Adam Robots. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, p/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
I have previously read a small part of Adam Roberts’ vast output and had more than a wee bit to say about his writing style, mainly because I find some of it a tad too clever and over-written at times. Yes, he does continually push the boundaries, but he also tries too hard to sucker-punch his reader. Far too often for my tastes: “You will accept my clever writing even if I have to beat you over the head with it…”
A recent discussion I caught on Twitter raised the issue of modern genre writers trying to be too smart nowadays, leading to an alarming trend of writing that feels forced, weird, and generally hidden behind that all-encompassing mystic buzzword known as ‘style’. For me, writing of this type does little other than distance me from the story the author is trying to tell, making things harder to follow and often leading to a look of befuddlement and an amicable parting of the ways between me the reader, and whatever message the author is trying to convey. Imagine then, a whole book of this kind of thing —24 stories, in fact— as Adam Roberts takes up the baton: “I like the idea of writing at least one thing in all the myriad sub-genres and sub-sub-genres of SF” (quoted from back cover). One can perhaps understand how I initially thought my own personal reading hell had arrived, quite literally, at my doorstep… Imagine then, also, if you will, my pleasant surprise to find that more than a few of these stories were perfectly accessible even for one such as I: a man of relatively simple tastes, as it were.
As with any short story collection, there will always be those that hit the mark and those that drift so far off base they end up sprouting in someone else’s playground, and this is no exception. The majority of the stories have appeared previously, but this is apparently the first time they’ve been collected into one publication in the UK. Space doesn’t permit me to go through each individual story, but here’s a quick snapshot to give you some idea of what you may be letting yourself in for…
Adam Robots examines the question of robotic purpose in a very twisted take on the standard tale of Adam and Eve, this time involving robots Adam 1 and Adam 2 discussing why a blue jewel has been put atop a steel pole in the centre of the garden and both robots given explicit instructions not to touch it…
Shall I Tell You the Problem With Time Travel? is probably the most widely read from this collection, and takes a sideways look at the subject of time travel, including an admission that history is usually written by those who don’t necessarily know the whole truth.
Throwness is told in the first person, and is a haunting study of how one might behave if they were given carte-blanche to do as they please, knowing full well that whatever they chose to do all memory of their existence would be erased every three days. Can a life of no consequence be considered any kind of life at all?
Dantean and The World of the Wars are both classic takes on tales of yore. Here, the Divine Comedy feels neither comical or interesting, and not particularly clever, either; while the classic H. G. Wells story is given a Martian viewpoint, with a tiny little sting in the tale… Ahem. Similarly, Pied is a classic fairy tale retold, but didn’t exactly stick in my mind, either.
The Imperial Army was one of the stronger stories in this collection I think, and whichever way you choose to interpret it, this read like a clever ‘homage’ to Heinlein’s Starship Troopers; with a subtle dig at Orson Scott Card’s Enders universe thrown in for good measure.
The Man of the Strong Arm is my personal favourite of the bunch, telling an amusing tale in which real-life history is re-interpreted as a series of corking, ‘pulp-like’ stories from the likes of Edgar Burrough of the Rice, Wells from World’s-End, Robert Highline and the Jew, Verne; also featuring such colourful historical pioneers as Sir Arno of Bergerac, and the preposterous concept of flying to the moon on a giant firework full of gadgets… A very tall tale this, and a funny one at that.
The Woman Who Bore Death felt like an attempt at fantasy that failed completely for me, serving as a timely reminder that an author should usually stick to what they do best, frankly.
Finally, Anticopernicus is another clever tale, this one expertly carving a return to man’s ‘rightful place’ as the centre of the universe. Or not…
In conclusion, I was genuinely surprised and pleased by the number of stories I enjoyed in this collection, and no-one can say the author doesn’t have a fantastic flair for the written word — it’s just that I personally struggle with a lot of it. That said, the University of Lincoln has declared Adam Roberts’ work as the subject for an academic conference later this year entitled New Genre Army: An International Conference on the Writing of Adam Roberts [search ‘Adam Roberts conference’], so he must be doing something right, right?
Herald of the Storm. Book Review(1)
Headline, h/b, £16.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Massoud, a representative of Amon Tugha, approaches Steelhaven with a mission. He is being watched by another of his master’s men and has no choice but to succeed. Amon Tugha, the would be conqueror, has already put his plans in motion.
Kaira Stormfall, a Shieldmaiden of the Temple of Autumn in Steelhaven, is talented, and she knows it. Confident, strong, admired, Kaira knows her place in the world and she sticks to it without question. A summons from the Exarch, however, is about to shake Kaira’s world.
Janessa is tired of dress fittings and the obligations that fell upon her when the plague took her mother and older siblings. As she comes of age her father, King Cael, expects her to marry for political advantage, and in his absence his aide makes sure to steer Janessa in the desired directions. But Janessa never wanted to be queen, never wanted to marry a man out of obligation. As the feast approaches, Janessa considers alternatives to her future.
Elsewhere, a swindler has gambling debts to pay off and a wealthy mark to work on, a failing student can’t make any progress with his magick lessons and daily endures the ridicule and bullying of his tutor, a street urchin has learnt what it takes to survive but is fast learning that sometimes just having the skills is not enough and an assassin realises that not every target is one he wants to kill.
