Reviews

Book reviews now online

August 27, 2011

Book reviews recently posted on the BFS website:

Absorption by John Meaney. Gollancz

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Headline

Bloodshot: Cheshire Red Reports Book1 by Cherie Priest. Titan Books

Downpour: A Greywalker Novel by Kat Richardson. Piatkus

Elves Once Walked With Gods. Elves Book 1(Raven Series prequel) by James Barclay. Gollancz

Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn. Gollancz

Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. HarperVoyager

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Gollancz

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts edited by Stephen Jones. Ulysses Press

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Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn — book review

August 26, 2011

Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

'Mankind consisted of 128 people.' How about that for a hook? I remember it grabbing me when I first read Of Men and Monsters in the 1970s ' and it has the same effect now. 

In fact, it turns out that there are a lot more than 128 people. They all live in the shadows ' and in the walls ' of the Monsters' dwellings; the Monsters are gigantic aliens that, ages ago, conquered the Earth. The human beings live like rats --  and as people everywhere facing a superior enemy, become fractionalised, living in their own little tribes, each the enemy of the other ' more so than the Monsters, who are all but untouchable.

Eric is a warrior of the tribe Mankind. To live, the warriors must enter Monster territory and steal food, avoiding the creatures (who are likely to stamp the humans flat) and the other tribes living in the tunnels. But Eric falls foul of his tribe's leader and becomes an Outlaw; teaming up with Strangers, he seeks alien technology in order to take the fight to the Monsters. Long story cut short: he's captured, escapes, finds a mate ' and many die along the way by human hands and Monster tentacles. And in the process he learns about Earth history, science and technology.

Of Men and Monsters is, of course, satire. Indeed, in his introduction Graham Sleight compares this book with Gulliver's Travels. Looking at the current and the previous century, it is all too clear that Tenn captured the disorganised, untrusting nature of people with slight differences. Other comparisons will be obvious, such as The Borrowers ' and any house infested with (heaven forbid) intelligent mice.

The book starts at a rollicking pace. Then Tenn begins to explain too much, to repeat facts. In this day, this is quite irritating. But his original audience might not have noticed. And that's the best way to read this book: saviour the absurdity of the situation; marvel at the concepts; ignore the weaknesses; and enjoy one of Gollancz's essential SF Masterworks. It's well worth it.

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Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence — book review

August 26, 2011

Prince Of Thorns by Mark Lawrence. HarperVoyager '14.99

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Prince Jorg, heir to the throne of Ancrath, lost a brother and a mother in the worst way. Estranged from his father's kingdom as a child, he now has new brothers under his command, not of blood ' but he commands loyalty nonetheless. With his rabble of dangerous and often hard-to-control killers, Jorg journeys back though his past to reap revenge on the people who took away his family.

He is not yet a man grown but Jorg knows exactly what he wants, or at least he thinks he does. Count Renar, the man who killed his mother and brother, is the main target, and Jorg will do whatever it takes to get to him. But darker forces are stacking up against the boy. Faith, betrayal and powerful magic weave more challenges into his quest and there is more than just revenge at stake.

Hailed as the British answer to Game of Thrones, Prince of Thorns is certainly bloody enough and its protagonist cruel and interesting enough to draw comparison. There is something powerfully disturbing about a bloodthirsty 14 year old hell-bent on revenge, and I had to read on; this is a page-turner for sure. The gore is interspersed with well-controlled prose and literary references that drive an intelligent and compulsive narrative. No doubt a series to be followed closely.

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Downpour by Kat Richardson — book review

August 26, 2011

Downpour: A Greywalker Novel by Kat Richardson. Piatkus '7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Downpour is the sixth novel set in the Greywalker universe. Our heroine, the PI Harper Blaine, lost her powers at the end of Labyrinth: Greywalker 5, and as a result she is reluctant to get involved in any supernatural investigations. But as ever a routine search for a missing witness at Sunset Lakes brings far more than she expected or wanted.

Harper is led by ghostly re-enactments behind a deserted cabin, to a burned out truck risen from the lake with the help of a Chinese demon. Working closely (if reluctantly) with the local Park Ranger and Law Enforcement she gradually unpicks a convoluted skein of warring mages, each working toward claiming the considerable Magical energy that resides beneath the lake's icy surface.

