Apr 172013
 

Promise of Blood: Book 1 in the Powder Mage trilogy I will hold my hand up and say I was less than enthusiastic about this book based purely on a brief read of the cover blurb.  However, since I was still enjoying being on a fantasy kick and wanting something new to sink my teeth into I picked it up.

It was actually the strapline on the cover that rescued the book for me – “The Age of Kings is dead… and I have killed it.” I loved it, both powerful and intriguing and that alone was enough to turn the first page.

I’ve never been happier to have been proved wrong.  I was pleasantly surprised by the plot – while it might have seemed like a common fantasy trope at first glance, Brian McClellan managed to turn it on its head and shake it around.  The result is an amazing debut that entertained and engaged me, while giving me that tingle of discovering something good and very special.

The writing was descriptive without being too wordy.  I could clearly envisage the scenes in my head, even without extra padding and that made for easy reading that flowed right to the end.

The characters were superbly envisioned and no one was clearly cut out as good or evil, just varying shades of grey.  Believing you are doing the right thing is a powerful force even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  As the plot unfolded, my allegiances changed, time and time again and while I have to confess my favourites were Taniel and Adamat, both were very different characters but there was something special about them that really touched me.

The magic system McClellan conjured was just as intriguing as the story.  Magic is very common but in the majority of the Knacked population it’s very minor and often no more than a help to do their job.  The more powerful Marked are pretty dangerous and the top ranking Privileged are utterly lethal.  Then there are powder mages, those who can use gunpowder to augment their abilities, often making them unbeatable in a fight.  Of course that’s a very simplistic description of something integral to the story so I can only suggest you read and find out the intricacies for yourself!

The ending of Promise of Blood was nicely done even and sets things up solidly for the next book. As an aside, I really liked the fact that while I really want to read the next one, I’m not left feeling desperate due to a cliffhanger.  It was no less powerful an ending because of that either.

Definitely an author to watch and highly recommended for any fantasy fan.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Brian McClellan
  • Series: Powder Mage Trilogy (1)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Nov 202012
 

Rogue Rider: Number 4 in series (Lords of Deliverance) It’s always sad when a series comes to a close and in particular when it happens to be an amazing one.  So while I was very excited to start Rogue Rider, I also felt some trepidation because I knew it would have a final ending of sorts.

Now the good news is Larissa Ione has confirmed she is adding more books to the Demonica series so I am *hoping* the characters I have grown to love in these stories will feature.  But either way, yay, more Demonica (and I can’t wait!)

It took me a little while to get into this book but once I did, I didn’t want to put it down.  It starts at a fairly gentle pace and ends at a wild gallop.  I also found it more emotional than the previous three (and I absolutely loved those!).  There are several ‘OH MY GOD!’ moments, one in particular had me shouting in a very unladylike fashion and then I wondered how I didn’t see it coming, it made so much sense.  I give the author a standing ovation for that one!  The others had a lot of impact but I think I was still stunned by the first.

One thing I have to mention is the consistency of Ione’s writing.  Every book I read of hers is well paced, exciting and gripping.  Even the sex scenes which could be so easily overdone, are just the right side of hot and not going over into tawdry and they have an emotional impact because it means something to the characters.  I find that is very important to me.

Her characters are so well rounded you feel like you know them and it was great to be back with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and their families again.  My heart bled for Reseph and it was hard reconciling him as Reseph and not Pestilence after the last book.  Jillian was another great female addition to the cast, different and interesting from the others.  I can’t say more than that or I would be in spoiler territory, but I will just say that I was seriously worried about how it would turn out, as it was the last one.

If you are looking for a brilliantly laid out and engaging paranormal romance, then I can’t recommend Larissa Ione highly enough.  A five star author, all the way.

Book Information
  • Author: Larissa Ione
  • Series: Lords of Deliverance (4)
  • Buy on Kindle (UK)Buy from Amazon (UK)

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Mar 052012
 

Once I finished Exogene, and then had time to think about it, I spent an hour ranting at my husband about the unjust and detestable treatment of the Germline warriors. I wanted to know how the military or government could treat human beings like machines, even ones that have been genetically engineered. I wanted him to tell me what possible justification there could be for the abuse, the deplorable behaviour, and how they couldn’t see what I could see; that the Germline warriors were real human beings, with real emotions. But this wasn’t on the news. This wasn’t in the tabloids or broadsheets. It’s fiction presented with such brilliant character insight, such incredible realism that I felt truly angry at the injustice it represented.

