Challenger Storm: The Isle Of Blood by Don Gates. Book reviewComments Off
Cornerstone, p/b, $14.99/ Airship 27, pdf, $3.00, indyplanet.com
Reviewed by David Brzeski
This one was never actually on my to-be-reviewed heap. I received it as a Christmas present and since I’ve read it, I figured I may as well review it anyway. I make no secret of the fact that I’m a sucker for pulp hero style fiction; hence it made for an obvious choice as the perfect gift for me. The friend who picked it out for me and I were both pretty confident that I’d enjoy it. I’m pleased to say I wasn’t disappointed.
The book is set between the wars and Clifton “Challenger” Storm is a wealthy altruist. He doesn’t start out that way. At first, he’s a spoiled rich brat who cares for no one other than himself. When first his parents are killed and shortly after that he’s the only survivor of a senseless tragedy, he undergoes a serious attitude shift.
He does the classic hero thing, educates and trains himself, then sets up an organisation dedicated to bring help and justice to those in need. Yes, it’s a bit of a cliché, but this is pulp fiction, not highbrow literature. It’s very good pulp fiction as it happens. An aviation tycoon asks for Storm’s help in rescuing his daughter, who is being held for ransom in the tiny island nation of ‘La Isla de Sangre’ (the Island of Blood). His team are plunged into a dangerous battle with terrorist militias and corrupt policemen. Eventually they discover that their client hasn’t been totally honest with them and the astonishing secret of “The Goddess of Death” is revealed.
Storm’s team are nicely delineated. The banter between Skids and Brock reminded me somewhat of Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm of the Fantastic Four, albeit without the super powers. The author borrows an idea from ‘Mission Impossible’, in that Storm hand-picks the best team for each mission from a larger group.
I have to say that I wasn’t surprised quite as often as the characters by the various twists in the plot. For instance, the trap the heroes walk into early on in the book was pretty well telegraphed. That aside, It’s a real page-turner in the classic pulp tradition and I finished the whole book in a single sitting. I will certainly pick up the next adventure of “Challenger” Storm.
Adamtine. Graphic Novel ReviewComments Off
Jonathan Cape, p/b, £14.99
Reviewed by Selina Lock
Four strangers are on the last train home when it stops and they find they are the only ones left in the darkness. Alongside this storyline is one concerning Rodney Moon’s acquittal and disappearance. Rodney is thought to be a mass murderer as he was the last man to see a random collection of people before they went missing. He always maintained his innocence, that he merely passed notes on to those people from the bogeyman.
This is a complex story, which slowly unfolds in a number of flashbacks which are interwoven with the train storyline. Berry does a wonderful job of conveying a slow, creeping horror and tense atmosphere. Keeping the mystery involving right up to the end of the book.
The connections between all the characters are skilfully revealed, but not immediately obvious, so I think that a re-read will be very rewarding in spotting the more subtle clues.
One of the things that makes the book compelling is Berry’s superb artwork. Considering that many of the panels depict the interior of a train or close-ups of people’s faces it manages to keep everything looking interesting. This is partly due to the choice of panel shots and the sense of character emerging from people’s expressions. The colour palette also evokes the right atmosphere and has one of the best uses of black in any comic I’ve seen. Though due to the darkness of some pages I would suggest reading this is good light so you don’t miss any of the details.
Darwin’s Diaries 1: The Eye of the Celts. Graphic Novel ReviewComments Off
Cinebook, pb, £6.99.
Reviewed by Selina Lock
It is 1860 and Charles Darwin has published his latest theory to much uproar from the scientific and religious communities. Meanwhile, a vicious predator is killing workers laying a new railway line in Yorkshire. Darwin’s skills as a naturalist are called upon by the Prime Minister to identify the unknown animal and stop superstitious rumours from spreading.
The main storyline surrounding the mysterious creature and gruesome deaths is set against a volatile political backdrop. Women’s rights, worker’s rights, the march of industrial progress and its capitalist drivers are all touched upon. Druidism, local beliefs and a darker side to Darwin are also thrown into the mix.
The artwork is intricately detailed and does a superb job of representing the Victorian era, with muted colours that match the atmosphere of the story. The portrayals of the main characters are distinctive and expressive.
I was a little surprised to find Yorkshire being presented as an exotic location for wild beast attacks, but as Darwin himself says in the story “proximity doesn’t exclude the unexpected…” As Cinebook specialise in translating European comic books and this was originally a French publication it also gives us a non-British perspective on the idea and era.
