The Tainted Earth By George Berguno. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by David A. Riley
This is the first time I have read any stories by George Berguno, although he has had two earlier collections, The Sons of Ishmael and The Exorcist’s Travelogue. Like Egaeus Press’s other books, it is beautifully printed and of superb quality.
There are eight short stories in this volume, plus a novella. The first is the title story and is written as a Nordic saga, though with modern sensibilities, particularly with regard to motivations and character and some subtle humour. It did take some getting used to, but once I had I enjoyed it. Other than Three Drops of Death, which is another min- saga, the rest are set in contemporary times, though they are no less strange for that. Indeed, though there are hints of horror in most of them, including a character who may or may not be the Devil, there is nothing overt about them. The only British writer I could compare them to would be Aickman, though even so they could not be mistaken for one of his, having a unique flavour of their own. For me the most interesting story is the novella, A Spell of Subtle Hunting, which is divided into three cantos. The protagonist is the German writer and soldier Ernst Junger, who was marginally involved with the bomb plot against Hitler in 1944 and served most of the Second World War in Paris, where he was a friend of Picasso. Unlike most of the conspirators in the bomb plot Junger escaped with nothing worse than a dishonourable discharge from the army. The final canto involves a bizarre confrontation between Junger and the ghost of Hitler on a rowing boat!
Strange, surreal, with a dreamlike quality in which, as sometimes happens in dreams, there is a startling sense of realism, and filled with dark humour, these are very readable stories and refreshingly different, at least for me, to anything I have read before. Recommended.
The Sea Change & Other Stories by Helen Grant. Book reviewComments Off
Reviewed by Mario Guslandi
Lovers of classical , elegantly written, subtly disquieting supernatural and ghostly fiction have many reasons to rejoice when considering that the genre is effectively kept alive by a number of modern masters, some firmly established, others comparatively new , such as Reggie Oliver, Peter Bell, RB Russell, to mention a few. The only trouble is readers have to go hunting that kind of fiction in the world of indie small press, an invaluable niche where those authors are born and keep thriving.
Helen Grant is a new member of that exclusive club of writers and her debut collection (obviously published by a small imprint, the excellent Swan River Press) assembles seven of her delightful short stories , previously appeared in magazines and genre anthologies.
Grauer Hans is a dark fable presenting an accomplished German variation on the theme of the boogeyman, while Nathair Dhubh is a tense tale revolving around an unlucky mountain climbing during which a young man gets mysteriously missing.
In two instances Grant’s work is a tribute to the classical ghost stories of MR James. The Game of Bear, winner of a specific competition among Jamesian enthusiasts, completes one of the master’s unfinished stories , and beautifully portrays a man stalked and haunted by a wicked relative seeking revenge for an alleged injustice. In Alberic de Mauléon Grant provides an excellent prequel to the famous “Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook”, writing with a light touch and offering a very disturbing perspective.
The Calvary at Banskà Bystrica, an intriguing, riveting piece set in Slovakia, features a man trying to trace a lost brother, whose inexplicable disappearance seems to be linked to a distant, long forgotten past.
The title story The Sea Change is an outstanding story taking place in the world of sea divers where a man’s life is altered forever by the discovery of a wreck sitting in deep waters. The author exhibits the uncommon ability of spreading uneasiness in every page and imparts an ambiguous sepia-like quality to the story.
The Sea Change does display Grant at her best, but in each story in the book (with the exception of the semi-humorous Self Catering that I didn’t care for) she exhibits a precise, sometimes detached narrative style, and a refined prose which enhance the strength of the eerie and unsettling atmospheres she manages to create.
Blood Fugue by Joseph D’Lacey. Book review(1)
Joseph D’Lacey is part of a new generation of emerging UK horror writers and a name to look out for in the future. D’Lacey is winner of the British Fantasy Award for Best Newcomer and has received plaudits from the likes of Stephen King and Adam Nevill. Therefore, it was with great anticipation that I picked up Blood Fugue but did it pack the desired punch?
Blood Fugue tells the tale of monsters hidden in the isolated mountain community of Hobson’s Valley, home to reclusive outdoorsman Jimmy Kerrigan. However, it’s more than just monsters, Blood Fugue reveals an ancient plague contained within the woods, turning family, friends and neighbours into vampiric beings. Caught up in the middle of it, with a hidden past of his own, Jimmy Kerrigan is the one person who holds the key to saving Hobson’s Valley and those he holds dear.
