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.

Elfy.

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.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik


I first started reading Naomi Novik's Temeraire alternate history novels, where she added dragons into the Napoleonic wars when the first book His Majesty's Dragon was still known as Temeraire.

Back then I used to look forward to each and every instalment as something special, a bit of a highlight of the reading year. Crucible of Gold is the seventh Temeraire book and as the excerpt at the back of the book from Blood of Tyrants lists it as the penultimate novel in the series, it would appear that it's planned to end at nine books total.

The warning signs for the series were there in the last book Tongues of Serpents. That was set in Australia and a major disappointment for me as I felt it was badly handled and wound up being rather boring overall.

I'd hoped it was a bit of a road bump, but that does not appear to be the case. I doubt I would have even completed Crucible of Gold if I wasn't already so invested in the series.

The books have become a bit formulaic. Temeraire and Laurence head off somewhere new and exotic in the service of king and country. In the case of Crucible of Gold it's South America, which in Novik's version of the 19th century is still largely controlled by the Incas. They encounter local dragon life. There's a fight or two. Everything gets resolved to a point where the story can continue and they do it all over again in the next book.

I still like the way Temeraire himself is written, although as a character his development seems to have plateaued and while the fire breathing Turkish dragon Iskierka can be amusing, her continual arguing with Temeraire has become tiresome rather than entertaining.

The author gives credit to her beta readers and editors for improving the book during the process, aside from correcting any typos or grammatical errors I can't see evidence of editing in this book. At one point Laurence answers an unasked question.

I'll stick with it, but only because I want to see it through to the end. You could skip Crucible of Gold in the series, read a synopsis somewhere online and save yourself the time and money.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Fall of Night by Rachel Caine


At the end of the previous book in Morganville Vampires (Bitter Blood) the series' main character; Claire Danvers, was given permission (actually strongly encouraged) to leave the town and go study at MIT.

Fall of Night is the book that details the result. I truly didn't believe that Claire would actually leave the town. In the past the fact that either her parents or her friends, including boyfriend Shane, are there has kept her from doing so even though Amelie has given her permission to do so. I thought this may be the same, but no Claire actually does leave and makes it to MIT.

You'd think this was a strength, taking the girl out of the town and letting her spread her wings, but I think it actually becomes a weakness of the book. Claire is a part of Morganville and you can't just have a cast of characters for 13 books and then drop them out of the story and introduce new ones and make it work.

So to a large extent Morganville follows Claire to MIT. First it's boyfriend Shane. I had major issues with this. Claire specifically asked him not to follow her, so he doesn't tell her, not even when he's in Cambridge, he just hangs around 'keeping an eye' on her. Now no matter how you try to rationalise it, and Shane does, that is stalking.

Then Myrnin escapes and heads for Claire. Michael and Eve follow him and because Oliver was exiled at the end of Bitter Blood you just know he's going to pop up as well.

Things about this one started to become a little too obvious as well. One of the villains of this piece; a scientist called Irene Anderson, was initially Claire's mentor and friend, but honestly she was so obviously a villain that she may have just as well been wearing a t-shirt with Villainous Plot Twist written on it large bright letters.

I did like the introduction of Jesse and Pete; a vampire person crime fighting duo, who work as a bartender and a bouncer when they're not out saving people. Jesse was also one of those actual historical figures like Oliver and Ada that Rachel Caine sometimes likes to introduce in this. Exactly how she escaped the axe I don't know, but apparently she did. If Rachel Caine wanted to continue the vampire concept and maybe turn it into a more adult pitched series then books starring Jesse and Pete could definitely work.

I thought the storyline concerning Claire's old school friend and roommate Liz and her stalker Derrick kind of went nowhere as did the storyline concerning Liz's sleazy professor Dr Davis, he was another very obvious villain.

For the first time there's a pretty evil cliffhanger at the end of this one, which will definitely keep people reading.

In more than one way I'm pleased that she series is being brought to a close with the next book. I think the idea has run it's course and it's time to wind it up. I like to see Fall of Night as a bit of a blip in what has overall been a highly entertaining series of vampire books for a YA audience.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hard Magic by Larry Correia


I'd had Larry Correia's Hard Magic the first book of the Grimnoir Chronicles on Mt Toberead for a while, but only just now got around to picking it up.

Larry Correia is best known for his Monster Hunter series (a collection of three of them is also somewhere on that mountain), and this is a newer addition to his growing bibliography.

I think the name of the series as a whole is a little misleading. It literally means grimdark, but I didn't see it as being part of that new subgenre, it was much lighter and far more fun.

I've seen it classified as steampunk, but I can only think that the presence of dirigibles as a major form of transportation is why people would slot Hard Magic in there. It's a mix of alternate history and urban fantasy and has a  noirish feel to it in terms of when and where it is set.

It's the 1930's in the US and many members of the world's population have become Actives. An Active is someone with a type of power that makes them something more than normal. Almost superhuman. There's a rather useful glossary in the back of Hard Magic that goes into the various Actives and their powers. It's not specified exactly when Actives started to manifest, but there is an excerpt from a speech given by Abraham Lincoln that seems to suggest it started to happen in the latter half of the 19th century.

I had an issue with the blurb on the back of this book. It states that one of the main characters; Jake Sullivan (a powerful Active known as  Heavy, it means he can manipulate or Spike gravity) is a private eye. If he was it isn't shown in the book. Jake's history seemed to suggest that after he returned from WW I he got himself into some legal difficulty and was imprisoned. At the start of Hard Magic he is working with the Feds to apprehend Active criminals in order to remain out of jail. The cover kind of plays up the private eye idea, too. In saying that it's one of Baen's rather more subdued covers.

The second major character is Faye. A young Active who can Travel or teleport. She started life as a refugee from Oklahoma (one of the book's departures from our history). Because the bad guys of this one; a Japanese consortium known as the Imperium, who have designs on world domination, have gone after people close to Jake and Faye, the two find themselves teaming up with an order of Actives known as the Grimnoir Knights to battle the Imperium.

Conceptually Hard Magic shares a bit with Myke Cole's Shadow Ops series, although I think Correia's world is better built and makes more sense. The powers are more fun and the characters themselves are stronger and more consistent.

I really warmed to Faye, her gruff and reluctant mentor Lance and Heinrich, the German Fade with the tragic past. I found it hard to do the same with Jake. He plays the hard as nails noir hero and his slang spouting exterior is often at odds with his well read highly intelligent interior.

