A Taste of Blood Wine. Book Review(0)
Titan Books, 501pp p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)
Originally published back in 1992 — long before Stephenie Meyer and Charlotte Harris made vampires trendy again — the majority of those featured in A Taste of Blood Wine are charming, sophisticated, and to quote the author, ‘devastatingly gorgeous’; and they all debunk the popular vampire myths about exposure to daylight, stakes through the heart, garlic, crosses, etc. This makes for a promising start in my book, and I’m pleased to say this delicious tale of love, lust and a passionate affair that stretches beyond the grave, is truly delightful. Step forward Charlotte and Karl, a magnificent pairing, and a timeless couple that deserve a place up there with the very best of genre lovers.
Set against the decadent backdrop of 1920s England, a post-WWI society enjoying a hedonistic boom in which champagne parties and illicit substances are all par for the course, we meet the Neville family, and the incredibly charismatic Karl von Wultendorf… Needless to say, Karl is the vampire in question, and despite his best efforts, falls for one of the Neville sisters.
For her part, Charlotte is the odd one out: while her two sisters, Fleur and Madeleine, spend their days enjoying the social aspects of society; she herself longs for the isolated comfort and familiarity of her father’s Cambridge laboratory, away from what she considers a circus parade of bourgeois grooming rituals. It takes a special kind of man, like Karl, to bring her out of her shell, but alas, not before he is already engaged to be married to her sister, Madeleine… Cue the beginnings of a great love story, and a gothic romance that tugs at the heart strings and leaves you all a-tingling, with hairs down the back of your neck, the works… It’s interesting to note that at no point does Karl ever deny being what he is, and he goes to great lengths to keep Charlotte firmly ‘in the loop’ in a vain effort to steer them off a path that could — and inevitably, will — lead to a life of ruin and damnation for them both…
I should say that prior to reading this, I never really cared for vampire tales: surely there’s nowt new to say about handsome Dracu-likes and beautiful preening teen tearaways? And even True Blood seems to have wandered so far off base in later seasons as to be nigh unrecognisable… But there’s the trick, y’see… Blood Wine isn’t just a gorgeous love story at heart, it’s about social suffocation, about a pair of individuals who are striving to break free from family ties, and it’s about a divided family who through no fault of their own have become embroiled in vampire politics. Moreover, the author’s clarity of vision and interesting take on vampire myth is both original and dare I say, breathtaking.
Among the vampires on Karl’s side, we’re introduced to Kristian, the closest thing to a lord of vampires in the book; one who believes wholeheartedly that vampires will inherit the Earth and are servants of God brought to this world to cleanse it of humans by sending their souls — their very essence — to the Lord himself for judgement. Karl is but one of his ‘flock’, but he is the unruly child, if you will, the one who resists all attempts to bring him to heel, and yet still Kristian loves him over and above all the others, eventually resorting to dastardly tactics to try and goad him into submission. It’s a battle of wills that crosses time and death itself, and makes Kristian a truly frightening and obsessive antagonist.
There’s so much here to love, not least of which is the concept behind The Crystal Ring, a whole other realm that vampires can use to escape the binds of the human world; also, there’s the Weisskalt, a mysterious icy cold plane that Kristian uses to great effect to detain those who displease him. Then there’s the writing, the characters, the depiction of forbidden love, and betrayal, the setting… To be honest, there’s very little herein that I didn’t love.
To say more would be to reveal too much, and I want you to read it for yourself, but I would like to add that the writing is gorgeous, by turns haunting, lucid, and all-round beautiful, and I am hugely grateful to Titan Books for republishing such a great series — a series that many, like me, would have probably missed the first time round — and for giving them such a great set of new covers as well. This first instalment is eminently readable, absorbing, and all-round brilliant, a lovely piece of work, and definitely a must-have whether or not you’re a fan of vampires. It’s a book for fiction-lovers and anyone that claims to appreciate the written word, I think. And I for one am looking forward to reading the rest of the series: A Dance in Blood Velvet, The Dark Blood of Poppies, and The Dark Arts of Blood (the latter an all-new instalment due October next year).
Magician’s End. Book Review(1)
HarperVoyager, h/b, £20.00
Reviewed by Craig Knight
The fate of the Black Magician and all of Midkemia is revealed in the last volume of the Riftwar Cycle. The Kingdom of Isles teeters on the brink of civil war as the throne lies empty and the most terrifying threat ever to face the Conclave of Shadows emerges in the mountains of the GreyTowers. All races, ally and enemy alike, must unite if Midkemia is to survive.
