The Ridge by Michael Koryta — book review

August 23, 2011

The Ridge by Michael Koryta, Hodder and Stoughton '19.99

Reviewed by Jim Mcleod

Deputy Sheriff Kevin Kimble must investigate the death of the keeper of the mysterious lighthouse that stands on the hilltop known as Blade Ridge. The lighthouse illuminates nothing but the surrounding woods. The death of the keeper reveals a troubling local history, and may have some connection as to why the deputy was shot years ago.

This is an extremely well written story ' Koryta has a wonderfully grasp on how to tell a great narrative. There is a lot going on in this book, and there are times you have to go back and reread a section just to fully understand what has happened.  One of my favourite aspects of the books was how the cats that feature in the book are characters in their own right and are not just plot devices. The Ridge is a many layered book, that is rich in symbolism, and full of excellent prose. Primarily a crime writer, this is Koryta's first foray into supernatural territory, and it's one that works very well. Highly recommended


The Immortals After Dark Series by Kresley Cole — books review

August 15, 2011

The Immortals After Dark Series: Volumes 4, 5, 6 by Kresley Cole. Simon and Schuster, '6.99 each

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

Dark Needs at Night's Edge #4 Okay, *counts fingers* if my maths skills are up to speed this is book four. Trust me, I'm the reviewer, and only slightly confused. I think the series had its origins in an anthology which didn't contain a full blown novel but did plant the seeds of a series that so far has spawned ten books in total ' plus another side step into anthology-land on the way.

TIAD series concerns a bunch of immortal races, or creatures like vampires and werewolves and demons and witches and valkyries and all sorts of mythological creatures that live in a world called The Lore, which co-exists beside humanity. War breaks out with each of the factions and within their own races on a pretty regular basis. Got it?

Good, because this one is about a murdered beautiful, rich and successful ballerina, killed by a jealous lover ' stabbed to death at a party she was hosting. Now she has been doomed to haunt the manor house that was her home for decades while having to relive her death over and over again. Into this relative calm come the Wroth brothers with half-mad Conrad in chains, except Conrad can see the beautiful wraith-like Neomi. Thus begins a love affair with more than a few problems. I mean, a rule-breaking vampire loving a ghost? Will it work out? What do you think? But finding out is going to be great fun, and you can never have enough foul-mouthed Valkyries, I say. A stronger addition to TIADF series that which, to be my mind, riffs off Beauty and the Beast slightly and imports a twisted version of that premise straight into the world of The Lore.

Dark Desires After Dusk #5: Cadeon (or Cade for short) Woede happens to be a Rage Demon who has messed up big style in the past which resulted in his brother losing his crown and his kingdom and a lot of good people being killed. For nine hundred years he has been working as a mercenary ' earning the name Cane the Kingmaker ' and itching for revenge. Now after all this time is his big chance, if he can carry out his plan and mercilessly use a half-mortal woman called Holly Ashwin, who is actually a 'Vessel', capable of giving birth to a child that could become a great force for good or evil. By handing her over he can get the one weapon which could kill his greatest enemy, Omort the Deathless, but can he betray and give up someone he has grown to love?

There is a nice contrast between the two main characters: one, a larger-than-life demon, and the other, an obsessive-compulsive maths teacher who is quite boring until she gets struck by lightning and taps into her Valkyrie powers. Here we have a novel that is funny and action-packed, but ultimately quite predictable in its outcome. However, if you are a fan of the series you probably won't want to miss it.

Kiss of a Demon King #6: Rydstrom Woede is searching for the special sword that will kill Omort the Sorcerer and allow him to take his rightful place as king of the demons and regain the throne of Rothkalina. While on this quest he has also been on the lookout for a Queen. Too bad that the only attractive woman he comes across who really takes his fancy happens to be Sabine the Queen of Illusions and the sister of Omort. Before he can say 'I don't suppose you would' he is her prisoner and held in a dungeon in his old castle. Oh, the shame of it, and Sabine has plans of her own in using Rydstrom to father a child that could tap into the powers of the mysterious Well. To her, he is just a pawn, a tool to be used on her path to power, while to Rydstrom, Sabine is the epitome of evil, and could never be his Queen.

While, living up to its paranormal romance label, I have to admit to finding the books a bit repetitive with their initial feelings of mutual loathing and distrust between the major characters growing into the discovery of a true soul-mate. One for fans of the series, but count me out after this one.


