Reviews

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash. Book review

September 7, 2011

Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Backlash by Aaron Allston. Arrow Books '7.99

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

My first foray into the written world of Star Wars. This novel is set a considerable time after Return of the Jedi and features a much older Luke Skywalker, now an exiled Jedi Grand Master who, along with his son Ben, also a Jedi Knight, pursues an apprentice Sith, whose late mistress had attempted (and failed) to kill Luke Skywalker. Other familiar characters soon join the storyline ' Han Solo and his wife Leia, R2DR and C-3PO, all aboard the Millennium Falcon.

Vestara, the apprentice Sith, lands on a planet populated with many Force Sensitives and Force Witches. She leads Luke and Ben on a merry chase through the forests until they encounter a tribe of Force Witches who are attempting to break with tradition and merge their tribe with one composed of menfolk, who had previously only been treated as slaves in the matriarchal society.

As with any Star Wars storyline, in addition to the light-sabre duels there are the usual political machinations going on behind the scenes in the Galactic Alliance ' attempted assassinations, clever plots and schemes to usurp the current Chief of State and many plays for power from within the Alliance and the Moffs. The Jedi Council finds itself under siege and Han and Leia are called in by the Alliance to act as mediators.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and even though it is the fourth in the series, I soon found myself lost in a galaxy far, far away without feeling like I was missing too much by coming in halfway through the story. Allston weaves an excellent slice of Star Wars, making this feel very much like an effortless extension of the films.

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Ashes by Ilsa J Bick. Book review

September 7, 2011

Ashes by Ilsa J Bick. Quercus '6.99

 Reviewed by Emma Audsley

 Reading the synopsis for Ashes left me eager to delve in: it ticked all the boxes for me ' apocalyptic, flesh-eaters, electromagnetic pulses pulverising the Earth into submission. I have to say, I wasn't let down. Chaos ensued from the first page and continued until the second half of the book, in which there came a lull in the story-line and the thrill factor. But not to despair: it picked back up again and Alex, the main character, was plunged head-first into an entirely new bizarre situation upon her arrival in a town named Rule, a place mainly occupied by the elderly and the 'Spared' ' those not in want of living human flesh and, in some cases, the proud new, albeit confused, owners of a super-sense. It is here that Alex finds comrades and conspirators. It is here she discovers that she really does not know who to trust in this 'brave new world'.

The pages leading up to the grand finale of this first part Bick's trilogy left me in a flurry of excitement and exasperation, willing the pace on, eager to know more ' then BOOM ' cliff-hanger ending. Gotta love 'em! The sequels Shadows and Monsters will be coming in 2012 and 2013. Ashes, released on the 29th September, is aimed at a YA readership (12+), It's a brave new apocalypse, folks!

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Spell Bound by Kelley Armstrong. Book review

September 6, 2011

Spell Bound: Women of the Underworld Book 12 by Kelley Armstrong . Orbit '16.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Spell Bound is a direct follow-up to Waking the Witch and picks up with Savannah Levine, bereft of her demon powers, facing down the enemy all alone for a second time. There is plenty of the magical fighting and derring-do here, as you would expect from such fiction, but like its direct predecessor, does seem far more aimed at a YA/Teen audience than the first ten in the series.

Now, that's fine if you are expecting a YA book. But I found it somewhat misleading when it has been placed in the same ballpark as Dime Store Magic or Living With the Dead ' but it's very different. Savannah herself is very immature, allegedly aged 21 but going on 17 (and I'm being generous), and the whole thing is riddled with teen angst. Spell Bound is also far less self contained than previous volumes, having the feel of a 'trilogy middle volume'. It relies on your having read the previous book and ends abruptly with many loose ends.

For all that it is well enough written and romps along at a cracking pace. Read for what it is ' a teen book ' it's fun. Just be aware that it is far less urban fantasy and a lot more paranormal romance than earlier Women of the Underworld titles.

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Madame Xanadu: Extra-Sensory by Matt Wagner. Graphic novel review

September 6, 2011

Madame Xanadu: Extra-Sensory by Matt Wagner. Vertigo $17.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is the third and final volume in Matt Wagner's Madame Xanadu sequence (collecting issues 24-29). The six chapters are all set in New York of the 1960s, that time of change (actually, there were many times of change, but'). The first five deal with the senses: sight, hearing, taste, etc, each with different characters ' and with brief cameos by the seer; the exception is 'Don't Touch Me There', in which she does more than just offer supernatural advice. The episodes tend to be slight tales, perhaps they are a little moralising.

