Fantasy Literature Spring Sale Now OnComments Off
To say a big thank you to all their customers and friends for supporting them during 2012, Fantastic Literature Limited is holding a bumper Spring Sale over the next five days. During the period from January 1st to January 5th they will be offering a 20% discount on orders over £50 and a 15% discount for orders under £50.
To take advantage of this offer simply quote SS2012 in the further information box at the foot of the order form when checking out.
Fantastic Literature Limited have the UK’s largest on-line collection of out-of-print horror, mystery, fantasy and science fiction fanzines, magazines and vintage paperbacks. The website can be found HERE
Archangel’s Blade by Nalini Singh. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
For those unfamiliar with Nalini Singh’s creations, this is an alternative fantasy world. Top dogs are Angels, with Archangels in charge of large areas of the globe. Raphael is the Archangel of North America with his Tower headquarters overlooking Manhattan. These angels are not cute, benign creatures but are inhuman, compassionless and dangerous. You offend one at your peril. Angels Make vampires. It is in their nature to do so. New vampires are usually contracted to their Maker as a servant for a century of their new life. Sometimes a vampire decides he does not like his servitude and runs. Then a Guild Hunter is called in to bring them back for punishment. Most Guild Hunters are human.
In the first volume of this series (Angels’ Blood) Raphael, against his better judgment fell in love with the Hunter he had called in to help him resolve a situation. The dangerous cross-species romance is a feature of all Singh’s novels both in this and the Psy-Changer series. Each time, she takes a new couple and puts them in jeopardy.
Dmitri is a familiar character, having been introduced in Angels’ Blood. He is a thousand year old vampire. He is Raphael’s second in command and his Blade, the enforcer in his domain. Their connection goes back a long way to Isis, the angel who made Dmitri. By any account, Dmitri would be described as a ‘hard bastard’. He is capable of immense cruelty, especially to women (in a mental rather than physical sense) and expects others do exactly what he tells them or face the consequences. He answers only to Raphael. When an immature vampire’s head is fished out of the river, Dmitri asks for a Guild Hunter to assist in the investigation. Honor St. Nicholas is assigned.
Honor’s mental state is fragile. She was kidnapped and held for two months in a cellar by a group of vampires who derived pleasure out of tormenting and feeding from her. Although some of them were killed or captured during her rescue, the instigators of the torture have not been identified and are still at large after ten months. She is terrified that they will be waiting for her. She doesn’t want this assignment. She doesn’t want to be alone in the same room as a vampire but she is goaded into using what little dignity she has left and takes the assignment. From the start, Dmitri both attracts and repels her.
Dmitri’s initial reaction is try to find a way of seducing Honor without her reacting hysterically. She is a woman and a challenge. He decides to help her track down the vampires that held her captive to give her closure and to use her gratitude to help her open up to his seduction. Gradually he realizes he wants more than just another conquest. Memories of his wife and children before he was Made begin to surface and we see a different aspect of Dmitri and begin to understand why his outward persona is as tough as it is.
Those who choose to read Nalini Singh’s novels don’t do it just for the supernatural elements – here angels and vampires – but also for the erotic sexual element. As the relationship between Honor and Dmitri develops, so does the explicit nature of the text. For those who desire a plot driven story, there will be disappointment as the crises, though important for the characters, are allowed to take second place to lust. There are some complex scenarios within the novel but they are not allowed to really develop and engage with the reader. It is a question of knowing what kind of book you want to read before you choose this one.
Hollow Earth by John & Carol E. Barrowman. Book Review(1)
Buster Books, p/b, £6.99
Reviewed by Rebekah Lunt
Fiction written by celebrities tends to make me inwardly groan; particularly when it’s written in the genre in which they act. Hollow Earth is clearly aimed at teenage fans of Torchwood and Doctor Who – this is obvious without knowing John Barrowman is one of the co-authors. However, he’s joined his creative forces with those of his sister, who is a journalist, and so I remained hopeful of a decent plot.