I suspect those with an interest and wide knowledge of Darwin may not take kindly to certain aspects of his characterisation, but I assume it will be furthering the storyline at some point.
I found this an absorbing and interesting read, and look forward to to seeing how the volume one cliffhanger resolves.
Anomaly. Graphic Novel Review(1)
Anomaly Publishing $75.00
Reviewed by Peter Coleborn
Usually, when one reads a graphic novel it is comprised of chapters based on the monthly comic book. Not in this case. Anomaly is a 350-plus page comic strip without these natural pauses. And this means that one is compelled to read the whole thing in a single sitting. And that can be an exhausting experience.
It is the 28th century and Earth is depleted of all resources. And so the Earth government – rather the Conglomerate – raids and takes over other words, mostly by force. But there is one far-off planet that hasn’t succumbed and it is to here that Jon and Samantha and Jasson and others are despatched. They think they are there to discover what went wrong previously. In fact, the Conglomerate has sent these people – thorns in the company’s side – to die.
This planet is an anomaly – hence is named Anomaly. It is home to dozens of intelligent life-forms rather than the single one encountered elsewhere. And as is typical in this sort of story, the Earthmen find themselves in a multi-species conflict: the many intelligent species do not, after all, live in perfect harmony. After landing in a desert in which a virus-like organism consumes all polymer substances, the crew have to cope in the primitive world on an equal footing with the denizens of that place. And like John Carter of Mars, and no doubt in many other similar SF scenarios, Jon fights the leader of one band to take command of an army, to combat the evil Muties…
What makes this book extra special is its production values. They are impressive. Anomaly is a lavishly-presented, hefty publication. And I mean hefty: over 350 fifteen by ten inch glossy pages, bound in landscape format – wider than it is high. The book is around one inch thick; I haven’t weighed it but it is heavy! This wide format allows for some spectacular layouts, particularly apt for some of the landscapes and space-scapes depicted therein. The artwork is at times exquisite, although it can be difficult recognising some characters – but this is a problem with almost all non-superhero comics, anyway.
It looks as if the artwork was produced digitally rather than using traditional pen and ink, as if they are images used in a computer game; but on checking the web, it looks as if Anomaly has no connection with any computer game I could see. However, the company is tying in the book to digital media via iPhone and other apps, to provide an interactive experience. All details of this – and a whole lot more – can be found on the company’s website: www.experienceanomaly.com. Here’s what the website says about the company:
“Anomaly Productions is a cutting-edge media company launched by creators Brittenham and Haberlin. Anomaly Productions combines stunning artwork and rich stories to build deeply immersive worlds than can be experienced across multiple platforms and in a multitude of ways. Anomaly is its first release, with three other projects in various stages of production.”
If you like big-scale space opera mixed with helpings of Burroughs, Anomaly is right up your street. It is a stunning production all round, with great graphics tied in with the extras via computer apps. This is a visual treat!
The book comes in its own cardboard box which will provide storage protection because it will be a beast to fit on your bookshelves. The $75 price works out at around £50, I guess, although I have seen it advertised on the web for around £30. Anomaly is on target for a special gift.
Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: The Jungle Book. Graphic Novel ReviewComments Off
Zenescope, t/p, $15.99
Reviewed by David Brzeski
I was a little dubious about this book on first inspection. It follows the publisher’s regular habit of taking the young female characters of fable and fiction and re-imagining them as sexy young women. That Mowgli was a young boy didn’t seem to worry them. They made him female and added three more children, each raised by a different group of animals, to the mix.
I couldn’t help but notice that, on the original covers of the five issue miniseries collected here, Mowgli is drawn more buxom than she’s depicted in the actual story. Obviously Zenescope know what appeals to their core readership.
For all that, it’s not as bad as I expected. The story, of the fragile peace between the four tribes of animals is well handled. The artwork, by Carlos Granda (coloured by Liezl Buenaventura) is stylish and pretty to look at, if sometimes a little unclear. The prurient element takes a back seat, for the most part, to good storytelling, although, inevitably two of the other three kids show a marked sexual interest in Mowgli, including Akili, the other female.
All-in-all it was an enjoyable read, which made me want to dig out the original novel by Rudyard Kipling. I’m not sure I liked it enough to make me want to keep up with future additions to this series though.