The inclusion or mention of real people is both a nice touch and adds depth to the alternate 1930's that Correia has built for this series.

It's a really good old fashioned pulp style adventure story with a dash of fantasy added in. Definitely recommended and I'll be getting to the sequel: Spellbound, sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Bitter Blood by Rachel Caine


At book 13 of a planned 15 book series I'm definitely in the home stretch of Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires with Bitter Blood.

The previous book in the series (Black Dawn) had a lot going on and while it wrapped up the draug storyline it also had a number of loose ends that needed to be tied up. Bitter Blood was the pay off for some of those.

Bitter Blood has a lot of issues to cover and I feel it may have had more story lines than it really needed. We had to deal with the growing animosity between Morganville's vampire and human populations. The fall out from the marriage between vampire Michael Glass and his human girlfriend Eve Rosser. The growing instability of the computer that controls a lot of Morganville's infrastructure because of the brain of the former vampire that controls it; Frank Collins. The fact that unbeknownst to Morganville founder Amelie, her evil sister Naomi is still alive and capable of controlling both humans and vampires alike to to do her bidding.  There's also the relationship between Claire Danvers and Shane Collins, which was damaged at the end of Black Dawn. The deaths of Morganville mayor Richard Morrell and teenage seer Miranda also had to be dealt with.

As if all that weren't enough a couple of side stories came into this one: the crew of a ghost hunting reality TV show blow into town and there's a race to see who can become the new mayor. In one of Claire's sillier moments she actually got her sworn enemy mean girl Monica Morrell to run for mayor. Myrnin's pet spider Bob would have been a better candidate. In fact I think more people would have voted for Bob than Monica.

The technique of using various characters to narrate the book, rather than all from Claire's third person perspective, continues, although the amount of narrators is cut down (I think Black Dawn suffers from a bit of overload on that front) and most of it is seen from Claire's eyes.

With all this happening the mayor storyline, the reality show and even Miranda to a lesser extent kind of fell by the wayside. I think Bitter Blood is actually the longest Morganville book thus far and dropping a storyline or two may have tightened it up and improved it was a whole. It was the first time through the series I've ever found myself wishing one part of the story would be resolved so I could move onto something more interesting.

One thing Rachel Caine has done very well at various times throughout the series is draw realistic and frightening scenes of bullying or mob mentality. This happens again when Eve suffers at beating at the hands of a hate and fear filled gang of vampire hating teens. What makes this scarier than an attack by a vampire is that it is very real. Both Eve and her attackers are human, the injuries she suffers make sense (she wound up having her appendix removed due to the attack) and you could imagine this happening in real life.

I felt the escape from the cage scene stretched credibility to breaking point. I fail to see how a pair of shoelaces and the metal rod from a hairband can actually bend the metal bars of a cage constructed to hold vampires enough that it's occupants can escape. As my wife commented: "they 'MacGyvered' it." I guess it's similar to the fairly flimsy equipment cage in Buffy the Vampire Slayer being able to hold werewolves and vampires when they wanted it to and other times not being sturdy enough to do this, depending on what the storyline called for. It's a minor nit to pick, but it just bugged me.

The ramifications for the actions taken in Bitter Blood (Claire is basically ordered by Amelie to go study at MIT, Michael and Eve's relationship is badly damaged, Oliver is exiled) will resonate through book 14 (Fall of Night) and are setting the blocks for the series final end in book 15.

Although I did feel that certain things in Bitter Blood 'jumped the shark' I'm pretty hooked on these and there's not long to go, so I will see it through to the end and don't think I'll have too many regrets about it. It's largely been a fun ride thus far.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Necessary Evil by Ian Tregillis


Necessary Evil is the final book of Ian Tregillis' Milkweed triptych. The second book of this (The Coldest War) absolutely blew me away.

In Necessary Evil, the story is taken from an alternate 1963, largely created by the events in the first book (Bitter Seeds) back to where it began in a war torn world in 1940. Through the machinations of the former Reichsbehorde seer Gretel, British secret service agent Raybould Marsh finds himself back in time, with the chance to save the world and at the same time change his own life and ensure the survival of his infant daughter; Agnes.

Because we've got two Marsh's in the one time Ian Tregillis had to distinguish between the two without always using 1963 Marsh's disfigurement as a description. I think he pulled off something quite clever to do this. 1940's Marsh is written in third person and 1963 Marsh is written in first. It was interesting to see things from his viewpoint as intimately as we did and it gave the character new levels and depth.

The other thing that really added to the story for me were the occasional interludes from Gretel where we got to see how deep her obsession with Marsh went and how she had been barely hanging onto sanity for most of her life. Although these sections are small, they must have been incredibly difficult to write, because Gretel often follows two or three possible timelines and outcomes before arriving at the one that suits her.

The planning to write this triptych is mind bending. He plays with the course of World War Two, this creates an alternate 1960's, then he goes back to the '40's and tries to steer the whole thing back on course to produce the outcome we all knew about.

Aside from a few instances where Ian Tregillis (an American) struggled with getting the 1940's British vernacular right (no Brit would use the phrase 'rogered the pooch') overall he got the tone spot on, and I couldn't fault it.

He drew me in so completely to the characters that I nearly threw the book across the room at one point where I thought some of them were stepping into one of Gretel's many traps.

Milkweed as a whole is superlative story telling and Necessary Evil is the perfect end for it.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Black Dawn by Rachel Caine


Black Dawn is the twelfth book of Rachel Caine's highly successful YA vampire series Morganville Vampires. I have to say that these are highly addictive. I started reading them late last year and have ripped through the last few in record time for me. I don't generally read things like this back to back, but I've made an exception with the Morganvilles, reading chunks of them before bed each evening (yes, in hindsight reading a vampire book just before trying to sleep is probably not the best plan). I had to go straight onto to Black Dawn because the previous instalment (Last Breath) was left on a pretty sizeable cliff.

Black Dawn is probably the most all action, all the time book in the series since Carpe Corpus in the middle of the Bishop storyline. In Last Breath Rachel Caine introduced the concept of the draug, a water affiliate vampire that is anathema to their land bound cousins. Before going on here I have to say that the concept of the draug is one of the coolest and newest ideas I've seen for a long time in vampire fiction, especially what could probably be termed as YA paranormal.

With the town under lockdown because of the invasion of the draugs, and Amelie infected and close to death it's up to Claire and her friends and allies to come up with a way to save the town and themselves in doing so.

