Recent book reviews

September 11, 2011

Recently posted book reviews:

Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Orbit

The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell. PS Publishing

The Braided Path by Chris Wooding. Gollancz

The Magician King by Lev Grossman. William Heinemann

The Warlord's Legacy by Ari Marmell. Gollancz

Zendegi by Greg Egan. Gollancz


The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants — book review

September 11, 2011

The Inhabitant of the Lake and Other Unwelcome Tenants by Ramsey Campbell. Illustrations by Randy Broecker. PS Publishing '19.99,

Reviewed by John Howard

This is a new and greatly enhanced edition of Ramsey Campbell's first collection, published by Arkham House in 1964 as The Inhabitant of the Lake and Less Welcome Tenants (the title had to be altered due to a mix-up, and the opportunity to restore it has been taken here).

As well as the original ten stories and 'A Word from the Author' we get lots of extras. Several stories are also given in the versions as first submitted. Campbell describes how he discovered H P Lovecraft and started to write his own Cthulhu Mythos stories, contacting August Derleth to ask if he would be willing to criticise them. It was 1961, and Campbell was fifteen. Derleth's response was welcoming, and the rest is history. Several of Derleth's letters to Campbell ' including that first one ' are reproduced. They show the pro's readiness to spend time working with a new and completely unknown writer, and to give plenty of constructive criticism (often bluntly stated). Derleth urged Campbell to forget Massachusetts and to create his own places in contemporary England, and above all provided the encouragement to make him revise, rewrite, and try and try again. Campbell made his first sale to Derleth the following year; that story, 'The Church in High Street,' is also included along with its first version 'The Tomb-Herd'.

Reading an author's earliest published work inevitably leads to comparisons with what followed. The stories in The Inhabitant of the Lake are for the most part rather painful and obvious pastiches barely redeemed by their vivid settings. But they also show Campbell's ability to learn quickly: as the stories go on the characters at least start talking to each other in a much more believable way. It only took a couple more years for Ramsey Campbell to leave behind the false notion that 'the style makes the stories' and to journey into his own unique voice.


Zendegi by Greg Egan — book review

September 11, 2011

Zendegi by Greg Egan. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed by R A Bardy  [@mangozoid]

This is a tale split into two halves ' the first covers a present-day Iran (2012) experiencing severe political upheaval eerily similar to this year's troubles in Egypt and Libya, serving to introduce Martin Seymour as the journalist sent to cover the Iranian elections, and Nasim as a brilliant computer scientist pushing the boundaries of virtual world-building.

The second part takes place 15 years later and Martin has now settled in Iran, is widowed and trying to raise his only son (Javeed) after contracting a terminal illness. Here too we also find Nasim's earlier research has put her at the head of Zendegi, a virtual world used regularly by millions for business and entertainment purposes. Cue the efforts of Martin and Nasim to build a virtual father figure intending to guide Javeed to adulthood by mapping Martin's reactions to varying stimuli in the virtual world.

I really struggled with this book and found the author's tendency for info-dumping extremely jarring ' it got so bad I chose to put the book down initially, resolving to try again at a later date. I am glad I did, but only to the extent that I can categorically assure others that this story is slight at best, and at least 150 pages too long. I'm not a regular reader of Greg Egan but if this is an example of his recent writing then I'm happy to pass and consider trying his earlier work instead.


The Braided Path by Chris Wooding — book review

September 11, 2011

The Braided Path by Chris Wooding. Gollancz '16.99

Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins

Kaiku's family is slaughtered yet she is saved, granted life by a strange companion and awakened to the truth of what lives inside her. Now, bereft of her old life and with only her father's mask to keep the burning desire for vengeance alive, she journeys to the heart of Saramyr politics to seek answers.

Through their masks, Weavers harness the ancient magic of the Witchstones, enhancing the capacity to create and destroy. The immense power has granted them access into the heart of the empire's control, and now they plot from within threatening the very land itself. The Braided Path takes Kaiku and the allies she meets on a journey to the centre of the Weavers secrets, but more will be discovered there than she would ever wish to see or experience.

