trapped men. As you read on though, ‘The Shapechanger’ becomes a whole lot more as it ties in to Holdstock’s wider ‘Mythago Wood’ cycle in a very interesting way. Without giving too much away, the whole concept behind ‘Mythago Wood’ is given a twist and we see how it might work in a different time entirely. I’d say it’s very well handled here; it’s not given away all at once (little clues are dropped here and there for the reader to reach their own conclusion) and it leaves you not only with a fresh look at the world of ‘Mythago Wood’ but you can’t help but wonder if the setting here was real at all. It’s thought provoking stuff in that respect. I couldn’t help but wish though that I’d re-read ‘Mythago World’ a little more recently as revisiting it would have helped me understand why certain characters were able to do what they did. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to have a re-read (maybe in time for when the new Fantasy Masterworks edition is published?), that’s not exactly a huge chore is it?

The other thing I liked was how much of a sense of history (going back into pre-history I think) Holdstock has managed to cram into just under thirty pages, mostly through the Wolfhead and his recounting of events that he has lived through. It really fleshes out the world and gives the reader a sense of having chanced upon something much bigger than a short story.

‘The Shapechanger’ has a sense of depth then that drew me in almost effortlessly. Not only that though, it has left me really thinking about what happened and what it might all mean. I wish more short stories could be like that. 

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Some Nice Looking Cover Art...

Foyles have opened a shop in Waterloo station and not before time either. With the number of trains that I seem to miss from that station, a bookshop is a much better alternative than standing around looking like someone who missed the train again. Whilst having a browse this morning (I missed this train as I had to dig a dead fish out from behind the tank, seriously…) this cover leapt out and grabbed my attention. Simple really is best sometimes, iconic imagery on a plain white background.

The Blitz is at its height. As the Luftwaffe bomb London, Cody McBride, ex-pat American private eye, sees a sinister silver sphere crash-land. He glimpses something emerging from within. The military dismiss his account of events - the sphere must be a new German secret weapon that has malfunctioned in some way. What else could it be?
Arriving amid the chaos, the Doctor and Ace embark on a trail that brings them face to face with hidden Nazi agents, and encounter some very old enemies.

An eye catching cover and blurb that looks like the story could be a good one (although that just could be the sign of a well written blurb to be fair…); it’s the perfect combination and I’ll be searching out a copy for myself.

For the next cover, all I’ll say is that when I saw it my first thought was that Georgie Denborough had finally got his revenge on Pennywise. Fair play to the little guy ;o) Oh yeah, not a bad looking cover either; I can’t quite put my finger on it but the cover reminds me of something (not a fairground full of monsters before you ask!)

Dark Horse is proud to bring you this masterwork of terror from such incredible creative talents as Terry Dowling, Priya Sharma, Dennis Danvers, and Nick Mamatas, featuring cover artwork by E. M. Gist (The Strain, Creepy)!

A washed-up wrestler goes toe to toe with a strange new foe. A young lad’s eleventh birthday heralds the arrival of his bizarre new entourage. A suicidal diva just can’t seem to die. All of these queer marvels and more can be found at the Nightmare Carnival!

Monday, 7 April 2014

What I’m reading at the moment…

Not a lot as it happens. I don’t think I picked up a book at all last week (not counting comic books) due to all sorts of stuff going on, not least an overwhelming urge to play ‘Subway Surfer’ for hours on end. Is a score of just over six hundred and fifty thousand time well spent? I have a horrible feeling that the answer is no and I should probably get some kind of life. Oh well… :o)

Here’s what I’ve got on the go at the moment, all in varying stages of completion.

‘The Godwhale’ – T.J. Bass

This is the book that is most likely to be read and reviewed this week (just over halfway through). It’s a gripping read and a vividly drawn picture of how our world might end up based on what we are doing to it now. If I have one complaint though it’s the overabundance of medical terminology getting in the way of what is a very good story. Still plenty of time for that to change though, you’ll see how it turns out later on this week.

‘The King in Yellow’ – Robert W. Chambers

The sight of Hope walking around the house with my copy of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ (because apparently she loves books with elder gods all done up in dinner jackets on the cover…) reminded me that not only have I not read any weird horror for a while but I haven’t read ‘The King in Yellow’ at all. I’m attending to that pretty much as we speak; the collected short stories format mean that this is more of a ‘dip in and out’ book but I’ll get into it properly once I’m done with ‘The Godwhale’.

