Sunday, September 15, 2013

So long and thanks for all the fish!

Not the book by Douglas Adams, although I did read it years ago, and I do like the song from the film that came out also years ago now.

I've been thinking about winding the blog up for a while now and the break from it all (I had a European holiday) kind of decided me. The books to be reviewed piled up and I just couldn't bring myself to review them.

I started this whole thing about four years ago largely built on the idea of reading and rereading Dave Sim's epic graphic novel Cerebus the Aardvark (remember him? He appears as my avatar on the right hand side). Partway through that I decided to also have the occasional off topic post and then that turned into reviewing the books I was reading, that eventually made the blog into a review blog.

So why stop it now? There are a few reasons. I don't get much traffic, I never have, hardly anyone reads this and while I never started it to garner followers I do kind of like to feel that there's someone out there who gets something out of this and I don't feel that there is.

It's become a bit of a chore. I find myself reading a book and wondering how I'm going to review it and I'm just tired of that. I want to just read, enjoy the book for what it is and then move onto the next one.

Finally I don't really think I'm very good at it. I can tell you about a book what I liked about it and what I didn't and why, but I don't seem to be able to adequately convey that in about a page worth's of review.

You may see another blog by me in the near future. I write, I think nearly every fantophile has an inner writer, and I have aspirations of one day being published (also the dream of many a fantophile). I wrote a YA fantasy adventure called Realmspace. I'm going to attempt to get that represented and published. I think having a place on the 'net to write about that and how the book came about might be a fun thing to do and read about and it will also promote the work a little bit.

I don't regret this although it's probably not what I ever thought it would be and it never reached any great heights, having neither highs nor lows. It let me finally finish Cerebus right to the bitter end, and the end was rather bitter as it turned out. It gave me the ability to read more critically and I think it's helped with my own writing.

To everyone who followed me or commented on a post, linked to a review or even lurked here I thank you. It was appreciated.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Before the Fall by Francis Knight

Maybe I approached this the wrong way. I'm not sure. Before I go too far I'll start with the preliminaries. Before the Fall is the second of Francis Knight's Rojan Dizon books. It follows the highly promoted Fade to Black. There'a third volume scheduled for publication later this year.

Fade to Black had a few problems for me. The setting, the towering city of Mahala, seemed to be rather lacking in depth or any real solid world building. The central character Rojan Dizon failed to engender much sympathy from me, because he was a one note character and not particularly likeable. The plot twists were also telegraphed which left the reveals a little flat when they came. The idea of pain magic was a good one though and there was room for development which is why I gave it another go with Before the Fall.

For me anyway it didn't work. More of the action takes place in Mahala, which was more atmospheric and darker than it was in Fade to Black. However the city lacks a sense of history and I keep asking myself questions like who do they trade with, how do they survive, how come their outside neighbours haven't become a problem until now? The various districts have one word names like Trade and Buzz, these are descriptive, but in a city with any real history we'd have names like these evolve. They seem more like street names than district names. Maybe I'm expecting too much of what is really a fairly easy and quick read.

I still have issues with Rojan. He's very one dimensional and the self loathing that rises off him in waves becomes rather tiresome fairly quickly. I have difficulty seeing why anyone would even like him, let alone the unending stream of women who seem to want to fall into bed with him. Interestingly at least four of the women that he does interact with in Before the Fall don't seem to like him. Lastri has always hated him (smart lady), Jake tolerates him, but the interest (I hesitate to call it love, it feels more like lust) he has in her is not reciprocated, she only has eyes for Pasha and Rojan would be best to accept that and move on as far as she is concerned. Erlat has to deal with him as part of her job and while Abeya does sleep with him, she also tries to kill him. He could have fallen off one of the spans that connect parts of Mahala and died somewhere down in the dark early in the book and it may have actually improved the read for me.

The plot twists are much better hidden, but I really did have problems trying to care about Rojan, which presents issues when he narrates the story and is front and centre most of the time.