Doctor Who: The Auntie Matter. Audio Book ReviewComments Off
Big Finish, CD £10.99, download £8.99,
Reviewed by Chris Limb
“He might at least have killed us before losing all interest!”
Having denied him the Key to Time, the Doctor and Romana are on the run from the Black Guardian. Sending the TARDIS off on remote control to flit around a couple of thousand worlds at random to throw their hunter off the scent, the two Time Lords take refuge in “one of the three great periods in Earth history” – London, England during the roaring twenties.
Leaving the Doctor tinkering with a home made etheric field disturbance detector, Romana pops out to browse bookshops in Bloomsbury. But each of them unbeknownst to the other is drawn into an investigation of the alien incursion in Hampshire. It appears that there is more to gormless toff Reggie Bassett’s Aunt Florence than might at first meet the eye…
This story is set during the period where on TV producer Graham Williams and script editor Douglas Adams put their own distinctive mark on the series, and as such the script is written with just the right balance of humour and action (plus a couple of mostly harmless references to Adams’s more notorious works).
The atmosphere of the story itself feels wonderfully like Douglas Adams’s spiritual predecessor, PG Wodehouse. The 1920s is an era little explored by Doctor Who on television but is one that suits Tom Baker’s fourth Doctor down to the ground and he recaptures perfectly the slightly defensive attitude the Doctor displayed at this time when dealing with a companion who graduated from Time LordAcademy with a far higher grade than he did.
Mary Tamm’s performance here is pitch-perfect, recollecting the confidence and poise of Romana’s first incarnation, a strong character who could fly the TARDIS better than the Doctor – it is good to hear more from her than the one season in which she appeared on TV. One of the cleverest parts of the story is the way that she and the Doctor are separated for most of the action and yet both have a hand in defeating Julia Mackenzie’s Aunt Florence in parallel, each of them picking up a human sidekick along the way.
The experience of listening to this play (and its successors in this second season of Fourth Doctor Adventures) is lent an unavoidable melancholic atmosphere by the knowledge that Mary Tamm died shortly after completing this series of audios. The tribute to her by Tom Baker in the additional material at the close of the disc is moving and appropriate.
The Dresden Files: Cold Days. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit Books, h/b, £16.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
The latest in Jim Butcher’s ever popular series about the modern-day wizard Harry Dresden is a gripping page turner. Very different from the television series that graced Sky One back in 2007 and was cancelled after just one series, this is considerably darker.
Harry Dresden was Chicago’s only professional wizard, but has since been killed, spent some time as a ghost, and been brought back to life in service to Mab, the Winter Queen. Now he is the incarnation of the Winter Knight, a powerful force within the faerie world, and bound to do Mab’s bidding.
Harry finds himself in a world of confusing politics, being threatened by a myriad of faerie entities, but backed up by his apprentice, half-brother and various other allies. He must try to unravel the politics, save his friends, avoid being killed and prevent Chicago from being wiped off the map.
Butcher’s prose flows effortlessly, and the reader finds themselves swept into the storytelling, lost in Dresden’s world. Gritty, full of humour, action and snappy dialogue, Cold Days is definitely worth a read. If you’ve never met Harry Dresden before, now’s the time.
The Daylight War. Book ReviewComments Off
HarperVoyager, h/b, £18.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
In the aftermath of their battle with the Coreling Prince and his mimic, Arlen and Renna are closer than ever before. His years spent battling demons and learning their powers have changed Arlen, turning him from the boy he was into The Painted Man he now is. His strength is superior, his mind keener then ever, and his grasp of the demon magic grows by the day. Renna has no choice but to learn the secrets too, if she is to stay at Arlen’s side.
Elsewhere in another time, young Inevera is approaching her Hannu Pash. The time has come for her to see what the dice hold for her future. The Dama’ting are terrifying and she knows her life will change at this moment. Inevera is told she is destined to find the next Deliverer, but the dice do not reveal all of the answers and her future will come at a price the child cannot yet understand.
The Royal Consort is shocked by the defeat of the Coreling Prince at the hands of a human, but now he understands his enemy a little more. Both of his enemies. Two men are hailed as the Deliverer. The Royal Consort seeks to destroy them both.
The Daylight War is the third book in the Demon Cycle series and continues to follow both Arlen and Jardir as each seeks to overcome the corelings and each other. Several other characters including Leesha, Renna, Inevera and Rojer also take point of view roles in this book, showing action in different places as the Krasians try to conquer their rivals and at the same time are changed by them.