It’s rare a book that causes such a visceral response in me, but with Exogene, T.C. McCarthy gets it just right. The story is stark, harrowing and grim but brilliant in its execution. He doesn’t waste words or go into lengthy descriptions, but still says everything he needs to with compact, emotional sentences. He gets the pace spot on, both time and huge distances being covered in a few pages, and yet you feel as if you have lived every one of those steps yourself.

The story is told through the eyes of Catherine, a first generation Germline soldier and being in her head was both tragic and fascinating. There are so many elements to her character, experiencing her indoctrination, watching her sisters embrace their faith or go insane, the decisions she makes rather than just following orders, her only understanding of the world is the one that her creator’s have given to her. As she travels and discovers her own truths, my heart ached for her more and more. Every loss, her constant weariness and even her madness resonated with me. McCarthy has written an utterly believable and realistic female character. Her determination to keep going, to overcome each obstacle and to choose her own path make her a character to be remembered.

Like Germline, I read Exogene in a single day, unable to stop until I had turned the very last page. Then I had to think about it for a while, let the experience wash over me and sort out how I actually felt and how much I had been affected. The story is told in a mixture of present tense, flashbacks and hallucinations and while that might sound confusing, it does work well.

There weren’t as many background characters in this book but we get numerous glimpses of Catherine’s ‘sisters’, both first and second generation. Megan was especially interesting and it was a shock how, almost casually, things changed for her.  Margaret was a more tragic figure, different, but just as engaging, I hope we will see her again. As with the first book, the ending of Exogene did surprise me, but for different reasons. The letter at the end caused a huge emotional response in me and I was left a bit speechless.

Exogene is a heartbreaking, brutal look at near-future warfare that is so far outside my comfort zone it may as well be another dimension. Thankfully, McCarthy manages to ground the story with realistic characters, and delivers a book which challenges and entertains in equal measure.

I truly cannot wait for the third book in this series, to see where T.C. McCarthy will be taking us next.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: T. C. McCarthy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Jan 202012
 

2011 was an awesome year for finding new authors I’d never read before. Larissa Ione is the latest in a great list and is now firmly one of my favourites.

I loved the premise of the Lords of Deliverance series; Four siblings, born of a demon and an angel, almost brought the ancient world to ruin and as punishment, were cursed to be the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.  Technically it’s three horsemen and one horsewoman which was actually another facet I loved.  The end of days will come but how soon depends on if the seals they were cursed with are broken.  They fight on the side of good as long as their seals remain intact but should the unthinkable occur, they turn evil and will side with the bad guys, unleashing the full terrible force of their natures.

As this was the first book by Larissa Ione I’d read, I didn’t realise this series is actually a companion set from her main one called The Demonica.  This also explains why I felt some names or characters were important and should have some deeper meaning for me.  It didn’t spoil my enjoyment of Eternal Rider though and just made me want to catch up on the other series.

I loved the way Ione smacks you right in the face with one of the Horsemen’s seals breaking, just as you started liking him.  It was just enough that you hope the remaining three and their uneasy allies can find a way to restore him before he destroys everything.

This book is Ares/War’s story and I absolutely loved it.  Ares is a complex character with layers to his personality and can be quite a scary individual.  Even as Ares, he is drawn to battle and tries to keep to himself as his mere presence can cause fights to break out.  A lonely immortal existence but one he accepts for his part in the ancient war that nearly brought the world to its knees.

Cara is a human that I could identify with instantly, having a love of animals that borders on the paranormal.  On the verge of bankruptcy and mourning the death of her father, she still can’t turn away an injured dog that was run over.  She has the ability to heal animals and was her calling in her father’s vet practice, but lost all confidence in herself.  Discovering the dog had been shot catapults her into a confusing world where nothing is as she thought it was, least of all that the dog was actually a Hellhound and now bonded to her.

