Dangerous Waters by Juliet E. Mckenna. Solaris '7.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
The land is rife with civil war. Archmage Planir watches from afar adhering to the ancient rule that forbids magic in war, but rumours of rogue wizards spread, and innocent lives are in danger. Corrain and Hosh, hardened soldiers captured in the line of duty, are enslaved upon a foreign vessel. Desperate for escape they await the perfect moment to make a bid for freedom, but their actions have a price.
Lady Zurenne, betrayed by those closest to her and unable to claim rights over her own household in the male-dominated society of Halferan, must place her trust in others if she has any hope of preserving her life and the safety of her daughters. An unwitting victim of circumstance, the promise of aid comes from a soldier with a sullied reputation, and a wizard, Jilseth, the powerful Archmage's necromancer. But are either trustworthy or do they have their own ambitions too close to heart?
Dangerous Waters takes place in a now familiar world with some already known characters tangling with exciting new ones. Wizardry, war, intrigue and countless personal struggles, play out in a classic fantasy narrative that gallops along and leaves us wanting more. McKenna's writing gains strength with each series and this is definitely my favourite book so far -- recommended for fans and newcomers alike.
The Steampunk Bible by Jeff Vandermeer with S.J. Chambers. Abrams '16.99
Reviewed by Selina Lock
The first time I saw this book I went "Oooh, pretty" because it is a beautifully designed object, as I would expect from a reference book on Steampunk. I read it from cover to cover, but it is also designed for dipping into.
Vandermeer and Chambers do a good job providing an in-depth but whirlwind tour through their definition of the Steampunk genre. The amusingly titled chapters flow well. The book moves from comparing the writings of Wells and Verne, acknowledged Grandfathers of the genre, through to 1980s re-inventors Powers, Blaylock & Jeters to more recent writers like Cherie Priest. I was pleased to note an interesting chapter on Steampunk inspired comics. Further chapters delve into the world of Steampunk makers/tinkers, artists, fashion, bands (who knew there was such a thing?) before coming back to films and TV, and ending with the future of Steampunk. The emphasis on art and fashion provides a wealth of interesting photographs and illustrations to liven things up.
Steampunk to me suggests Victoriana and steam-powered mechanisms, but I must admit to never having thought about the punk aspect. This volume suggests factions involved in the scene vary, from those interested in the aesthetic to those that incorporate the punk ethic, including a focus on sustainable technology and a DIY attitude. Theories put forward for the rise of interest in Steampunk suggest it is a reaction to the turmoil of technological change, the rejection of a throwaway culture and the desire to explore those issues in a historical setting, all the while rejecting the unpalatable aspects of that setting, such as imperialism and racism.
I'll certainly be seeking out books mentioned in this volume, though I don't think I'll be buying a pair of goggles just yet. If you're at all curious about Steampunk history and culture then I'd highly recommend this book.
Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner. Random House $19.99
Reviewed by Jan Edwards
When Terri Windling's Borderland and Bordertown appeared in the late '80s she was not the first by any means to imagine a place that lay between the Realm and the World. But her Bordertown is the construct said, by many, to define the roots of modern Urban Fantasy. Her Bordertown is a land filled with runaways and lost souls in search of those things that we desire the most and never quite manage to attain. That is not to say that this is a volume filled with unremitting angst. It isn't. Its streets are dark and its inhabitants most often darker, yet filled with music and art and esoterica -- that fills us with wonder. If anything the overriding theme of this collection is of dawning realisations and acceptance.
The content dives between short fiction and poetry (and even one short graphic-story) by many of the biggest names in urban fantasy: Jane Yolen, Neil Gaiman, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, Ti Pratt, Will Shetterley, Patricia McKillip and many more. Most deal with the rigours of being a 'noob' in the city. In Charles de Lint's 'A Tangle of Green Men', it's all about the getting there; and why. And though most are seen from a World dweller's perspective, 'Incunabulum' by Emma Bull shows what it is to be from the other side, from the Realm, with all of the resultant expectations made of her protagonist by Worlder noobs.
But then expectation is at the root of all that occurs in the streets and back alleys of Bordertown. In amongst the dirt and the fight for survival is the music and the art that make it all worth the while. This is Urban Fantasy as it should be. Excellent collection. Highly recommended.