The Traitor�s Gate by Sarah Silverwood — book review

August 15, 2011

The Traitor's Gate (The Nowhere Chronicles book 2) by Sarah Silverwood. Gollancz

Reviewed by Mark Yon

What we have here is the middle book of a fantasy trilogy, an adventure tale steeped in Young Adult tradition, reminiscent of John Masefield's Box of Delights, Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series (we even have a Dark King in this one) or Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Our young protagonist, Finmere Tingewick Smith (thankfully, Fin for short) is at Orrery House with his friends Christopher Arnold-Mather and Joe Manning for Christmas, having rescued Tova the Storyholder and dispersed the Black Storm that lies between the worlds of here (The Somewhere) and an alternate London (The Nowhere.) in Book One (The Double Edged Sword.) Christopher has found that his father, Justin, was in league with the good-guy-turned-bad Commander of the Knights of Nowhere, St John Golden.

This time around, Fin, Joe and Chris find themselves involved in the initiation of new Knights to rebuild the Order and having to fend off Justin's latest attempt to gain power and position. Along with their friend Mona from The Nowhere, the boys have to find out who is attacking people on London's streets and why a crack in the Prophecy table is an evil omen.

It's well written, in that the plot bounces along merrily pretty much from the start and the characters are logical and straightforward. There's a nice contemporary feel to it, some vivid settings, a good shock about halfway through, and a building of tension to a cliff-hanger ending, no doubt leading to the next book in the series. The darker horrific elements will no doubt be attractive to any teenager who wants to be grossed out or pleasantly chilled.

Will this work for YA? Definitely, though older readers might feel a little short-changed. Nevertheless, if I were still a teenager ' great stuff.


The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding — book review

August 15, 2011

The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed By Carl Barker

I'm always a little wary of jumping into a series without having read the previous instalments, knowing full well that to do so may leave me somewhat adrift in vast portions of the subsequent narrative. However, any concerns over my lack of background knowledge were quickly forgotten as I waded into The Black Lung Captain. Wooding is an adept storyteller and skilfully works both the character arcs of all his main protagonists as well as various elements of back-story from the previous book, Retribution Falls, into his tale.

Dashing and charismatic Darian Frey, Captain of the airship Ketty Jay, leads his ragtag and emotionally dysfunctional crew through an escalating series of escapades and high adventure involving air-pirates, daemonism, unstoppable golems and an army of ravening ghouls. In lesser hands, this might so easily have descended into clich'd melodrama, but Wooding's greatest strength lies in the depth of his characterisation.

Throughout The Black Lung Captain time is taken to explore each of the Ketty Jay's crew (even the ship's cat!) and to steadily develop their individual back stories and various idiosyncrasies whilst rarely sacrificing the pace of the narrative. Add to this a spattering of black humour, plus a hefty chunk of sarcastic banter between the main characters, and you have the formula for an old-fashioned adventure tale of the highest order. Whilst hungrily awaiting the next instalment in this series, I'll definitely be seeking out Retribution Falls to add to my bookshelf. Highly recommended.   


The Zombie Autopsies by Stephen C Schlozman, MD — book review

August 15, 2011

The Zombie Autopsies by Stephen C Schlozman, MD. Bantam Press '12.99.

Reviewed by Jim Steel

Ever since Romero gene-spliced voodoo myth with the zombie Ur-text of Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids to create the modern zombie apocalypse, there has always been a reluctance to look too closely in case the whole shambling edifice falls apart beneath the hard stare of the observer. Luckily the survivors are normally too busy shooting zombies in the head to question the science behind it.

But what if a doctor were to approach the problem scientifically? And Schlozman really is a MD, so this short novel does have an air of authenticity. The core of the book consists of the recovered diary of a scientist on a research island who is trying to discover how the disease is spread. As his doomed team collapses around him, they continue with 'autopsies' on 'living' zombies (who, chillingly, are the previous team of researchers).

Doctor Blum - surely named for Michael Blumlein, the greatest of medical horror writers ' goes into delightfully clinical detail on pH and prions, bone clippers and Stryker saws, all the while advancing the plot towards the inevitable end. Blum doesn't find the answer, but his team gets very close and the disease becomes a believable horror for even the most jaded of readers. Blum's diary is followed by copious appendixes featuring UN reports and more 'found' texts, filling out the scale and cause of the disaster.

