Saturday, 31 January 2009
A Dance With Delusion
Wednesday, 28 January 2009
Book review: Ravenheart
I wasn't totally sure what to expect with Ravenheart, the third novel in David Gemmell's Rigante series. The first book, Sword in the Storm, was something of a disappointment, while the second, Midnight Falcon, is a superb novel that ranks alongside Gemmell classics like Legend and Waylander. I was therefore intrigued to see how Ravenheart turned out.
The action kicks off some 800 years after the events of Midnight Falcon. The Rigante are now a conquered people, living under the yoke of their cruel Varlish conquerors, led by the black-hearted Moidart. The story centres on Kaelin Ring, a young Rigante descended from the legendary King Connovar. Along with his mentor, the huge highlander Jaim Grymauch, Kaelin rises up against the Varlish and becomes a figurehead for the Rigante rebellion.
With Sword in the Storm, Gemmell had to introduce a new world and new characters, as well as laying the foundations for the events in Midnight Falcon. The same is largely true of Ravenheart; the world has changed much since the events of the previous novel, and Gemmell is forced to spend some time illustrating this (although all four Rigante books can be read on their own, they technically form two separate duologies that are only tenuously linked). Fortunately, he manages to do this without hindering the pacing of the novel (which I felt was one of the problems with Sword in the Storm).
The world itself is roughly equivalent to early eighteenth century Europe, and as the novel progresses it becomes clear that the English Civil War was a strong influence in the novel's development. This new level of technology means that we have guns and cannons, and this adds a fresh dynamic to the mix. Gemmell was always good at traditional battle scenes, and here he proves equally adept at describing black powder warfare. The strong mystical element of the previous novels remains intact, so the end result is an appealing combination of magic and technology which works extremely well.
Anyone who has more than a passing familiarity with Gemmell's work knows the sort of characters he always created - heroes with a touch of evil in them, villains with a touch of good, courageous men that commit cowardly acts and cowardly men that commit brave acts. Gemmell's most enduring quality is his characterisation, and this is again evident in Ravenheart. Kaelin Ring at first is perhaps a little similar to his ancestors Connovar and Bane, but he eventually develops his own personality and soul. Jaim Grymauch is a vintage Gemmell hero. Physically strong, brave and kind-hearted, he's a lovable rogue that always does what is right rather than what is easy, and the sacrifice he is forced to make lends tremendous emotional weight to the novel's climax.
Yet interestingly for a Gemmell novel, one of the most interesting characters is not one that wields a weapon. The Varlish schoolmaster, Alterith Shaddler, goes on to play a crucial role in the story. The subsequent character development and progression of Shaddler is extremely satisfying to watch unfold, not to mention inspirational (in fact, the sacrifice he makes - and the strength it takes him to do so - is comparable to that of Grymauch). As always, the villain of the piece - the Moidart - is not all he's cracked up to be, and the flaws of his character (of which there are many) are convincingly explained.
The plot of Midnight Falcon was more expansive and unpredictable than many of Gemmell's other work, and Ravenheart continues in this vein. The result is a number of sub-plots that weave skilfully around the main plot and all reach satisfying conclusions. Interestingly, rather than ending with a huge battle (the staple Gemmell ending) the novel's climax is much smaller scale, but packed with action and emotion. Interestingly, it involves a court case - and Gemmell shows he could handle this sort of scene just as well as battle scenes.
Thematically, the usual Gemmell themes abound: loyalty, courage, justice and so on. But this time around Gemmell explores something that he's not really touched on before - discrimination, and the negative affect on society this causes when widespread (and encouraged). Like most of Gemmell's major themes, this aspect is explored deftly without the novel ever becoming preachy, and it adds another layer of depth to the proceedings.
Verdict: Like most of his novels, Ravenheart packs a real emotional punch, is filled with well-drawn, believable characters, and has some excellent combat sequences. But more than this, the exploration of discrimination and the focus on less martial characters show how Gemmell really matured as a writer in the last few years of his life. Ravenheart doesn't scale the lofty heights of his best work, but it's a damned fine read all the same.
Tuesday, 27 January 2009
My 10 most anticipated 2009 fantasy books - part 1!
A Dance With Dragons
George R. R. Martin
(Bantam Spectra, 27 October 2009)
For many fantasy fans this is the most exciting novel slated for release this year. Originally expected to follow hot on the heels of 2005's A Feast For Crows, it's been four long years of waiting (and having to put up with idiots squealing about how Martin is being disrespectful to his fans, how he doesn't care any more, how dare he have a life outside of writing, and other such nonsense).
