Saturday 27 July 2013

King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence - a review

King of Thorns continues the story of  Honorous Jorg Ancrath, now ruling the Renar Highlands, taken from his uncle at the end of Prince of Thorns. It is now four or so years after the events of Prince and all is not well.

The Prince of Arrow and his army are at the gates and ready to take Jorg's castle and lands. The Prince of Arrow is intending to become the emperor of the 100 Kingdom's and all prophecies seem to say he will be successful in his quest.

As before the main story is set in two timelines - "now" and "four years earlier". The events of the two timelines work well to take the story along at a good pace, events in the past being revealed, often, just as they become relevent to events "now".

Added to these timelines we also get scraps from the journal of Katherine Ap Scorron, Jorg's aunt, the one woman he really seems bothered about (and that may well be an understatement!). Also, part of Jorg's tale from "4 years ago" led to events that were to drive him to insanity. The only cure for this was to visit a man who put all these events in a box "NEVER to be opened". These events trickle out slowly through the tale so you seem to have four storylines going on but it is done in such a masterful way that I at no time thought "what the hell is going on here"

Many middle books in trilogies are travel books and this is no different. The "4 years ago" section covers a lot of ground from the lands of ice to the Mediterranean like land of his Grandfather. The difference is that many middle books can be the weaker of the three. This is certainly not the case here, not by a long way. The land of this series is obviously future Earth. You can tell by just looking at the map. The place names are often very similar to the world we know now as well (Barlona for example) and as before, there are hints of the science from the world before. Mark Lawrence paints a wonderful picture of his world and it is a pleasure to travel in it.

Jorg always seems to be at his best when the odds are against him and with the Prince of Arrow at his gates there seems to be no way of winning. The events at the climax of this story - I never saw them coming. The author throws such a curveball as I haven't seen in a long time. The twist is very, VERY clever.

With this book Mark Lawrence hasn't just pulled the rabbit out of the hat, he's also taught it to do tricks, learn spanish etc get my drift. Possibly the best fantasy book I have read this year and the only reason I am giving it 4.5 stars is that on this performance Emperor of Thorns (which is now in my possession) will be even better and will earn the 5 stars.

Thursday 25 July 2013

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo - a review

This Young Adult novel is the first in a series , The Grisha, set in the nation of Ravka - a land very similar to Russia at the time of the Tsars. The big powers here are the Grisha, the 'magic users'.
The story follows Alina, an orphan, who is tested for 'Grisha powers' at a young age (along with her fellow orphan Mal) they both test negative and time goes on.
When they leave the orphanage as they get older and join the army, Alina as a cartographer's assistant and Mal as a soldier. They are together on a trip through the Shadow Fold - a darkly impenetrable slash across the land, growing year by year, that houses horrors and creatures that are almost beyond imagination.
When they are part way through their sand skiff is attacked and in a blinding light Alina unleashes her magic........
After a strong start I did feel this was going to be a bit of a Harry Potter meets Twilight kind of book (Alina goes to learn how to control her magic and comes to the attention of the dark, brooding Darkling - the Chief Grisha) but it turned out to be a lot better than that.
It turns out that Alina is the opposite and also the partner to The Darkling (a kind of light/dark balance) and she may be just what is needed to sort out the Shadow'll just have to read this quite excellent little book for yourself.
There were two things that really sold this book for me. The first was the setting, as I said earlier it is reminiscent of Tsarist Russia, the atmosphere of the place seeps off the page and stays with you long after the book is finished. The second is the characters, and this was quite refreshing for me. There are not many that feel GOOD or EVIL, most are a blurry grey, more realistic in my eyes.
The story goes on at a steady pace for the first half of the book but somewhere just past the middle things step up a couple of gears and give you enough twists to keep you from putting the book down.
All in all a very competent and well told story with many good ideas - I shall be looking out for the next in the series, believe me

Saturday 20 July 2013

The Demi-Monde; Spring by Rod Rees - a review

Spring is the second volume of Rod Rees' four volume Demi-Monde series.