They're easy books to read as long as you don't think too hard about them, but it's not a series I'll be continuing with.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Tyrant's Law by Daniel Abraham

I gave glowing reviews to the first two instalments of Daniel Abraham's The Dagger and the Coin series (The Dragon's Path and The King's Blood) so I was really eager to get my hands on the third book in the series The Tyrant's Law.

At 500 pages of a curiously large font The Tyrant's Law is a relatively short epic fantasy volume. Despite the brevity and my interest in the series I found this one hard going.

I should have been prepared, it's a middle book and middle books of epics for some reason seem to drag.

One thing Abraham has resisted, to his credit, is to stop the amount of PoV characters spiralling out of control. The Tyrant's Law follows the stories of former mercenary captain Marcus Wester, the now impoverished, but not powerless noble Clara Kalliam, the widow of the traitor Lord Dawson, clever young banker Cithrin be Sarcour and the sociopathic Lord Regent Geder Palliako.

As is common for epics structured this way each chapter covers events in the character's journey and then moves onto the next character. I enjoyed it in the first two books, but found it frustrating this time as the story would just start to get interesting and gain my attention, then it would end and it was time to pick up another character's story.

The title of the book refers to Palliako's virtual genocide against the insectlike race of the Timzinae. This is driven by Basrahip, a priest of the Spider Goddess, who seems to have a hold on the impressionable Lord Regent. The genocide had echoes of the Holocaust in WW II. Palliako himself remains for the most interesting of the characters. He's obsessive and weak, but has been gifted with enormous power, a dangerous combination. While Palliako is obsessed with Cithrin due to some time they spent together in The King's Blood he also seems to have an undeniable attraction towards Basrahip, and the reader gets the feeling that if Basrahip were removed from the picture Palliako would fall apart.

I found Marcus story the least interesting. It contained a lot of that pointless wandering about that I'm so fond of. The point of that seemed to be so the author could show the reader that he'd created a big world for this. It almost seemed to scream: 'Look at me! Different races and creatures. See this isn't just a real world analogue!' The aim of this seemed to be initially to obtain a magical sword and then to find something that could break the power of the Spider Goddess. At times it had a rather sword and sorcery feel to it, and more than once I found myself calling Marcus, Conan in my head.

Cithrin moved her base of operations from Port Oliva to Suddapal, and used the resources of the bank to put obstacles in Palliako's way and hinder his genocide. She felt an affinity with the Timzinae because her mentor in Suddapal was one and she's part Cinnae, who are related to the Timzinae. Curiously enough despite the proliferation of non human races in the series, Cithrin is the only major character who appears to be anything other than Firstblood.

Clara schemes. Trying to pit the nobles against each other and plant the seeds of doubt in Palliako's mind, she also develops support for her cause amongst the lower classes with small acts of understanding, kindness and charity.

The story slowed considerably from the first two books and I'm not sure why. There didn't seem to be any real need for that. Most of this book was purely unneccesary. I know that middle books exist to get things in place for the finale, but I felt this could have been avoided by making the book on either side larger. It wasn't as bad as Crossroads of Twilight (nothing could be), but it was a near run thing. I do however still really enjoy the series and have confidence that Abraham can get it back on track with Book 4 The Widow's House.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Ex Heroes by Peter Clines

Peter Clines' debut Ex Heroes can be best described as take zombies add super heroes then stand back and watch the results.

The book is told using a Now and Then scenario. The Now is some time not that long after the zombie apocalypse, in Los Angeles while a small group of non infected humans fight for survival while holed up in an abandoned movie studio. They're protected from both the 'exes' (as Clines refers to his zombies, which is another reason for the title) and a large gang known as the Seventeens by a small group of super powered humans. There are times when you wonder who is the bigger threat, the exes or the Seventeens.

The Then covers the heroes just prior to or at the start of the outbreak. Unlike the Now which is told in third person, the Then parts of the story are told in first person and cover different viewpoints.

