Jul 19, 2011

Book Review–Shieldwall by Justin Hill

shield

Shieldwall by Justin Hill is the first book in a planned trilogy encapsulating the historical events that surround the Battle of Hastings and the fall of Anglo-Saxon England.  Hill is an established and award winning writer, but this is his first foray into English historical fiction.

The Story

Shieldwall is set roughly 50 years before the Battle of Hastings, and is the story of Godwin Wulfnothson’s rise to power from hostage son of an Anglo-Saxon Thegn to the Jarl or Earl of Wessex.  It’s a story of battles, bravery and betrayals.  History has recorded facts about Godwin but not his story. Hill takes what scant historical information exists of the period - those fixed points in time,  and using knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture crafts a poetic and engaging story around them.

We follow Godwin from his boyhood, we see him build friendships, alliances and enemies.  The books strongest themes appear to be honour and honouring your word.  Indeed the villain of the piece embodies the exact opposite,conniving, self serving and liable to change allegiance as soon as it’s in his interest.

Who the hell is Godwin?

Despite this era holding a great deal of interest, particularly for historians, popular culture depictions of Godwin are rather scarce. There’s a couple of movies that feature him, one made in the 50’s and one due out  this year – 1066,but that’s about it.

Godwin was the father of King Harold Godwinson or Harold II, the last Anglo-Saxon King of England, who fought against the Normans at the battle of Hastings and lost.

Not my usual fare

Shieldwall is a bit of a departure away from my normal reading(ie Speculative Fiction).  That’s not to say that I don’t like Historical fiction, indeed I have an educational background in history(mostly North Australian and South East Asian).  Shieldwall was, however, one of those unexpected gems that you get as a reviewer, a pleasant surprise that tapped into my love of history in general and  fired my imagination.

The book is set in that period of English history between Alfred the Great and the coming of William the Conqueror.  If you are a fan of Tolkien’s Rohrirrim (The Rider’s of Rohan) this period is more or less the fertile soil from which they grew.  All that alliterative naming – “Eomer son of Eomund”, the great poetic war speeches of Theoden, have their roots deep in Anglo-Saxon culture.

Breathing life into history

Not all of us are fans of Time Team (hard to believe, but true). History can become a bit of a bore when it’s just names and dates and battles. A good writer of Historical fiction is one who can make those names and events come to life.  Shieldwall ’s success I think, has to be judged on its historical accuracy, and the believability that Hill generates as he leads us between the fixed historical points.

In that sense, I find Shieldwall to be a success.  Not much is known of Godwin Wulfnothson, particularly his early life, he pops up at important junctures and finally becomes the Earl of Wessex under a King he fought against.

Hill’s knowledge of Anglo-Saxon culture and his use of poetry in the Anglo-Saxon tradition breathes life into what could have been a pretty bland retelling of events separated by a number of battles. Hill manages to give us a believable story, and a believable and very human character.

Criticisms

There have been others, perhaps with a focus more on the historical rather than the fiction that have pointed out some blatant anachronisms. For myself, not being invested heavily in the period, I didn’t find this a distraction. 

What I noticed more were the female characters presented – Kendra, a slave and sometimes mistress to both Godwin and his father,  a duplicitous queen, and a cast of other characters who are only participate as wives of powerful lords.  Only the grandmother of Edmond Ironside comes across as a truly independent and powerful woman.

I noticed the portrayal of women and I have to ask, is Hill being true to history and giving us an accurately portrayal of a male centred culture, or has a filter been placed over our interpretation of the period? Could Hill, as he is writing fiction, have presented a female character who wasn’t a sex object or man’s possession?

The book is Godwin’s story and perhaps I am being harsh?

Judgement

I found Shieldwall a pleasant read, the description of battles was gutsy and exciting, the description of fear and the urge to pee before a battle added a certain verisimilitude.

It was evocative in its portrayal of Anglo-Saxon England and Hill has given me, in Godwin, a character who I am interested in following, as he marches on to become one of Anglo-Saxon England’s most powerful figures.


This book as a review copy provided by the publisher

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Jul 17, 2011

Book Review–Tiger’s Quest by Colleen Houck

tigersquestTiger's Quest is the second book in Colleen Houck’s epic fantasy romance that began in Tiger's Curse .

Story

Kelsey has left India and Ren behind in a misguided attempt to give herself some distance and Ren time to  find himself a more worthy girlfriend.

It’s also a chance to lay low and avoid the evil Lokesh who has now become aware of the quest to break the curse and Kelsey’s part in it.

She returns to America, and thanks to Mr Kadam’s generosity she has a house, a car and her college tuition paid for.  She begins to settle in and dates other guys.

Then Ren, unable to stay away, comes to her. They are united and Kelsey realises what a twit she’s been. They are in love, happy and even Ren’s cheeky brother Kishan can’t upset the situation.

After a freak accident, however, Kelsey’s name is leaked in a newspaper story and Lokesh finds them.  A fight ensues, Ren is captured, and Kelsey and Kishan must flee back to India to pick up the quest where they left off.  If they can complete the quest, then they can rescue Ren.