Plenty of action and laconic humour (often provided by Harper's pet ferret) in what is basically a supernatural whodunnit, as the clues point toward each suspect in turn before ending in the chaos of supernatural justice being served. And yes, for anyone who has read previous books in the series, Downpour is more detective than the supernatural fiction of Labyrinth, being more grounded in the now (as was the first volume), but non the worse for that. A good holiday read.

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Elves Once Walked With Gods by James Barclay — book review

August 26, 2011

Elves Once Walked With Gods. Elves Book 1(Raven Series prequel) by James Barclay. Gollancz '8.99

Reviewed by Lorna Smithers

Elves live by a caste system based on the longevity of life and social function created and defended by Takaar, the elf who once walked with gods. Following Takaar's flight from battle ten years previously, that harmonious society, like the mind of its leader, is falling apart.

This book forms a harrowing portrayal of their descent into a vortex of violence, hatred and betrayal. From the moment the pages open a striking dissonance is played out between their reverence for the rain forest, traditions and gods and the brutalities they inflict upon one another and are imposed on them by men. 

Being unfamiliar with the Raven Series, I found Elves slightly confusing due to the lack of exposition and explanation. From the outset the reader is pitched full throttle into the relentless throes of the action giving little time to catch up. The plot is swift moving and permeated by intrigue, shifting rapidly from conflicts and crises, and undoing the reader's expectations throughout. The imagery and choreography of the battle scenes excels in forming a vivid depiction of the swift savagery of the distinctive elvish fighting style.

Overall this book forms a unique and powerful re-imagining of the Elven race.

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Visitants edited by Stephen Jones — book review

August 26, 2011

Visitants: Stories of Fallen Angels & Heavenly Hosts edited by Stephen Jones. Ulysses Press $14.95

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I hate angels (got that out of the system). Of course, by this I mean all those cutesy 'beings' that act as personal guardians that make sure everything is hunky dory. Fortunately you don't get that sort of angel in this anthology of 28 stories. Stephen Jones ' one of the best horror anthologists working in the field ' makes sure that these deal with God's messengers as they (probably) were (or are or will be). I was hoping for creatures similar to those Mike Carey described in his masterful Lucifer comics. I wasn't disappointed.

It's a rule of thumb that the first story in an anthology should be the strongest. It acts as appetiser to the meal. Here, Neil Gaiman's 'Murder Mysteries' does the first job perfectly. It has to be perfect since the story takes place in the Silver City ' which God created ' perfectly. But obviously not perfect enough: there's been a murder. The last story is 'Going Bad' by Jay Lake, in which there's another crime ' this time involving 'fallen' angels. Although Lake's is a good, albeit brief, tale, the penultimate story by Christopher Fowler shines brighter. 'Beautiful Men' deals with the End, where a human is visited by angels, is tempted. It's easy to see why this story was shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards.

Lake's story is set at/after the End. See the thread? Stephen Jones's selection charts the rise, decline and fall of these angelic beings ' humanity, too. Many of the stories are original to this anthology: Lake, Fowler, Ian R MacLeod, Yvonne Navarro, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Robert Shearman (a weird tale), Ramsey Campbell' Reprints come from Gaiman, Arthur Machen ('The Bowman'), Sarah Pinborough, Lisa Tuttle and Michael Marshall Smith among others. Do yourself a favour: become a bit new dark-agey for a while and buy this book.

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The Dervish House by Ian McDonald

August 26, 2011

The Dervish House by Ian McDonald. Gollancz '8.99

Reviewed by John Howard

Ian McDonald's latest novel is set in Istanbul during a single working week in April 2027 as the city swelters under another heatwave. The small but diverse cast of main characters are linked by their various associations with the Dervish House itself ' the place they live or work, whether legally or not. That rambling and almost semi-magical survival from the Ottoman Empire is the story's unquiet still centre where minorities and faiths marooned by history still hold on, and past traumas and regrets persist in the shadows.