Both characters brought something different to the book and made it whole, even with the large supporting cast.  I loved their interplay and interactions, often making me laugh as Cara is feisty and definitely a modern woman.  It was a pleasure seeing them grow in personality, both individually and as a couple.  They complement each other perfectly and also made for some very hot scenes.  You may need a fan if you are a blusher!

The pace of the story was fast, often with no let up and the action scenes were exciting and well written.  I was so engaged, I couldn’t put the book down and by the end I felt breathless.  The teaser for book two at the end had me reaching for it and am very thankful I had it waiting!

A really interesting and exciting take on the Four Horsemen mythos and a series I can’t wait to read the rest of!

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: Larissa Ione
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Jan 132012
 

You may remember in June last year we reviewed Robopocalypse, and we liked it!  We gave it four out of five stars, and described it as

… an excellent, entertaining and emotional look at what might be if the Robots ever do rebel.

We knew at the time that Steven Spielberg had picked up the movie rights, and there’s news today on that project and when it might start going into production.

Via SFX magazine,

If current plans remain in place, then the next sci-fi film we’ll see from Steven Spielberg will be Robopocalypse, based on the novel by Daniel H Wilson, which should go into production after the director’s finished his next movie project, Lincoln (not the vampire-hunting one, the serious one).

That’s pretty exciting news, but movie projects have a way of coming together and falling apart so we’ll continue crossing our fingers.  You can track updates about the movie on IMDb (normal caveats about accuracy).

Nov 142011
 

I started reading Germline about 12.30 this afternoon, intending to read for a little and have a nap.  Now it’s just gone 5pm and I may be a little bleary eyed after no sleep but I just finished the book and then had to take a little time to reflect on it before I wrote the review.

Germline is not an easy read, it has all too realistic scenes of death, insanity and desperation in war, the main character is about the most self-indulgent mess of an anti-hero you could find and even though it’s set in the future, the war is ultimately about who has the most strength to claim what dwindling mineral resources are left, something I can envision all too clearly in our reality.

Having said all that, the book was absolutely amazing.  The clarity of writing and scene descriptions were brilliant and I was able to clearly envision what was going on, even if I didn’t want to.  I had to keep turning the pages to find out what happened next, no matter the outcome and there were more than a few times when I had to take a brief break, just to absorb or pull back from what I’d just read.

I thought the technology T. C. McCarthy created was superb, fit the setting well and it impressed me how easy it was to understand without being led into lengthy jargon on how and why.  From the weaponry, to the armour, even the genetic soldiers all provided everything I needed for a well rounded science fiction novel.

As the book was written in first person perspective, I think it provided a unique look at what was going on in Oscar Wendell’s head.  Starting as a drug-addicted and failing journalist, he had one last chance of redeeming himself with his employers by securing the chance to write an article from the frontlines of the subterrene war in Kazakhstan.  Seeing the war happen from his civilian perspective gave greater impact to what it was really like, the conditions they endure and the edge of sanity they have to dance to get through another night.  The choices he made throughout were both insane yet believable.

I really wanted to hate him.  At first it felt like there was nothing redeeming about him whatsoever, but McCarthy wrote him so cleverly that as he woke up to the reality around him and grew up without wanting to, he sneaked into my mind and a little into my heart.

There was quite a large cast of supporting characters, and a few of the individuals that Oscar meets had quite a major impact on me.  The sheer amount of emotion that the author managed to convey along with these characters, some of them only for a short time was astounding and a testament to a brilliant and empathic writing style.  I have to mention the Brit and the Kid.  I loved both their characters and the fact you never learned their names.

The ending was actually a real surprise for me, I honestly didn’t expect it and I can only give huge props to T. C. McCarthy for making me believe there could be only one outcome for Oscar.

My only negative is that the title of the book and the consequent definition on the back cover aren’t actually used in the book that I recall, and perhaps it wasn’t needed as you now knew what it meant. Due to the definition though, I was expecting something a little different but I was in no way disappointed with what I got.

The pace of the book was fast and unrelenting, leading to me not being able to put it down unless I had to.  The plot was both original and interesting and actually very hard to describe so all I can say is read Germline.  Then get back to me ;)

A gripping close up of a futuristic war in all it’s gritty, brutal, dark and horrific glory.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Book Information
  • Author: T. C. McCarthy
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Oct 032011
 

I read In Her Name: Empire in literally one sitting.  I couldn’t put it down and was so engaged I didn’t even want to stop for food!