The book is slightly over-designed which probably helped to bulk out a low wordage. The diary section is reproduced in a hand-written font in weathered pages while there are copious drawings from one of Blum's team (in reality by Andrea Sparacio) which are best described as functional rather than aesthetic. Schlozman's lengthy acknowledgements are hilarious.


Ghost Story by Jim Butcher — book review

August 15, 2011

Ghost Story: A Dresden Files novel by Jim Butcher. Orbit '14.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Volume 13 in the Dresden Files that follows on directly from the cliff-hanger ending we saw in Changes. (If you haven't read that one yet ' and intend to ' then stop reading this review now!).

At the end of Changes Harry Dresden was shot, so it comes as no real surprise when he finds himself to be very much dead. Far from being allowed to rest in peace he is sent back to find his killer before three of his best friends die, not to mention half of Chicago. 

I picked up Ghost Story with some trepidation ' fearing that Harry Dresden without his signature battle cries of 'Forzare' and 'Fuego' might be de-fanged. But Harry as an incorporeal being is an interesting experience. True, his ability to fight is severely restricted but that leaves Harry reliant on his legendary wits and survival instincts. He must find ways to communicate with the living and also defend himself against the dead; because a lot of bad guys that he despatched in his time want a piece of him now that he is a ghost. 

The biggest issue in Ghost Story is consequences. Harry is made aware of how his single-minded course of actions to save his daughter had a profound, and mostly devastating, affect on the lives of the people he has left behind. I say no more ' because I wouldn't want to give any spoilers. Let's just say that the ending is an odd one, thoroughly intriguing and promising many interesting events to come in the advertised volume 14: Cold Days.

An excellent read, as always and highly recommended.


Desires of the Dead by Kimberley Derting — book review

August 14, 2011

Desires of the Dead by Kimberley Derting. Headline '6.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

This is a sequel to The Body Finder, in which sixteen year old Violet Ambrose realised that the gift she had had since she was a little girl ' sensing where the undiscovered bodies of murder victims were (and also tuning into the vibration of their killers) ' was going to help her catch a serial killer who was murdering people in the small town where she lives. Sorry to give away the plot, but given that this is book number two in the series, Violet obviously triumphed in her previous quest and came to no harm. What worked in that book was the basic premise, the well-rounded characters, the pace, the romance (hey, it is a young adult book after all) and the creepy chapters told from the killers viewpoint.

Now we go from book one with the blue flower on the cover to book two with the pink flower on the cover, as a few months have passed and Violet is trying to lead as normal a life as she can, but by helping the police out again she has come to the attention of the FBI (and to be honest the involvement of the FBI here is a bit clich'd and not that original). She does her best to resist their advances as best she can, but her life takes a dark turn and they might be the only people who can help her. Desires of the Dead could almost work as a stand alone title, but again it shares the same drive, romance, twists and unexpected turns as its predecessor due to a good mixture of third and first-person narrative, which is a welcome change from the normal introspective first-person fare of the young adult novel. My only quibble is that Derting's next novel. The Pledge. is possibly the start of a new series of fantasy books so it might be a while before we can say hello to Violet again.


The Departure by Neal Asher — book review

August 14, 2011

The Departure by Neal Asher, Tor '17.99

Reviewed by Ian Hunter

Bring it on! Here we go, the first of a new series, the Owner trilogy from Neal Asher. Yes, or rather no, it isn't anything to do with The Polity, but rather something a bit more closer to home in terms of viewpoint and plausibility as it concerns events on twenty second century Earth and on colonised Mars, and on the Argus station from where the all-watching 'Committee' keep a brutal control. The super-rich have plenty, especially food which is in short supply for everyone else, whereas most of the poor are branded as ZA's -- Zero Assets and consigned to a ruined Earth, that is if they don't break the rules and find themselves scheduled for readjusting, or incineration, or sent to the digesters to be recycled as food. In fact, being incinerated is the fate that awaits our hero, Alan Saul, who wakes up in a crate bound for the incinerator, with holes in his memory and things implanted inside his head, and more than a burning desire for revenge against the man who interrogated him and put him in this dire position. Meanwhile, on the Mars colony, things aren't much better as the colonists have discovered that they are disposable and there is no way back for them due to cutbacks which means that they are stranded with dwindling resources and have to do something about it ' fast, if they are to survive.