In 1983 a book named simply ‘Magician’ appeared on the shelves of bookstores and began the epic Riftwar Cycle that would span three decades and thirty books. Readers would journey to alien worlds, other dimensions, the depths of Hell and even to the Big Bang itself. Now, Raymond Feist brings this amazing saga to a conclusion with Magician’s End.
Pug, the eponymous Magician, has long been prophesised to see all that he loves die before he himself can finally rest and this story brings all the events of the previous novels to a head. Feist has set himself an enormous challenge with this final book and the expectations are high. The Riftwar Cycle itself has produced some incredible books over the years from the stunning heights of the original Magician to the outstanding spin-off Empire trilogy (written with Janny Wurts). It hasn’t all been good though and there were low points with some dubious stories crawling out of Midkemia (yes, Demonwar Saga, I’m looking at you) but Feist has always shown that he can deliver enthralling stories and maintaining the same story world for thirty years is an amazing achievement.
Magician’s End is a large book, bigger than usual for a Riftwar novel at a lofty 650 pages or so. This isn’t surprising really given the number of story lines that Feist has to wrap up here. The story jumps and darts between characters and worlds which risks losing the reader but Feist shows his skill and manages to hold it all together well. All of the characters, both new and old, are given story time and there are even a few cameo appearances from some unexpected characters. Their appearance does seem a little contrived in places but Feist can be given this indulgence as he brings his tale to an end and seeing them again brought a smile to this reviewer’s face.
The story does take its time to build up the action and the world-ending threat appearing in the GreyTowers is given little attention in the first half of the book, concentrating as it does on the civil war of the Kingdom. Pug himself is conspicuously absent for a long time and the story initially seems to focus a little too much on the characters of Hal and Ty. Readers wanting to see Pug and Tomas, his boyhood friend from Magician, appearing on every page may be disappointed, but fear not, there is plenty of time to tell their story and Feist does manage to pull this off on the whole. It’s quite easy to imagine that Feist could have written a 2,000 page novel here with all that is happening and sometimes the action does feel a little rushed, but the frantic pace actually serves this story well and the feeling of chaos and impending doom seeps out of every page.
Feist has always been one for epic fantasy and this novel takes epic to a new level. The very existence of reality itself is under threat in Magician’s End and the scope of the story is quite dizzying. This could almost have been a saga in itself and Feist packs a lot in so there’s no room to get bored here.
Magician’s End is an ambitious book and almost succeeds in living up to the high expectations of this final novel. The characters are the centre-point of this story, quite rightly, and even the usually flat character of Magnus is fleshed-out with more of his emotions and backstory revealed. Feist manages to close the annals of Midkemia on a high note and goes out not with a whimper but a giant, ear-shattering blast. I challenge anyone who has been with the saga over the years not to have a lump in the throat or a tear in the eye as they close the cover on this incredible book and incredible saga. Thank you, Ray, for this worthy conclusion and all the wonderful tales over the years, it’s been quite a ride.
Oh, and does Pug meet his Magician’s End? Well, you’ll just have to read the book and find out for yourself, won’t you?
Red Moon. Book Review(0)
Hodder & Stoughton, h/b, £17.99
Reviewed by Stewart Horn
There are lycans among us. Most of the time we don’t even notice them, because they don’t cause any trouble. Our friends, neighbours and colleagues may have the disease (In Percy’s world the affliction is caused by a prion) and be perfectly good citizens who live a full and normal life without ever eating anybody. But it gets interesting because there are radical lycans who commit acts we would recognise as terrorism. And there are extremist right-wing anti-lycan groups who see them as sub-human and would exterminate them given a chance. The lycans have a homeland, their own nation state where they can do all the wolfy stuff they like, but there is always unrest and the US has an uneasy relationship with the Lupine Republic, part peace-keeper and part military occupier.
Percy has gone to a lot of effort to make the political aspects of this novel realistic, to the extent that, despite the werewolves, it reads more Tom Clancy than Stephen King. He has a lot to say on the subject of US foreign and domestic policy, and he is using his created world to talk about real-life situations in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo, as well as AIDS, prejudice in general, extremism in all its forms, and particularly the American right’s attitude to all of these.
However, he also tells a good story with several interweaving strands so we see the conflict from every angle. His characters are engaging and his writing solid enough to balance the occasionally over-heavy satire, so you can just read and enjoy the story if that’s the way you roll.