I was disappointed by A Feast For Crows, but I fully expect GRRM to return to the top of his game with this one. I just hope it doesn't slip back to 2010.
The Republic of Thieves
(Gollancz, 19 November 2009)
I loved The Lies of Locke Lamora. I've read it twice and I'd happily read it again. In fact, it would easily make my top 10 list of all-time favourite fantasy novels, perhaps even my top 5. Yet the follow-up, Red Seas Under Red Skies, didn't really work for me - it felt flat and clunky in comparison (though admittedly it had a very tough act to follow).
So, what to expect from the third instalment in the Gentlemen Bastards sequence? I'm looking forward to finding out, but again am worried that this novel might slip off the radar and into 2010. I don't think Lynch has turned the manuscript in yet, fueling one or two rumours as to the reason why. Only time will tell.
Best Served Cold
(Gollancz, 18 June 2009)
With his First Law trilogy, Abercrombie proved that it is possible to tell an epic story in three volumes (a lesson that some other authors could do with learning...). Plenty of praise was heaped upon this trilogy, and rightly so because it had some great characters, a solid plot and strong dialogue. All in all, it was great entertainment.
The question now, is can Abercrombie's new standalone effort match the quality of his first three novels? Some pretty big characters will probably be absent from this novel, so I'm looking forward to seeing whether the new protagonists are as engaging and entertaining.
(Bantam Press, 1 January 2009)
I tried to wangle a review copy of this one, but got only a resounding silence in response from the publisher, so I obtained it the old-fashioned way. Boo! Still, the nerve-wracking experience of having to queue up in a bookshop has not dulled my enthusiasm for what sounds like a very cool novel indeed. The premise - like most good novels - is simple: Napoleonic wars plus vampires. Early reviews have been very promising, so this one is very high up my reading list.
(Pan Macmillan, 15 May 2009)
Miéville's The Scar was one of my top five reads of 2008, and I'm looking forward to checking out more of his work. I was intending to read Perdido Street Station, however the sheer size of that novel scared me away (the MMPB version is a monster), so I may wait for this new novel (although at 500 pages in hardback, it's also a bit of a behemoth). Still, it sounds very interesting indeed - even though it's not set in Bas Lag - and promises to be an exciting read.
Right, that's it for part 1 - look out for part 2 in the near future!
Monday, 26 January 2009
Minas Tirith cake!
For more LOTR-inspired cakes (and some amusing cake disasters), check out this link.
Sunday, 25 January 2009
Brisingr review and commentary
Saturday, 24 January 2009
Comment: Demons episodes 2 and 3
Friday, 23 January 2009
Artwork and blurb for Nights of Villjamur
Nice. Very nice. Not particularly commercial perhaps (in that it doesn't have a figure on it, which is the trend right now) but wonderfully dark and brooding. It certainly stands out from the crowd.
Can't remember if I've posted the blurb before, but here it is again:
Political intrigue and dark violence converge in a superb new action series of enthralling fantasy. An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra.
When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda. When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.
I've read the first few chapters and I think this could well be the debut novel of 2009. Release date is June I think. I'm expecting a proof copy in the near future though, so will let you all know my thoughts as soon as possible.
You'll probably be seeing a fair bit of Mark around these parts in the upcoming months, as he's kindly agreed to do a guest post, an interview, and have a blind date with one lucky reader (one of those is a joke).
Thursday, 22 January 2009
Change to rating system (again!)
So, I'll think I'll go with a standard 1 to 10 scoring system.
What do you guys think? Any preferences? Ultimately I don't suppose it really matters...
Wednesday, 21 January 2009
Dread Empire artwork...
I think these three covers are fantastic - great colours, great textures, and they just look plain cool. Fantasy book covers the way they should be done.
Scott Lynch isn't dead!
However, yesterday Scott proved that he is alive and well by posting his first journal entry in over a year.
Looks like we might be getting The Republic of Thieves this year after all! ;)
Tuesday, 20 January 2009
A Xenomorph Totally Looks Like A CAT5 Cable Stripper
Monday, 19 January 2009
Bestselling US SFF debut of 2008 - 'Across the Face of the World'
Russell Kirkpatrick's debut novel Across the Face of the World was previously released in the UK to seemingly little online fanfare, and the final overall conclusion was lukewarm at best. Possibly the most striking aspect of the novel was the truly cringe-worthy comment from Trudi Canavan that adorns the front cover - "Not since Tolkien have I been so awed." Talk about putting pressure on a debut novel...