As she had in Last Breath Rachel Caine continues the multiple PoV concept, expanding her first person cast, and continuing to write Claire in third person. I don't think she gets it right all the time. She's pretty down with Claire's gang, and she's been doing Shane for the last two books anyway, but the vampires' Oliver and Amelie, in particular just don't sound right.

Shane's dream sequence when he is held captive by the draug was particularly moving and effective, very well written. You're well into the chapter before you realise exactly what is happening here. Hats off to the author for that one.

This book also ends of the draug storyline, and while you're never really overly worried about the leads, some of the peripherals do get killed. Not many YA authors will do that, so I was both shocked and impressed, not to mention sad, because a personal favourite didn't make it.

The books have grown progressively darker as the characters have matured and situation altered, but it was dialled up in Black Dawn. It may have reached a peak, although the ending does tend to indicate that maybe this is not the case and there is more misery ahead for Morganville.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


I have to admit to being a little wary of Erin Morgenstern's debut The Night Circus. It came out in 2011 and created a huge amount of buzz. I try not to listen to hype, because I often find that if the work can't live up to the words spoken and written about it then I wind up disappointed and that's really not fair to the author.

We did have a copy of it, but it was somewhere on Mt Toberead. Then it was chosen as May's book of the month by Fantasy Faction. So I picked it up and started reading.

This review could well have consisted of 'Go and read this, it is brilliant!' because those were my thoughts after finishing The Night Circus.

I could use a lot of adjectives, other people have: astounding, brilliant, outstanding, beautiful, lush, etc... They all apply. Mesmeric is the one I like the most, though. That's what The Night Circus does, it entrances you and draws you into it's tents filled with wonder and beauty.

The idea of the circus itself is intriguing and The Night Circus is everything that a circus should be, a place that is ever changing, ever moving, magical and mysterious.

Even the way it's written is different, and I don't use that word lightly. For a debut author Erin Morgenstern is both remarkably talented and extremely brave. The entire narrative is third person, present tense. This is really hard to do, and do well. Experienced and successful authors fear to try it, and with good reason. If it's not done well it is awful to read. Not with Morgenstern's The Night Circus, it's not even noticeable, and it adds to the strangeness and the hypnotic quality of the tale.

Then there are the timeshifts.  Nearly every short chapter seems to take place in a different place and a different time. The narrative winds in and out of time over thirty years. This can be frustrating in other books, but not in The Night Circus. I felt the interlocking stories as they wove through that thirty year time period were perfectly placed and they gave the story a sense of history and depth.

The story largely concerns itself with a bet made between two magicians of who can produce the best practitioner of the art. It is those two that the readers follow: Celia and Marco. There are other side stories which are every bit as enchanting and interesting.

At times it seems like not a lot happens, and it is probably true, but you keep reading on the for the descriptions and the wonder that Morgenstern can evoke from her pages. The Night Circus is a feast for the senses of the mind.

She has strong, if strange characters, too, from the tortured Celia and her horrible father; Hector, to the mysterious tattooed Japanese contortionist Tsukiko, the tragic Tarot reader Isobel, the outsider Bailey, who wants to be part of the circus, the quirky twins Poppet and Widget with their performing kittens, the circuses owner Christopher Lefevre and Herr Thiessen and his incredible clocks. The only character that didn't really work for me was Marco. He seemed a little off at times, lacking in depth.

Get The Night Circus, read it and find out what all the fuss is about, you will not be sorry you did.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Last Breath by Rachel Caine



The events of Bite Club (the previous book in the series) wrapped up the long running Bishop arc in this series, so Last Breath would be the start of a new crisis in Morganville.

Initially that could be seen as the marriage of new vampire Michael Glass to his human girlfriend Eve. The engagement party pits the humans and the vampires against each other and when the head of Morganville's ruling vampire community hands down the edict that she will not permit the marriage to go ahead Eve slaps the French vampire's face. I actually thought Eve was rather lucky to get away with that. As Amelie herself said only two people had ever done that before, they were vampires and they were both dead.

Thoughts of impending nuptials were however driven away by the arrival of a messenger from Blacke. Blacke is a nearby town that appeared in Kiss of Death (the eighth book in the series). It is also ruled by vampires and the messenger carries a message from Amelie's Blacke based equivalent; Morley. It says one thing only: RUN.

Soon after vampires start going missing and Claire Danvers notices a mysterious newcomer. It transpires that the reason Amelie set up a vampire friendly town in Morganville wasn't just because it was out of the way, it had to do with it being in an arid environment. Apparently what vampires fear most are the draug. In this particular mythology the draug are water based vampires. Rachel Caine ties mermaids and sirens into this (she doesn't mention the nixies, the poor nixies are always forgotten about). A draug or draugr is from Norse mythology and they are a kind of vampire. The sea-draugr definitely do have an affinity with water, hence the name.

The land vampires have fought the draugr before and failed, so they decide to run. It is Claire and her friends who convince them that the humans and vampires of Morganville should stand and fight for their town.

One very interesting thing happens in this installment. Claire dies. One of the draugr, a leader called Magnus, snaps her neck. She spends time as a ghost (I have the distinct impression the Last Breath of the title is Claire's) and meets Hiram Glass, one of Michael's ancestors, largely the reason the house itself is alive and has power, but he was a very nasty old ghost. Myrnin does manage to restore Claire to her body again. It didn't really make a lot of sense, but I find with books like the Morganvilles it's probably best not to dwell too long on the logic behind some of the 'science'.

Because Claire is 'dead' for a good part of the narrative and also stuck in the house (she spends a lot of it hiding from Hiram in the attic), she can't always be where the action is. Rachel Caine used this technique in Bite Club to tell the story from Shane's point of view and she does it again in Last Breath. This time she actually included an explanatory note at the start of the book to let readers know that characters other than Claire would tell some of the story and this could be recognised by the characters name at the start of the chapter. I thought that was a bit of overkill, but maybe there were complaints that she kind of sprung the Shane thing on them. I also have to keep in mind that Morganville's target audience is between 13 and 20.

I do find it interesting that Claire's point of view is third person, but the other characters are all first person. Aside from Claire, the author seems to have the best handle on Shane. The other characters, especially Amelie, don't have very convincing voices.

