Reviews

The Bride that Time Forgot by Paul Magrs. Book review

01/04/2011

The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs. Headline (2011) '7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

This is the fifth book about Brenda: famous Whitby landlady, and original bride of Frankenstein's monster.

Those already familiar with Brenda and will recognise many of the characters that have come to Whitby for a jolly, slaying, Christmas celebration. There is Brenda's old friend, the vampire slaying Professor Henry Cleavis; we have Brenda's best pal, Effie, who has new live-in lover, none other than the suave and creepy Kristoff Alucard. We have Robert the gay hotel manager who has a new, green-tinged, boyfriend names Gila, who is the indentured man-servant to Marjorie Staynes, who is in turn owner of the new bookshop and founder of a cult dedicated to mysterious Victorian SF writer Beatrice Mapp. And lastly there is Penny, who has joined the cult and is in danger of being sucked into a parallel universe.

I suspect newcomers might be a touch confused as some of the plot lines and sub-characters, such as the evil Mrs Claus, but I am not sure it matters over much. This is pure fun and understanding plots and keeping track of characters is really not all that important. The Bride That Time Forgot wreaks havoc across the entire gamut of fantasy tropes, and a passing game 'spot the Victorian and Edwardian Literature Heroes', whilst reading adds a further dimension, as you try to recall where and when this name and that plot originated.

Those who have read previous books, or heard the radio plays, about Brenda and the rest of the Whitby gang will adore this new romp. Newcomers are in for a treat because The Bride That Time Forgot is a slice of sheer unadulterated silliness that is very hard to resist.

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The Black Book of Modern Myths… by Alasdair Wickham. Book review

01/04/2011

The Black Book Of Modern Myths: True Stories Of The Unexplained by Alasdair Wickham. Century '14.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

Oh dear ' still on the cover and we're already in trouble. 'Modern Myths ' True Stories. If something's a myth, can it be considered true?

Alasdair Wickham is the pseudonym of writer James Buxton: a firm believer in the supernatural and author of horror novels Subterranean, Strange, The Wishing Tree and Pity. But his underlying beliefs make him more than usually credulous ' willing to give any of the reported cases the benefit of the doubt, where another, more sceptical, writer might take a couple of deep breaths and a step back.

The main text is interspersed with short, boxed incidents from all over the world. Not only do these boxes constantly interrupt the flow, names and dates are conspicuously missing, making it all but impossible for them to be followed up; and most read as simple folklore, anyway. I have to question their value beyond padding.

Most of the usual suspects are paraded throughout the chapters: hauntings and haunted Hollywood movies, Mothman, the Almasty (which he seems to consider a spirit form rather than a possible relict), poltergeists, wiccans, satanists, remote viewing' Murder cases are ressurected and considered as ritual sacrifices ' an interesting idea he fatally weakens by giving the date of one murder a ritual significance by switching from the Gregorian calendar to the Julian. If the facts don't fit ' change the facts. He looks at the Cornish Owlman appearances and the interest taken by local man Tony Shiels; failing to mention that this is the notorious 'Doc' Shiels: fortean prankster and magician. Shoddy journalism? Or a tacit acknowledgement that Shiels' twinkly-eyed involvement automatically raises more questions than it answers? He takes at face value Soviet claims of successful remote viewing (and remote killing); cites a typically unnamed man from California as being in a 'loving 'heterosexual' relationship with a succubus' and who has now set up a forum on that bastion of the truth, the Internet'

If your beliefs coincide with Wickham's uncritical worldview, then this might interest you; if you're of a more sceptical, fortean mind, then I doubt you'll find anything new or of interest in this book.

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Dog Blood by David Moody. Book review

01/04/2011

Dog Blood by David Moody. Gollancz (2010) '7.99

Reviewed by Matthew Johns

Reading the back cover, one could be forgiven for thinking that this book sounds very like the film 28 Days Later. ' the concept of the world being torn into two factions by an unknown event or catalyst into the Unchanged (normal people) and the Haters (people suddenly imbued with an overriding urge to kill the Unchanged).

Moody's novels differ from the standard zombie apocalypse fare by making the Haters more than just mindless killing machines. One of the main protagonists in this book, Danny McCoyne, is a Hater. Having had his entire world fall apart, he decides that he wants to go and find the only thing in the world that matters to him: his five-year-old daughter, who is also a Hater.

The other central character is Mark Tillotsen; one of the Unchanged. Tillotsen shares a single hotel room with his wife, his sister and his wife's parents in a city that has become a heavily guarded refugee camp.

Moody has very cleverly taken what has become a standard horror/thriller genre, and made it his own by making the reader empathise with some of the Haters. His prose flows well, and he avoids many of the clich's that abound throughout this genre. The characters are believable, and this reviewer couldn't put it down. If you enjoyed 28 Days Later or I Am Legend, then pick up one of Moody's books.