But can they rescue themselves from the attraction they feel for each other?

No longer a passenger

In my review of Book 1 – Tiger's Curse , I commented that I felt Kelsey was a bit of passenger. In Tiger's Curse she was given the Gada( a magical club like weapon) by the Goddess Durga.  She was given the power to wield it but she spent most of the time letting Ren do the “manly” thumping and crushing. The answers to puzzles or mysteries that Kelsey had to figure out also seemed plucked out of the air, plot devices with no real chance for the reader to try and figure them out alongside Kelsey.

In Tiger's Quest, though, Kelsey  is gifted additional weapons and is trained in their use by her Indian guardian Mr Kaddam and we start to see a more Buffy-esque character develop.  The physical side of the quest also seems more equally shared between her and Kishan.

Now on the one hand you could argue that this is a natural progression of character…from insecure teen to a more self assured young woman. This is fantasy though and I have to ask,  if she’s the chosen of Durga and she’s handed a weapon of great power, couldn’t she be granted the skill to use it.

Sufficed to say, Kelsey gets to kick butt in this book.

 

Juxtapositions upset my condition

I can see the loving research that has gone into this book, the cultural and travel information is comprehensive.  Unfortunately I could see it too well. There’s an art to blending background colour into a novel and in a number of instances I found that I was dropped out of the story by ill-fitted blocks of information juxtaposed with the narrative.  I won’t be as rude to say that some sections were copy and pasted from a travel guide but it felt that way.  I am aware though that I am an experienced reader and might spot info dumps where younger  less experienced readers might not notice or care. Nonetheless it irked me on more than one occasion.

The second juxtaposition, if you will, was the inclusion of other myths and legends – Biblical and Northern European alongside an epic Indian Fantasy.  Again I can appreciate Houck’s love of history and culture but I found this adventure swung away from Indian myth and legend and roped in Noah’s ark Shangri-la, Fairies and Norse myth.  It was a case of too many myths spoiling the broth.  I lost the sense of the mysterious, the freshness, that comes with learning about a culture that I have no real background in.

Finally I had trouble in the believability of Kelsey’s  relationship with Ren.  She pines for him romantically but I didn’t feel a strong sense of concern for his wellbeing.  She seems more worried about the presence of Kishan and developing feelings for him than fearing for Ren being tortured at the hands of Lokesh.  Perhaps this was a pacing issue?

Ruminations and recommendations

So it’s no surprise then to find Tiger's Quest isn’t my cup of tea. As a young adult adventure I find it a bit long.  I think it could have been a hundred pages shorter and moved a bit quicker.  I don’t mind a good romance but I felt the dates Kelsey endures at the beginning were a bit superfluous.

It’s a good safe read for your teen, nothing past a kiss and a cuddle.


This book was a review copy provided by the publisher

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Jul 11, 2011

eComic Review - Peacemaker by Marianne de Pierres and Brigitte Sutherland

Peacemaker-comic-Marianne-de-Pierres-Brigitte-SutherlandPeacemaker Issue 1 is Marianne de Pierres’ first foray into graphic novels, comics, web comics (whatever the correct pop culture terminology is).  She’s teamed up with another Australian, Brigitte Sutherland to match the art to her written imaginings.  From what I can gather there’s still a series of Peacemaker novels in the works as well.

Pull up a hay bale while I tell you a story

This first issue introduces us to Virgin Jackson a Senior Ranger in  Park Western, a western(as in the American West) theme reserve where you can see the west as it was.  Only the park sits in the middle of a futuristic Australian megacity.

There’s been a death in the park and parks bosses have brought in an American Marshall to track down the culprits.  The conflict between Ranger and Marshall, liberated woman and ol’ fashioned lawman is established.  There’s also a hat tip to mysticism with Virgin ‘seeing’ totemic animals.

Calamity Jane meets Mega City One?

In some ways it has a similar feel as Glitter Rose, it’s a slipstream piece that ties together several genre’s western, sci-fi, supernatural and maybe a little romance.   It could easily have been Calamity Jane meets Megacity One, but its got a distinctive and original Pierres’ touch.

The first comic is 12 pages long, which did feel a little short to me, but it was enough to set the scene, establish the characters, and reveal the conflicts.  It ends on a minor cliff hanger and I am more than intrigued to pick up issue 2.

My lack of comic book/graphic novel reading leaves me at a disadvantage when commenting on the art.  In short I think Sutherland has done a great job with colours, the landscape looks right for a future Australia and the comic flows well visually.

I viewed it on my laptop and it would probably be a delight to read on an IPad or other colour reader.

It’s currently 99 cents, future issues will retail at $2.99.

Book Review - Thyla by Kate Gordon

thyla_ARTWORK.qxd:Layout 1Thyla is Kate Gordon's second novel, but her first in the Paranormal YA genre.  Now I know that some readers have just turned away at the mention of paranormal and YA in the same sentence. 

Bare with me.