Last Breath ends on a cliffhanger and is clearly the beginning of a new story arc. It's quite a fun entry. Kiss of Death remains my favourite, but this one sets up a very juicy continuation that promises plenty of action.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Captain Vorpatril's Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold


Warning! This review is probably going to be more about my uneasy relationship with science fiction than the latest entry in the Vorkosigan Saga.

It seems that every time Lois McMaster Bujold writes a Vorkosigan book it gets nominated for the Hugo. I think three have won the rocket ship for best novel and if Captain Vorpatril's Alliance gets up that will put her level with Robert Heinlein for Best Novel Hugo's, with five overall (she also got one for an unrelated fantasy series).

For some reason the Vorkosigan's don't do it for me. Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is the third one I've read. I read the previous book in the series (Cryoburn) when it was nominated for the Hugo in 2011 and I think I've one of the early books, maybe the first one, years ago, but I can't reliably say that I did. If I did, it again failed to excite me.

I should have liked Captain Vorpatril's Alliance. Yes, it is science fiction, but it's heavy on the fiction and light on the science, which is how I tend to like my SF. It's also one part heist novel and one part romance. I can take or leave romance, although if it's done well with strong characters I can often be drawn in by it, but the word heist or caper is generally enough to sign me in.

The basic idea behind Captain Vorpatril's Alliance is that the one of the least highly regarded members of the powerful Barrayaran Vor clan, Ivan Xav (my wife, who has read more of the books than I have, and quite likes them, tells me that he is generally referred to by his family members as 'you idiot Ivan') becomes involved with an attractive girl called Tej, marries her hurriedly to give her the protection of his family, falls in love with her and then discovers that she appears to be from a family of con artists and thieves who want to steal the Barrayaran hidden fortunes and use Ivan to do it.

I think a lot of my issues with the Vorkosigans is that while Bujold tries to bring new readers up to speed on where the saga is that she's been writing these books since 1986 and they span a period in excess of 30 years. Most of the books take place in Miles' lifetime, but there are others about his parents generation as well.  So coming in cold is very difficult. I liken it to attending a party where you really don't know anyone and all the other guests have a shared history.

I find the amount of names and history I'm trying to deal with confusing and hard to follow. In this book it didn't help that Tej also had a large and convoluted family.

I didn't dislike the book, it just didn't hold my interest. The romance was nice and ended happily ever after. The heist was audacious and quite often amusing, if a little too clever for the good of the plot, and had possibly catastrophic and startling consequences, but I just felt a little lost throughout most of the time I was reading it.

I've seen nothing but high praise elsewhere, but my final conclusion is that the Vorkosigan books simply don't connect with me and that could be because most science fiction tends to leave me rather flat.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bite Club by Rachel Caine



I think it's fair to say that I thought Ghost Town (the 9th Morganville Vampires book) was becoming a little formulaic. This is probably a natural consequence of writing a YA multi book series set in and around the same small Texas town. Even the titles tend to follow a pattern. They're mostly about death or blood. Bite Club is probably the most openly groanable play on words that they've done, though.

As the title may indicate the story is largely about an underground online viewable fighting ring that pits vampires up against steroided human opponents. Unsurprisingly it is Shane Collins from the little gang that readers follow who winds up in the middle of all this.

The story is pretty complicated for a Morganville. As Claire fights to keep her boyfriend out of the ring, and possibly getting killed she uncovers all sorts of things, including bad guy Bishop and another former villainess in the form of Kim, who at one stage nearly upset the apple cart by trying to turn Morganville into a reality show.

Bite Club is full of revelations, both big and small. The reintroduction of Bishop and Kim are two of the big ones. Another is Michael, Eve and Shane finding out that Myrnin is using Frank Collins brain to control the computer that runs Morganville and of course that Claire knew this, yet chose to keep it from her friends. Yet another is when Eve drops the bombshell that she and Michael are engaged to be married. This particular storyline will have ramifications moving forward and is viewed badly by both sides of society in Morganville. The humans can't understand why anyone would marry someone who is effectively dead and feeds on human blood. The vampires on the other hand don't like the idea of one of their own marrying someone who is considered by them as cattle and food and clearly inferior.

There are some smaller ones. Apparently Eve is a gun fencer. That was fun finding that out. Claire gets offered a position by MIT. This I found interesting and I'm not really sure why the author did it. Any long time reader (if you're 10 books in you're pretty invested) knows that Claire won't accept the position, even if Amelie does let her go, she's not going to let Shane, Eve and Michael leave and Claire won't go if they don't, especially Shane. So she keeps this poor MIT recruiter hanging on for most of the book, yet we as readers know full well she's going to knock it back. It just seemed to be an unnecessary side plot.

One interesting thing Rachel Caine tried in this was the altering of perspective. Generally the books are told from Claire's point of view in third person. This one had sections labelled Shane where we got his point of view in first person. I think next to Myrnin, Shane is probably the character that Rachel Caine most enjoys writing, so this made sense. It was necessary as Shane spends a lot of time away from the others and often in his own head, so we needed that. It was just how it was done. I found it a little clumsy and at times jarring. It broke up the story's usual smooth flow.

The teenage seeress Miranda also reappeared. I really like her and hope she comes back. She's rather painful to read, because she knows what is going to happen and feels that she needs to do this, because the consequences may be worse. I almost felt like crying when she let Monica's psychotic violent friend Gina break her nose, because to not do so would have meant Claire died at Gina's hands. To make things a little better Gina did get in a serious car accident soon after, which she could have avoided if she hadn't been hell bent on hurting Miranda. I feel so sorry for Miranda, she seems like a nice kid, but has been dealt a wretched hand by life and cursed at the same time. Despite that I hope she comes back, because she's compelling to read about and I don't think her story is done by any means.

I have to say I loved Myrnin in this. His driving or lack of ability is wonderful to read about. As was the fact that despite him having a mobile phone and knowing how to text he still feels the need to pass notes wrapped around rocks through the portals to let Claire know what is going on.

This one also ended a major story arc and leaves the way clear to start a new one as well as deal with the aftermath of some of the things that happened in Bite Club.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Knife of Dreams by Robert Jordan


Knife of Dreams is the 11th book of the Wheel of Time and the last book in the series that Robert Jordan was able to complete before his premature death.

By the time Jordan started writing this he had been diagnosed with the disease that did eventually claim his life and had to face the reality that he may not be able to complete the series.

I think this prompted him to take a look at where the series was going, and come to the conclusion after looking through Crossroads of Twilight that the answer was: nowhere.

I hoped Knife of Dreams would be better than Crossroads of Twilight, it couldn't possibly be worse, could it?