Herald of the Storm is the first book in a series and delivers historical fantasy in an enjoyable and well written format. Some readers may be familiar with the author from his previous steampunk work but this is something very different. Here we have an epic story with multiple sub plots and an underlying tone of dark magic that follows thieves, warriors, street urchins, nobles, con men, criminals and a failing student as they ultimately all just try to survive the situations thrown at them.
There are a lot of point of view characters in this book, and as you would expect from 600 pages plus the story is complex, so to begin with there is a big investment in getting to know the characters and distinguishing their individual desires and struggles. There is a lot to take in and this is the kind of book that would benefit from a cast index. But once you have got to grips with the different characters the action takes over and it does not disappoint.
The pace is good and does not suffer from the amount of time spent setting scenes and introducing characters. Some of the plotlines seem familiar: Janessa’s reluctance to enter a political marriage and become queen, for example, is not an unfamiliar beginning in fantasy fiction, but when woven in with the other characters and the rest of the action, the story soon moves away from the norm into something exciting and different. A solid start to a new series.
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.
The Immortals of Meluha. Book ReviewComments Off
Jo Fletcher Books, p/b, £8.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
The land is torn with strife. Terrorist attacks and threat of war prevent peaceful existence and now the Nagas, an outcast race of deformed peoples, are allying themselves with the Chandravanshis. The great river is drying up and the Suryavanshi rulers, like their enemies, place all their hopes of survival on an ancient prophecy. One will come and destroy evil.
Shiva is the head of his tribe. Ordinarily he uses Marijuana to relax but now he seeks answers. A foreigner came and told him about Meluha and all that the empire could offer. It is a paradise, he said. The approach of his enemies makes Shiva’s decision for him. He leads his tribe to Meluha and finds it to be every bit as luxurious, civilised and advanced as he was led to believe. It is a paradise indeed, on the surface, but soon talk of a prophecy that revolves around Shiva puts a darker taint on his new life.
The introduction in this book introduces us to the main character and tells us the book is a tribute to Lord Shiva and the lessons he teaches us. Indeed there are many moral lessons in here – not to judge or make assumptions, that good and bad are not clear definitions, that there are always two sides to every story and there is always balance.
Originally published in India, and a big seller at that, The Immortals of Meluha brings a tale that is steeped in India’s culture and belief system. Anyone interested in mythology, religion, and fantasy set in a different location to the norm will enjoy this.
This first book in the trilogy follows Shiva’s journey as the prophecy begins to play out. It moves in a linear fashion and although the story focuses mostly on Shiva, a roaming point of view does occasionally briefly place the focus on other characters, both allies and antagonists.
Amish uses chapter endings to best advantage employing cliff-hangers and introducing new characters or elements at the end of chapters to entice the reader to continue on. Coupled with the very fast pace the story moves at, this makes for an easy and enjoyable read. The downside is that the level of detail and plot complexity is less than we have come to expect in modern fantasy and its natural rhythm is at times stilted.
Brotherhood of Shades. Book ReviewComments Off
Authonomy (part of HarperCollins), p/b, £7.99 (Kindle, £2.99)
Reviewed by Matthew Johns
At first glance, the casual reader might be put off Dawn Finch’s first book. Published through Authonomy, which is part of HarperCollins devoted to showcasing unpublished authors, the review copy is ring bound in A4 (a paperback release isn’t due until September 2013 – Ed). However, upon turning the first few pages, the reader finds themselves drawn into the world of Toby D’Scover, head of Section One, part of the Brotherhood, a mysterious organisation staffed only by ghosts. Governed by the Senior Council, the Brotherhood’s aim is to quell dangerous spirits and prevent the living world from learning of them.
D’Scover is seeking the Sentinel – a spirit whose coming was foretold in ancient texts, who will save the world by defeating demons sent to destroy it. Alerted to the imminent death of an unnamed homeless boy dubbed “Adam Street” after the location he was found, he believes he may have finally found the Sentinel.
D’Scover and Adam join forces with a young witch, and begin their journey. Facing three elementals, will the trio discover the real Sentinel in time to save the world?
With Brotherhood of Shades, Finch has proven herself to be an author to watch. Her characters are well rounded, and the plotline develops quickly, building towards the thrilling conclusion.
The Red Knight. Book ReviewComments Off
Anachron Press, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Alex Bardy (Twitter: @mangozoid)
Having recently reviewed a book with the same title and bemoaning the copious typos and grammatical errors therein via Twitter, this title was brought to my attention with an accompanying challenge: “You won’t find any in this book, so there…” they cried. “Well, bring it on,” I said…
I did of course find some, but only a couple, and since I also found a real gem of a story herein —a great take on the ‘traditional military fantasy’ theme that borrows a lot of tropes and merrily rips them apart— all can easily be forgiven.
At its heart, this is a tale of war and betrayal, heroes and villains, magic and violence, love and lust, a bloody siege, and a few other things, not necessarily in that order but pretty close… and all thrown into a magic cauldron that spouts brilliant characters, great writing, and a whopping big smile.