Thyla is a refreshing take on the genre, uniquely Australian and not infiltrated by any moralising subtext. There’s a touch of teenage romance but essentially it’s a high school, mystery adventure tale with a female protagonist sans any sparkly supernaturals.

The Story

Tessa is found collapsed and alone in Tasmanian bush land.  She wakes in a hospital bed, with little to no memory other than her name, and no idea how she got the scars across her back.  She’s placed into Cascade Falls, a private all girls school at the behest of a mysterious benefactor.  Her only friend is the policewoman Connolly, who has lost her own daughter only recently.

As the story unfolds Tessa becomes aware that things at Cascade Falls aren’t all that they seem.  On the surface it’s the typical boarding school experience, bitchy cliques – the popular girls vs the ferals.  Tessa falls in with the ferals, who are more easy going and accepting.  It soon becomes apparent, however,  that the ferals aren’t your average teenage girls, and neither is Tessa.  Battling  inconvenient amnesia and tribal conflicts,  Tessa begins to slowly piece together her life and her supernatural origins, just in time to combat the sinister Diemens.

Australian History on the sly.

I like Gordon’s choice to set this book in an Australian context, I love her use of early Australian convict history which I think really beds down the narrative and gives it an honest Australian flavour. There’s passing mentions of institutions and  places that are real, buildings whose original purpose may now be lost or at least unknown to 21st century teens – an invitation to interested readers to check out history in their own backyard (presuming of course they are Australian)

I also like her use of Australian animals for the were-creatures; notably the Thyla (Tasmanian tigers) and the Sarco (Tasmanian devils), tribal enemies until the Diemens(hinted at vampires) arrived at point of colonisation.  It’s a refreshing departure from regular European Vampire/Werewolf mythology which would have been an easy road to tread.

There’s a nice little bit of world building that encompasses a narrative of colonisation- the Thyla’s and Sarco’s remember a time when humans and they lived together in peace, before settlement and before the Diemens.  It would have been easy to have tapped into the earlier gothic traditions but I am glad Gordon didn’t, its nice to think that we have home grown were-creatures with a separate mythology.

No Vampire Hunks

One thing that niggled at me with Twilight was the sinister implications behind  the attraction of a 100 year old vampire to a teenage girl.  In Thyla, the romance (what little there is), is much better handled in terms of power dynamics.  Tessa might be an immortal teen but at least she’s attracted to other immortal teens.

Narrative mode

I found the narrative mode interesting-Tessa as the narrator (first person), directed at the character Connolly.  This can be a tricky mode to write in and get the balance right – nothing worse than being caught in a boring characters head.  Thankfully Gordon handles it well giving the reader an intimate account of Tessa’s adventures.

Recommendations

At only 279 pages and with an uncomplicated style it was a quick enjoyable read for me. I’d recommend it for ages 13 + and both genders, and while it does feature Tessa having her first period - certain to register as “too much info” for young male readers.  It also features well described conflict, bloodshed and death for the action fans.  I’d suggest it for those readers who want an original take on the Vampire/Werewolf myth.

 


Kate was nice enough to participate in my Authors and Social Media series of interviews. You can read her interview here .

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Jul 10, 2011

Book Review–Side Jobs by Jim Butcher

side-jobs-stories-from-the-dresden-files

Side Jobs by Jim Butcher is a collection of previously published short fiction set in Butcher’s Dresden Files world. 

If you haven't red any of the Dresden Files, it’s hard boiled detective fiction meets urban fantasy. Though rather tame compared to the wonderful Horn by Peter Ball.

Harry Dresden is the wise cracking private eye, who always seems to be on the wrong side of lucky.  Of course being a wizard, modern conveniences seem to take a dislike to him – his car requires cajoling and don’t even think about trying to use a mobile phone around him. 

Like all good Detective Fiction there’s damsels that need saving1, and sidekicks that come in the form of a spirit imprisoned in a skull and no nonsense policewoman called Murphy. 

Side Jobs brings together 10 previously published short stories and one new novella set after the events that occur in the book Changes .  Each story is introduced by a short note from Jim Butcher, often commenting on which anthology it originally appeared in and some thoughts on the creative process for each work.

As such the book is probably a must collect for Dresden Fans, particularly if you came late to the scene and want to collect everything published about him.

If you don’t mind having some facts spoiled and missing out on the building tension between Murphy and Dresden, then the collection an excellent way to get a taste of Dresden's world and Butcher’s writing for the uninitiated.

My favourites

Heorot – which features a hat tip to Beowulf and some sexual humour verging on the adolescent. I will never look at fire extinguishers the same way again.

The Warrior – A look at the Christian faith, through the character of Michael a former Knight of the Cross and the struggle experienced by those who confuse their will with that of Almighty

Aftermath – this one is told from Murphy’s point of view and expands her and Dresden’s relationship.  This one had a tinge of HP Lovecraft, without succumbing to pastiche.

Representative of the Dresden Files series I’d recommend it for hard-core fans and those who might want to test the waters before launching into a 13 book series.