The story is based on a couple of key concepts: the titular ‘Hollow Earth’ and a group of people called ‘Animares’ who have ‘Guardians’ and a governing council. Obviously the formula is fairly familiar to most readers of this genre in that you’ll already have guessed the council will have split because there are differing points of view on the governance of Animares, and sinister people may be infiltrating all aspects of the group in order to obtain their nefarious goals.
The main thrust of the plot is that the twin protagonists, Matt and Emily Calder, are Animares: artists with the ability to animate their art. They are more powerful than any Animares who came before and as such, there is a group of villains intent on using the twins’ powers to breach the bounds of Hollow Earth – a place where all the devils, demons and monsters that exist in imagination are trapped.
As already mentioned, the issues around the Animares Council are predictable and unfortunately much of the characters, their development and the plot is almost rigidly formulaic throughout. Sadly, the concept of ‘Hollow Earth’ is weak and ironically is the hollowest aspect of the story; I never felt this concept was given enough backbone or detail, despite the flashbacks to the Middle Ages to the beginnings of the Animares’ history. Indeed, the flashbacks were fairly inconsequential to the development of the story and I could easily have skimmed these with little detriment to the overall plot.
However, there is much to be said for the concept of Animares and the story gained impact and quality as it developed – clearly the set-up is toward creating sequels and a possible TV series, and I have to say that the latter may be where this story would thrive. I think any further books would benefit from a focus on the abilities of the twins, and how they cope with and utilize them, and the impact on their world – these aspects were by far the most interesting parts of the story. Overall, it is an enjoyable, easy read which should appeal to the audience at which it’s aimed. Older fans of John Barrowman may well be disappointed though I, for one, will be interested in reading the next installment.
Theft of Swords by Michael J Sullivan. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit, p/b, £7.99
Reviewed by Karen Stevens
Royce Melborn and Hadrian Blackwater, skilled thief and mercenary, make their living by hiring out their considerable talents to those who can afford it. When the king of Melengar is murdered, they’re framed as his killers. Managing to escape from their prison, they have to rescue the crown prince and find the real killers to clear their names before they hang for the crime, but (wouldn’t you know it) there’s a sinister conspiracy headed by some very powerful individuals who don’t want them to succeed.
Theft of Swords (the first book of the Riyria Revelations trilogy) is really two novellas put together – The Crown Conspiracy and Avempartha, - featuring the two main characters. This is a novel set firmly in the high fantasy category; in the interview in the extras section, the author states he deliberately wanted to use all the traditional fantasy tropes, so we have elves, morally ambiguous sorcerers, royalty and dwarves. If you find these sorts of things clichéd and irritating then don’t read this book – it will annoy you. If on the other hand you enjoy traditional fantasy it has a good deal to recommend it; the two main characters are well-drawn and realistic individuals and the stories are well-written with enough action and intrigue to hold the reader’s attention with the occasional flashes of humour.
That said, I must admit my interest started to wane during the second story. Mainly because even though the stories themselves have a few twists and turns, what I could see of the way the main story arc is developing looks so clichéd and obvious that my heart sunk. The other problems are a couple of glaring examples of modern speech that jarred me unpleasantly a couple of times (I have no problem with characters saying ‘yeah’ or even ‘okay’, but when they say ‘no worries’…), and the fact that, for me, the author simply wasn’t as funny as he thinks he is. However these are personal points and you may not have any problem with them. If you like traditional fantasy and can cope with the use of modern speech then you’d be well advised to check Theft of Swords out.