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Changes by Jim Butcher. Book review

01/04/2011

Changes (Dresden Files series) by Jim Butcher. Orbit, '7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

The Dresden Files have been around for a while now, and the wise-cracking, magical gumshoe Harry Dresden is a well established favourite in the field of Urban Fantasy.

In Changes Harry is shocked by the return of his half vampire ex-girl friend, Susan, who informs him that he/they have a six year old daughter. And that child has been kidnapped by Arianna, his arch enemy amongst the vampires of the Red Court in order to perform an ancient Aztec blood ritual that will assassinate not just the child, but every blood relative that Harry and Susan have; be they human, vampire, or anything in-between.

In my opinion ' it's pretty dammed hard to say much about this book that isn't 'gosh' or 'wow'. I read it in a sitting and loved pretty much every sentence. That isn't to say that I found a few of the plot lines somewhat circuitous; and, if I am honest, Susan can be a real whining pain in the arse at times.

But Changes takes a huge detour from the usual Dresden File ending. The 540 page novel rushes (largely) headlong to a totally surprising, and shocking, d'nouement, with revelations and twists along the way that few but the most ardent Dresden reader could predict. So much recommended it almost hurts.

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The Holmes Affair by Graham Moore. Book review

29/03/2011

The Holmes Affair by Graham Moore. Century '12.99

Reviewed by Mike Chinn

New York 2010: Harold White ' just inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars ' investigates the murder of Doylean scholar Alex Cale at the Algonquin Hotel; a murder that has echoes many famous Holmesian cases and revolves around a lost diary of Arthur Conan Doyle. In the London of 1900, Doyle himself, angry and perplexed by the public reaction to him killing off his loathed consulting detective, and goaded by Scotland Yard's apparent indifference to both a girl's gruesome murder and a letter bomb sent to Doyle, vows to solve the mystery himself.

Moore has a history of scripting for TV and film, and it shows in the short, snappy chapters, flipping back and forth effortlessly over a hundred years. The story never flags as each character, along with their own particular Watson (Bram Stoker in Doyle's case, reporter Sarah Lindsay in Harold's), follows clues, is lead up blind alleys, theatened and tailed. The end of gas-lit London is well evoked: electric lighting slowly replacing it, driving back the foggy shadows in which Holmes' world forever hid. The diary is the book's McGuffin: illusory, forever out of sight, constantly being chased; the very axis of the mystery. Why did Doyle go back to writing about Holmes after several years (beginning with The Hound of the Baskervilles)? And why is the later Holmes so much darker than the pre-Reichenbach Falls version? What happened to Doyle during the intervening years ' and will it be in the diary?

I have a few minor quibbles: some unfortunate Americanisms find their way into Victorian England, especially towards the book's end, as though author or editor were growing careless. Autumn is constantly referred to as Fall; and I'm sure no one, not even the youngest, most radical of suffragists, would refer to someone as 'you dummy.' Many of the minor charaters in 1901 sound like they've just stepped off the set of a Basil Rathbone-Holmes movie (although I grant that might be deliberate ' contemporary Brits sound genuine enough). But these are tiny faults and easily ignored. Highly recommended.

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Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Book review

25/03/2011

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay. Harper/Voyager '18.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

Guy Gavriel Kay is a man who likes to play with history. In Under Heaven he travels east down the Silk Road to the China of the Tang Dynasty. This was a highly civilised and mannered society. To rise in society it was necessary to pass examinations. Even the humblest needed to be able to read and write as well as to know history and to write poetry.

Shen Tai, is prevented from taking his exams by the death of his father. According to custom, the family was expected to withdraw from society for a period of two and a half years. The only exceptions are for those with military rank. Tai decides to spend his period of mourning on the plains of Kuala Nor, the site of fierce battles between the Kitai and the Tagur. He spends two years alone, burying the bones of the dead.

Lives can change on a whim. When the Kitan princess, who was sent to Tagur as a bride, hears of Tai's efforts, she gifts him with two hundred and fifty of the most sought after horses in the whole of Kitai, making Tai immediately the target for assassins. One is already on the way, sent by Wen Zhou, the new first minister but for an entirely different reason. Tai has to negotiate through the minefield of manners and political intrigue. A casual gift has already changed his life; it could change the fate of his nation as well.

This is a book that starts with a strong image and unfolds in a mannered way. It is never short of interest, the life in ancient China being painted with deft strokes and the beauty of fine poetry. The fantasy element is small but to compensate there are strong female characters, including Tai's bodyguard.

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Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Book review

25/03/2011

Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Gollancz '12.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Ordinary people are going mad, committing serious assaults and murders after which their faces implode; all of which revolves around failed, deceased actors, and Mr Punch.

