The Ironclad Prophecy by Pat Kelleher. Abaddon Books '7.99
Reviewed by Tony Lane
It wasn't until I started reading this book that I realised it was the second in a series, No Man's World. The first is Black Hand Gang and I would suggest reading this, but it is not required to enjoy The Ironclad Prophecy.
There are some books that make it obvious that a lot of research has gone into it; some have an almost obsessional level of detail and feel. Having been to my fair share of military shows and having read on the topic, it is quite obvious that Mr Kelleher has a passion and feel for the British army in World War One.
This book bridges the gap between historical fiction and science fiction in an intriguing way. The Great War and, in particular, the Battle of the Somme are the inspiration; when a whole Battalion of Fusiliers is transported by an occult ritual to a hostile alien world they suddenly wish they were back on the battlefield facing an artillery barrage again.
The world building is detailed and yet does not appear to take up a huge amount of space on the page. The characters are vibrant and believable and make for a thoroughly entertaining read. If you have an interest in military fiction then this will make an interesting change of pace. If you like science fiction too, then this will be a great read.
Witches of the East by Melissa de la Cruz. Sphere '6.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
It's no good, you know ' no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to adopt the mindset of a teenage girl and as such, I fear I sit somewhat outside the target audience for this paranormal romance. Nevertheless I shall persevere.
Witch sisters Freya and Ingrid, along with mother Joanna, have lived a peaceful life of seclusion in the quiet town of New Hampton ever since they were forbidden from using their powers by the powers that be. However, after casting a couple of seemingly innocent spells and potions to help their neighbours, the girls soon find that things begin to unravel in New Hampton at a rate of knots, bringing a heady mixture of sex, murder and otherworldly creatures to the fore.
After wading through the usual cavalcade of supernatural beings and errant gods, there's a distinct sense with this book that less might perhaps have been more with regards to the story. The plot is by all means well padded, but towards the end things become a little hurried with narrative timing all too readily sacrificed in the name of pacing as virtually every paranormal clich' is hurled into the mix at will, without the necessary space given to working them properly into the story.
If you tend to like your fiction like your cappuccinos ' light and frothy with very little substance ' then pick this one up, but those who prefer a more substantial read may want to look elsewhere.
First contact has been made, but no-one is quite sure what the arrival of the Byrzaens heralds. For Jim Leyton it has meant defection from the government agency that trained him, separation from the intelligent gun he relied on, and allying himself with the mysterious inhabitants of the Habitat, in order to rescue the love of his life from the most secure and secret prison there is.
For Philip Kaufmen it meant death, and rebirth as one of only two fully virtual beings in the world, the other being his father. However, assassins are on the loose in Virtuality to finally finish Philip off. No-one knows who to trust or why Byrzaen technology is popping up in unexpected places.
Although a sequel to The Noise Within, this can be read as a standalone book as the relevant background information is neatly woven into the narrative. I expect some of the character development would have more impact to those already invested in them, but I enjoyed it without having read the previous novel.
This is a political thriller that ranges across space and into virtual worlds. The characters are well developed with strong female leads matching the male protagonists step for step. The world set-up and technology is intriguing but not obtrusive, and the fast paced action keeps you hooked. Read this if you like intelligent, entertaining space opera.
Black Halo: Aeon's Gate Book 2 by Sam Sykes. Gollancz '12.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
Second in the series, Black Halo certainly continues the furious and exhilarating journey that book one of Aeon's Gate started. Lenk and his group of deliciously dangerous adventurers are still struggling to focus on the quest rather than on beating each other to a pulp in the most interesting ways they can find. Scattered and stranded, dark forces work against them testing their bond with every step.
Sykes writes with fantastic insight into the human psyche and Lenk is a compelling protagonist. Tormented by the voices in his head and taunted by the Tome, he is tested beyond the realms of the physical and forced to consider that his past, present and future may not be all he expected.
The main strength in Black Halo lies in its characterisation and its ability to have the reader empathising with the most unlikely of creatures and their desires. It races off from the start and as the journey continues you find yourself wishing for a longer book. The writing is visually rich and the demon-plagued world becomes more intriguing with every gruesome argument and each new threat. Deadly weapons, raw magic and star-crossed haters breathe life into an energetic writing style that engages to the end.
Hounded' Iron Druid Chronicles Book 1 by Kevin Hearne. Orbit '7.99
Reviewed by Mark Yon
This is a possible winner in the currently very popular urban fantasy genre. Written in a first person perspective, it tells of Atticus O' Sullivan, a Druid now in his second millennium and his daily tribulations with all manner of Gods in the Celtic/Druidic pantheon. Running a herbal remedy shop in Tempe, Arizona, he finds that his old rival, the god Aenghus 'g has found where he is and wants his blood ' or rather, the return of the sword Fragarach that Atticus won from him, though the death of Atticus at the same time would be a convenient bonus.
It's very much in the Harry Dresden style but dips into a rich wealth of Irish/Celtic mythos for its characters, with the added bonus of a supporting cast of a vampire and a werewolf as attorneys and an intelligent Irish wolfhound that speaks to Atticus as a companion. The character of a whiskey-loving, Brit-hating Irish granny may grate a little on some readers. Nevertheless, fast-paced, fun and lively, overall this one's a great page turner.