The Clockwork Rocket: Orthogonal Book 1 by Greg Egan. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, 362pp l/f p/b, £14.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]
I should offer a disclaimer here before we get going: I would not consider myself much of a scientist in any shape or form, and as such a lot of the more complex physics in our own world are completely alien to me. Thus, when I tell you that Greg Egan has effectively ‘rewritten the physics textbook’ in order to bring Clockwork Rocket to the masses, it should come as no surprise that this is quite possibly the hardest of ‘hard SF’ – and to me, one of the hardest to review, so my apologies in advance…
To try and sum up: Yalda is the main protagonist and belongs to a truly ‘alien’ species of near-amorphous shapeshifters for whom a ‘usual form’ is six-limbed with eyes to the back and front. They are indeed truly alien, with their own reproductive processes, societal norms, etc., but the situation Yalda finds herself in is one many can relate to: she is a loner in her own society, one generally made up of male and female twins (she is a ‘solo’), and her love of science puts her at the forefront of a daring escapade to save her planet from inevitable destruction by Hurtlers (increasingly regular meteor strikes on the planet). The plan, as such, is to basically transform an entire mountain into a rocket, and send it into space along a trajectory that will effectively cross time: it will travel much faster for those travelling on the journey than for those back on the home planet, so the idea is that the ship goes off on a jaunt to research a potential solution to the Hurtler problem, hopefully to return with the answer through generations of research and experimentation, despite only a handful of years passing on Yalda’s home planet. Of course, Yalda and her cohorts encounter hostility, resentment and outright scepticism throughout the book, but when they bear witness to a neighbouring planet effectively destroyed by the Hurtlers, all of a sudden it doesn’t seem like such a bad gambit…
Clockwork Rocket takes at least 200 pages to get going – no kidding – and in that time we are introduced to a variety of concepts and the ‘new physics’ of Egan’s universe which encompasses so many theorems related to light, distance, time, etc. that it’d be too complex to try and explain them all here. Egan himself has written literally thousands of words on the subject on his website (www.gregegan.net), and this book has so many diagrams and explanatory text that at times it felt like I was back at college and crawling through a Physics textbook.
Make your way through this mire of detail and there is a good core story at the root of it, and even some of the characters will resonate (unusual in an Egan story?). For my part, it felt like too much of a struggle for very little pay-off, especially when you consider that this is only the first part of a trilogy.
The Third Section by Jasper Kent. Book ReviewComments Off
Bantam Books, trade p/b, £12.99
Reviewed by Pauline Morgan
Vampires are back in all their brutal nastiness in this series set in Imperial Russia. The year is 1955, the year after the infamous charge of the Light Brigade. The Russian army is besieged atSevastopolby the French and the British. One of their officers is Dmitry Danilov.
Readers familiar with Jasper Kent’s books so far will know that Dmitry’s father, Aleksei, first worked with a team in 1812 during Bonaparte’s retreat from Moscow, the members of which turned out to be vampires. Their story was told in Twelve. In Thirteen Years Later, Aleksei gets caught up in the Decembrist movement which is plotting to overthrow the Tsar. He is also aware of another plot against the Tsar: The oldest of the vampires, Zmyeevich, once made a pact with Peter the Great in which if the Tsar drank Zmyeevich’s blood, he would become a vampire and be a puppet ruler to the old vampire’s domination. Tsar Peter cheated him but the potential was still there in his descendents and vampires can be very patient.
In Sevastopol, Dmitry, with the knowledge his father gave him, comes to realise that one of his friends is a vampire. As the army returns toMoscow, so do the vampires.
As with any worthwhile series two things are built in. Each book has a conclusion which folds up the prominent issues while leaving a hook to draw the reader onto the next book. It also incorporates factors from previous volumes which shape the way the characters behave in a new situation. At the end of Thirteen Years Later, Aleksei was exiled toSiberia. His mistress followed him leaving behind their daughter, Tamara. Thirty years later much of the plot revolves around her. Tamara has been brought up by the family of one of Aleksei’s old friends to believe that they are her parents. Some childhood memory has convinced her that this is not true and she becomes obsessed in finding out who her real parents are. Also, through the actions of unscrupulous government officials, she is lured into becoming a member of the Third Section,Russia’s secret service. The head of the Third Section is a man that Dmitry has known from childhood and it is inevitable that when both he and Tamara are inMoscow, their paths will eventually cross.
