Reviews

Rip Tide by Stella Rimington — book review

23/08/2011

Rip Tide by Stella Rimington. Bloomsbury '12.99

Reviewed by R A Bardy [@mangozoid]

If you're anything like me, you'll probably wonder why a book about MI5, secret services, British Muslims, and Somalian pirates would have any place in the review section of the BFS. Well, truth be told, there's not a single science fiction or fantasy icon of any description whatsoever in Rip Tide, but once I started reading this I simply didn't want to stop. It gripped me within the first couple of (very short) chapters and just pulled me along through every twist and turn, the pages flashing past in a blur ' certainly the sign of a cracking read in my book, if you'll excuse the pun.

It wasn't until halfway through that I actually bothered to read the short author biog on the dust jacket, and realised it's the Dame Stella Rimington, formerly the first female Director General of MI5. Well if nothing else she knows how to engage the reader, and although I guessed one of the key protagonists relatively early on, I was still happy to be swept along and carried by the fluidity of her prose through to the inevitable conclusion and 'not so big reveal'.

So 'twould seem Somalian pirates, Birmingham mosques, and some well defined and very strong secret service characters do indeed a good book make. An excellent read and a genuinely pleasant surprise to boot. I enjoyed this thoroughly, and the short chapter lengths definitely had their part to play in maintaining that 'just one more chapter' feel... Highly recommended.

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Cowboys & Aliens by Joan D Vinge — book review

23/08/2011

Cowboys & Aliens by Joan D Vinge. Tor '7.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

Now you'd think that a novelisation based on a movie featuring the titular cowboys blazing away at aliens would be a non-stop roller-coaster ride. So what happened?

It begins with our hero waking up in the New Mexican desert, naked but for a strange metal bracelet around his wrist and no idea how he got there, or who he is (a real Man with No Name). After killing and stripping a convenient trio of bad-asses, he finds himself in the town of Absolution.

(Incidently, there's little subtlety to names in this book ' the loner turns out to be called Lonergan, a gold-obsessed rancher is Dolarhyde; I wouldn't mind if they weren't so unlikely sounding. And there's not a Western clich' left untouched; I really hope it's deliberate.)

When the aliens finally arrive and snatch up half the town's population it's all curiously distant. Author Vinge spends so much time in Lonergan's head ' agonising over his self-doubt ' it's like we're viewing the attack through the wrong end of a telescope. In a set-piece an escaped alien carves its way through a pursuing posse. It should be edge of the seat stuff, but I really couldn't bring myself to care.

Too much introspection; not enough action. At the time of writing I haven't seen the movie ' but I hope it has more to recommend it than the novelisation.

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The Necklace of the Gods by Alison Goodman — book review

23/08/2011

The Necklace of the Gods by Alison Goodman. Bantam Press, '12.99

Reviewed by Karen Stevens

Her previous disguise as a boy abandoned, Eona, the first Mirror Dragonseye in five centuries, narrowly escaped from the royal palace with her life when Sethron usurped the throne from his nephew. Eona has joined the resistance that hopes to put the true Emperor Kygo on the throne, and they believe the power of the mirror dragon, the largest and most powerful of the twelve dragons, will give them victory. But Eona is new and untrained ' she does not know how to control the power of her dragon, and every time she attempts to bond with it she is attacked by the angry, grieving spirits of the ten dragons who were murdered. Eona's only chance is to rescue her old enemy Lord Ido, the last surviving Dragonseye; but can he be trusted?

This is the sequel to The Two Pearls of Wisdom, and as I enjoyed that book I was extremely pleased to review this one. Drawing on several southeast Asian cultures, Miss Goodman has woven them effortlessly together to create a refreshingly unique and exotic fantasy world. The characters are equally well realised, solidly drawn and realistic with some very human failings, and the tension-filled plot draws the reader along effortlessly with beautifully written and extremely atmospheric prose.

In some respects this is a coming of age tale -- Eona must learn about trust, treachery and the corrupting influence of power to survive. Although classed as a YA book, it didn't feel like one; I thoroughly enjoyed it, and have put this on my 'books to keep' shelf. If you like your fantasy with an oriental flavour, you'd be well advised to read this duology.

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Rule 34 by Charles Stross — book review

23/08/2011

Rule 34 by Charles Stross. Orbit '12.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

This is the sequel to Halting State. Set in the near future where Scotland has seceded from the UK and entered the Eurozone it is related in multiple second person narratives. Five years down the line, DI Liz Kavanaugh has been put in charge of the department dealing with Rule 34 offences. This basically says that 'if you can think of it, there is a porn of it'. Towards the end of one of her shifts, she is called to attend what at first appears to be an unfortunate accident with an enema machine. Then others start turning up and not just in Edinburgh.

Anwar is on probation after serving time for internet offences. His friend Adam points him in the direction of what appears to be a legitimate job as honorary consul for the newly independent state of Issyk-Kulistan. He will be paid for doing practically nothing except hand out free bags of bread making flour to those who ask for it.

John Christie turns up at the first death scene by accident, having intended to recruit the corpse for his own nefarious Organisation. Already an unstable sociopath, he also finds the next body and is sent to Anwar for papers relating to a new identity. Liz's boss does not believe in coincidence and sets her looking for the links.

This is a future where the cops have easy and immediate access to all kinds of data through postulated advances in technology. Those unfamiliar with netspace terms may have some difficulty interpreting some of the background information.

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Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan — book review

23/08/2011

Stands a Shadow by Col Buchanan, Tor '17.99

Reviewed by Craig Knight

Skyships, military invasions, assassins and even a talking disembodied head ' Stands a Shadow has it all. Col Buchanan's latest book in the Heart of the World series continues the story of Ash and Ch' as they deal with the invasion of Bar-Khos by the Empire of Mann ' and their own personal vendettas.

I approached Stands a Shadow with a little trepidation not having read Farlander, the first book in the series These fears were soon allayed as Buchanan does a great job of subtly introducing the characters for new readers, and the lack of familiarity with previous events doesn't detract from this novel.

Stands a Shadow is told from the viewpoints of a host of characters, with the narrative switching between them as the story unfolds. This keeps the events exciting and allows for some great interweaving of sub-plots. The downside is that it is hard to keep up with who is who, at least initially, and you really do have to pay attention to what is happening. This is a small grumble and soon forgotten once you become familiar with the characters.

The story is masterfully written with a depth of description that brings the events to life. The characters are vividly portrayed, especially the aging ninja-like Ash, and take on a life of their own, making you desperate to keep on reading to see what happens. This is a great book and I'm looking forward to the next one already.

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The Ridge by Michael Koryta — book review

23/08/2011

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

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The Immortals After Dark Series by Kresley Cole — books review

15/08/2011

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.

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The Traitor�s Gate by Sarah Silverwood — book review

15/08/2011

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.

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The Black Lung Captain by Chris Wooding — book review

15/08/2011

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.   

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

15/08/2011

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.

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