Blood Fugue doesn’t pull many punches and is not for those uneasy with near to the knuckle content. It is bloody, visceral horror mixed with graphically described sexual encounters which still manages to weave a well crafted story throughout; it is not gore for gore’s sake. The characters are well realised and the writing style really draws the reader in, think early Stephen King for tone with the rawness of sex to be expected from the likes of Clive Barker. We have the uneasy hero, redneck locals with the usual mix of idiosyncrasies and some tourists thrown in for good measure but each one of them has a solid back story, coming alive on the page, written with a consummate ease that avoids cliché. D’Lacey introduces us to the world of backwoods America mixed with the demonic in a manner that makes everything feel familiar and fantastical all at once.
The monsters, the Fugue, a twisted version of what many might call vampires, are excellently portrayed and hidden in plain, sight meaning no-one can be trusted, and the way they suck blood is truly unique. Jimmy, caught up in his own neuroses, reluctantly adopts the mantle of Fugue Hunter, evolving to acceptance of his fate, becoming a one man army against the hoards before him. Naturally there’s a main ‘big evil’ but I won’t say much here to avoid ruining the reveals.
Any niggles with the story? Well a couple here and there; I didn’t really accept the ‘binders’, weapons crafted by Jimmy against the Fugue, as the totems they were presented as, almost an eco-variation of the sign of the cross to more traditional vampires used as projectiles. Additionally, there are instances of sexual encounter involving a couple of the older teenage characters which I felt slightly uncomfortable with and I think it fair to forewarn the casual reader in advance. Minor niggles though as I still found myself eager to devour each page.
Highlights? Lots actually, the whole book is very, very good and I could list several, but the stand out one for me involves an abandoned shack, a bath tub and some full on Fugue snacking leaving a Damien Hirst-esque scene for others to find. You’ll know it when you get there!
Overall, I really enjoyed Blood Fugue and would recommend you go out and buy it, this has to be a must read for anyone with a love of the horror genre. Is it D’Lacey at his best? Not having read his other works it is hard to tell but I suspect there is another gear or two he could shift up to (and he’s not idling by any means at the moment). If that is the case, then he could start to be looked upon as one of the horror greats of the future.
The City of Silk and Steel. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, h/b, £14.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
It’s difficult to know where to start with this novel. There is just so much of it on every level, and so many things I want to say about it, that it’s easy to end up speechless. But that wouldn’t make a good review, and that’s the very least this book deserves.
I’ll start with the writing team, the Careys, who are a family – each with authorial records of their own. I must admit I hadn’t read any of Linda or Louise’s work before this but will be remedying that very soon! I’ve consistently enjoyed Mike’s output though, so I gave the book a chance, even though it didn’t appear to be the kind of story I’d normally go for. I was intrigued by the team of writers, and even more so that they are family. I wondered if they would be able to maintain a coherent and authentic authorial voice over such a large text, and whether it would be easy to spot where each separate writer had taken the lead.
As it turned out, I was in awe at the flow of this book! Except for a slight perceived slip in the tone near the start of the book, the narrative, voices, different stories, all blend together so beautifully it is impossible to see the join. This book has so many voices and at the same time, only one. Every single character is completely convincing and real and utterly engaging. The story is an incredibly sumptuous puzzle box of individual stories; each piece falls into place perfectly with exactly the right tone.
I have tried to decide, over and over, who is my favourite character, and failed every time – simply because each voice is essential to the harmony of the whole. Even the villains are so incredibly engaging and complex – sometimes in their simplicity – that it would be hard to pick out the ‘best’ character…. Although Rem… I have a massive admiration for that character as it would have been so easy to get her wrong, but she is perfect and beautiful and I have a huge soft spot for her. But there are so many other characters that in any other book, and alone without the others, they would have been my favourite. That is the great strength of this book – each aspect is fundamental to the whole. The Careys are indivisible as a voice: it is clear that this team has done essentially the same work as the women (and men) in the story, to enable each voice to be heard, to be woven together, to allow sensitivities to be expressed, to become something greater through combined effort.
In case you hadn’t guessed by now, I absolutely love this book! As I said, it isn’t in my usual genre of choice – ‘Arabian Nights’-style-tales were indicated by the cover and blurb – but I am so glad I read it. The story is basically that of the harem of a sultan who, when the sultan is overthrown, are sent away as a gift to the sultan of another city. There is a strong fantasy element with supernatural powers being present in the storyline, as well as the Djinni who become involved in the women’s tale. Due to my own initial bias it took me a few pages to get into the book, but when I did, it really grabbed hold of me.