JasperKentis very good with history, blending recorded fact with plausible fiction based on rumour such as the secret faked death of Tsar Aleksandr and adding in the mix of horror fantasy. In this turbulent period, when wars rakedEurope, it would be very easy for vampires to feed on the dying without detection. The creatures here do not totally conform to the traditional image: yes, direct sunlight will burn them but not diffused daylight, they do not reflect in mirrors (for whichKenthas an explanation), and they are warm to the touch and have heartbeats, which makes it easier to mingle with their prey. They are of the nasty variety, having no scruples about killing. To fall in love with one just postpones the moment when you become lunch and there is no nonsense about having to sleep in native soil or be scared off by crosses or garlic. Where he is perhaps less sure is when he is writing from Tamara’s view point. There is not enough richness to convince me of her femininity.
In general, though, this is a book that can be enjoyed at many levels.
The Measure of the Magic: Legends of Shannara Book 2 by Terry Brooks. Book ReviewComments Off
Orbit, h/b, £18.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
The second in the Legends of Shannara duology picks up where part one left off but with the addition of a new character: the ragpicker. Scruffy and harmless looking, he sings to himself as he searches for a legend, but the first person he meets gets a sharp lesson in not judging by appearances and his true intentions become clear.
Panterra finds himself the reluctant bearer of the black staff but he knows little of its secrets. Adrift from his tracking partner and best friend, Prue, he sets out to find her, taking the burden of the unknown magic with him. The Elf Princess Phryne is trapped in her stepmother’s clutches and can only wait and hope for rescue. The Elfstones have vanished, the Troll armies are still amassing and Prue stumbles across the ragpicker’s path to detrimental consequence.
The Measure of the Magic did clear up many of the questions part one left me with and the title of the series became clearer. Brooks really does plunge us into the histories of Shannara and once again we find ourselves on a quest to find the Elfstones and save the valley dwellers. There isn’t much more to say, other than once again this book contains all the elements you would expect from such an established fantasy author. We have pairs of heroes questing, a blossoming love, magic, demons, danger, double crossing and a good dose of classic narrative giving a great opportunity for escapism.
The Shadow Cycles by Philip Emery. Book Review(1)
Immanion Press, 216pp, l/f p/back, £12.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]
In his own words (and an extended Appendix herein subtitled The Tarot of Sword-&-Sorcery) Philip Emery says The Shadow Cycles is his attempt at a redefinition of form for sword-&-sorcery [sic] in the twenty-first century, and as part of that process he has attempted to formulate and deploy a ‘new’ tarot, trying to focus on the form’s beginnings and also, potential. He spends a fair bit of time ‘dissecting’ Robert E. Howard’s works, in particular the Conan tales, with a slight nod to Tolkien’s ‘High Fantasy’ in LotR and concludes that a good combination of violence and the supernatural is potentially the ‘new’ sword-&-sorcery.
For my part, I’m really sorry, but I found a lot of it just jibber-jabber – and as if to top it off this story is so far from the worlds of either Howard or Tolkien that I think the author does a huge disservice to both, and himself.
In brief, The Shadow Cycles tells the story of five characters from different realms brought together to partake in a final apocalyptic battle against a ‘dragon’ of sorts, fought through a series of stages and it is sooo boring… really, truly, genuinely boring… The entire book feels like a first draft and in desperate need of some tighter editing in so many places. I would consider myself relatively well-read, but never in my life have I had to reach for a dictionary so many times during a single book. Words like quinquereme, tatterdemalion, porphyry, chalcedony, lazuli, sardonyx, dolerite, agate and the slightly less obscure ‘tegular’ are liberally sprinkled throughout, like some kind of stone/quartz lexicon gone mad. Every one jars considerably leading to an ultimately uncomfortable and irritating read from start to finish. Very very annoying, and impossible to recommend. Sorry.