‘The Goblin Emperor’ – Katherine Addison

I picked this book up on the recommendation of Justin who has a lot of good things to say about it. I haven’t made a lot of headway with ‘The Goblin Emperor’ (really want to finish ‘The Godwhale’ first) but, based on the few pages that I have read, I’m really looking forward to having a few hours to kill so I can really get stuck in.

Looking forward a little bit, I have a copy of ‘Revival’ volume one headed my way as I enjoyed the other two volumes and want to get caught up with the whole story. I also have a hankering to read me some David Gemmell which could mean that my old copy of ‘Midnight Falcon’ comes off the shelf for a couple of commutes. My impressive collection of Fantasy Masterworks (if I do say so myself) is also letting it be known that I really need to get reading them. And if that wasn’t enough, the news about Tad Williams’ new trilogy has got me looking at my old copies of the ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ trilogy… Loads of exciting stuff then but it’s all for another day as I’m going to take a break from my normal way of reading and tackle what’s in front of me ;o)

What are you reading at the moment? And why do you think I should read it too? 

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Getting a Little Nostalgic...

As a child, did you ever find yourself trying to find out what happened next by going back a few pages? And did you ever find yourself in a position where you were using all your fingers and thumbs as bookmarks? If you answered yes to both of these questions then, just like me, you were reading Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks back in the nineteen eighties, they were great weren’t they?

Like you, my introduction to Fighting Fantasy came in the classroom where all my mates were reading these books with covers full of monsters , dark forests and sinister looking castles. And they weren't like normal books either; reading over people’s shoulders I saw that you got to choose how the story went and it could just as easily end in death as it could glory. I wanted in and promptly pestered my folks for my own FF books.
For someone like me, FF books were a godsend as you weren’t just reading a book anymore, you were actually living the adventure and deciding what would happen next. They were amazing times; wandering strange lands on quests for treasure and glory and frequently dying in incredibly gory ways (check out ‘Seas of Blood’ for the best examples of how to die messily). I’m not going to lie, most of the time I cheated like a madman. I’d nip ahead in the book to see what happened next and then make my decisions based on that. And the number of times I killed monsters without even rolling a dice (because I was just that good apparently…) It wasn't playing the game that did it for me though, it was the feel of travelling those lands and yes, escaping for a bit and being someone else. The books were written very well as far as that went, it was incredibly easy to get immersed very quickly.

So I got all nostalgic a year and a bit ago and set out to find some of my favourites from back in the day. There’s still a few that I’d like to find (‘Island of the Lizard King’ is one) but I’m in no big hurry. What I’ve got here will keep me happy for a bit.

‘Forest of Doom’  and ‘Deathtrap Dungeon’ were the first two FF books that I got way back in Christmas nineteeneightysomethingorother. I was a big fan of forests in fantasy novels even then and so it was amazing to be able to go off and have an adventure in one myself. ‘Deathtrap Dungeon’ is the FF book that everyone knows I think. I've spent hours playing/reading this one (stands up to repeated reading very well I think) and I still have a little chuckle every time I see the barbarian with sunglasses. Seriously, he’s wearing sunglasses; go and see for yourself.

‘The Citadel of Chaos’… You know what? I've only read this book through the once but it still left a lasting impression on my young mind, possibly through use of the word ‘citadel’ which I found really impressive for some reason. And it has an Ian Miller cover! Even back then I knew I liked Miller’s work :o)
I like forests and I also like cities in fantasy fiction as well. ‘City of Thieves’ was my first excursion into one and I barely made it out alive. I’m going back in again this weekend to see if I can get the better of Zanbar Bone once more. Wish me luck?

Did you ever read FF books as a kid? Any favourites?

Friday, 4 April 2014

‘Judge Dredd: Trifecta’ – Various (Rebellion)

Mega-City One, 2134 AD. Fresh from the devastating events caused by the Chaos virus, Dredd becomes aware of a potential power grab from within the Justice Department. Wally Squad gumshoe Jack Point is given a mysterious doll to safeguard. Dirty Frank wakes up on Luna-1 as a board member of Overdrive, Inc. All three Judges soon find themselves embroiled in the same case in which allegiances and grudges form in equal measure! And who is the mysterious figure who loves his tea and biscuits…?