Mainly, it’s a big, meaty, satisfying thriller. Enjoy it for the characters, the pace and the grandeur and ambition of the plot. Read it as a big adventure story and I promise you’ll have fun.
Seoul Survivors. Book Review(0)
Jo Fletcher Books, p/b, £16.99
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
Whenever I write a review I always look for something positive to say, for whatever I may think about a writer, director or anyone, they have put a lot of effort into their work. So here it is: the cover’s nice and conveys the general idea of the book, which is a Science Fiction story set in the present, using genetics as the background. Between the covers, however, it leaves a lot to be desired. It’s chock full of two-dimensional characters in one-dimensional scenes to the point where you know what’s going to happen and nothing is a surprise. As for the sex scenes…what a waste of ink and paper.
There are five main characters, Johnny Sandman, Da Mi, Damien, Sydney Travers and Mee Hee. Let’s start with Sydney, a girl so gullible (yes, also she’s blonde, slim and attractive) she believes everyone and ‘looks for the good in everything’. Naturally, she’s taken advantage of by everyone throughout the book, so much so that her final stand is unrealistic.
Johnny Sandman is a one-dimensional bastard. His proclivity towards domination and rage is obvious from the first and it doesn’t change from there, not that you’d expect it too. What does come as a surprise, and totally out of left field, is that he used to be a hitman. We learn even more about him in an information dump at the end which is right out of a bad B movie. Da Mi is a typical evil scientist who only wants the best for the world, as long as she’s in charge, while Mee Hee is North Korean peasant who wants nothing more than a peaceful life while worshipping Da Mi. That leaves Damien, the only character in the book with any soul. Not perfect by any means, but at least he is a well rounded character and worth reading about.
Then there’s the sex which, at a rough estimate, takes up about 150 pages of 450, all of which is a serious contender for the bad sex award. The first 100 pages are almost wholly about the sex lives of Sydney and Johnny with a dash of Damien thrown in. Mee Hee and Da Mi are thankfully allowed to live without being tortured by the un-erotic prose. Sex with a gun, sex with a corpse, some of which is recorded for later viewing by minor characters and Da Mi, and more detail about a woman’s vagina than a medical dictionary. If a lot of this sex was removed there would have been more room to improve the characters, the story and the book. Throughout, I got the distinct feeling that the writer, publisher and editor were trying to cash in on the 50 shades of grey phenomenon. All of which is a crying shame as there is a good story underneath it.
In any book there will be things you want to know more about but the writer leaves blank, which is made up for by the things they fill out. The only thing filled out in this book is Sydney’s vagina. Where did the nuclear bombing of Wembley come from? Why do we suddenly find out about Johnny Sandman’s life at the end in one big info dump? You could leave out Mee Hee’s story and the book would still be complete.
In short, this book is a mess that needs a serious rewrite and a red pen taken to vast tracts of the text. It has the germ of a good story about love, control, abuse and genetics, a pleasant cover and, in Damien, a good character. What it lacks is everything else.
Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire. Book Review(0)
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, p/b, £6.37
Reviewed by Martin Willoughby
This is a novel aimed at the young adult market, but shouldn’t be disregarded by adults. Why? It’s good fun.
Eric is a half-vampire. His mum’s normal while his dad’s a vampire who skipped off when he’d impregnated Eric’s mother. Since then, Eric and his mother have had to move several times after he’d bitten various kids, and spends part of his life every week taking a syringe to sheep and cows to get some blood.
Being a half-vampire means he has ‘gifts’, such as being able to calm people and animals by talking in a calm voice, sending them to sleep occasionally, and telekinesis. The last of them comes as a great surprise to him. He has a wheelchair-bound friend called Joseph and has the hots for a girl called Kacey. Well not quite the hots, but they do get on well.
Yes, it’s full of teen-angst and drama (it’s aimed at them remember), such as how do you kiss a girl without sucking her blood at the same time (something he manages) and ‘am I gay’. What lifts this out of the ordinary is Eric’s attitude. Think Harry Dresden as a youngster, lose the bad language and the killing and you’re there.
Eric’s mum travels a lot for her job and leaves him alone for several days at a time, but as he’s a half-vampire, sensible and strong for his age she doesn’t worry too much. One trip, she takes him to Edinburgh where he meets his dad…and wishes he hadn’t. His dad turns out to be a drug-addict and the blood Eric sucks leaves him feeling sick for a day or two. On the plus side, he gets to meet another vampire, one his mum fancies, and some acolytes who are happy to let him drink some of their blood. When he returns home, all hell breaks loose: well alright, I’ve exaggerated a little, but he does end up in a serious fight with someone who’s trying to kill him.