The prologue, while still being overlong as had become customary with the books, contained more story development than the entire 700+ page book that proceeded it.

Knife of Dreams tightened the whole story up, started to conclude story lines (Faile was finally rescued) and showed signs of eventually reuniting all the characters for a big finale.

It suffers, as does most of the Wheel of Time, from Jordan's excesses and repetition (there's an unusual preoccupation with spanking. It could have almost been retitled Fifty Shades of Wheel of Time) as well as his delight in really hurting his characters without actually killing them.

I started to see some of the fan delight with Egwene, although she only has a section of the prologue and one really long chapter she rocks it. Conversely Elayne turned into the most ineffectual and tedious ruler in the history of epic fantasy.

Mat alternates between taking charge and being SuperMat, to being Tuon's play thing. She even continually and very annoyingly refers to him as Toy. This was hard enough to deal with when she was talking to him, but when one chapter took her PoV it was downright confusing. Would it have killed her to at least use his name when she's thinking about him, rather than addressing him?

I'd been hearing things about Rand's hand (that wasn't meant to sound as stupid as it does), but I didn't know where he actually lost it. This is it. Jordan has a habit of emphasising the small things and glossing over the big ones. I nearly missed the loss of the hand. Loial got married somewhere along the line and I missed that too. The Ogier take an age to make a decision, but they appear to favour shotgun weddings. Odd.

Overall this was an improvement on Crossroads of Twilight and sets it up well for the final three books which were written by Brandon Sanderson, working from extensive notes left by Robert Jordan.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Ghost Town by Rachel Caine


I'll start this by saying that I really loved Kiss of Death. I think of the nine Morganville books I've read so far Kiss of Death is my favourite. It may have been the fact that Rachel Caine shook it up a little by taking the gang on a road trip, thereby taking them and herself out of a comfort zone without having the  safety net of Morganville.

Early on I was feeling a bit Morganvilled out by Ghost Town. It seemed rather formulaic, and I guess books like this that become a bit of a franchise of their own do get that way after a few books, it's hard not to, when you're dealing with the same characters book after book. Morganville is unlike other long running series that I like, such as the Dresden Files, in that because the main characters are stuck in the town and it's rare for people to come to Morganville, it doesn't get to develop a large cast of supporting characters in the way that Jim Butcher has been able to do with his wizard for hire.

Things changed significantly about halfway through when the real hook for this book became apparent. The magical computer that keeps people in Morganville and causes those that are able to leave to forget the place was broken when the force that kept it alive died.

Teenage genius Claire Danvers is tasked with fixing it. Claire does manage to get it fixed, but then weird things start happening. People begin to lose memories. They lose about three years. That's bad enough when it's people, but when it starts to affect the vampire population as well it becomes downright scary.

The only people that seem to escape the 'amnesia' are Claire and one of Morganville's vampire mover and shakers Oliver, as well as Claire's boyfriend's father Frank Collins. Claire and Oliver can be explained by the fact that neither of them was in Morganville three years ago. Frank Collins has a hatred for the place that somehow manages to keep his mind in the here and now.

It's up to that unlikely trio of allies to try and put things right, but to turn the computer off they have to get past Myrnin.

For most of the books Myrnin is portrayed as a fairly quirky and cuddly kind of character with his fanged bunny slippers and pet spider named Bob. Prior to Claire's arrival and her becoming his lab assistant Myrnin was both devious and dangerous. This is the Myrnin readers see for most of Ghost Town. Kudos to Rachel Caine for doing that, because it's not easy taking both an author favourite and an audience favourite and altering them so that they see the less pleasant side of them.

Another thing I thought was done very effectively and was also extremely clever. Taking most of the major players back three years in their lives showed their backgrounds and the background of the town wonderfully well, and doing it this way meant there was no clumsy and lengthy exposition, it was done as part of the storyline.

Things, as generally in Morganville, are wrapped up fairly happily at the end, but there are a couple of loose ends that are very deliberately left untied to move into the next book in the series (Bite Club). One is a history book that Claire manages to find, a history of Morganville, it gives facts and details about the town's founder Amelie that she would rather be kept private. Claire knows she has the book and she knows that Amelie if she knew about it, would prefer that it did not come to light. The other was something that Myrnin did at the end of the book. It's rather chilling and again highlights no matter how much Myrnin likes to play the absent minded mad professor he is still an old and ruthless vampire who will do whatever it takes to keep things running the way he wants them to.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire


Last year when I read and reviewed Discount Armageddon the first of Seanan McGuire's InCryptid series I said that it was urban fantasy in it's purest form, and it is. Midnight Blue-Light Special continues that. When I hear the words urban fantasy from now on I will think of InCryptid.

It's been three months since professional ball room dancer and cryptozoologist Verity Price hooked up with former Convenant of St George member Dominic DeLuca and saved New York's one and only dragon in residence (this is male dragon, there are many females). Life isn't too bad and Verity's nearing the end of her year long sabbatical and is facing the fact that she soon needs to make a life choice: dancing or cryptozoology. One is a life long dream, the other means that she makes a significant and life saving difference for others.

It's about then that Dominic tells her that the Covenant of St George are coming to town and to borrow from a well known Western movie: 'Hell is coming with them!'

Once the Covenant arrive, even though their team is only three strong, every cryptid in New York is in danger. Verity tells the dragons to bunker down and warns the Indian Madhura siblings to get out of town. She tells her cousin the 'cuckoo' (other dimensional race of telepaths, Sarah is adopted and it's really complicated) to lay low and prepares to move herself and her colony of talking mice to somewhere safer than her semi legal sublet apartment.

We get to see some of the other Price family allies, like Verity's Uncle Mike, who is revered by the Aeslin mice as the High Priest of Godammit Eat Something Already. Verity's co-worker the waheela Istas also comes along in the hope of there being some significant carnage.

This was the first real good look readers got at the Covenant of St George and they well and truly lived up to their reputation. They are capital N Nasty.

The book is tight and action packed. I give kudoes to Seanan McGuire for not shying away from the fact that when you're playing this game people will get hurt and killed. McGuire has shown in both the Toby Daye and Newsflesh books (written under the pen name Mira Grant) that she can do tension and make you fearful for the fates of her characters and that happens again here. She has a way of keeping one riveted to the page and I had to finish half of Midnight Blue-Light Special in one sitting, because I just had to find out what happened next! This is rare for me. I'm not one of those people who generally get so involved with a book that the outside world ceases to exist.