I can give it no higher compliment than to say that whilst at the end I wanted more and more to be squeezed out of the stories and lives, I was also very satisfied with the resolution to the stories – it felt very complete in a real-life sense. I would love to know more about everything encompassed within the book, as well as the writing processes that went into it. If you want to read something that is really worth the time spent on it, please pick up this book – it really deserves to be read as widely as possible.
The Dark Legacy of Shannara Book Two: Bloodfire Quest. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit, h/b, £18.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Arlingfant Elessedil was not mistaken when she thought the Ellcrys spoke to her. She is one of the Chosen – those elves that tend to the great magical tree and spend their lives in service. But the Ellcrys has a bigger task for Arling and it is not one she is ready for yet, if at all. Arling must find the Bloodfire, and a way to escape her fate.
Aphenglow, Arling’s sister, is once again searching through old druid records, this time to find a way to help her sister. She must return to Paranor and hope the druid keep holds the information she needs. In the meantime the Ard Rhys and the Ohmsford boys are still searching for the missing Elfstones and unbeknownst to Aphen are lost somewhere in the Forbidding.
Bloodfire Quest continues from the very point where Wards of Faerie left off, which means the pace and tension that book one left behind are immediately taken up, propelling the reader back into events in Shannara. Evil and a sense of impending doom are at the forefront throughout and the danger feels more immediate than before.
Arlingfant is a little more in the spotlight this time allowing the reader a better insight into her character and motives, and a bigger point of view cast overall immerses the reader far more into this world and the precarious situations its various characters are in. The pace does not let up from start to finish and this book is a prime example of what a great Terry Brooks story is like.
Shannara is still very much alive and rich in the details, creatures and magical possibilities that readers have loved over the years. The Dark Legacy of Shannara will conclude in book three, which is due for publication in Summer 2013, so thankfully there is not too long to wait for the conclusion to this episode.
Singularity. Book ReviewComments Off
HarperVoyager, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (@mangozoid)
This is the third book in Ian Douglas’ Star Carrier series and when I reviewed the second one last year (Centre of Gravity) I commented that this series was well worth a look for those interested in military SF and galaxy-spanning space battles, adding that while I wouldn’t rush out to buy the next one, I did enjoy it immensely, and would happily read more as and when opportunity knocks. That review of book two can be found HERE.
Lo and behold, Singularity arrived a while back and I didn’t hesitate to start devouring it as soon as the rest of my review commitments were completed. To be fair, this is very much more of the same, although once again —much to the author’s credit— the book is almost entirely in the tight confines of small space fighters, and full to bursting with wham bang explosive space battles out in the middle of nowhere, with the odd excursion into a mega cruiser conference room here and there. As such, it makes for a speedy read.
Following events in book two, Admiral Alexander Kroenig has once again defied his bosses back on Earth and decided to take the battle direct to the heart of the dastardly Sh’daar empire, and with the support of a number of other battle captains and a host of fighter pilots, he crosses space (and time) to make his point and meet the Sh’daar threat head on, or as face-to-face as you can get in the depths of deep space.
There is a lot less jargon to get your head around in this one, and I did find the Admiral risking a large fleet of cruisers and an awful lot of lives through a wormhole in space-time thingy for the sake of 40-odd fighter pilots stretched credibility a tad. Ian Douglas slips this one past us however, seeing as the Admiral has already come so far and there’s nowt much to return to Earth for, and thus he does offer the rest of his band of Captains the choice to follow or leave. This of course, puts the fate of the whole fleet firmly in Kroenig’s hands, allowing him to pretty much take things from there and determine the strategy ahead.
As many probably already suspected, the Sh’daar do turn out to be an ancient artificial intelligence of some form, and with the ability to create wormholes and move whole planets, some of their intelligence is evidently far more artificial than others, although all seems to come right in the end, once the more obvious paradoxes of time-space are explored or flirted with.
In conclusion, there is still a fourth book to follow (Deep Space?) but given the seemingly temporary peace that is instigated in this one, I’m not too sure where the author will go with it. Perhaps it’ll focus a bit more on the characters and fighter pilots, and moreso on Admiral Kroenig’s return to Earth for the inevitable dressing-down from political bosses and ne’er-do-wells? Still recommended reading for anyone with an interest in military hardware, although this one is best read after book one and/or two, I think…
The Age Atomic. Book ReviewComments Off
Angry Robot Books, s/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
1954 New York is connected to an alternate version of itself through The Fissure – a mysterious power that the government in each reality try to control. Following the events of the previous novel in the series (EmpireState), The Fissure has vanished, and the alternate New York finds itself in the grip of sub-zero temperatures and dwindling energy supplies.