In terms of layout and pattern, this book works on the same principle as The Desert Spear. The use of time, particularly in stepping back in time to show the upbringing of characters who are now coming into the forefront in the present, is a necessary device to complete the story, and whilst this does mean that the novel is lengthy and at times moves at a slower pace, it means the background and layering of detail gives the reader everything they need to immerse themselves in this world.
In terms of the story itself, it is hard to speak of without spoiling the experience for readers. Where book one was very much focused on Arlen growing up and becoming The Painted Man, and book two gave us Jardir’s background and desires as he styled himself Deliverer, book three shows us what happens to the land and the people around them when two able forces begin to oppose one another.
There is tension, magic, suspense and an ending that comes too quickly – even at nearly 800 pages – and leaves you reeling. Book four cannot come soon enough and it feels safe to say it will be a while yet before we see any conclusion to the Demon Cycle. As the characters have grown and developed, so too has the magic system and political landscape of the world, leaving great scope for the story to expand further.
Lo Life: Romeo Spikes. Book ReviewComments Off
Titan Books, s/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
This first book in Joanne Reay’s Tormenta series tells of demons living amongst us in our modern world. The Tormenta are demons who look like humans, but survive by tormenting humans to kill themselves so they can consume their unspent life span.
Following the traditional yin-yang concept used in many fantasy novels, the Tormenta of course have their own predators – the Hunters. Part of the shadowy Sinestra organisation, Hunters are highly trained assassins dedicated to wiping out the Tormenta and safeguarding human life.
Several story arks come together in this book – Detective Alexis Bianco works the homicide beat in Louisiana, until she meets Lola, a rogue Hunter who inducts her to the world of the Tormenta. Doctor Annie Torgus is a discredited psychiatrist working at a penitentiary. Trying to use her fading charms to get a book printed about an inmate that she thinks will make her famous. Dali, an ex-Tormenta turned Sinestra operative helps seek out Tormenta while searching for his lost love.
Joanne Reay has crafted a world within the world we know, filled with believable characters and gritty storylines. As the book progressed, I found myself unwilling to put it down, wanting to find out what happens to Detective Bianco, Lola et al. Bring on book two…
The Peculiar. Book ReviewComments Off
HarperCollins, p/b, £6.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
The Peculiar is the tale of an alternative England where a Cold War between the Faeries and Humans insinuates itself through the magic infused steampunk streets. Our main concern is Bartholomew Kettle: a changeling, along with his younger sister, born of a human mother and a faery father who has long since flown the nest. He finds himself in the midst of frightening intrigue which threatens the brittle peace, and which requires a changeling to further the agendas of those hiding in the shadows.
I can tell you now that fans of anything steampunk, and of ethereal ‘proper’ fae tales, will love this story. The clockwork machines which fill the cities – serving a dual purpose of making life easier as well as drowning out the magic which would otherwise lie heavy in the air – are beautifully described and give the world its own very particular enchanting identity, Bachmann is extremely good at describing the scene and capturing the details you want to ‘see’. He’s also quite adept at creating a menacing atmosphere – the villains in the story make the hairs on the back of your neck quiver with unease, if not quite standing on end.
An area in which I feel he is significantly weaker would be how engaging the main thread and protagonist are. I found Kettle to be unlikeable, selfish and at times boring or plain stupid. I think that it is entirely possible to have a character such as this as key figure, as long as they are also engaging. However, I very quickly did not care a jot what happened to him, although I remain very interested in his sister, Hettie.
It seemed apparent that Bachmann had struggled with back story and depth to some of the characters too; one character is done away with towards the later parts of the story, and the tone of things goes quite flat without any resonance for the sadness of how this has happened. It left me feeling very much that certain (or all) of the characters were like functional little cogs and screws being fit together and discarded in the clockwork of Bachmann’s story, rather than becoming fully rounded figures of their own.
Having said this, I think perhaps the best character of the whole book is Arthur Jelliby – he does go through some development and is the most reassuringly human and fallible in his reactions and actions.
All in all, it is an enjoyable read which employs many of the best fairy tale devices and ideas in what I’m sure is going to develop into a strong series – the ending is a complete cliff hanger and I can’t see why any publisher wouldn’t already have Bachmann writing the sequel.