This one finishes off Verity's story arc for now and the third book (Half Off Ragnarok, seriously I adore the titles) will follow the misadventures of another member of the Price family and in a different setting.

I liked something that was done later in the book and that's the switching of perspective. Writing a book in first person can limit you a little to the narrators view of things. McGuire got around it in Newsflesh by having the second book narrated by a different character and here she takes the perspective of Sarah for a while. I love Sarah as a character, she's just so quirky, so I really enjoyed seeing things through her eyes. A couple of times the voice slipped and she became Verity, but mostly she was believable as Sarah. In terms of presentations, Tara O'Shea's little dingbats at the top of each new chapter altered slightly to reflect the narrator's passion. Verity is a dancer and Sarah is obsessed by mathematics.

One negative thing that carried over from Discount Armageddon was the relationship between Verity and Dominic. I can buy them as partners working together, but I just cannot buy them being in a romantic, hot sex kind of relationship. I don't know why, it just doesn't work for me.

Back to the positives I completely adore the Aeslin mice and want a colony of my own, they started to develop some more distinct personalities in this and while I can see the problems inherent in overusing them I will be most disappointed if Alex Price doesn't have a colony helping/hindering him in some way in Half Off Ragnarok.

Something else that McGuire has done very successfully and you don't often see it in urban fantasy is create an entire world, history and very believable back story, not just for the cryptids, but their human allies and enemies.

I also really like that while she does mention well known cryptids such as bogeymen and dragons, she also finds more obscure ones like madhuras and waheelas, and then there's the ones she's invented herself such as the cuckoos and the Aeslin mice, this all adds depth to the books and the series in general.

I'm on board with this for wherever it takes me.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Redshirts by John Scalzi


I actually bought Redshirts not that long after it came out, long before it was nominated for a Hugo. It went on the TBR pile. The Hugo nomination and my determination to at least read all the novels to make a better informed vote bumped it up the pile a little.

Redshirts is actually my second Scalzi novel. I read his online debut Agent to the Stars a few years ago. I have Fuzzy Nation somewhere on Mt Toberead, but just haven't gotten around to it.

Having now only read two fairly light books by Mr Scalzi I've probably got the wrong impression of him as a writer. He's better know for more serious work like Old Man's War.

Redshirts does in some ways have things in common with Agent to the Stars, both deal with the entertainment industry and both poke fun at certain things about the industry. They're also both light, comedic science fiction books.

The title of Redshirts is a reference to the science fiction TV theory that the characters wearing red shirts are expendable extras who get eaten by aliens, shot, blown up, contract incurable alien diseases, etc... For those who don't know, the term comes from Star Trek (as do many science fictional TV terms) in that it was generally those wearing the red uniform that bit the dust.

There's a belief that you need to be very familiar with Star Trek to get all the jokes. I don't think this is the case. I have only a passing knowledge of Star Trek, and maybe I didn't get all the references, but I certainly got enough of them to have a good laugh while reading Redshirts.

The story follows ensign Andrew Dahl and his fellows on board the starship Intrepid for most of the book. Dahl soon realises that weird things happen. People die in the oddest ways, yet none of the senior officers like the captain or his second in command or the engineer seem to be affected, despite often being in the firing line. The only ranking officer that ever seems to be in danger is Kerensky and as he's an astrogator why is he even on most of these off ship missions? Then there's the way Kerensky never actually dies or even shows ill effects once he miraculously survives. A lot of what they do onboard doesn't make any sense and too much is fixed by the 'magic box'. A strange hairy character known only as Jenkins is also on board and spends his time hiding in between decks.

Eventually Dahl, along with his friends and with the help of Jenkins work out that they're extras on a cable science fiction show and the only way they can save their own lives is to somehow affect the show in a meaningful way.

Once this has been figured out the story really becomes very very funny. There's a lot of laugh out loud moments throughout this. Most of the book is very meta, although it doesn't really break the fourth wall until the first Coda (there are 3 of them, written in first, second and third person). I do confess that whole reading it I wondered why no one had ever written something like this in quite the way Scalzi did. I suspect his time writing for Stargate Universe had more than a little to do with the idea for writing Redshirts.

The first two thirds of Redshirts are a hoot. I wish the book had finished there. The Codas form the last 100 or so pages and they didn't work for me. I appreciate how hard and clever it was to write them in first, second (especially second) and third person, but it was just too much and I felt unnecessary.

The first one is done in blog form and it does read almost like posts from Scalzi's popular blog Whatever. For me the gimmick got old quickly and I was hoping it ended sooner than it did.

Overall the book is a lot of fun and for most of it's length it very successfully gently mocks the very genre that spawned it. The last third lets it down a little for mine. If you like your science fiction funny and you enjoy watching it on TV then you'll get a kick out of Redshirts.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine


Morganville goes on a road trip!

In a nutshell that is pretty much what Kiss of Death is. I have to confess that this is one of my favourites in the series now.

New vampire Michael Glass gets given a shot at a recording studio in Dallas and his friends Claire, Eve and Shane get to accompany him on the trip. As both Michael and Eve were born and bred in Morganville they've never left the town, so heading off to Dallas with their two best friends is a big deal. Before allowing them out of the town the head vampire; Amelie, insists that they take her 2IC Oliver as a chaperone. None of the quartet are particularly happy about this stipulation, but as they either take him or don't get to go at all they can't do a lot else.

The fun really starts when Oliver detours via a small town. The kids have a run in with some locals and this leads to them torching Eve's car. She replaces it with a hearse, which I think survived the book, and  being a Goth Eve loves her new mode of transport. The reason for Oliver going off course was never explained in this book and I hope it's covered down the track, because otherwise it's a giant plot hole.

Other escapees from Morganville lead by Morley, take some of the locals prisoner and the gang go after them. They eventually wind up in the even smaller town of Blacke. Dangerous vampire Bishop has visited Blacke with his crew and turned most of the town into vampires. They've also been infected with the disease that Bishop carries, which causes vampires to lose their mental facilities.

Claire and her friends do manage to save themselves and come up with a compromise that allows Morley and his fellow escapees, including Patience and Jacob Goldman, to live in Blacke and basically create another Morganville there.