The Circle Cast by Alex Epstein. Tradewinds Books '8.95
Reviewed by Misha Herwin
Morgan La Fay is one of the most powerful characters in the Arthurian legends. She is also one of the most mysterious. In The Circle Cast, Alex Epstein gives his take on where she came from and why she played the part she did in Arthur's life. He concentrates on her early life, the missing years, skilfully weaving together a blend of magic, legend and history to give a very convincing picture of Britain in the Dark Ages. The Roman legions have gone, the barbarians are invading and the whole country is plunged into chaos leaving the way open for the rise of a new and legendary leader. Against this background Morgan is faced with questions about who she is and what she wants from her life.
Alex Epstein is a screenwriter for film and television and the novel is written in short scenes with very straightforward dialogue, which could easily be adapted into a script. The writing is spare, there is little description, but for me the main characters lack depth. For example I would like to feel more for Morgan and have some insight into what she herself is experiencing. However there is plenty of dramatic action and unexpected twists. The ending in particular gives the impression that there will be more to follow and I would certainly want to read on.
The Demon Left Behind by Marie Jakober. Edge $14.95
Reviewed by Rhian Bowley
Imagine that demons exist, not in some hell dimension but here on Earth, alongside us. Not as evil, scaly things, but as non-corporeal spirits with a 'Prime Directive' which stops them from interfering with humans. Usually. This is the set-up for Marie Jakober's latest novel: a demon's first-person account of a time when she got much more involved with us 'Visibles' than usual.
On a reconnaissance mission to gather information about our affairs, a likeable young demon has gone missing, and must be found if our heroine is ever to regain her position in society. None of the standard demon-tracking methods have worked so, in desperation, she takes on physical form and turns to a human for help. As she experiences daily life in a physical body, starting with curry and music, she begins to change the way she thinks about the world.
I wish that Wye-Wye, the missing demon so frequently referred to, had a more elegant name. But if he has fighting skills like his brethren here, fast enough to be unseen and unhampered by physical trifles like time and space, I wouldn't tell him that to his face. The narrator is, perhaps deliberately, hard to warm to, with a tendency to over-explain, and patronisingly refers to 'our fashion' and 'you Visies'. But Jakober writes some beautiful material on the nature of existence, when she discusses physical and spiritual reality with the human who is helping her. By this point her sensory explorations have taken her, naturally, from curry onto rum and into the small hours. Late-night metaphysical chats feature here more often than fighting, and the slow pacing and intellectual preoccupations make this different from much other urban fantasy.
The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain & Korbal Broach by Steven Erikson. Bantam Press '11.99
Reviewed by Jason E. Rolfe
The First Collected Tales of Bauchelain and Korbal Broach explores the murderous lives of necromancers Bauchelain and Broach, and their hapless manservant, Emancipor Reese. 'Blood Follows', 'The Lees of Laughter's End', and 'The Healthy Dead' are dark and deeply twisted tales that take place within Steven Erikson's Malazan Empire. While they are standalone stories, they are rife with the same madness and the magic of the Malazan Books of the Fallen.
Erikson, whose epic brushstrokes so brilliantly fill a much broader canvass, colours these novellas with an artistry equal to the task. The tales are well told and narrow in scope, seamlessly interweaving their twisted plots and plethoric characters into the vast tapestry of Erikson's imagined world. The stories possess the same intricate iniquity readers have come to expect from Erikson. The title characters have a morbid appeal that succeeds in drawing readers in. Much like Emancipor Reese, readers are swept along by the two dark sorcerers, unwilling, or perhaps unable, to break the spells they have cast.
Told with the same darkly humorous style Erikson demonstrates so well in 'Blood Follows', 'The Healthy Dead' reveals something as yet unseen, or perhaps lost, in Erikson's previous work ' social context. Through the morally devoid, clearly murderous and undoubtedly monstrous necromancers, Bauchelain and Korbal Broach, Erikson gives voice to the dangers of fundamentalist belief. Erikson continues this trend in more recent works like 'Crack'd Pot Trail', but it is in 'The Healthy Dead'that he firmly establishes himself as an author of relevance. 'The Healthy Dead'is an important work, undeniably laced with the same macabre madness fans of Erikson have grown accustomed to, yet filled with a social purpose that clearly demonstrates the author's real-world relevance.