Still, online critical reaction matters very little in commercial terms so maybe we shouldn't be that surprised by the success of Across the Face of the World in the US. I think the main attraction was the plot, which - depending on your perspective - is either horribly derivative or wonderfully traditional:
For 2000 years Kannwar, the immortal Destroyer, Lord of Bhrudwo, has been planning revenge on those who cast him out from the mortal world and his plans are now nearing fruition. When the trader Mahnum escapes the Destroyer's prison and flees, the Lords of Fear are sent in pursuit. He makes his way home to Loulea, but there Mahnum and his wife are captured. His sons, Leith and Hal, together with a small group of villagers, set off in pursuit to free Mahnum and Indrett - and warn their world of the coming war. From a tiny snowbound village, six men and women will begin a dangerous quest to challenge an ancient evil, fulfil a prophecy and change the course of their world's history.
In any case, congrats to Orbit for publishing the bestselling debuts on both sides of the Atlantic.
Sunday, 18 January 2009
What makes a novel gritty and dark?
Saturday, 17 January 2009
David Gemmell 'Legend award' update + comment
Friday, 16 January 2009
Film review: Alien Vs Predator: Requiem
I'm going to just cut straight to the chase here: this is the worst film I've seen in a very long time. The last really bad movie I saw was the crap-tastic Pirates of the Caribbean 3, but that at least had one or two redeeming moments.
I'm a bit of a Predator/Alien geek, so I normally enjoy these sort of films. I actually saw the first AVP film in the cinema, and thought it was decent. Having watched it again on DVD (the UK recession has been good for one thing: dirt-cheap DVDs) I came to the same conclusion - it's not big or clever, but it was decent entertainment.
There was some sort of plot, some attempt at characterisation, and plenty of 'geek' moments (I still love the shots of the ancient tribes worshipping the predators as they stand atop pyramids). All things considered, it was good fun. Nowhere near as good as the Alien films (well, the first two at least) and probably not even as good as either Predator movie, but still a decent addition to the franchise.
AVP: Requiem, by contrast, is just a total mess and the problems are legion. For a start, most of the movie is filmed in the dark. Why? No idea. Perhaps the directors thought it would make it scarier. It doesn't. It makes it pointless, because you can't see what the hell is happening most of the time. Subsequently any decent action (if there actually was any) is wasted.
As for the plot, there isn't one. Aliens and a predator invade a small town, and everyone runs around screaming and panicking. That's about it. Characterisation is equally non-existent: the main leads are wooden and utterly lacking in depth. The script is horribly stiff and packed with crap one-liners. My favourite was the token pretty blonde squealing "We're not going to make it, are we?" in an attempt to generate some emotion. I just wish one of the other 'characters' had replied, "No, you're not going to make it. You see those nice aliens outside? They're going to forcibly remove you from the gene-pool so that the rest of humanity doesn't have to listen to your constant hysterics."
There aren't even any decent 'geek' moments for us geeks to enjoy. The main attraction was the fact that the 'boss' alien had predator characteristics (having burst forth from a predator) but this admittedly cool aspect was sadly lost in the darkness. The disappointing confrontation between the pred-alien and the predator (I think there was a fight, though I could be wrong) was a bit like watching two people have rampant sex in the dark. In fancy dress.
Overall, a shocking film and a total waste of the potential of the franchise.
Thursday, 15 January 2009
'The Way of Shadows' is the UK's bestselling SFF debut of 2008
"In the UK, the bestselling SFF debut of 2008 was The Way of Shadows, by Brent Weeks. The first book in the Night Angel Trilogy, we published it in October, and with the second and third volumes following in subsequent months it quickly became clear that fans everywhere were talking about Brent and THE WAY OF SHADOWS. This year has also got off to a great start for Brent: this week, the three books in the Night Angel Trilogy are the first, second, and third bestselling mass-market paperbacks in the UK SFF market."
I can't help but feel slightly irritated by this. I have nothing at all against Brent Weeks - he seems like a cool guy - but if you've read my review, you'll know I don't rate his debut novel that highly. I guess maybe I just find it a little frustrating that a fantasy novel with such a total lack of innovation or decent world-building manages to outsell other debuts that do make an attempt at innovation (such as Adrian Tchaikovsky's Empire in Black and Gold).
Still, innovation is not everything. Clearly Weeks managed to make a big connection with readers over here. I guess he also deserves credit for not only having the number one debut of last year in the UK (number two in the US), but also for having all three of his novels occupying the top three places on the bestsellers list for SFF novels in the UK as well (releasing all three novels in as many months was a masterstroke by Orbit, if ever there was one).