1. Indeed I have seen some criticism of Butcher is regards to the underlying sexism in his storylines.


 

This book was a review copy provided by the publisher.

 

If you are interested in checking out the world of the Dresden Files, there’s:

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Jul 9, 2011

Book Review–The Loner by Quintin Jardine

the-loner

The Loner is a stand alone novel from acclaimed Scottish crime novelist Quintin Jardine, though it does feature a cameo from Bob Skinner (of the 19 book series).  This is my first Jardine novel, I’m not a big crime fan but if The Loner is an example of Jardine’s work then I am more than prepared to give any of his books a shot.

The Tale

The story is presented as an autobiographical account of the famous (fictional) journalist Xavier(Xavi) Ailsado. A gentle giant of mixed parentage who’s brought up in Edinburgh by his grandmother (a refugee from Franco’s Spain). His father, a successful businessman, eventually moves the family back to Spain, and Xavi is left to grow to manhood on his own terms in Scotland. An injury ends a promising career as a professional footballer player, after which he turns to his real passion – journalism. Though Xavi’s life has had difficulties he seems to have brushed most of these aside a landed on his feet.  As the story unfolds though, the reader comes to realise that Xavi has his hardest trials ahead of him.

Technique

The story is presented as an autobiographical account but constructed (with additional research )as manuscript by Jardine. Indeed Jardine sets the reader with up with a co-authors note explaining this.

Xavi’s autobiographical sequences then are interspersed with cut scenes to dialogue between characters that are present in Xavi’s version.  Some times these cut scenes reveal clues or aspects that bear direct relation to the next scene, at other times their import becomes apparent further into the story. 

Aside from balancing out the voice of Xavi, the cut scenes are an excellent way of building tension.  The reveal the thoughts and actions of characters outside of Xavi’s knowledge, drop clues or suggest possibilities to the reader.  All of which combine to lead us to the niggling, uncomfortable conclusion that our seemingly impervious protagonist is heading towards disaster. 

A gutting finish

Xavi’s life story is interesting in and of  itself, a professional footballer turned journalist, son of a media magnate. The story moves along quite steadily, slowly building tension. Xavi leads a charmed life, but we know from the authors note at the beginning that the end of his story is going to be a sad one.

Jardine’s skill is in making us think that the story is going one way, makes us believe that one tragedy is the end point, when all a long he’s been dropping clues that lead to an ending that blindside me and left me gutted as a reader(it was quite literally gut wrenching). 

Very few books evoke an emotional reaction from me.  Indeed I can off the top of my head only think of three.  Jardine has done such a masterful job at presenting Xavi as an endearing, loveable character (no doubt the choice of autobiographical form aided this)that even if the story was fiction my emotions and empathy for Xavi were real. 

It’s not a book that I can say read it and you’ll have a great time.  It is however, a brilliant book, one that demonstrates the power of a good writer in bringing characters truly to life. 


This book was a review copy provided by Headline at no cost to myself.

quintinFrom Quintin’s Website: Quintin Jardine was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, and educated there and in Glasgow, where he studied snooker and, in his leisure moments, law, at what was then the city’s only University.

After deciding that he would never reach professional status in either discipline, he looked towards a broader horizon. He enjoyed, most of the time, a wholly unplanned, but eventful career as a journalist, government information officer, political spin-doctor and media relations consultant, before deciding to find a job that was more in touch with reality. Thus he took to the creation of crime fiction like a Trident-loaded nuclear submarine to water.


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Jul 7, 2011

Book Review–Tiger’s Curse by Colleen Houck

tigers-curse-colleen-houck-hardcover-cover-art

Tiger's Curse is Colleen Houck’s first novel.  Its first release was as a digital offering on Amazon where it sat at the top of the Children’s Best Seller rankings for 7 weeks.  It’s subsequently gone on to become a new york times best seller.  It’s published in Australia by Hodder.

The Tale

Kelsey Hayes has  finished High School and is facing a summer of temp work while she decides what to do with her life.  She’s carries a bit of baggage, – the loss of her parents and the emotional scaring that it brings, but on the whole she’s your average young adult ready to see what the big wide world has to offer.

  She lands a job with a visiting circus as a spare pair of hands for two weeks.  It’s from this point on her life begins to take an unexpected turn.  She falls in love with the circus’ white tiger; captivated by his calm demeanour, blue eyes and almost human sentience. 

We soon find out that not all is as it seems with the Tiger Dhiren or Ren for short, he’s a cursed Indian prince, trapped in Tiger form until the one who can free him comes along.  The one happens to be Kelsey and Tiger's Curse takes the reader on an adventure to India, modern and mythological, as Mr Kadam (Ren’s manservant and adviser), Kelsey and Ren attempt to unravel clues to break the curse. There’s magic, adventure and romance as Kelsey and Ren are thrown together.

 An epic fantasy-romance that will leave you breathless and yearning for more?

I am aware that I am not the target demographic for Tiger's Curse , but the fact that a book is written for teens is should not excuse it for what I see as some of its faults.  I wasn’t breathless (frustrated at points certainly) and I don’t yearn to read the next volume -though I have it and hope to see some growth in Houck’s writing.