The First Collected Tales should be read, both by fans of Steven Erikson and dark fantasy and by those unfamiliar with both.
Those Who Fight Monsters: Tales of Occult Detectives edited by Justin Gustainis. Edge $14.95
Reviewed by Jan Edwards
This is a fun book that showcases a stream of noir-detectives of the supernatural variety. That's not to say that all of the detectives are paranormal (though some are certainly non-humans) but their case load is always in that arena. Demons and vamps and were-wolves and mages, and just about every other kind of law-breaking nasty you can think of.
Essentially, Those Who Fight Monsters is a showcase for the various supernatural gumshoes and homicide detectives published, as novels, by Edge, so I imagine that many of the people drawn to reading it will already be familiar with at least some of the writers and their creations. But the whole point of this kind of collection is that in buying it, because you know one or more writer, you'll find new writers that you hadn't come across before.
It would be hard to pick any stories as favourites, though Julie Kenner's demon-hunting soccer mum in 'The Demon You Know' is huge fun, as is Simon R Green's 'The Spirit of the Thing' (the 'composite' character names raised a few sniggers before the story even started ' read it and you will soon see what I mean).
Those Who Fight Monsters is a solid, if small, selection of urban fantasy detectives as you'll find anywhere. An excellent way to sample-before-you-buy the individual novels.
Tiger's Curse by Colleen Houck. Hodder & Stoughton '6.99
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
I'm not a frequent reader of young adult fiction and usually have much darker fantasy to hand, so I was pleasantly surprised with the ease at which Colleen Houck pulls the reader into this story. Everything about this book draws you in, from the captivating cover to the lure of the mysterious white tiger, and the next part, the sequel, may have to be my guilty pleasure.
Seventeen-year-old Kelsey is an instantly endearing protagonist and tells her story in easy, well-flowing prose; a perfect balance between her youthful voice and mature reflections on the often-intense issues she faces. The author handles the difficult moments of growing up with a great understanding of a young person's concerns and I think every reader would relate to this on some level.
Tiger's Curse has already seen success in its self-published eBook form and the series is sure to be a hit in print as well. The innocence of youth and coming of age is handled with refreshing delicacy, pitched at just the right level and pace to make it a great all-round read.
The House contains a world outside our own, full of terrors and nightmares, from lethal games of snakes and ladders to cannibals in the greenhouse. A wide range of protagonists, including a 1920s debutante, a Victorian adventurer and a Florida school teacher accidentally find themselves trapped in the House. How can they escape? Will they even survive?
The book opens with Miles, an antiques dealer, being threatened with having his legs broken and soon finds him paralysed and being attacked by strange beasts. This gives you a good impression of the kinds of hell Adams will put his characters through. Of course the characters are so well realised that you care about what happens to them, and feel their pain. Adams does an excellent job of imbuing his characters with life. For example, you know Sophie is not an ordinary child, due to her love of rules, facts, order and that she likes 'her toast ' medium, brown, plain, no butter or jam or Marmite or honey or anything, plain... toaster setting four', without having to ascribe a label to her. The characters provide much of the humour in the book, with their actions and reactions to an impossible world. They're also the source of some of the biggest revelations and twists.
The story takes you on a roller-coaster ride of dark adventure, never knowing what the House will throw at the characters next, and how (or if) they're going to beat the odds. This is a complex book, jumping between times, locations and characters, but it keeps you in its grip all the way through, and leaves you wanting more.
John Dies at the End by David Wong. Titan Books '7.99
Reviewed by Jim McLeod
This novel was first published online as a web serial, then later in trade paperback format, which became notorious for the prices it was commanding online. It has now been picked up by Titan Books, and it also is in the process of being adapted into a film.
So how does the book hold up? Truthfully I did not enjoy this book, it starts out well, with a good mix of humour and horror, but suddenly it gets way too smart for itself. I can understand why certain people like this sort of novel, personally the author should have spent more time developing a coherent plot, rather than trying to throw everything and anything into the mix. It's a pity as there is some good writing on offer, pity it gets drowned in a sea of penis jokes and schoolboy humour.