Wednesday, 14 January 2009
Do you want to appear in A Memory of Light?
"It has become a tradition for me to auction off naming rights to one of the characters in each of my novels.
When I started working on the Wheel of Time novel, it was my assumption that I would forego the tradition for this particular book. I wasn't planning on doing anything.
But then the awesome Pat Rothfuss started up a charity drive this Christmas. This was a particularly bad year for charities, as a lot of people were tightening their belts and cutting their spending. I read several articles talking about how difficult a year it was going to be for a lot of people in underdeveloped areas of the world, where the economy doesn't just mean fewer trips to the movies--it means children starve because there isn't enough food to be had.
At that moment, I realized that we had something very special in the Wheel of Time book - an opportunity that shouldn't be passed up. I asked Harriet if she'd mind me auctioning off a character in A Memory of Light. She was behind that 100%.
You can appear in A Memory of Light in two ways:
1) Bid on the naming rights through the auction.
2) Make a donation and join those fighting in the Last Battle. (With a $20 minimum donation getting you a shot at appearing in the book.)"
Kudos to Sanderson for supporting a good cause (and to Pat Rothfuss for starting it!). If you fancy a chance at 'appearing' in A Memory of Light, then check out the finer details here.
Tuesday, 13 January 2009
Book review: World War Z
Monday, 12 January 2009
Win an ARC of John Marco's Starfinder!
Full details here.
Starfinder is already high on my reading list, and fortunately I don't have to rely on the luck of the draw, as John has kindly offered to send me a copy for review! :)
A guide to 2009's genre book releases
I'm almost tempted to print it off and stick it to my wall...
You can check it out here.
Sunday, 11 January 2009
David Gemmell 'Legend award' update
Saturday, 10 January 2009
Jasper Kent's Twelve already in second print run...
Friday, 9 January 2009
SF Site - register your vote for 'Best read of 2008'
I expect there will be, as usual, an 'Editor's choice' list as well, to accompany the fan list. 2007's 'editor's choice' was Brasyl.
If you fancy joining in the fun, check out the rules and regulations here.
I wonder if human editors are as bad? ;)
Thursday, 8 January 2009
Bitesize book review: The first three Raven novels
(Originally published by Gollancz, 2000)
Blurb: The Raven have fought together for years, six men carving out a living as swords for hire in the war that have torn Balaia apart, loyal only to themselves and their code. But when they agree to escort a Xesteskian mage on a secret mission they are pulled into a world of politics and ancients secrets. For the first time the Raven cannot even trust their own strength and prowess, for the first time their code is in doubt. How is it that they are fighting for one of the most evil colleges of magic known? Searching for the secret location of Dawnthief; a spell that could end the world? Aiming not to destroy it but to cast it.
Dawnthief is basically a fast-paced fantasy adventure with plenty of high-octane action. Barclay strikes a good balance between humour and seriousness, and while the plot is nothing original it hardly matters as the story rips along at a frenetic pace. There is some decent character development, but probably the best element of the novel (and the series as a whole) is the well-developed magic system, which adds a real edge to the battle scenes and depth to the world as a whole. Barclay also manages to throw in some plot twists, which adds to the fun.
The novel does have its drawbacks. The characterisation is lacking in some respects, particularly with the character of Richmond and the relationships between certain characters (can't be more specific in case of spoilers!). The main plot is too pedestrian and would have benefited from some attempt at innovation (rather than the 'quest' formula of 'pick up item X, travel to location Y and defeat enemy Z.'
Still, what you have is a fun, action-packed romp that is worth picking up if you like adventure fantasy with plenty of magic and battles.
(Originally published by Gollancz, 2001)
Can't post the blurb for Noonshade, as it contains spoilers from Dawnthief. It will suffice to say that Noonshade follows the implications of the actions taken by the Raven in the first novel...actions that have dire consequences.
With Noonshade, Barclay moves everything up a notch. The writing is more confident, the plot tighter and more dynamic. There are some exciting sequences, and with the action happening simultaneously in more than one dimension, it gives the novel a bit more of an epic feel that was lacking in Dawnthief. Issues with character development are addressed in this novel, and the relationships are handled better than they were previously. Barclay also manages to avoid the 'middle book' feeling, managing to tie up the storylines nicely.