While it looks like nice neat bow I can see the Blacke deal creating some problems. Morganville was planned, it has infrastructure and the nearby university helps to support the local economy, plus Amelie and Oliver are smart operators. Blacke wasn't planned, it doesn't have Morganville's infrastructure, nor does it have outside economic support. Most of it's vampires are young and the town was both destroyed and decimated following Bishop's visit, plus the fact that Morley is while competent, not as strong or smart as either Amelie and Oliver, nor is he anywhere near as stable.

Another thing that may have future ramifications is Amelie's hardness at the end when she lays down the law to Michael, Claire, Eve and Shane and tells them that they will not be allowed to leave Morganville unless she says so and even then it won't be for long. She has Claire and Eve's families as insurance and if the girls won't leave then neither will the boys.

Rachel Caine has got another 7 books to wrap this up (she believes it will end with 15) and it's going to be fun to see how she does so.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Coldest War by Ian Tregillis


The Coldest War is the second of Ian Tregillis' alternate history Milkweed triptych begun with Bitter Seeds.

I thought Bitter Seeds was a good book, a promising debut, but The Coldest War is very very good and probably the book of the year so far for me.

Given that WW 2 ended a lot quicker than it did in our timeline in Bitter Seeds I thought this book about the cold war between Britain and the Soviets (often referred to as Ivan by their British adversary) may have also taken place earlier, but it doesn't it's set in 1963, when tensions between the two superpowers are at their height.

The Coldest War is an almost flawless book. Tregillis isn't that old, but he had a great handle on the early '60's and this may have been in part because he was working with a version of history that he himself altered in the opening book. He doesn't infodump about this brave new world, just drops in tantalising little nuggets that drive home how the world we know has changed, for instance the Soviets collectivised the French wineries, which ruined their reputation and quality. The best wine now comes from South America, although French cheese is still superior.

As with Bitter Seeds, The Coldest War really shines with it's characters, especially the devious seer Gretel. She's so chilling that the reader almost shivers every time she enters the story. This was driven home for me when she and her brother Klaus escaped from the Soviets (given that Klaus can walk through walls and Gretel reads the future in the same way most people read the morning paper imprisonment is really only a word to the siblings, and they could have run at any time, Gretel just chose to do it this way) and you see why she arranged to have a former teammate killed. Talk about dark!

It was at times painful to read the sections with Raybould Marsh and his wife Liv. In Bitter Seeds Marsh was a dashing and driven secret agent and Liv was the love of his life. Now Marsh has left the secret service and picks up gardening jobs to keep the wolf from the door. Partly due to the death of their daughter Agnes and the stress and strain of caring for their severely disabled son John, the two now hate each other and only remain together out of habit and John's need of 24/7 carers.

Warlock Will has done better for himself, recovering from his drug addiction in Bitter Seeds and getting a nice bureaucratic niche due to his titled and highly placed brother's influence, plus he has met and married Lady Gwendolyn and the two are genuinely in love.

Then Klaus and Gretel defect and it all goes to hell again.

Everyone in this book is Gretel's play thing and you get the impression that nothing happens without her say so. I never saw the ending coming and it has me very eager to see how Tregillis wraps this whole thing up in April with Necessary Evil.

The Milkweed triptych is of the highest quality and you will kick yourself if you don't get on it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Fade to Black by Francis Knight


Fade to Black is the debut fantasy novel by Francis Knight. It's the first of a planned series starring the pain mage Rojan Dizon.

It's a hard novel to categorise. It tends to have been slotted into urban fantasy and it does take place in a city and have a protagonist who does tend to bring Harry Dresden to mind, but it's on a secondary world that isn't Earth. It also has a rather dystopian feel to it and that's how it started.

It's set mostly in the city of Mahala. Mahala is a vertical city, that has been built upward and not outward. The result of this is that only the wealthiest and most powerful live in the light, everyone else is oppressed by their dim existence. The city actually reminded me of the giant metropolises in David Wingrove's Chung Kuo and the Pit was rather reminiscent of Chung Kuo's Clay.

Rojan lives in the shadows and hides his ability as a pain mage from most, partly because it's illegal and partly because despite the pain that is required to give him the power it is addictive.

The hard boiled bounty hunter doesn't want to let himself get too close to anyone or let anyone into his life, that is until his estranged brother comes looking, asking for Rojan's help in tracking down his abducted daughter Amarie.

It's an entertaining book and it moves fast with some good action sequences. The idea of pain magic is an interesting one and handled very well.

I felt Mahala itself was a little shallow and the whole book had the feel that it could have been darker and more meticulously built, but it's the opener in a series and I'm sure it will grow as it is written. Rojan himself was a little bland and occasionally inconsistent, but he also shows promise and has scope.

All in all it was entertaining and I am confident it will grow and improve as the series is written. A promising start.

Fade Out by Rachel Caine


I promised in my review of the 6th Morganville Vampires book Carpe Corpus that I would try and get to the next book quicker and I am as good as my word.

A story arc finished in Carpe Corpus and as result the opening of Fade Out has a much more relaxed feel to it than the predecessors. It concerns Eve getting a leading role in a local production of A Streetcar Named Desire. What I found interesting about this is that it's directed by a vampire and one of the town's leading vampire power brokers Oliver has a role in it too.

Claire spends a lot of the early part of this book being an annoying teenager (because of her importance to the story, her kid genius status and the fact that she's attending university you tend to forget that she's only 17) because of Eve's friend Kim. She's right to worry about Kim, because the girl does have the potential to destroy the town, but Claire had it in for her before that was discovered.

This one works a lot more with the development of the characters and their relationships and it's a welcome change from the full on action of the previous few books. I read that in another review and like that reviewer I'm not the target market.

There was a lot of Myrnin and I really like him. It's hard not to like a vampire who keeps a pet spider he names Bob and wears bunny slippers with fangs around the place. There's also a lot of the homicidal Claire hating computer Ada and her attempts to kill Claire. I think it's the relationship with Myrnin that sets Ada off, she's never actively stalked anyone before, but she sees Myrnin as 'hers' and she is very jealous.

In order to get out of one bad situation Shane makes a pretty bad deal with another bunch of vampires and it's going to come back to bite (sorry couldn't resist) him and the rest of the non vampire gang in the future.

There were a couple of interesting revelations in this one about the background of the town and the characters. Richard Morrell (current mayor and brother of mean girl Monica) is one of two Morganville residents to have killed a vampire and not been executed for it. I like Richard and was hoping we'd find out more about that after it was dangled tantalisingly out there, but Richard didn't even appear. Sigh. Maybe in Kiss of Death.