The zombie threat is similar to Mira Grant's Newsflesh trilogy or the graphic novel and TV hit The Walking Dead in that one becomes a zombie, or ex, by being bitten by someone already infected. Just like with those ideas the zombies are shambling creatures who can only be taken out with a fatal shot or wound to the head, like in The Walking Dead, they are also attracted by noise.

The heroes in a lot of cases have analogues with real comic book heroes. The central character of St George, also known as The Mighty Dragon is rather like Superman in that he has multiple gifts. He's super strong, he can jump high enough to allow him to glide for long distances, he breathes fires, he's invulnerable. Interestingly his role model as a hero is Doctor Who (the classic Doctor, pre the 2005 revival), largely because the Doctor didn't have any powers, he was simply a person who wanted to do the right thing and help others.

The leader of the heroes is a woman called Stealth. We never really find out her complete skill set, but it pales in comparison to St George's. She gave off a bit of a Batman vibe, certainly more the Dark Knight Batman than the earlier campy one from the 60's TV show.

Zzzap had a Human Torch kind of power and Cerberus reminded me of Iron Man, being encased in a super soldier mechanical suit.

This particular zombie book (Clines has since produced Ex Patriots as well) follows a conflict between the heroes and the humans in the movie studio and the Seventeens who are also using exes to get control of the city.

The whole thing is a really fun romp and the addition of super heroes adds a fresh new factor to the zombie fiction genre. The final conflict between a small band of heroes and almost innumerable exes as well as some former heroes that the Seventeens enlisted had a very comic book feel about it. It reminded me both of the final battle in The Avengers and the classic X-Men #137.

If you like comics about super heroes and zombies then you don't need to look further than Ex Heroes for a fun time.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Oz Reimagined edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen

L. Frank Baum's Oz seems to have regained quite some popularity recently with hugely successful musicals (Wicked) and a big new release film (The Great and Powerful Oz) hitting out screens not all that long ago. The anthology Oz Reimagined seems to be riding that wave.

The idea, as the title suggests, is to revisit L. Frank Baum's magical world and characters with a different spin on it. Like most anthologies Oz Reimagined has hits and misses. Unfortunately I found this particular collection to have more misses than hits.

The original story has a whimsy about it that has seen it endure over the years and remain a popular modern fairytale for generations. The stories for the most part had difficulty capturing that lightness and sense of wonder. Oz is an unreal world and a number of the stories seemed to want the real world to intrude far too much on the fantasy.

As I said Oz is a modern day fairytale and this collection is definitely not for children. A number of the stories were disappointing. More than one of them seemed to be part of a larger concept and were cut off quickly when they reached their page limit, which made for a frustrating read as I got impression there was more story there than I was being told. I especially got this with Seanan McGuire's contribution Emeralds to Emeralds, Dust to Dust. A Meeting in Oz by Jeffrey Ford was quite an unpleasant tale and I doubt I would have included it in the anthology if it had been up to me. Dale Bailey's City So Bright was similar and it really didn't reference the original work at all.

There were however a few stories that did work for me. One was Tad Williams The Boy Detective of Oz. That may have been because it tied into his Otherland version of Oz and featured Orlando Gardiner from Otherland and I've always liked him as a character.

Ken Liu's The Veiled Shanghai, giving Oz an Asian flavour and setting, was very clever and quite well done.

Jane Yolen had an interesting spin on the whole thing with the first person Blown Away, which told the story of Oz as it may have really been. I felt it was the best written story in the collection.

Orson Scott Card's contribution: Off to See the Emperor gave us food to think about in telling how Baum's son may have had the experience that led his father to create Oz in the first place.

My favourite story of the lot was the final entry: Jonathan Maberry's Cobbler of Oz. That one nailed the feeling. It was a delight, an Ozian fairytale created a story within a story and it's protagonist Nyla the flightless Winged Monkey reminded me very much of Dorothy herself. A pleasure to read from start to finish.