The romance in this fantasy-romance was the strongest part of the novel, at least until the end where I found the somewhat juvenile bickering and melodrama could have been resolved(then to be ripped asunder by an evil and ingenious plot device).  

Kelsey is, to my mind, too cynical of love, for someone who is experiencing real lust/love for the first time. She acts like someone who has had her heart broken too many times and displays wisdom that I think only comes with having loved and lost (romantically – I don’t think the loss of her parents translates). 

I felt that it was right for her to have misgivings and doubts, to be a little bit scared of her first real relationship but her continued rebelling against her own desires and Ren’s obvious interest in her felt distinctly unrealistic.  Towards the end of the novel Ren’s speech about having watched human society over 300 years, and knowing what he wanted should have convinced Kelsey that Ren was an adult who could make up  his own mind.  As I hinted above, I think the romantic tension between the two should have been resolved here, only to have them pulled apart somehow, leaving the reader on a cliff hanger.

Indiana Jones meets Twilight

The above is a pitch from Houck herself.  Tiger’s Curse can be compared to the Spielberg/Lucas classic in as much as there are temples, jungles, booby traps and hidden artefacts.  The element that it lacked, at least for me, was the suspense.  The adventure is fairly linear – they do some research, got to a site discover a secret door or unravel a puzzle.

In unravelling clues or finding secret passages, success seemed to be achieved through happenstance as opposed to intelligence.  I think there was a chance missed here, to draw the reader in, to get them to figure out some of the mystery along with the characters.

Despite the booby traps and mythological dangers I never felt that Kelsey or Ren were in any danger. Indeed the only danger to Kelsey was that her overly stubborn denial of her love for Ren would dash any chance she’s have with him.  The various physical trials they had to pass seemed to be overcome with relative ease.

For the favoured of a goddess Kelsey ain’t no slayer.

Kelsey is set up as some fated saviour to the cursed Ren.  In that role though, she seems to rarely step beyond that of a plot device.  Other than being a compassionate person she doesn’t bring much else to the table (in the way of skills). 

Early in the story we find out that she is the favoured of Durga and she is granted a magical weapon, the Gada which she wields with ease, yet Mr Kadam (who plays somewhat of a Mr Miyagi to Kelsey’s Daniel-san, or so I thought)  finds difficult to lift. I was thinking at this point Kelsey was going to become a weapon wielding avatar.

I felt like we were being set-up for some buffy-esque heroine who under the tutelage of Mr Kadam would project a strong female figure - a young woman that could fall in love with her handsome Indian Tiger-man prince and able to handle herself.

Indeed I could see some possibilities for conflict between ancient Indian concepts of gender roles and modern American ones.  The reader is even given a backstory to Mr Kadam, who was the Kings military strategist and proficient in several fighting arts.  The mansion in which they live had a fully equipped training room, bedecked with ancient weapons. 

Alas though, it’s Ren  that uses the Gada, it’s Ren gets them out of any physical danger. Kelsey appears to be just along for the ride, a passenger.

A vacation for readers

I appreciate what Houck was trying to do in exposing young American readers to another culture. The execution of this left a little bit to be desired .   There were a couple of very blatant info dumps that read like they were written for a non fiction piece or a travel book, wedged into awkward pieces of dialogue.  It did get better thpugh, the scene where Kadam is touring around the old palace and reminiscing, felt very natural.

To appreciate a different culture there has to be some interaction with it, we get plenty of references to Indian cuisine and dress but it feels a bit superficial.  As mentioned above I think Houck might have missed an opportunity to present conflicts between American and Indian culture.

Did nobody see?

I don’t get too worried about typo’s, nowadays, especially with eBooks and the rush to do parallel releases in all formats.  Traditional publishing is no longer a guarantee(Was it ever?) that the book, whatever container it comes in will be without error. 

I can forgive formatting errors, I can forgive repeated phrases and goodness knows I publish my fair share of grammatical errors.  For the life of me though I can’t understand how the following made it through the  a) author b) thousands of readers c) professional editors.

‘Back then Kishan and I tried to avoid each other as much as possible back then.’

page 287 Tiger’s Curse

 

Final thoughts

The book is YA and from the reaction from Teen readers, it’s been pretty well received in that demographic. So who am I to argue with success?  I am aware that I bring experience from life and from reading that teen readers won’t have. I do, however, think that Houck can do better and I think that teen girls deserve a little bit more from their heroines than a passenger with confused romantic notions.


This book is a review copy provided by Hodder at no cost to myself.
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Jul 4, 2011

Book Review–Dead Reckoning by Charlaine Harris

dead

Dead Reckoning is the 11th book in Charlaine Harris’ immensely successful Southern Vampire Series, that has been made into the very successful True Blood Series by HBO.

I am a fan of the HBO series, I love the return to the sensual, seductive and debased nature of the Vampire of myth.  I like the twang of the bluegrass music, the decay and the parody of hick culture(well maybe it’s not a parody).  I have never read Charlaine Harris before, but with a solid love of True Blood , Dead Reckoning should have been right up my alley.