Knight Captain Alyda Stenna heads up the elite troop known throughout the land as The Hammer aka the First Company of Royal Guards. Hard as iron, cold as stone is their motto, and although they do live up to this throughout, I couldn’t help thinking that Alyda herself is forever struggling against this from within despite her cold, battle-hardened exterior. This for me brings a lot of strength to her character: she is so real —frighteningly so— but also consumed with self-doubt throughout. It was especially interesting to see how the author conveys this because never once does Alyda really doubt her own abilities or those of her company, only her self-image and how others might perceive her. This really is a credit to the author and typifies the strength she brings to a lot of the characters: a number of the supporting cast have similar issues, but all are well-realised and willful, in particular Lady Iris ‘Bear’ Berwick is very special indeed, and I defy anyone not to fall in love with this sexually promiscuous but magical character — the clue is in the name, as they say…
Although one could write this off as standard fantasy at first glance, there is so much story and strong characterisation that it’s more about the people and their personalities, with an admittedly glorious, gritty and very bloody backdrop, and yet it also has an over-riding love story at its heart: Alyda’s relationship with Prince Talin is a constant reminder of how any loving union has to endure the constant ebb and flow of good and bad, through thick and thin, etc. not to mention the potential class-divide and behavioural impropriety headaches that are part and parcel of any potential Prince/Knight partnership.
The main siege that forms a large part of the central story is depicted with genuine brutality and a bloody realism that hits hard — the fights are full on, the wounds scream, and the bang-crash-wallops all hurt in that special crunching way that makes you physically wince as you read, but again at its core it is still all the individual characters and personalities that you feel for, especially Alyda, and ironically all of them come more alive with every drop of blood they spill, be it their own or someone else’s.
Brilliant characters, great dialogue, all-round excellent writing, and full to the brim with character, it’s very hard to fault any of this, but I’m going to: the end left me with a feeling of exhaustion and exasperation, and yes while there is a real sense that ‘life goes on’ I just felt a little deflated after such a fantastic, sensational ride.
A great book. A fabulous talent. And a genuine winner for Anachron in my opinion. Read it.
Fly By Night / Twilight Robbery / Gullstruck Island. Book ReviewsComments Off
Macmillan Children’s Books, p/b, £7.99
Macmillan Children’s Books, p/b, £6.99
Macmillan Children’s Books, p/b, £6.99
All by Frances Hardinge
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
I was sent these books after I cheekily said in my review of A Face like Glass (AFLG) that I would love to read the previous books that Hardinge had written. I cannot tell you how excited I was when I received them – AFLG had been such a good read and so I expected much the same from these.
Reader, I was not disappointed! Hardinge has a genuine gift and I can’t speak (write!) highly enough of her work. She is the kind of writer of whom aspiring authors will be rightly and happily jealous. Like Terry Pratchett, she weaves political, historical, sociological and anthropological threads through her stories with consummate ease. This type of ‘light’ and enjoyable reading may well be the most enlightening of all as you are learning things about yourself and humanity with every perfectly turned scene. Where I feel Hardinge may even exceed Pratchett (gasp!) is the seeming ease she creates different worlds – of the four books I’ve read there are 3 completely discrete worlds with their own depth and folklore, traditions and laws. Each one is utterly convincing and drawn in words to such detail that, if so inclined, one could probably make a good go at painting scenes from them.
However, although there are no wobbly set walls apparent, this doesn’t mean that the prose becomes overloaded and dry; to the contrary, Hardinge has such a beautiful turn of phrase that everything flows at exactly the right tempo.
Fly by Night and Twilight Robbery centre on Mosca Mye and her not-quite-sidekick, not-quite-guardian Eponymous Clent. The story is set in a culture where words and their meanings are of ultimate worth and your name (according to which saint you are born under) defines who you are and can be.
Gullstruck Island is the story of Lady Arilou a Lost, and her sister Hathin who is also Arilou’s keeper. The story centres on the tension between tribes and castes of their island, and the enigma of the Lost – people who can send out their senses far away from their physical bodies and on whom the entire island people’s economy, trade and way of life is dependent. The story develops when suddenly it becomes urgently necessary that Arilou is the Lost that she is supposed to be.
The absolute jewel in the crown of Hardinge’s writing is that she writes some of the best female characters I’ve ever read. It is so heartening to read genuine, engaging, sometimes villainous, and always complex characters that are not male, and I love that these kinds of characters are around to push back against the seemingly endless tide of insipid, dull-brained submissive handmaids so prevalent in much teen and adult fiction. (Just because you can do a roundhouse kick does not mean you are kick-ass!)
I think my favourite of all these books has to be Gullstruck Island. It has a brilliant cast of complex and interesting characters, a beautiful interweaving of folklore and ultimately human threads to create the convincing and engrossing backgrounds, and above all I absolutely adored Hathin – she stayed with me long after the last page.
The best and truest thing I can say about all Hardinge’s books is that they returned me to the best aspect of my childhood: not just fresh worlds to which I could escape; but friends to cherish. I hope Hardinge is busily writing more for me as I’ve only got Verdigris Deep to read now!