The one thing that kept me reading this book was Eric. He doesn’t need much blood, nor does any vampire for that matter, and he explains his need to be indoors as a case of Porphyria. Garlic? Loves it. Crosses? Only when playing football, not that he does play football, but…well you get the idea. In short he’s a normal kid that most adults and children would recognise.
I enjoyed the book and found it an entertaining read. I’ll leave the final few words to my 11 year old son: “Dad, can you keep reading that to me. It’s so funny.”
Emilie & The Hollow World. Book Review(0)
Strange Chemistry. p/b. £7.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Emilie’s aunt and uncle do not understand her. Just because her mother ran away to become an actress they automatically assumed that Emilie would ‘go bad’ too. Well, they were half right. Emilie is running away. Unfortunately it is not as easy as she first thought. For starters, you can’t get very far on an empty stomach, and second, you can’t fill a stomach if you have no money to buy food.
Emilie’s target is the Merry Bell, a steamer that she knows can take her away from her aunt and uncle’s assumptions and rules, away from repression, and away to her cousin’s home where there is hope of a job and a new life. But as Emilie is fast realising, her escape is not panning out as she planned. Hopes of the Merry Bell and an easy journey are whipped away and she has no option but to take her chances on a different ship.
Emilie’s plans go from bad to worse as her adventure takes her to a whole new world hidden deep inside the world she knows – the Hollow World. This is an adventure story that is easy to love, filled with strange sea creatures, aetheric currents, sorcery, locomotives, airships, mermen, betrayers, robbers, and enough excitement and grit-your-teeth moments to keep you hooked.
Emilie is a fantastic heroine given just the right blend of confidence and determination. She is practical and sensible, cunningly observant and gifted with a very quick tongue. She’s ever the optimist, always convinced deep down she is heading for something better despite the numerous difficulties and dangers along the way. This is a take on the classic ‘girl in another world’ adventure story and Emilie’s quiet innocence adds to her appeal.
This character trait goes perfectly with the steampunk elements of the world, which are described in beautiful detail and are easy to visualise. The story is a little on the short side – good for the pace, not so good for those of us that like to wallow in other worlds for more considerable periods – but there is more than enough scope in the world and story for a sequel.
Ravenwing by Gav Thorpe. Book review(0)
The Black Library, P/B, £8.99
Reviewed by Steve Dean
According to the blurb, the Ravenwing stand apart from the rest of the Dark Angels Chapter. I don’t know why, maybe they smell funny, or have disgusting personal habits. Whatever the reason, Annael joins their ranks and learns some secrets about his chapter, secrets the plebs in the lesser ranks haven’t been told about.
These particular space marines ride into battle on huge motorised and armoured bikes, fitted, of course, with big guns. The ultimate phallic symbol in a world of such images.
So, the biker marines tool up and head off to war, ostensibly to wipe out a cult and some green skins, but secretly to deal with the “Fallen”, Dark Angels that have “fallen” and turned into chaos marines, and thus expunging the chapter’s shame.
What follows is an ironically pedestrian stroll through a battle. The fact the space marines are riding huge bikes with massive guns on the front seems to have been forgotten. The bikes are mentioned but don’t really contribute to the fighting, apart from the odd throb of an engine and screech of tyres.
This book could have been so much more, with the bikes becoming characters in their own right, participating in original battles not usually associated with the macho but foot-bound marines. It could have been a fast-paced action thriller, with blood and engine oil spilled in equal amounts. Instead we have an unoriginal and very wordy story, slow paced and not at all what it needs to be. There are too many scenes of people just talking, mainly about nothing we care about. The action, when it comes, is boring and predictable. In other words, too much blah and not nearly enough vroom!
Unfortunately, this is only book one in the Legacy of Caliban trilogy. I for one am not looking forward to wading through the treacle of Mr Thorpe’s prose once again, never mind twice.
Blood of Aenarion by William King. Book review(0)
The Black Library, H/B, £17.99
Reviewed By Steve Dean
Tyrion and Teclis are elf twins, one a great warrior, the other a powerful…wizard…wait, haven’t we seen this before? The warrior looks after his brother the mage, who is usually ill?