Private investigator Rad Bradley finds himself tangled up in a plot to create huge robot armies. Assisted by Jennifer Jones, who claims to be a government agent, he starts to investigate the mysterious “King of 125th Street”. Meanwhile, in the other, original New York, Doctor X is trying to find a reliable power source for an army of robots that is being built on the orders of Evelyn McHale, the (literally) ghostly director of Atoms for Peace.
Some great characters come together in an epic struggle to re-establish The Fissure and prevent the destruction of all creation. At times reminiscent of the classic Saturday morning science fiction serials like The Rocketeer and Flash Gordon, at other times, bordering on Terry Gilliam’s surreal epics like Brazil, The Age Atomic is a stunning novel from a skilled story teller.
Ice Forged. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit Books, p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Craig Knight
Blaine McFadden is found guilty of murder and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a penal colony in the frozen wastelands of Edgeland. When all contact with the kingdom that condemned him mysteriously stops, Blaine must choose whether to stay in exile or venture back to see what has befallen the land he once called home.
Having never encountered any of Martin’s work before this, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ice Forged. It didn’t take long for the smooth prose and flowing narrative to have me entranced by this first volume in The Ascendant Kingdoms Saga. There is something about the way Martin writes that seems to make the story flow without any bumps or jarring scene changes and it’s a difficult book to put down. The setting of the frozen wastelands of Edgeland is atmospheric and the descriptions of the ice-cold weather is enough to make you shiver. The main plot, which I will avoid spoiling here, is an original, if apocalyptic one and even though this is obviously a scene-setting novel, there is enough going on to keep you interested.
The main characters of McFadden and Connor are well written, if a little too similar, and their respective plot strands are interesting as they join and separate over the course of the novel. The supporting characters border on the two-dimensional but hopefully their personalities will be developed in later novels. I couldn’t help groaning when the first vampire, or talishte as they are called in Ice Forged, made an appearance, but don’t worry, these aren’t the romantic, big-haired vampires that are currently saturating the horror genre, but actual vampires of old with actual stories and personalities of their own. Their presence in this novel is well portrayed and they support the story rather than dominate it.
Ice Forged can be forgiven its position as setting the scene for later novels in the series due to the quality of the story and the superb style of writing that Martin delivers. This book has enough twists and original ideas to keep a reader’s interest so if you want something a little different, you won’t go wrong with Ice Forged.
Fortress Frontier. Book ReviewComments Off
Headline Books, s/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Magic has become a very real part of many lives across the world in Cole’s Shadow Ops series, as ordinary people suddenly find themselves feeling the flow of magic through them and find strange powers manifesting.
One of these is Colonel Alan Bookbinder – a desk jockey in the US military, he’s had a very mundane existence up until the events of this book. He spends each and every day working on spreadsheets until one day when he finds himself feeling like he’s drowning – he has become “latent” and senses the flow of magic, but has no powers manifesting.
Transferred to the Supernatural Operations Corps, he finds himself based at an outpost on an alien world, the titular Fortress. When all hell breaks loose, he finds himself in an unfamiliar commanding position, has to work out how to control his magic and get him and his troops safely home.
Cole’s military background is very apparent in this exceptionally detailed and superb tale. Peppered with military acronyms (all explained in a handy glossary at the back of the book), stunning action and effective dialogue, the alien world and the myriad characters are all brought to technicolour life through his excellent prose.
Trapped. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit Books, s/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
Trapped is the third of Hearne’s Iron Druid series, featuring the adventures of the world’s last druid, Atticus O’Sullivan, his apprentice Granuaile and his Irish wolfhound Oberon.
Having faked his own death, Atticus has been secretly training his apprentice for twelve years, and is now ready to bind her to the earth, thereby making her a full druid. However, the sudden appearance of Loki and his faked death becoming widely known among the gods and faerie folk means that this suddenly becomes a lot more difficult than he would like. With gods, dark elves and vampires out to kill them, they must use all of their wits and skills to survive long enough to bind Granuaile to the earth and defeat their opponents.
An interesting mixture of folklore – Roman and Norse gods are mixed with vampires, dark elves and the Gaelic faerie folks, but one that is used to good effect. Atticus is a typically flawed but good-intentioned lead character, who has been compared (not unfairly) to Harry Dresden by many. Hearne crafts a gripping tale, and each book stands alone, and also as part of the overarching storylines.