If you've read volume 1, Winter, (and if you haven't, you really do need to as coming into this blind you really will be confused) you will know that the Demi-Monde is a massive computer simulation allegedly for the US military to train soldiers. The reality is a lot more frightening. It is populated with simulations of some of the vilest, nastiest people from history and someone has plans for the real world.

The first book finished on 3 separate cliff-hangers, and where this book stands out for me, the start here is just before one of the fore-mentioned cliff-hangers (similar to how Dr Who used to handle episode starts/ends back in the day).

A good few of the main characters are still here but this volume also gives more time for secondary characters, mainly Burlesque Bandstand, the former bar owner and general wide boy, and his 'associate' Rivets. These two are really good fun.

One of the characters , Catherine Sophia, Doge of Venice, a new for this volume, though was, in my opinion, quite iritating. The problem is the way she speaks. She has spent a lot of time in many of the other European sections of the Demi-Monde so the way she speaks is a cobbled together mish mash of several accents and this can grate a bit after a while.

Back to the good stuff though...Spring introduces us to the Paris and Venice sections of the Demi-Monde in all their glory. Also, some interesting new people from these sectors, Michel de Nostradame, Robespierre, the Marquis de Sade, even appearances from Josef Mengele, Cassanova and Mata Hari.

In the real world Aaliz Heydrich is settling into her role as the daughter of the US president (in the place of Norma who is still trapped in the Demi-Monde).

There is a lot going on in this story but I believe that even though we are now at the half-way point in the series there is still so much we are unaware of, lots more surprises and revelations to come.

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence - a review

Set in the 100 Kingdom's, this is the story of Jorg, the titular Prince and his gang of  'Road Brothers'.

It is clear from the start that Jorg and the brothers are not nice people. They roam the land looting and burning more or less everything and everybody they come across - and Jorg, although the leader, is only 13.

Please don't let this put you off because the differences between Jorg and many other fantasy heroes is what makes this a refreshingly different story (although it probably strikes as similar to Game of Thrones - can't say for sure as I haven't read GoT).

Early on in the story Jorg decides (or is it decided for him?) that he will turn for home and claim his birthright as the son of the king. We learn through flashbacks how Jorg came to be where he is, and these flashbacks really and meat to the bones of what is already a meaty story.

The world of the 100 Kingdoms is our world way into the future after what seems like a massive nuclear event. There are many hints at this, most intended (Jorg reads the likes of Plato, Euclid, Nietzsche and Sun Tzu) and some maybe not so ("Hangings, beheadings, impalements - oh my" - reminiscent of  "Lions and tigers and bears - oh my" from The Wizard of Oz, but of all things, would The Wizard of Oz still be remembered several thousand years in the future?). The church is still around, much as you would expect in a medievil setting with 'Dear Jesu' an oft spoken phrase and references to Ave Maria, David and Goliath, Gog and Magog etc.

They also still read and quote Shakespeare in both natural (Is this a dagger I see before me) and bastardized (Now is the winter of our Hundred War made fearsome summer by this prodigal son) forms.

The story has everything you could want from modern fantasy - heroics, quests, betrayal, all set in a well realised land and with characters you will come to enjoy (for all their foibles). It is followed by two more books (King of Thorns - out now and Emperor of Thorns - out August 2013) and if they are half as good as this one I shall be a very happy reader.

Saturday 13 July 2013

In The Valley of Shadows by Crystal Connor - a short post

Late last night i finished reading an ARC copy of In The Valley of Shadows the final part of Crystal Connor's Spectrum Trilogy - and, believe me, it was a cracker. The book mixes fantasy, horror, sci-fi and police procedural - a lot of genres to fit into one book but she's pulled it off and done it well. I've followed this series from the beginning and am very happy with the way it has finished up.

Some authors write better in certain genres but with Ms Connor that is not the case - she seems to be able to write well and co-herently in each different genre covered in this book. The police characters are believable as are the scientists and their works. The battle scenes in the more fantasy based areas you could quite easily believe had been written by someone who 'specialises' in writing fantasy. I have high hopes for the future works of Crystal Connor and feel hers is a name you will be seeing a lot more of in the years to come.