Where does Mega City One go next after Chaos Day? Where do the writers go come to think of it? The Chaos Bug has laid waste to the largest Mega City on earth and left it a smoking ruin; are there any stories left to be told in the rubble. Yes, yes there are while the Justice Department is still fighting to uphold the law and keep the city together in the face of new threats. One the these new threats plays out over the course of ‘Trifecta’; an ambitious experiment in storytelling that loses its impact a little bit with its transition into this collection.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s an amazing read with separate stories gradually coalescing into the one major storyline that they were all along. By themselves, the ‘Judge Dredd’, ‘Simping Detective’ and ‘Lowlife’ stories have a lot going for them with a heady dose of action and intrigue. No-one is safe and no-one can be trusted (in the case of Dirty Frank possibly not even himself, he’s not sure). Take those three intricate, tightly plotted stories and merge them all together, the result is exactly as you would expect – all of the above times three.
‘Trifecta’ is an enthralling read that plays out against an evocatively drawn city on a downward spiral into more chaos. If Dredd didn’t have enough to deal with already he’s also dealing with the knowledge that it was his actions during the Apocalypse War that have left the city in this state and have cost the lives of 350 million citizens. Dredd has been through a lot but Ewing does leave you wondering if this will be the final straw that sees Dredd crack. That one could go either way, it really could.
I’m a little less (ok, a lot less) familiar with Dirty Frank and the Simping Detective but that didn’t stop those two stories being a lot of fun albeit not as engaging. Williams' 'Lowlife' is a little too cartoonish for my tastes but made me chuckle and Spurrier's 'The Simping Detective' is a delicious slice of noir. If I had to pick a favourite artist from those on duty it would have to go to Henry Flint who strikes a perfect balance between spectacle and tone (something that neither of the others quite manage).

I always have an issue with 2000AD stories not transitioning all that well to collections and ‘Trifecta’ is no different. I never read the comics at the time but the concept underpinning the whole thing (three stories actually being one) already feels a little bit worn here, although done very well. I can’t help but imagine how it must have felt in each issue, seeing stories flow into each other for the first time and you’re not going to get that here.

It’s a (very) small niggle though. ‘Trifecta’ remains a gripping read and I’m going to call it as an essential part of the whole ‘Chaos Day’ storyline; fans will love it (they have probably all read it already, I am so behind…)

Tad Williams to return to Osten Ard (Graeme very happy to hear this!)

It's been a pretty crappy week, what with one thing and another, but this bit of news has put a smile on my face (as far as books go anyway). Tad Williams is a favourite author of mine, he can't write a bad book as far as I'm concerned, so the news that he is returning to Osten Ard (home of my favourite fantasy series) is just amazing. Check out the press release (which I came across on Suvudu)...


NEW YORK, NY, April 2, 2014—Betsy Wollheim and Sheila Gilbert, Publishers of DAW Books, have acquired The Last King of Osten Ard, a sequel trilogy to Tad Williams’ New York Times bestselling Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy. The series will begin with The Witchwood Crown, continue with Empire of Grass, and conclude with The Navigator’s Children.
Tad Williams has been one of the most respected names in speculative fiction since the release of his debut novel, Tailchaser’s Song, in 1985. He took the fantasy community by storm in 1988 with the first novel in the Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn trilogy, The Dragonbone Chair (DAW). This first installment and the subsequent books—Stone of Farewell and To Green Angel Tower—sold millions of copies worldwide and have been translated into twenty-five languages. Since the release of this classic trilogy, Williams has authored many critically acclaimed novels, short stories, and comic books, including the Otherland, Shadowmarch, and Bobby Dollar series.
Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn was an inspiration for many of the fantasy genre’s great talents, including George R. R. Martin, author of the phenomenally popular Song of Ice and Fire series, and Christopher Paolini, New York Times bestselling author of the Inheritance Cycle, who called Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn “one of the great fantasy epics of all time.”
In this new trilogy, Williams journeys back to the magical land of Osten Ard and continues the story of beloved characters King Simon and Queen Miriamele, married now for thirty years, and introduces newcomer Prince Morgan, their heir apparent. Also expanded is the story of the twin babies born to Prince Josua and Lady Vorzheva—a birth heralded by prophecy, which has been the subject of feverish fan speculation since the release of To Green Angel Tower in 1993.
In The Last King of Osten Ard, Williams returns with the ingenious worldbuilding, jaw dropping twists and turns, and unparalleled storytelling that have made him one of fantasy’s brightest stars for more than thirty years.
Thirty years eh...? It's unlikely but I'm hoping that this gap leaves a little room for Duke Isgrimmnur to make a little appearance at least. This is great news though and I'm already in a state of eager anticipation even though there is no publication date for the books as yet. Happy Days etc etc... :o)