But anyway, this story begins with the twins in their younger days, just before they come into their powers. They are taken to the Phoenix King’s court to be tested by priests to see if they carry the curse of Aenarion, as they have the titular blood of their ancestor.
Meanwhile, a daemon banished by Aenarion long ago has returned and has sworn to avenge himself by wiping out every one of his living descendants.
The book is divided into two main threads, the story of the boys’ journey and the emergence and growing power of the daemon. The first thread, as the boys meet and greet relatives and strangers, is a deadly dull wander through a landscape peopled by two dimensional, predictable and boring characters. There’s no spark at all, no life or spice. It’s so predictable it’s like you’ve already read the book a dozen times.
The daemon’s thread is little better. There is action here, but it’s mostly bloodthirsty descriptions of the vile acts perpetrated on his victims in unnecessary and quickly tiresome detail.
I must issue a spoiler alert here, as I am about to describe the ending.
When it comes, the ending, although written in the same monotone, has the twins killing a daemon that has just munched its way through hundreds of elite guards like they were the toast soldiers you have with a boiled egg. The warrior keeps it at bay, while the mage communes with a god and channels its power. Not the steady learning of skills for these boys, oh no. One day it’s practising with a tutor, the next god-like powers to kill an almost invulnerable daemon. As this is book one of a trilogy, I really can’t see how the author is going to top that.
Overall then, dull, clumsily written and unoriginal. How this got by the chief accountant, sorry, editor, I don’t know. And two more volumes to come, oh my!
The War of Vengeance – The Great Betrayal by Nick Kyme. Book review(0)
The Black Library, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Before men came onto the scene, dwarves and elves lived in peace and harmony, sent each other flowers and never forgot an anniversary. Then, along came an outside party, ambushed a few dwarven caravans and framed the elves, and suddenly it’s all-out war.
There are one or two attempts to prevent the war, a few dwarfs and elves who try for reconciliation, but no one listens, and that’s it, thousands of years of trade and prosperity flushed down the gardarobe.
And that, pretty much, is it. There are some characters in it, kings and sons of kings and common folk, some messing about with an airship and an, as yet, unexplained journey into a dungeon. The characters are barely two dimensional. There isn’t much more to the plot than I’ve explained, and there’s page after page, chapter after chapter, of blah. How the author has managed to make such a momentous event so dull I don’t know, but done it he has.
And talk about holes in the plot, some of them are large enough to fly a dragon through. For instance, elves are supposed to be smart, but not one of them can work out they are being set-up. The blurb actually says the two races have been ‘stalwart’ allies for thousands of years, yet they leap at each others throats at the slightest excuse.
If you went through the book and took out the words ‘elf’ and ‘dwarf’ and replaced it with ‘a person’ no one would notice. This might as well be two armies of blancmanges fighting for all the races are given any flavour.
This is the first book in a planned trilogy, if I was BL I wouldn’t bother with the other two. This is also one of those ‘Time Of Legends’ books, a series that has so far failed to deliver a single decent novel.
I don’t know what’s happening over at the BL offices at the moment, but quality has gone through the floor. It might be time to send the accountants back to their profit-and-loss spread sheets and get a proper editor into the novels department.
Dark Vengeance by C.Z.Dunn. Book review(0)
The Black Library, H/B, £12.00
Reviewed by Steve Dean
Company Master Balthasar, it says here, leads his Dark Angels space marines to the planet of Bane’s Landing to stop the chaos marines of the Crimson Slaughter calling forth a demon from the Hellfire Stone. (Come on peeps, I know you can’t call them Daisypink Fluffynuggets, but all this macho naming surely isn’t necessary?)
Balthasar and his men are soon battling against Kranon the Relentless and his buddies, and in desperate need of reinforcements.
Overall, the book succeeds in what it sets out to do. Although fairly short, it works well, with good action scenes, a fast pace and some character development, although not a great deal of the latter. It’s no more or less than one elongated scene, one set piece told in detail. Ideal, I would say, for getting those strange creatures called today’s youth into reading, maybe.
Despite what it says on the back cover, this isn’t a novel, but a novella, less than 40,000 words by my estimation. The book also ties in with a game scenario of the same name.
The only thing stopping me fully recommending this book is the price. (Note to Black Library: there’s a recession on you know.) Yes it’s a hardback, but at 12 quid it’s definitely too much. You can get a full length paperback novel for £8, so in effect, you’re paying 4 quid for two pieces of cardboard.