 As this is an Arc copy, things may change before the final published edition hits the shelves so I won't be putting a review up until that final edition is available. This, though, has been a cracking read.

Friday 12 July 2013

Dyed in the Wool by Ed James - a review

This, the fourth in the Cullen series, is the best so far.

The main crime revolves around a body found in a car at the bottom of a 'bing' (a scottish term for a shale or slag heap) but leads take the team to other possible crimes.

There is quite a lot of back story with the team and there is a fair bit of reference to the previous 3 books in the series so it is a good idea to read those first (you won't be sorry, they're all good).

There are surprises in this book that may well affect the future of the team and I look forward to the next one in the series.

My only complaint with the story waqs that one of the main story threads went on throughout the story and was resolved in the blink of an eye, but that is only a minor quibble and doesn't detract from a brilliant story well told.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Tuesday 9 July 2013

A Matter of Blood by Sarah Pinborough - a review

It is the near future but not so different to the one we live in now. Everything and everyone seems to have links to The Bank - the massive, often mysterioeus institution at the heart of all things financial and possibly otherwise.

Our hero, Cass Jones, is investigating two crimes - a botched gangland hit that resulted in the death of two young schoolboys, and the murders by a serial killer 'the man of flies'. Then, just when things can't get any worse Jones gets the news that his brother, who works for The Bank has killed himself and his family in an apparent murder suicide.

As bad as it can get? No, no,no, no, no - On investigation Cass Jones finger print is found on the gun used to kill his brother and family (along with other incriminating evidence).

This is a very dark, sinister and quite gritty crime story which pitches somewhere between horror and urban fantasy but is probably closer to urban fantasy. As the first book in the Dog-Faced Gods trilogy it tells a good story but leaves you with more questions than answers and sets things up nicely for book 2.

The hero character is flawed, as you would expect but is also, I believe, a lot more than he seems to be (more than even he knows). How this series is going to pan out, I wouldn't even want to guess but I can assure you of one thing - it's gonna be a hell of a lot of fun finding out!

Thursday 4 July 2013

The express diaries by Nick Marsh - a review

This story started out as a role playing game based round the Call of Cthulhu system

The year is 1925 and in London and ageing professor is convinced he has found clues to the location of The Simulacrum - a mysterious ancient statue.

The 'gang' he assembles to help him track down the Simulacrum are a varied bunch who all have their part to play in the search.

As you would expect the professor and friends are not the only ones searching for the artifacts. As they set off across Europe on the wonderful Orient Express they are pursued by a dark cult. Getting to it first will certainly be a challenge and the horrors they face along the way are exceptionally nasty.

The story is told in a collection of diary entries, journal entries, newspaper clippings and the likes. This gives the story a good feel and I also felt that the entries by the different characters all seemed to have individual voices. The writing certainly felt 'of it's time.

My final comments are reserved for the physical book itself - the hardback edition (which I was provided with in exchange for a fair and honest review) really is a joy to own, a must lovely book with beautiful illustrations. Any bookcase would be proud to own this volume

4.5 out of  5 stars

Wednesday 3 July 2013

The Awakening by Nicole MacDonald - a review

This book is the second part of The Birthright trilogy and follows on from the cliffhanger ending of book 1.

The girls, Cat, Laura, Sian and Kassandra are still in their new world and are coming to terms with their new 'elemental' powers and abilities which they will need if they are to defeat Jenivet. I will not go into the details and after effects of the cliffhanger here because you really need to read book 1 before you head into this volume. This is a 3 part story not 3 separate stories.

There is a fair bit of romance in this book so I guess it may be more aimed at a female audience but there is a good bit of action and adventure too so guys, give it a go, you'll be glad you did.

The characters here work well together both the human and creatures (especially the Griffins - they really cracks me up).

My main fear here was that this book may suffer from "middle book syndrome" where things just drift along waiting to be tied up in the final volume -definitely not the case here though. This volume stands up well and ends with another cliffhanger.

Also, the different perspectives for the different characters were a lot easier to get on with in this volume.

4 out of 5 stars