It wasn’t, not quite anyway. 

The Story

Dead Reckoning reads much like the “continued adventures of Sookie Stackhouse”, the main plot revolves around getting involved in an internecine vampire plot to kill off one of the nasties in the Vampire hierarchy. Harris also reveals a bit more of Sookie’s fae background and the adulterous relationship her grandmother engaged in with a member of the fairy realm. 

Elvis also makes an appearance and yes, he’s dead.

Read the books first?

There were two things that worked against my enjoyment of the book and both relate to my love of the TV show. 

First I found Sookie to be a little less believable in the book than her portrayal by Anna Paquin in True Blood; she seems to be able to recover a might too easily from being firebombed, beset by thugs, chased by a deranged killer, and quite okay with killing and disposing of bodies and hatching a plan to kill a powerful vampire and his entourage.

All in a day’s work for our telepathic waitress.

The second issue was, being book 11, the plot has advanced far beyond my watching of the show (Season 2) and there was  a small disconnect in finding out that Bill is no longer with Sookie and the story has broadened to include fairies and elves, (which doesn’t happen until Season 3 of True Blood) and it struck me as a bit disappointing as the “world” began to feel like a bit of a Mulligan stew.

But put aside my fraying sense of disbelief and the preconceptions generated by True Blood and the book is well paced , light,  and entertaining read.

Note: This book was provided by the publisher at no cost to myself.


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Jul 3, 2011

Book Review– The Neon Court by Kate Griffin

Griffin_Neon-Court-HC-197x300The Neon Court: Or, the Betrayal of Matthew Swift is the third book in Kate Griffin’s Urban Fantasy series.  Kate Griffin also happens to be the pseudonym of Catherine Webb, a Carnegie Award nominated childrens/young adult author.

Kate has been writing and published since she was 14 and it shows. The Neon Court is mature writing, both in content and style. 

The nigh time urban landscape of London is described in beautifully evocative prose, Griffin paints London in phrases that leaves the reader with a real sense of place; snatches of conversation, graffiti, little details that can seem both familiar and exotic to anyone who has travelled through urban sprawl.

The Story

Matthew Swift is the Midnight Mayor, the magical guardian of London.  He’s also been killed and resurrected- his body and mind shared by the Blue Electric Angels.  In this volume Matthew must find a chosen one, prevent a war between the Tribe and the Neon Court and prevent London disappearing due to a mysterious entity called Blackout.

What’s to like?

Plenty.  Swift is a well fleshed out reluctant hero.  Despite his position as Mayor he seems to need to convince all the players, including his own Aldermen, that his word or decisions should be listened to. His initial reluctance to throw his weight around, teamed with a talent for getting beaten up make him very likeable.  I am reminded of Steven De Selby in Trent Jamieson’s Death most Definite, only Swift is less of a wimp.

The dialogue is quick, witty and laced with black humour.  The best of it seen between Swift and his magically volatile apprentice, Penny. I could see the series translating to television exceptionally well. 

The writing is full of flavour, whether it’s pacey run on sentences that allow Griffin to paint the urban landscape in quick brushstrokes

I scampered beneath railway bridges, past stately halls and tumbling semi-detached houses, through grey council estates and down roads of politely austere Victorian terraced houses.  My eye wandered over  street signs proclaiming:

Slow Down School

and

Residential Parking Zone M – No parking without a permit

and the somewhat vague

Watch Children

and finally came to a pause on the edge  of Roman road, by an off-licence advertising six pints of Polish Beer for £ 4, and red wine at £ 3.99 a bottle.

or in the street lingo of the Tribe- reminiscent of Ali G.

The concept is also unique, there’s the comparison to Neverwhere of course, but where the former tends to be  a parallel world out of sync with the modern, there’s a real sense of forward momentum in Griffin’s work.  The appearance of the Neon Court, one of the ancient faerie courts, is reminiscent 80’s glamour metal or Lady Gaga.  The Tribe echoes the anti-corporate anarchy present in violent protests against corporate banking we have seen in recent years.  There is a sense that the magic substructure of London has adapted and continues to evolve beneath everyday life.

A Speed bump

There was only one section of the book that threw me out of my immersion.  A long and uncharacteristic info dump on page 114 where the character Sinclair gives the reader the background to Oda, the embodiment of the encroaching darkness.  While the information is necessary it was dry, ill fitting and not what I had come to expect from the novel.

Final thoughts

Very well written, original and evocative work and nary a tattooed small of the back in sight.  While it certainly read perfectly well as a stand alone, I’d recommend the previous books before embarking one this one – it will only add to the enjoyment.


This book was provided by the publisher at no extra cost to myself.

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Jul 2, 2011

Book Review–Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres

glitterrose

Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres, is the first (and only, so far) hardcover published by Twelfth Planet Press. It’s also a limited edition run with each of the copies signed by Marianne.

The Stories

The collection features five short stories – four previously published and one written specifically for this collection.