On Monday morning a suicide bombing on a crowded tram starts the weaving-together of many apparently unconnected strands: the events in a developing pattern that takes until the Friday to materialise, and then only to those with the eyes and technology to see. The residents and users of the Dervish House relate to each other, and in different ways confront a range of forces ' other people, corporations, agencies ' that seem quite beyond their control and threaten to overwhelm them, to do serious damage to Istanbul, and possibly the world.

McDonald establishes context with glimpses and builds background mainly through deft observation, hints and memories. His Istanbul is Turkey in microcosm, straddling Europe and Asia, suspended between an imperial religious past and a national secular present. Its roads to the future lie ahead, uncertain, high in mid-air like the congested carriageways of the Bosphorus Bridge. The Dervish House offers the vision of an Istanbul transformed into something beyond the mere location for the engrossing and hair-raising thriller relentlessly unfolding in its streets and hidden spaces. I wished for a map to follow the action (and there's plenty of it). Above all I wanted simply to absorb the many moods of Istanbul, to encounter the ancient yet ever-new creation so appropriately venerated as the 'Queen of Cities'.

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Conan the Barbarian by Robert E Howard

August 26, 2011

Conan spawned a hundred imitators or more. Find out why with tales such as 'The Tower of the Elephant' and 'Beyond the Black River' in Robert E Howard's Conan the Barbarian (Gollancz '7.99); REH's greatest creation cuts a bloody swathe through the history of Hyborea. This collection of classic short fiction, 350 pages of epic action, is selected by both the makers of the new film and Robert E Howard scholars.

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Absorption by John Meaney — book review

August 26, 2011

Absorption by John Meaney. Gollancz '8.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

John Meaney is a clever and complex writer weaving seemingly unrelated stories together to make a greater whole. Here there are at least five strands scattered throughout time, each with their separate characters.

Ulfr is a warrior of a Northern clan in 777AD. He perceives the travelling bard Stigr as touched by darkness even though his oratory entrances the rest of the tribe. Gavriela Wolf, a German Jew and a physicist in the 1920s sees the same phenomenon when she spies on a local meeting and observes Hitler entrancing the crowd.

In 2146, Rekka Chandri is the member of the human exploration team that makes contact with the sentient natives on an unnamed planet. Further in the future in 2603, Roger Blackstone is just starting college on Fulgor.

Roger, Gavriela and Ulfr each dream that they inhabit crystal bodies in some far future place. They occasionally get waking visions of each other. Most of the action takes place on Fulgor as one of the hierarchy, the Luculenti, discovers an artefact buried on her estate. When she opens it, she is infected by a vampire code which eats its way into her neural paths.

By the end of this volume, the first of three, it is possible to see loose connections between the disaster played out on Fulgor and the characters in the past. The links are not yet strong enough to see the true pattern emerging. Possibly Meaney has introduced too many stands, too quickly, to do the overall shape full justice.

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A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness — book review

August 26, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. Headline '14.99

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

Deborah Harkness's first novel begins an epic trilogy of witches, vampires and daemons living mostly unnoticed amongst humans in the present day. As the story unfolds, it tells of a forbidden love, magic spells, a conspiracy and the shadowy organisation trying to keep star crossed lovers apart.

Recently picked up by Warner Brothers to be developed as a movie, A Discovery of Witches, grabbed me from the moment I opened it and kept me engrossed until the cliffhanger ending. Based mainly around Oxford University and the city itself, the rich narrative that Harkness weaves really does bring the place and characters to life, fully immersing the reader into the tale.

The main protagonist, Dr Diana Bishop, is a witch, who represses her powers, and an historian. Diana is studying various alchemical texts in the Bodleian Library, going about her day-to-day non-magical business, until one particular manuscript grabs the attention of various vampires, daemons and witches that are all desperate to get hold of it. She soon meets and falls in love with a vampire named Matthew, and begins a journey to understand her own powers, the history of the three magical species and the mysterious manuscript.

Despite the rather daunting size of the book (594 pages), it is exceptionally easy to read and highly enjoyable. Deborah Harkness has set herself the unenviable task of having to live up to an excellent first novel, but I believe that it is one that she is more than up to. I will keep my eyes firmly peeled for her second and third novels ' Deborah Harkness is definitely an author to watch closely over the coming years.

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