The lead character, Peter Grant, is a probationary London cop waiting for his final allocation to section. He thinks he is very ordinary trainee headed for a boring desk job, and so does everybody else. Until, that is, he finds himself on duty in the wee small hours at the scene of a brutal murder in Covent Garden. After a chance encounter with a ghostly witness, Grant realises he can both see and talk with ghosts, and has a witness to prove it in the shape of Inspector Nightingale, head of the Specialist Crime unit. Grant finds himself seconded to Nightingale's team of two, as the latest and only apprentice wizard in the Met Police, with all of the weirdness and wonder that such a post can bring.

Nightingale and Grant are on the case and, at the same time, Grant's magical education is underway, plus his other SCU duties, such as averting a turf war between the various gods and goddesses of the Thames and its tributaries.

Rivers of London is a crime police procedural with a huge slice of dark fantasy. Here the crime investigation has such a sense of verisimilitude so that you can believe that police procedures as described come from personal experience, without it ever getting bogged down in detail. The fantasy side, the magical training where Grant, though born with a gift, has to work in order to learn what he needs to know, feels as if he really is on a learning curve.  Best of all, this is a fun book, with enough wry humour without it being a slapstick comic fantasy.

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Grave Stones by Priscilla Masters. Book review

25/03/2011

Grave Stones by Priscilla Masters. Alison & Busby '7.99

Reviewed by Jim Steel

Grave Stones is the ninth novel in the Joanna Piercy crime series. Masters' first novel, Mr Bateman's Garden, was a fantasy, but the only fantasy-related element here is one of the characters who fancies herself as a psychic. However, she's given short shrift in this police procedural. Each of the titles can be read as a standalone mystery although Masters is gradually building a life-story for Detective Inspector Piercy and her Staffordshire-based colleagues as the series progresses. Our heroine gets engaged in this volume.

The murder takes place in the countryside somewhere outside of Leek. An unpleasant farmer is found dead on his farm. He's been lying there for a while until someone eventually investigates the smell. For the readers, at the start, the obvious suspect will be his unpleasant daughter, but there is also a new estate of around eight houses build on land that was formerly his. All the residents are also deliciously unpleasant and there is a strong possibility that dodgy business deals are involved.

Masters's unadorned prose builds the plot and hides the resolution until near the end, even if she has to shoehorn one clue into the narrative in a very obvious manner. Piercy's domestic drama is also kept under control and the murder mystery holds centre stage. The conclusion is slightly ragged but Masters can be forgiven that for the enjoyment of the journey.

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For The Win by Cory Doctorow. Book review

25/03/2011

For The Win by Cory Doctorow. Harper/Voyager (2011) '14.99

Reviewed by Pauline Morgan

For most kids of today, having a job where you would be paid to play computer games all day would be some kind of heaven. In this near future world, they can do just that. On-line games are big business and experienced players are needed ' but game-playing is not always fun.

Leonard is a sixteen-year-old American. As Wei-Dong he hangs out in cyberspace with a gang of Chinese players. His father tries to send him to a military school but Leonard runs away and gets a poorly paid job playing games. Mala and her army earn enough to get a better deal in the slums of Mumbai. One of their tasks is to help paying customers get their avatars up to higher levels where the in-game rewards are greater. They and Matthew's gang in China are also gold-farmers. There are players who will pay real money to have virtual items credited to their in-game characters. The gold-farmers get them, their bosses sell them. It is a commodity market. Real fortunes can be made or lost. The players like Mala and Matthew work in sweat-shop conditions. Big Sister Nor, who plays out of Hong Kong, wants better pay and conditions for the workers. She proposes a Trade Union, the IWWWW.

Much of the story is the struggle to unionise the workers and get recognition. This is a realistic, gritty and at times, bloody novel. Just as the original workers' unions had to fight for survival, so do these characters. Although this may look like a young adult book, For The Win contains deeply disturbing passages involving brutality and exploitation. These things are probably going on right now, in the places Doctorow describes. He has changed the parameters but the message is the same: act now.

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The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden. Book review

25/03/2011

The Gathering Dark by Christopher Golden. Simon & Schuster '7.99

Reviewed by Jim Mcleod

The Gathering Dark is the fourth part of Christopher Golden's Vampire Saga. Set ten years after the events of, Of Masques and Martyrs, we find Peter Octavian, having relinquished his vampirism, facing the biggest challenge to date. With the Book of Shadows destroyed, the boundaries between our world and that of the shadows are weakened allowing demons to walk freely on our plane of existence. It's up to the once former Shadow, who alone possesses the knowledge to fight the demons, along with an earth witch, a vampire and a priest, to fight the oncoming apocalypse. 

The Vampire Saga as a whole is one of the best urban fantasy series out there.  Golden has created a world that while familiar to fans of the genre is still fresh and highly entertaining. He gives a new spin on vampires, and their origins. This is a well written, fast paced and enjoyable read. Fans of Buffy might find some parallels to that series here ' not surprising considering Golden cut his teeth writing the tie ins.  While this is a good book that stands alone, I would highly recommend going back and reading the other three in the series, mainly because you will be missing out on a great saga.

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