Four of the stories are set against the background of a near future Australia, on Carmine Island.  A former popular resort island, its inhabitants include the locals – a mix of mainland castaways looking for a quieter life, the island’s aboriginal population and the “indolent rich” who provide a tourist lifeline.  Carmine island’s latest colonisers, the spores, have drifted in from the deep ocean, they bring allergies and in severe cases, alterations to the inhabitants.

Glitter Rose is  Tinashi’s story. She's on the run from her life, drifting back to a place that once offered comfort, seeking it out again in the hope that she can heal what is troubling her.  The opening story, Glimmer by Dark, has a broad appeal then to any reader who has likewise moved away and then returned to a place seeking to recapture a past.  It also delicately draws the reader into the inner life of the island, as Tinashi is befriended by locals, snared in their the web of odd relationships. Lest you think this is some whimsical drama, Glimmer has a surprising and dark ending.

Moonlight at the Ritz directs our attention to the pleasure seeking “indolent young rich”.  Tinashi has settled in, a member of the Carmine Island Tourism auxiliary. There’s death,GlitterRose_Sketch1 sacrilege and neither the reader nor Tinashi is sure how much of what happens is reality or a spore altered dream.

The Flag Game centres on a competition the locals run, the official prize being a parcel of land -unofficially though its believed by the locals that the spores grant their own prize .  We find out what Tinashi is running from and the extent of the power the spores can exert.

Mama Ailon, nicely concludes the set.  Tinashi seeks redemption and  we come to understand the indigenous view of the spores and the island.

It can be hard to place Glitter Rose, it’s not a book that fits easily into genre categories, and while its pink (or is that Rose) cover might put off those men that have rather strict concepts of masculinity,  this collection is not wistful women and pink fairy dust.  There’s a dark edge to Glitter Rose and in that sense its perhaps iconically Australian – depicting a beautiful landscape with dangerous fauna & flora lying in wait.

Marianne’s writing is fluid, evocative and heart achingly lyrical - the sort of ritten ork you can just read aloud for the enjoyment of it.  Carmine might be based on Stradbroke island but de Pierres’ artful descriptions could be of any one of the small coastal communities of Australia yet to feel the full brunt of development or that have seen their heyday.  Perhaps this is what makes the stories, the characters, seem so genuinely real.

In the Book Shadow is the odd story out in this collection, but it’s a lovely quirky and slightly sinister tale of a Bookshop many of us would recognise. Indeed the bookstore that inspired it, Pulp Fiction, I have actually been to so the feeling “I know this place” that I had while reading was fully justified.

Credit where it’s due

Glitter-Rose-colour-internal_beach-gazing_HammillTwelfth Planet have done an excellent job on the production of Glitter Rose, this pint sized (it’s about A5 size) packet of pink compliments de Pierres’ words perfectly.  The internal illustrations both colour and black and white simply amplify the experience.

At $35 dollars, for a limited edition signed print run, this book is a must have for fans of Marianne – it’s the only place I believe where you will find all the Carmine Island stories together.

I think it’s also an excellent “Slipstream” or “Gateway” collection to give as a gift to young teens (or indeed adults) perhaps growing out of their Edward and Bella stage.  It’s a little bit Sci-fi, unselfconsciously Australian and a little bit Fantasy.  If de Pierres wasn’t a well known Sci-fi writer I’d hazard a guess it would be considered magic realism.

In these times of ebooks and electronic readers Glitter Rose takes full advantage of everything a book can be.

Note:  This was a review copy provided to me by Twelfth Planet Press


TABLE OF CONTENTS
  • Introduction by Trent Jamieson
  • Glimmer-by-dark
  • Moon Flowers at the Ritz
  • The Flag Game
  • Mama Ailon
  • In the Bookshadow


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Book Review - The Razor Gate by Sean Cregan

The Razor Gate. by Sean Cregan, is the second novel set in a gritty ‘not quite-SF urban weird "biohazard noir"… with horror to follow at some point’1 world.  Cregan also writes crime novels as John Rickards.

The Story

A person or persons unknown are randomly infecting residents of Newport City with a nanotech engineered agent that gives them one year to live.

It’s labelled ‘The Curse’ by those who have it and the powers that be fight to ensure that it remains an urban legend until they can control and patent the technology for their own gain.

Thrown together in this mix is a cop nearing the end of his career, sick of the graft and corruption, a fledgling journalist who has come up against the powers that be and lost, a group of urban terrorists and new age cult - just to spice it up a little.  It’s a race against time as the cop and the journalist attempt to find a cure and save his girlfriend.  They are thwarted at every turn by ‘Foundation’ members engaged in power plays and terrorists bent on administering their own justice.

Gotham without Batman

The darkness in this book is ever present and pressing, the cops are corrupt and the power brokers known as “The foundation”  rule with an almost omnipresent iron will.  It’s the Gotham of Dark Knight without the hope of a caped crusader swooping in to administer justice.  It verges on a dystopia with scenes of the Port; a floating district, cobbled together from years of illegal boat arrivals juxtaposed with the very rich ensconced in their glass fortresses.