Oz Reimagined is a valiant attempt, but unfortunately too many of the stories seem to understand what Oz means and can't capture the spirit of the original.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mortal Coils by Eric Nylund

I've had this sitting on the TBR pile for years now and I think I may have done the book a great disservice by taking this long to actually read it.

On the surface of it Mortal Coils looks and sounds like fairly standard YA urban fantasy, but there is so much more to it than that.

The just turned fifteen year old twins Eliot and Fiona Post have been raised and home schooled by their incredibly strict grandmother Audrey, and the only relief they get from the grind of schoolwork and actual part time work at a local pizza restaurant is from their very old great grandmother Cee, who despite being older than Audrey defers to her daughter.

The one thing that the Post twins have always been curious about is the identity of their parents, but talk of them seems to be forbidden as are many other things in the twins lives. In fact their grandmother has 106 written rules that are not to be broken for any reason.

Like many children raised by emotionally distant guardians the kids are very close and protective of each other and like teenagers they like to tease each other. In keeping with their rather unusual upbringing the teasing takes the form of a game they call vocabulary insult, in which they use obscure literary allusions and scientific terms to insult each other. The first of them either to unable work out the reference, or reply to it adequately, loses.

Everything changes on the eve of their fifteenth birthdays when odd things start to happen to them and they encounter outsiders.

The truth of it is that Eliot and Fiona are the offspring of a forbidden union between an Infernal (fallen angel, in this case Lucifer) and an Immortal (goddess). Their respective families have become aware of their existence and both want them, but before they can be accepted into the fold by either side, they must be tested to see what, if anything, they have inherited from their parents.

Mortal Coils was an astonishing book in many ways. The characterisation of Eliot and Fiona was spot on. The two were believable and engaging protagonists and audiences should be able to identify with them and the trials they go through. Their actual talents were interesting and different. Eliot finds he has an affinity with music and Fiona can literally cut things with her sheer will.

There was an interesting mix of myth and legend from ancient Greek and Norse legends to modern day urban legends (the giant alligator in the sewers and Area 51). Gods such as Hermes and the Fates play prominent parts along with fallen angels like Lucifer and Beelzebub.

There's a joke that runs through the narrative that this isn't so much a novel as something based on actual accounts from Eliot and Fiona, who aren't fictional protagonists but real people who have themselves passed into legend.  This is backed by a note from the editor at the start of the book and footnotes throughout that reference such sources as Gods of the First and Twenty-first Century, The Post Family Mythology or the Mythica Improbiba by Father Sildas Pious. I'm a great fan of things like this, they really add depth to a work.

It's highly ambitious and has much more behind it than a first look leads one to believe. One of the stunning things about Mortal Coils is despite that depth and the extra work that must have been undertaken to execute this, it never loses quality or fails to delight.

I've got to say that overall Mortal Coils was a joy to read, so much so that I've even got the sequel All That Lives Must Die ready to go soon.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Poison by Sarah Pinborough

It would be easy to dismiss Sarah Pinborough's Poison as another entry in the growing subgenre of fairy tale fiction, but to do so would be doing this wonderful little volume a great disservice.

There are three of these planned (Charm and Beauty are scheduled for release later this year). The titles give you a hint as to which fairy tale they concern themselves with.

Poison is about Snow White, it also has elements of a number of other classic fairy tales in it. The witch from Hansel and Gretel gets more than a mention as does Aladdin.

Although Poison is set in a very identifiable fairy tale kingdom and it has all the known parts of that old story: the beautiful young princess, the wicked step mother, the magic mirror, the good hearted huntsman, the doughty dwarves and the handsome prince, it is not simply a retelling of Snow White. There's a very modern feel to it and the characters have more depth than you find in the original.

Poison isn't a long book, it comes in at an easily and quickly readable 200 pages, but there's more to it than a page count. This had more impact than many books more than twice it's length.

It has wonderfully lyrical prose, humour and sex.

The best way to describe Poison quickly would be to say that not all fairy tales have happy endings.

For me this book was a great surprise, but I really loved it and am eagerly looking forward to Charm and Beauty.