But 'Don't Touch Me'' is the strongest by far. Neon is a supermodel and rock diva, one of Randy Warsau's entourage, part of The Foundry, where also reside the avant garde musicians Subterranean Suede. Then there's The Portals from California ' you get the idea? Neon isn't just a model, though; she's something much older ' and very evil. It's up to Xanadu to stop her trail of death.

Extra-Sensory lists eight artists, and all do justice to their tasks. It's astonishing, the range of artists working in the comics field, on a single title ' I recall the days when the only artists were Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko (or so it seemed). I prefer the variety of today.

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Superheroes V Supervillains A-Z by Sarah Oliver. Book review

September 6, 2011

Superheroes v Supervillains A-Z by Sarah Oliver. John Blake Publishing '7.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

This book is split in two ' Superheroes at the front, Supervillains at the back ' but at just over 250 pages (ten of them on Spider-Man alone), it's rather a stretch claiming to be 'The Ultimate Guide to the Greatest Superheroes/Supervillains of All Time'. The main criterion seems to be whether or not said heroes or villains have appeared in films or TV (first appearance in a comic is way down the list) ' but even here Oliver is inconsistent.

There's Captain America ' but no Captain Marvel. Because he never made it to either screen? Well no ' the Big Red was in the Justice League Unlimited TV series. Aquaman is credited with 'various cartoon series' but no Smallville ' although Supergirl gets a Smallville credit. Under 'G' we have Green Lantern and Green Hornet (for the 2011 film only ' no 1960s TV series) but no Green Arrow (a regular in Smallville).

Neither Ant Man/Giant Man or Wasp are mentioned ' despite being in The Avengers: Earth Mightiest Heroes TV series and both Ultimate Avengers DVDs. Oliver claims that Barbara Gordon's Oracle has never been in film or TV; so what about the Birds of Prey series'?

Frothy, irrelevant, poorly-researched; from the author of Justin Beiber A-Z and Robert Pattinson A-Z ' so draw your own conclusions. There's nothing here for any real film or comics fan.

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Debris by Jo Anderton — book review

August 28, 2011

Debris: The Veiled Worlds Book 1 by Jo Anderton. Angry Robot (October 2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Eleanor Hopkins

 

Tanyana is wealthy, educated and respected. She is a talented pion architect and head of her own critical circle. The most ambitious and prestigious of her works, the statue Grandeur, is nearing completion, and Tanyana is at the head of her game. But something goes wrong, something flings her from her place in society; an accident perhaps, but she can't shake the feeling that the veche inspector and the strange puppet men are connected.

  

Now, fallen and outcast, her life, her purpose, and her very self changed forever, Tanyana must find a new place in Movoc-under-Keeper and work out whether anyone can be relied upon or trusted anymore. Her quest to discover why she fell will lead to more questions, yet the answers seem always out of reach. The end of this book leaves us with just enough of a sense of the bigger picture to want to read book two. Anderton has created a world based on an entirely new magic system in this engrossing debut. The story of a fallen heroine struggling to cope with her new place in the world is a classic narrative, but set in a grimy and dangerous world where threats lurk around every corner and the mystery unravels with complexity.

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969 — graphic novel review

August 28, 2011

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Century: 1969 by Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill. Knockabout Comics '7.99 /Top Shelf Productions $9.95

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

Moore brings his saga of a re-imagined 20th century into the Swinging Sixties. Mina, Allan and Orlando (now going by the much hipper Lando) are dropped off at Dover by the Nautilus and arrive in a psychedelic London populated by more 60s icons than you can shake a bong at. The Saint, James Bond, Thunderbirds, Adam Adamant, Callan, Steptoe & Son' The Deep Fix is playing at the very club where The Rutles had their first gig; just round the corner there's a certain Jerry Cornelius (The Cure for Cancer incarnation: white hair, black skin and teeth, panda skin coat); in Hyde Park there's going to be a free open air concert fronted by the Purple Orchestra. The plot's pretty slight, once again centering on the pursuit of a certain Crowleyesque magician who has gone by many names over the decades ' Carswell, Mocato, Haddo ' but it's the ride that matters. O'Neill's artwork is complex but stark, filled with cameos and jokes ' this is one comic where each panel rewards close scrutiny. Even before Mina goes off on a bad trip there's a vaguely nightmarish aspect that the garish, neon-lit capital can't outshine.

Role on the next instalment.

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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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