Red Moon. Book ReviewComments Off
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 ReviewComments Off
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 ReviewComments Off
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 ReviewComments Off
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 reviewComments Off
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 reviewComments Off
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 reviewComments Off
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 reviewComments Off
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.
Gaia’s Children by Paul Kieniewicz. Book reviewComments Off
Matador, p/b, £7.99/Kindle, £4.11, LINK
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I have very mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, it’s very readable, not at all badly-written, with some engaging characters and interesting ideas. On the other hand it has some major lapses of logic and one glaring, silly error.
It’s set in Aberdeenshire in 2050. The world has been transformed by climate change. There’s a seemingly unstoppable plague killing one in ten of the population and women are occasionally giving birth to very strange children.
These children—the Lupans—have little in common with their parents. They don’t seem able to use language and they prefer the company of wolves to humans.
Scott Maguire, a lawyer on the run, infected by the plague, is rescued from a suicide attempt by air crash by the Lupans. They recognise him as “The Messenger”. Scott will eventually discover why the Lupans must not be destroyed—why they are essential to the survival of the human race.
Linella Sienkiewicz lives in a cottage near a community of refugees from countries made uninhabitable by global warming. The only thing standing between the Lupans, and the government that would like to destroy them is their village. Almost as unpopular with the general population as the Lupans themselves, they face forcible eviction from their homes and internment. She had once been in a relationship with Brigadier Brian Johnson, who had done what he could to protect both the village and the Lupans, but things are getting worse and he can no longer help her.
There’s quite a lot to like here. The Lupans, and the way their society differs from humans, are fascinating. There’s a lot of Native American and aboriginal culture in their oneness with nature, and their use of certain hallucinogenic herbs to achieve a closer connection to the living Earth.
It’s near-future science fiction, crossed with ecological drama and ancient mysticism. While reading I could see how the basic concept and characters would work well as a TV miniseries.
Unfortunately it’s flawed. It’s really difficult to describe these flaws without giving away major plot points. Scott undergoes a sort of past-life regression. In this past life, he rejects the ways of the forest people and chooses to defend his village of sheep farmers by a method that ends in disaster and permanently severs his people’s connection with nature. For some reason, it appears that taking up sheep farming in place of living wild and hunting with the wolves, was humanity’s first step on the rocky road to ruin. Everything changes after this event. Humans learn to kill each other—hang on, if they didn’t already do that, then why did they need to defend the village against an invading enemy?
I mentioned a silly error. Early on in the book, while Scott lies badly injured in a Lupan hut, Linella “rinsed her hands with boiling water, using the heather for a quick surgical scrub.” It’s hard to believe an author with Paul Kieniewicz’s scientific credentials (He holds advanced degrees in astronomy and geophysics, and has taught workshops and courses in astronomy, geology, philosophy and the Gaia Theory.) wrote that. Apparently none of his degrees covered the fact that boiling water tends to cause severe pain and damage to human skin.
By the end of the book, things look very bleak for the refugees and the Lupans. So much so that the sudden ceasing of hostilities in the last chapter simply fails to convince.
Matador is a vanity press, set up to help authors self-publish and this book is a classic example of the lack of an editorial eye to help clean up the inconsistencies.
It’s not an awful book, but I have to be honest and say that I have no great desire to read the planned sequel.
Whitstable by Stephen Volk. Book review(1)
Spectral Press, p/b, £15.00, LINK
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I was familiar with Stephen Volk as the writer behind the TV series, ‘Afterlife’, which I’d been telling everyone who’d listen they absolutely must watch for a few years now. This is the first piece of prose fiction I’ve read by him.
I loved ‘Afterlife’ so much that there was a real danger that my expectations for the author’s subsequent work might be too high. I needn’t have worried. In fact, my only problem in reviewing this book is that I may gush to an embarrassing extent about how wonderful it is.
‘Whitstable’ is an interesting amalgam of fact and fiction. Much of the book is based solidly on real events in the life of Peter Cushing and it’s written with such palpable love and respect for the man and his work that I found it greatly moving to read.
It’s set during the darkest period in Cushing’s life, not long after the death of his beloved wife. Stephen Volk has a talent for portraying sadness and grief, without having it make the whole work so oppressively bleak that it’s hard to read. It’s so beautifully written that I had cause to wipe my eyes on more than one occasion.
Peter Cushing strolls along the beach in Whitstable, having been forced to go out to avoid the constant pain of sympathetic calls from well-wishers. He meets a boy, who recognises him as ‘Van Helsing’ and desperately needs his help to stop a monster.
There are no supernatural happenings in this book. The “monster” is all too human and real. The way in which Stephen Volk parallels the events regarding this monster, with the scenes from one of Cushing’s horror films is simply brilliant writing.
I’ve occasionally written a review, in which I’ve stated that the book in question ought to win an award, but this one is SO good that I am willing to go out on a limb and say that it will not only definitely get my vote, but it WILL win awards for the best in its category for 2013… even though there are still another 8 months to go as I write. I was given a .pdf copy for review purposes and as soon as I finished it, I ordered a copy of the book. I NEVER do that!
I almost pity Mr Volk, as he is now in the unenviable position of having to follow this truly inspired piece of work.