The Departure picks up with the origins of the character called 'The Owner' who has featured in some Asher short stories and runs with the concept, although it might prove disappointing for some Asher devotees more used to weird creatures, major tech and dazzling and bewildering weaponry. That's not to say that Asher isn't any less inventive, but we are clearly in Saul's head (along with something else) and very much on his side. Fast, furious, violent, slightly tongue-in-cheek (I think), and a whole lot of fun that makes 1984 seem like a children's tea party, with a great cover from regular artist Jon Sullivan, adding up to the start of another promising series from Asher. Go on, dive in, you won't be disappointed.


Kitty and the Midnight Hour; … Goes to Washington; … Raises Hell — book reviews

August 14, 2011

Kitty and the Midnight Hour; Kitty Goes to Washington; Kitty Raises Hell by Carrie Vaughn. Gollancz '6.99 each

Reviewed by Rhian Bowley

Kitty's a DJ on a late-night radio show. She's also a werewolf. At the start of the series she's struggling to come to terms with that, and trying to keep it secret. Before long, her two lives meet and her radio show becomes the call-in show for anyone with questions about the supernatural ... and the supernatural themselves. Think Frasier, with fangs, for the fey.

I was sent books one, two and six. A shame to have missed out on the intervening adventures, but it let me discover that, once she shakes off the traumas that shadow her in book one, Kitty shapes up as a fine main character. Struggling with her wolf side gives her the requisite conflict, and Vaughn assembles a rich cast of supporting characters. The plot arcs are unsurprising ' Kitty getting into trouble with other supernaturals, trouble it looks like she won't be able to handle, but thanks to her quick wits and trusty side-kicks she gets there in the end ' but they are always well written and fast-paced. I wish it had slowed down sometimes, actually; often the plot sped away when it could have lingered, when I would have liked to spend longer with a character or situation. But given that this is a series, and that ...Raises Hell shows clear advancement from the first two, it might be that the series gives more depth if all the instalments are read.

Something I struggled with is that these werewolves aren't very likeable ' here it is the wolf running the show, rather than a human exulting in their cool wolf powers. So, there are alpha power-plays that made me uncomfortable in ...Midnight Hour, and the breaks in action while Kitty has to placate her wolf, or her pack, can start to grate. But that is also a strength, because I like that Vaughn's set up is imaginative and different from other werewolf stories. A lot of work has clearly gone into this world.

I wish that more was made of music in these books ' each starts with a page that's a playlist, and Kitty's a DJ, so I expected that songs would be a background throughout, they way they pulse through other series, like Stacia Kane's Downside. But apart from a recurring (and inevitable) 'Bad Moon Rising' it is barely mentioned, and that feels like a missed opportunity.

Of the three, Kitty goes to Washington was much more fun than her first outing. Away from the aggression and abuse of the other werewolves, Kitty adventures alone and starts to enjoy herself. I loved the club she finds, full of hedonistic lycanthropes ' were-jackals, were-foxes and a sexy were-jaguar from Brazil. I can't say much about Kitty Raises Hell without serious spoilers, just that Kitty's still on the radio and still getting into trouble. If you enjoyed the earlier books, you'll enjoy the sixth, too.  


Moondance of Stonewylde by Kit Berry — book review

August 14, 2011

Moondance of Stonewylde by Kit Berry. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed By Carl Barker

The Stonewylde series of books are best described as a pleasant slowburner of a tale, set in a fictional modern-day community hidden deep in the heart of Dorset. Originally self-published as a trilogy, the series has now been picked up by Orion/ Gollancz, with a further two books to come in the series over the next year or so.

This second book in the original trilogy continues the journey of young Yul and Sylvie as their attraction for each other grows beneath the malevolent gaze of the community's leader, Magus, who intends to exploit Sylvie's unique magical talents for his own ends.

The characters are well-written with the whole community given chance to breath throughout the story without detracting from the main story arc. The main players, though perhaps lacking a little in complexity at times, nevertheless remain true to their particular ethos throughout and Magus in particular is a character who draws a direct sense of moral outrage from the reader via his callous regard for others within his community.

The ending leaves many questions unanswered and though able to be enjoyed as a standalone book, this evidently works better as part of a greater whole and readers would be advised to visit the first book in the series beforehand in order to gain a better understanding of Stonewylde.

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