The other one was exactly who Oliver is historically. The hints are his first name, the place he lived, the time he lived in and the age he was when he became a vampire. I know he's not described this way, but I keep seeing him as Eric Stonestreet (Cameron in Modern Family), so never picked up on his real identity before. Ada's also based on a real historical person, and it's entirely fitting and very clever.

I do hope there's some investigation of Richard's past in Kiss of Death and I've already started reading it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Carpe Corpus by Rachel Caine


Despite the fact that I find Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampires books a bit of a guilty pleasure and that Carpe Corpus follows on immediately from Feast of Fools & Lord of Misrule I took a while to get around to it, in a vain effort to whittle down the TBR pile, damn thing just keeps on expanding.

Even though I hadn't been back to Morganville for a few months this one was like slipping on a comfortable pair of jeans or a favourite t-shirt. The books are kind of like that; familiar.

If you haven't read at least up until Book 6 Carpe Corpus be warned that you are now entering spoiler country.

When we last left our heroes in Morganville things looked bad. The old and brutal vampire Bishop had taken over the town and ruled with an iron fist.

When the vampires under the rule of Amelie, Bishop's daughter, ruled the roost in Morganville, they took it fairly easily with the human inhabitants, and the university in the town; TPU, was largely off limits. Amelie's vampires, including her 2IC; Oliver, didn't take blood, they asked for it. Admittedly they asked quite forcefully and it was a form of tax or tribute, but people weren't just killed off hand in the way Bishop and his people did it.

As the story unfolds Claire and her allies who prove to be the slightly off centre Mrynin and recent vampire Michael Glass, have to find a way to fool Bishop and his cadre of like minded vampires to take their town back.

Bishop is chased from the town, but he isn't dead and I'm sure until he is completely killed off he will continue to be a threat to Morganville.

A few things were resolved in this. I think Claire has finally decided once and for all between Shane and Michael. She's with Shane, her best friend Eve is with Michael, despite his now undead status. Amelie is going to take the death of her boyfriend Michael's undead grandfather Sam hard. Myrnin seems to have found a cure for the affliction that the vampires suffer from, although he himself is still extremely quirky, I'm trying to decide whether he's been permanently affected by the disease or he puts a lot of it on for show.

Some problems remain. One is that Claire's parents live in Morganville now. I mentioned in the review of Feast for Fools and Lord of Misrule the problems this causes for Claire and how it gives enemies a lever to force her into things, but I think it also creates narrative issues. She's expected to live with them and they'll be mentioned regularly, it just kind of breaks up the story unnecessarily for mine. It would be okay if they'd always lived there, but they haven't, and the author having moved them in for the Bishop story arc, can't just move them out again. Monica Morrell and her Monicettes are still around and they'll always be looking for ways to put Claire off her game. Back to the narrative: for someone who has been shown as a survivor and meant to be pretty bright, Claire is remarkably clueless and naive at times. She almost veers into TSTL (too stupid to live) territory.

I liked the introduction of Myrnin's bloodsucking computer Ada, she definitely doesn't like Claire and this is going to make things difficult for the teenage genius in the future as well. Ada is however suitably quirky and it doesn't surprise that she was Myrnin's brainchild.

All said and done they are damn addictive books and I won't wait so long between installments next time.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

Crossroads of Twilight by Robert Jordan


I'm honestly not sure how I made it through this book and retained my sanity.

I'd become used to the Wheel of Time books not exactly moving things along, but over 600 pages and no story development. Actually a I tell a lie, in about the last 3 pages, 2 things happen with do hint at story development.

I honestly didn't think it was possible to write something as long as Crossroads of Twilight and not move your story, which has already gone for 1,000's of pages over 9 books, at all.

How this book did not kill the entire series stone dead, I do not know. It is a testament to the fans that they stuck with the series through the complete and utter twaddle that composes Crossroads of Twilight. I think Elayne spent an entire chapter whinging about tea. In fact there seemed to be a strange preoccupation with various beverages throughout the book as a whole. It replaced the spanking obsession of a few books earlier.

I'm totally gob smacked. I can't say anything else. Jordan could have written blah blah blah for most of this books length and it would have made just as much sense.

Apparently from what I've heard that Robert Jordan gets his mojo back in Knife of Dreams. I hope so, because Crossroads of Twilight is one of the worst, most pointless, unnecessary books I have ever had the displeasure to trudge through.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trapped by Kevin Hearne


Last year I discovered Kevin Hearne's hip 2,100 year old druid Atticus O'Sullivan in his series of Iron Druid books and he quickly became a guilty pleasure.

I have to admit I was getting a bit tired of Atticus himself and the rather formulaic feel of the books. I was pleased see that at the end of Tricked it appeared that one story arc had ended, and the snippet of Trapped that was at the back of the book confirmed this by indicating that it took place 12 years after the end of Tricked.

Atticus, his witty wolfhound Oberon and his beautiful apprentice Granuaile are enjoying being thought dead by all and sundry, which leaves them in peace. It makes it easy for Atticus to train Granuaile.

They are startled out of their anonymity by the appearance of a distressed Perun (a slavic thunder god that Atticus befriended in the earlier books), he's being pursued by a mad Loki and once that leads to Atticus, all his old enemies: various Celtic deities, Norse deities, Bacchus and an ancient vampire, all come looking for him.

Despite 12 years having elapsed between Tricked and Trapped nothing much has really changed. Granuaile gets her full druidhood, but she doesn't seem to have learned that much really. Oberon is still the most enjoyable character to read and Atticus, while his pop culture wisecracking (I especially liked a comment referencing a meeting between Granuaile and Nathan Fillion at Comicon) is still fun and can make you crack a smile now and then, the formula is still very much in evidence and use. I can kind of understand why these deities have issues with Atticus, he really is annoying. It's almost like he pushes their buttons just because he can and then gets surprised when they come after him. You'd think he may have learned a bit of restraint over a lifetime spanning more than 2,000 years.

Hearne's main characters are remarkably inconsistent, especially Atticus and Granuaile, they seem to act the way they do for as long as it's convenient to the story to have them do so, once it becomes unnecessary they change. Oberon tends to act in character the most, but he is a dog.

The plots of the Iron Druid books are fairly irrelevant things, they're really only there to give Atticus a vehicle for which to hang his endless jokes and pop culture references on.

The books are fun, they're easy to read and move quickly. You just don't want to think about them too hard.