Bringing together his trilogy in one volume, Wooding's intricate and exotic world plays landscape to a fantasy that is as dark and disturbing as it is enlightening and compelling. The addiction of the Weave and the lure of the magics in Saramyr are handled with a deft control over visual imagery, and the threads of the story play out in a narrative that is rich in detail and complexity.


The Warlord’s Legacy by Ari Marmell — book review

September 11, 2011

The Warlord's Legacy by Ari Marmell. Gollancz '7.99

Reviewed by Karen Stevens

Over twenty years ago, Corvis Rebaine trampled a bloodstained path across the land of Imphallion, bringing death and mass destruction in an attempt to forge a greater society.

Now Rebaine is living quietly under an assumed name, trying to achieve change through non-violent means but when Imphallion is invaded and the bickering guilds and nobles are unable to cease their endless squabbling and respond with any unified force, someone, wearing Rebaine's distinctive black armour and wielding what appears to be his demon forged axe, starts killing again.

The Warlord's Legacy falls into the branch of heroic/sword and sorcery fantasy. Eschewing the detailed world-building found in epic multi-volume fantasies, it's an action-packed story studded with nuggets of dark humour ' I got the feeling that Ari Marmell had a ball writing this book. It benefits from strong characterisation, and virtually all the characters are morally ambiguous, drawn in varying shades of grey rather than being completely heroic or villainous. There's nothing outstandingly new or original here, but if you want an enjoyable, fast-moving fantasy, then you could do worse then to check it out.


The Magician King by Lev Grossman — book review

September 11, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman. William Heinemann '12.99

Reviewed by Rhian Bowley

Somewhere in these pages was a story I could have loved, with characters I cared about. But both got lost amidst the relentless world-hopping and cumulative misogyny. What a shame.

I really liked The Magicians. Still do. It took the childhood stories that shaped me, added clever, modern writing and created a new classic. In this sequel we're back with the same characters, now kings and queens of Fillory. But Quentin's a bit bored, and fancies some adventure...

Before long he's messed things up and ends up back in the real world. He and Julia get a road trip across the globe while they try to return to Fillory, crossing through Julia's old haunts to a beautifully described, magical Venice. For a while the book was great ' Grossman writes wonderfully, handling sharp prose and pop-culture references almost as well as Bret Easton Ellis. But it just didn't stop. Quentin got lost again. And again. Great characters old and new got hauled in for plot rescues and then left silent. What a waste of Eliot, Josh and the brilliantly named swordsman, Bingle. And all of the women.

Quentin is a classic Gen X, never-grown-up, worthy of Coupland, and I like him. But Grossman fails to write women of the same standard. They are all ' literally ' either Madonnas or whores. They either die, or are shagged, or have to become inhuman to earn happiness. Often all three. Do read The Magicians, it's great. I can't recommend this one -- it will take you to lots of places but leave you nowhere. Especially if you're female.


Hell Ship by Philip Palmer — book review

September 11, 2011

Hell Ship by Philip Palmer. Orbit '8.99

Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]

 The Hell Ship hurtles through space laying waste to planets, civilisations and complete universes, collecting in its wake thousands of slaves, each the last of their race, and forced to witness for themselves the complete destruction of everything and everyone they've ever known.

One of these slaves, Sharrock, is a champion like no other and has vengeance on his mind, and all the time in the universe to plan and plot against his captors, with several lifetimes in which to accomplish it as he is repeatedly brought back to life after every attempt. Enter Sai-as, a huge squid-like sea-borne creature serving as a kind of slave caretaker who has long since given up the fight and will stop at nothing to maintain the balance of peace within the Hell Ship. Enter, too, Jak, an ex-trader and Explorer who is now just a mind in the body of a starship, spending his entire existence and thousands of years chasing the black Hell Ship through myriad universes via rifts in space, intent on a different kind of revenge and documenting the trail of destruction left by the infernal Hell Ship.

I absolutely loved this story. It is hugely inventive, wildly imaginative, full to the brim with far-fetched themes and ideas, bold characters, fantastical aliens, self-replicating starships and universe-busting weapons. A fast-moving roller-coaster ride of creativity, and massively recommended.

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