What I liked

Cregan has a definite flair for noir, and I enjoyed his almost artistic approach to painting the the novel’s landscape. The action, when it started was quick and nasty, as suits the genre. It has echoes of 80’s cyberpunk, without the advances in technology but there’s a definite sense of despair, that things don’t get better, they just go on.

What I didn’t

While the sketching out the world of Newport City is beautiful and I loved it, it did take a while to ramp up the pace.  The first half of the book felt a little slow to be a thriller, though its well enough paced to be a crime/mystery novel.  I would have preferred it to be a little faster, though no doubt this would have impacted on the gritty ambiance that Cregan creates.

Final thoughts

The Razor Gate is at its core a mystery come thriller novel.  It does, however, flirt with some spec-fic elements, the power wielded by some of the factions seems  a little left of centre to consider it a traditional thriller and the new age cult makes the Branch Davidians seem quiet normal.

Overall a pleasurable read with a few surprises at the end.

1. http://namelesshorror.com/


Note:  This book was provided to me, by the publisher, at no cost to myself.

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Jul 1, 2011

Book Review–The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Wise Man's Fear UK The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss is his second novel and sequel to The Name of the Wind, released in 2007.  A third book, The Doors of Stone (working title) is projected to finish off the series.

I haven't read The Name of the Wind but The Wise Man’s Fear's execution does not necessitate any reading of the first book to enjoy it as a single work. After having read it though, I certainly want to get a copy of the first book and the last when it’s released.

The Story

The Wise Man’s Fear is a continuation of the story of Kvothe a warrior, musician and wizard.  It’s autobiographical, a tale told mostly in the first person by Kvothe- a recording of his adventures as he saw them, not as the legendary figure he is known as.  It is then a series of adventures, strung together by Kvothe’s participation in them. It reveals a complex and varied fantasy world with enormous depth.  There are various side adventures that help build the character of Kvothe in the reader’s mind and there’s a grand story of mythic proportions that simmers just below the surface of the narrative.  Who are the Amyr ?  Who are the mystical Chandrian? We are presented with two Kvothes, the one in the present who is less than impressive, that seems to have lost some of the power and prowess described in his own retelling of the Kvothe of song and legend.

A note on structure

The story is split into two time frames, the present is presented in the third person, where Kvothe is telling a story of his deeds to a character called The Chronicler.   These short snippets(5 to 10 pages each) of third person narrative are dispersed throughout novel breaking up the main text, which is Kvothe telling his story in the first person.

This structure works well, at close to a 1000 words, even Rothfuss' talented use of first person point of view needs a change in pace and perspective to keep the work fresh.

Harry Potter Goes to College

One of the first thoughts that occurred when reading The Wise Man’s Fear, especially the early part of the novel, was that it had a “Harry Potter goes to College”  feel to it.  By which I mean, it captures a wizardly university atmosphere in the same way the the Harry Potter books evoked the atmosphere of English boarding schools. It’s no surprise  to note that Orson Scott Card has likened it to a darker, adult Harry Potter. For older readers of fantasy, I am reminded of elements of the Earthsea novels by LeGuin.

A literary Magpie

Rothfuss has described himself as a literary Magpie and while the book is original in craft and execution their are references or subtle hat tips to predecessors, for example a quaint love poem spoken by one of the characters uses a (Anglo Saxon I think) poetic form employed by Tolkien.  Though The Wise Man’s Fear samples from the genre its not merely a reimagining or a repackaging.  I think that Rothfuss is actually doing something quite subversive.  There are two tales told; one is what’s occurring in the present the other the heroic backstory to Kvothe. By the end of the book I am not sure if I quite believe the image that Kvothe has put forward in his tale to the Chronicler.  The parts of the book set in the present show Kvothe as less than impressive -compared to his image at least.  This is not your ordinary heroic fantasy, there’s elements of course in Kvothe’s retelling, but I get the feeling that Rothfuss is heading in a different direction- a more honest deconstruction of the hero perhaps.

Final thoughts

Briefly – Buy it and the The Name of the Wind as well.

This book read like it was half the size, a testament to Rothfuss skill in presenting 900 or so pages of first person narrative. Though we know as readers that Kvothe can’t die (at least until the end of the series) Rothfuss manages to constantly have important things at stake, whether it’s people that are close to Kvothe, or his possessions.  Rothfuss has crafted a character who’s life and aspirations are important to the reader – I felt pangs of anxiety when his loot was ‘stolen’ or when he was helpless to render assistance to Denna.

I am in awe of Rothfuss ability to render the playing of a musical instrument as an action scene.  The bard, often a staple of fantasy, rarely gets in the spotlight for his raison d'ĂȘtre – Rothfuss puts it front and centre.

It’s a rare, original fantasy of epic proportions.

Publisher: Gollanz
ISBN 9780575081420
RRP $32.99
Format Paperback
Australian Release March 2011
Page length 994

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This book is a review copy provided at no cost to myself by Hachette publishing.

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