RUR & War with the Newts by Karel Čapek. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz (SF Masterworks). £8.99
Reviewed by John Howard
Karel Čapek (1890-1938) was the Czech writer whose 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) introduced the word ‘robot’ (originally meaning serf or forced labour) to the English language. Rossum’s Robots – they would be called androids today – were created from protoplasm in order to perform all sorts of menial and repetitive tasks, liberating human beings from toil and bringing in an earthly paradise. Inevitably the mass-production of Robots and the low cost of using them lead to their employment in many other ways. They become indispensable to some and impossible to work with for others. Gradually some Robots are improved to be more like humans and to seek to be treated like them – and so the Robots learn to hate their creators. ‘…They couldn’t hate us if they were only a little more human.’ / ‘Nobody can hate man more than man.’
The context of War with the Newts (1936) was the rise of National Socialism inGermany and the political insecurity of the inter-war years inEurope and throughout the world in general. The Newts are a newly discovered race of amphibious creatures which is taught to work for humans and exploited in order to exploit the resources of the sea. Newts can only live in shallow coastal waters, so vast colonies develop as the Newt population expands. The Newts’ situation soon becomes a source of tension for many people, with some advocating the granting of full rights, while others wish them to be suppressed entirely. Meanwhile the Newts labour at their allotted tasks, but no-one really knows what they are doing under the sea. And then the earthquakes begin, with the inundation of large areas of coastline and low-lying land allowing the Newts to expand at the expense of the inhabitants of the land.
Both R.U.R. and War with the Newts look at the unintended consequences of ‘progress’ and mankind’s manipulation of nature, and how mankind’s institutions rise (or don’t) to the new realities they and the race have to deal with. But while Čapek certainly did have a serious intent behind his work, this shouldn’t obscure their ironic wit and gentle wisdom (especially in War with the Newts). Both are tragic stories, but even in a world where nothing is secure it is yet possible for people to perform acts of humanity and meet the end with a wry smile. There are worse ways to go, as Čapek himself would undoubtedly have found out if he hadn’t died when he did.
War in Heaven by Gavin Smith. Book ReviewComments Off
Gollancz, 513pp l/f p/back, £14.99
Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]
Gavin Smith’s sequel to Veteran is like an intergalactic, interplanetary version of the original, and recounts the tale of ex-vet-now-celebrity ‘icons’ Jakob Douglas and Mudge as they go one more round with Rolleston, the psychotic ex-military leader turned amorphous one man god-to-be, who is intent on unleashing Demiurge onto an already struggling and embittered humanity in an effort to use the ultra-powerful AI to effectively consume humanity and redefine the parameters of what a single entity is capable of…
Phew… As such, it’s also a rollicking read, filled to the brim with big guns, bodily cybernetic enhancements, macho muchness, and lots and lots of violence. Indeed, the violence is everywhere, and the majority told once again in grittily horrific and brutal style from a first-person perspective, namely Jakob’s.
There are plenty of clever twists throughout, with some telling dialogue, brilliant descriptive work and a fair smattering of black humour, with my only gripe probably being a little too much introspection going on as Jakob goes from one extreme to the other in his efforts to procure what can only be described as a ‘reasonably normal’ relationship with Morag, his apparent girlfriend. I say ‘apparent’ because needless to say this relationship never seems to settle down, and even when he tries to leave it all behind and ‘make a break for it’, we find him drawn inexorably back into the thick of things, and at times it’s obvious that even Jakob doesn’t know why he’s bothering. This makes it harder to sympathise with a lot of the characters this time round, and although ultimately a very satisfying read, it’s actually a gratuitous experience, and fair to say it didn’t quite hold up in the same vein as the original Veteran, coupled with the fact that there’s a definite feeling at the end that we’re back to square one again, albeit with a trail of dead bodies behind us.
This is well worth a read, a must-have for military SF buffs and the author displays a genuine talent for putting the reader into the thick of things, but the characterisation efforts just felt a little lost in the shuffle.