Mi'ville's long-threatened space opera turns out to be one of the finest examples of the species but, disingenuously, nearly all of the events in the novel happen in the one place. The narrator, Avice, does leave at one stage, but she soon returns to where she grew up: a human enclave on Areika, a planet that features some of the most alien of aliens ever devised.
The Ariekei, looking like some sort of large, hoofed insects, can only communicate literally and Avice, when she was a child, was used as a simile. She is 'the girl who ate what was given her'. The Ariekei desire to learn how to lie as an art form but it becomes apparent that there is something much deeper going on. Avice realises that she has the potential to become a metaphor.
The only humans who can communicate directly with the Ariekei are the Ambassadors: pairs of linked doppelgangers who speak simultaneously. At times it doesn't appear to matter what they say as the effect seems analogous to music, but Language soon reveals its potential to be an addictive drug. The music/drug analogy continues to play as recordings of a dead Ambassador become the most valuable commodity on the planet.
William Burroughs claimed that language was a virus from outer space and this seems to apply to the Ariekei. Things fall apart in a spectacular, violent convulsion when human greed combines with human courage to turn Areika on its head. We also have to wonder how much of our own personality ' our very essence ' is merely a result of the language that we think with. This brilliant novel is going to win awards by the bucketful. This is why you read science fiction.
Dead Bad Things by Gary McMahon. Angry Robot '7.99
Reviewed by Jim McLeod
Dead Bad Things sees the return of Gary McMahon's Thomas Usher. Having fled Leeds for London at the end of Pretty Little Dead Things, Thomas is holed up in one of the most haunted places in the UK. He is a broken man, the lure of the bottle ever present. Then a mysterious phone call from a mysterious clockwork voice soon has Usher back on the case.
A twisted child killer urged on by a vile creature, a young WPC, haunted by her abusive father, and a disgraced stage psychic, battling his darkest innermost desires. These are just some of the brilliantly detailed characters that inhabit this book. Gary McMahon has filled this novel with some of the most twisted and vile humans to ever see print.
Whilst this is a satisfying novel, that shows you exactly why Gary McMahon is one of the best horror writers working today, it is one of the most intensely beak and harrowing novels I have ever read. This is no lightweight pulp horror; this is a horror novel that will worm it's way deep into your psyche, and take root. The real human monsters here are just as, if not even more, evil than the supernatural monsters. McMahon is a master of the urban horror, and Dead bad Things is another jewel in his crown. This is the perfect book to start reading now that the nights are drawing in.
Barl is a talented clock mage ' too talented for the Artisanry she works in. She is the best clock maker in Dorana, she is sure, were she given the chance. She longs to take up a place in the prestigious College of Mages and fulfil her potential, but her lowly family status as an unranked mage denies her that dream.
Morgan is from a First Family and holds a seat on the Council of Mages, but that is not enough to satisfy his ambition. With his dying father pressuring him to produce an heir, and his jealous colleagues tainting his reputation and discrediting his abilities, he is driven to prove to them all that he is the greatest mage in the land.
Their paths cross in a blaze of power and lust but hindered by arrogance and self belief, what starts as a desire to break the boundaries of new magic soon becomes more than they can control.
A Blight of Mages is an intoxicating and heart-wrenching story depicting two young people torn by desire and ability. In a world that is as appealing as it is imaginable, Miller uses great pathos to portray their plight, and the more I read, the more I needed to read to find out whether their mastery would be their undoing.
Afterblight Chronicles: America by Simon Spurrier, Rebecca Levene & Al Ewing. Abaddon Books '10.99
Reviewed by Carl Barker
Abaddon has published titles in a variety of shared worlds for five years and now seems ideal to begin releasing some omnibus collections. America is taken from the Afterblight Chronicles ' one of Abaddon's first shared worlds to hit the shelves. Here, the world has been devastated by an incurable epidemic, targeting all non-O negative blood types, leaving humanity spread out into a few miserable pockets of existence.
Simon Spurrier's The Culled was the first of these stories to be written, setting up the back story via a continent-hopping road-trip into the shattered shell of post-epidemic New York ' an urban wasteland populated by rival gangs, child-hunters and a megalomaniacal religious sect known as the Church of the New Dawn. Spurrier's previous background with 2000AD is put to good use here; his nameless hero dealing out death and wanton destruction to all who oppose him as he sets about his hidden agenda, despatching zealots and gang-members with little regard.
Rebecca Levene's Kill or Cure centres on the female partner of Spurrier's protagonist and takes a different slant as our heroine is abducted and put to work, researching a new plague which turns survivors into ravenous zombies. The action is more expansive but no less gory as she sets about escaping from her captors, guided by the schizophrenic and psychopathic voice in her head ' a consequence of her previous attempts at a cure.
Al Ewing's Death Got No Mercy brings up the rear of this blood-spattered triumvirate and any cover featuring a man punching a bear in the face will give you some idea of the tone to be found inside. Here, the humour lurches from abyssal black to downright insane as strong and silent muscleman Cade sets about destroying San Francisco from the inside out via a plan which comes across like Fistful of Dollars on acid.
All three of these stories have bolted headlong out of the Mad Max stable of narrative and trampled any deep and meaningful conclusions mercilessly under-hoof. However, if you like your fiction on the far side of bloody with a side-order of death and lashings of ultra-violence then this one's for you, and at only '10.99 a pop, this is definitely value for money.