There are almost two parts to this book.  First, an invasion of colonised space by an alien species, and humanity fighting back with enormous losses.  This is followed by a more fantasy-like setting with a gladiatorial feel which fills the rest of the book.  The two styles didn’t lessen the impact of the story at all, and if anything they made it more intriguing.

I loved how Michael Hicks showed us Reza’s life from a very young boy through to a man, and he is my favourite type of hero.  He never tries to be heroic, he just does what he can to survive, but without compromising his ideals.  Reza’s initial survival was enabled by ultimate sacrifice and incredible courage and from then on, I was hooked.  His decisions were wonderfully reasoned and played out, and even after I’d finished the book I kept thinking about it, and what would I have done in his situation.

The Kreelan race provided a puzzle for me, and I think it’s down to Hicks’ clever writing that while you know they are the enemy, you slowly come to realise they are also a deeply connected and spiritual people, with their own strict way of life that is completely alien. Their history and their mystical way of life was brilliantly envisioned and made it really easy to empathise with them, despite their role.

It wasn’t until the end of the book I was reminded that they are in fact, the enemy.  And I cried.

The plot was really well laid out, driving us through a series of events that forge Reza into a survivor, from young boy to man, with amazing strength of character and very likeable.

The character of one of the Kreelan warriors was really well conceived.  Again, it’s down to excellent writing by Michael R. Hicks that I hated the character at first, but as Reza grew and his perceptions changed, so did mine and I ended up loving her (no names, to avoid spoiling it)!

The Kreelan are a warlike people who are bound together by soul and so deeply steeped in honour, tradition and ceremony that it is stagnating their culture.  I thought it was interesting that on the Kreelan planet, there is no evidence of technology nor that the people could be capable of space flight, but it’s a given that they are since they are waging war on humanity. I suspect that will feature more in the next books of this trilogy.

The pace is tricky as it covers a long period of time but I thought Hicks handled the jumps forward well, and I enjoyed the book all the more because I got to see Reza at so many points in his life, and eventually learning who he is now.

The ending didn’t really come as a surprise, you knew the eventual outcome was always a possibility but that didn’t detract at all from its power.  Reza’s honour, belief and loyalty made him stand out amongst heroes and it moved me to tears.

In Her Name: Empire is a book that has heart, emotion, sacrifice, and courage and I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Michael R. Hicks
  • Format: Kindle
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Sep 172011
 

This book is utterly amazing,  I can’t stress that enough. It hits every single sci-fi button I have; space opera, crime, horror, and just enough of a touch of romance to give it an emotional punch.  It has zombies, heroic sacrifice, interplanetary war, and some truly great action.

On paper that might seem like a book by the numbers but it really isn’t.  The writing is clever but eminently readable and the story just blew me away.  With such a heady mix of so many elements the plot could have been really confusing, yet I had no trouble following it.

The characters are believable, realistic and they quickly get into your mind, even those that are only present for a short time.  I loved Captain Jim Holden and his somewhat naive and altruistic view of life. He’s written so well that the odd mix of both admirable and foolhardy decision making is believable. The authors have given us a hero that acts like one despite the consequences.  The rest of the survivors were also well realised and added a lot to the depth and flavour of the story.  As an aside I did laugh when Naomi figuratively had to smack Jim into sense, one of a number of comic moments that help break up the considerable tension.

Detective Miller is a bit of an enigma.  A very strong character but obviously fundamentally damaged, and the complete opposite of Jim.  He sees things from a much more realistic perspective and can look at the bigger picture.  I thought the debates with Holden about his decisions, and them both being at opposite ends of the spectrum were very well written and thought out.  Neither were right or wrong but I found my own feelings on the matter coloured how I looked at it.  Miller’s involvement was excellent yet sad and the emotional writing of this character had me in tears towards the end of the book.

I thought the future technology side was well crafted and believable, taking into account physics and the forces at play when ships are moving.  I felt it all was very smooth, understandable and very creative.