Thursday, 3 April 2014

‘Revival’, Volume Two and Volume Three – Tim Seeley and Mike Norton (Image)

The dead have come back to life… again? That’s not exactly news any more, more often than not that’s exactly what the dead do in genre fiction. Whether it’s zombies eating the living or the latest Marvel hero coming back from the grave, it sometimes feels like it would be more of a shock if the dead stayed exactly where they were and just let the living get on with, well… living. You can see then that when I saw these two volumes of ‘Revival’, I wasn’t exactly all that intrigued. If you've seen someone come back to life once then you don’t really need to see it again to see what happens. It’s the same thing over and over again and I’m not mad keen on trop re-cycling right now.

I picked the two books up though, I never turn my nose up at free comic books (yep, the phone box again) and I’ll try almost anything once as far as genre fiction goes. Having torn through the two volumes, last night and this morning, it looks very much like I was wrong and there is life in the old trope yet. Once I get paid, I’ll be searching out the first volume just so I can get all caught up with myself; after seeing a few ‘old favourite series’ kind of tail off I think I’ve found a new one to follow.

For one day, in the town of Wausau, the dead have returned to life and are just trying to make sense of things really (as you would do if you suddenly woke up in the middle of being cremated!) None of the ‘revived’ are interested in eating the living, they just want to get back to normal and start over. Is this possible though? Wausau has been quarantined and is surrounded by media and religious zealots all eager to see what happens next. Inside the town, the arrival of the revived sees dramas play out that are smaller but no less intense. And what are the strange glowing creatures that lurk in the woods? Officer Dana Cypress has a lot on her hands; not least trying to solve the mystery surrounding the death of her revived sister (who cannot remember what happened at all).

Starting to read at Volume Two, ‘Live like you mean it’, isn’t such a big leap as it looks at first. Everything has been introduced already but it’s still fresh enough for the townspeople that you don’t feel like you’re catching up. The news broadcast, on the very first pages, is a big help as well :o) ‘Live like you mean it’ is all about how the townspeople react to what is happening; the quarantine has people feeling a touch of cabin fever but the revival itself is also an outlet for some of the less salubrious townspeople to make some quick money and this makes for a plot all the more gripping because of how understated life in Wausau is. When it all kicks off it’s like a shot of adrenaline to the system; this climax also raises a lot of questions (others are quietly introduced earlier) that had me keen to move onto Volume Two. ‘Live like you mean it’ is all about people trying to live their lives in the middle of something extraordinary and some of the resulting imagery (Cooper playing superheroes with the strange glowing creature) is all the more chilling for how low key Mike Norton keeps the art. The plot switches between characters a lot, giving things a choppy feel, but Tim Seeley really has a keen eye for characterisation and I swiftly found myself reading through the choppiness just to get to favourite characters (Em in particular). A tale well told then and one that raises a lot of intriguing questions for the future.

Volume Three, ‘A Faraway Place’, takes a little step back from the human drama (although doesn’t ignore it completely) to ask questions about the wider phenomenon; questions that are expanded upon through Dana’s search for answers around the death of Em. Don’t expect any answers about anything by the way, it’s far too early in the story for anything like that (I think that certain hints should be taken with a pinch of salt personally). What you get instead are questions upon questions and they’re all good ones, especially where Dana is about to find stuff out and then… That would be telling but the range of emotion on display here (from both Seeley and Norton’s work) is astonishing, really has to be experienced. There isn’t the sense of closure here, plot-wise, but what you come away with instead is that things are beginning to fall into place, slowly but surely, even though there are questions still to be answered. Seeley does a superb job of taking something half formed and making it look tantalising instead of opaque and like I said, this is a story that I’ll definitely be following (just need to catch up with Volume One first).

Has anyone else here read ‘Revival’?