The plot and pace are very much tied together as each chapter unfolds and both increase in intensity nicely.  I’ve seen some people say the ending employs deus ex machina, however I totally disagree because the groundwork had been building right from the start.  To me it was just another example of the clever writing in Leviathan Wakes.

I didn’t find out until after I’d finished, that James S. A. Corey is actually the pen name for two people; Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck.  I have to say I think they blended perfectly; sometimes you can get a feel of two voices in these situations but I was unaware and very surprised when I did realise.

An amazingly exciting space opera, and I absolutely can’t wait to see what happens in the next book!

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: James S.A. Corey
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

 

Jun 092011
 

The story might sound familiar; sometime in the near future, a super-intelligent AI has co-opted all the machines in the world to wage war against humanity.  Humanity, of course, has lined itself up for this disaster by allowing more and more of the machines it takes for granted to be controlled by their own inbuilt computers.  It should be no surprise that eventually the machines stand up and rebel, and that premise has driven any number of books and movies in the past.  But dig just the tiniest bit deeper and you’ll find a far more complex story going on in Robopocalypse.

Along with the more subtle presentation of a familiar theme, this book presents the story in an unusual style.  It is presented as a number of reports or incidents viewed retrospectively by a third person, the narrator.  So while all books are a fusion of style and content, in this book the style is more than just a container for the words, it’s an actual part of the story.  Robopocalypse relies on this unusual structure to build a cohesive and moving story from a number of engaging vignettes.

Cormac Wallace narrates the story for us after a brief introduction, which actually starts just after the war is over.  In fact the first sentence in the book starts, “Twenty minutes after the war ends ….” so there are no spoilers in revealing this.  Cormac takes us back to before the war starts, through reports of a small groups of individuals who turn out to have pivotal roles in the upcoming struggle.  They include a US congresswoman, a lonely inventor, an American soldier and a London based hacker to name a few.  Each shows up over and over in different chapters focussed on them, and we eventually witness the rise of the artificial intelligence (Archos), and the terrible war which follows.

The vignettes are all excellently written and Wilson manages to present well rounded and engaging characters very quickly.  Which is good news, because this format could so easily have failed if the reader couldn’t empathise with or join the characters on their journeys.  It is the emotional engagement that drives the overall story arc, we mostly already know the end, so the only reason to read is to see how these people get there.

The individual chapters each cover very short periods of time, but together they take us from just before the war, to the moment where Archos takes control, through the actual fighting and right up to the end over three years later.  Each chapter has it’s own pace, some are frantic and filled with panic while others are more relaxed.  While we don’t get to see individual characters often or for very much time, the long time scale involved in the main story arc gives Wilson a chance to show us those characters have changed even if we don’t watch that process in action.

I did sometimes feel that pieces of the story were missing, or that I would have liked to have seen more of some of the characters, but that’s the nature of the format Wilson has chosen.  Perhaps less is more, and that desire to find out kept me turning the pages.  Either way the end result is an excellent, entertaining and emotional look at what might be if the Robots ever do rebel.  If my only complaint about a book is that it’s too short, then I think it’s a pretty good sign.  I thoroughly enjoyed Robopocalypse, and hope you do as well.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Book Information
  • Author: Daniel H. Wilson
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)

Feb 052011
 

The truth can be an opiate when woven into a tale and The Long Walk is so much more than a story.  It is a tale that illustrates mans infinite capacity for cruelty, courage, deprivation and sacrifice in order to achieve the simplest of tasks – staying alive.

The book follows a young Polish Cavalry officer who is caught up in the Second World War and taken prisoner by the Russians.  Interrogated and processed, he is then shipped out in terrible conditions to a labour camp in Siberia.  This first part of the book provides a fascinating and humbling window into the cruelty and injustice of Stalin’s Russia.

It is at this point that the book takes off in a different direction.  Slavomir describes how he and his accomplices escape the camp and complete an epic journey across some of the most inhospitable terrain in the world.  This is a tale not of adventure (although there is some) but of the power of comradeship and hidden capability of men when life comes calling.  I was also touched by the humanity of strangers in faraway places.

This is a fabulous book not because it is technically clever or masterfully written (although it pulls you along beautifully) but because it is both humbling and inspiring at the same time.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Book Information
  • Author: Slavomir Rawicz
  • Buy from Amazon (UK)