(Originally published by Gollancz, 2003)
Again, the blurb contains spoilers for the previous books, so I won't post it. Nightchild basically starts a new storyline, where a young girl is revealed to be the conduit of a magical power, which could prove dangerously destructive unless it is controlled...or neutralised. Can the Raven bring themselves to kill a young girl, if her death will save the world from destruction?
The thing that struck me the most about Nightchild was how Barclay's prose seemed more mature this time around. I feel that this novel is a little darker in tone to the previous two, and this is reflected in the characters' relationships and the choices they are forced to make. The premise of the story is interesting and makes for an engaging novel. I didn't like it as much as Noonshade, but that is simply my personal reaction. As a novel, Nightchild stands alongside Noonshade in terms of quality.
Wednesday, 7 January 2009
Jeff Bridges as Tywin Lannister?
Check out the pics below and see if you agree!
Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Book review: Elantris
By Brandon Sanderson
(Tor, 1 May 2005)
When it was announced that Robert Jordan's wife had chosen him to write the final volume of The Wheel of Time, Brandon Sanderson became something of a household name in the fantasy scene almost overnight. That's not to discredit the novels that Sanderson had written before this somewhat surprising piece of news, or the fledgling reputation that he'd built, but Sanderson would be the first to acknowledge the boost to his career that the Jordan gig gave him.
I'd read some of the samples of Sanderson's work on his livejournal, and have to say that - in terms of writing - they didn't do a lot for me. Nonetheless, Elantris - his first novel to be published - had a premise that appealed to me. When I saw a hardback copy in a bookshop at a reduced price (due to slight damage to the cover), I snapped it up.
The premise that intrigued me goes as follows: Elantris was a glowing beacon of civilisation, home to beings that were regarded as semi-divine by ordinary humans. Elantrians were highly skilled in the ways of magic, and were semi-immortal. Anyone could become an Elantrian - but only by chance. The transformation was called the Shaod, and it struck seemingly at random, changing the lucky person's life overnight.
When without warning the magic of Elantris failed, the Shaod turned from blessing to curse - it turned its victims into shadows of their former selves, imprisoning them in bodies that would not heal and were horrible to look upon. These unfortunate souls were cast into Elantris - once a city of beauty and wonder, now a decaying nightmare of insanity and despair.
The novel begins with Raoden, Prince of the kingdom of Arelon, waking one morning to find the Shaod has taken him. His royalty doesn't save him - he's cast into Elantris like other Shaod victims, not long before Sarene - Princess of Teod and his betrothed - arrives in the country for their wedding. As Raoden struggles to survive in Elantris and Sarene tries to pick up the pieces of her shattered life, Hrathen - a high priest of Jaddeth - arrives with the intention of converting Arelon and making it part of Fjordell's growing empire...
With Elantris, Sanderson has managed to conjure up a novel that feels fresh. The premise is clearly based on the legend of Atlantis, but it manages to avoid many of the more tiresome clichés that litter the genre. Sanderson does an impressive job of juggling the various strands of the plot, and manages to deftly explore several political and religious themes. The political intrigue of the subplot adds considerable depth to the novel, and helps to keep things interesting (to the extent where I felt it was actually more interesting than what Raoden was up to in Elantris).
Sanderson displays some solid world-building skills, with the symbolic magic system a particular triumph. The cast list is also impressive; Sanderson manages to imbue each main character (and many of the minor characters) with depth and emotion. Raoden, Sarene and Hrathen are strong, engaging POV characters, though for me Hrathen is head and shoulders above the others. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his feelings and opinions change over the course of the novel, and seeing the problems that this caused to both him and his mission. I feared that Sarene would turn out to be a bit of a 'headstrong young woman' cliché, but she was much more than that.
I liked Sanderson's prose - clean, smooth and accessible. The short chapters as well were welcome, and gave the novel a good feel of pace. For a debut novel, Elantris is remarkably well written - by that I don't just mean the prose itself, but the way the plot is constructed and the fine balance Sanderson has struck between the POVs. Elantris may be Sanderson's first published novel, but it's not the first novel he ever wrote, and it shows: you feel that the skills Sanderson displays in Elantris have been honed over a dozen previous projects.
The best thing about Elantris is the electric climax to the novel. My intention to have an early night was blown out of the water by the excellence of the book's last fifty or so pages. Truths are uncovered, plot twists are revealed, the body count grows...and it all made for a highly enjoyable reading experience.
Flaws are few and far between. My only real complaint is that Raoden is too perfect. I mean, the guy barely makes a single mistake the entire time. He seems to have everything - leadership qualities, intelligence, wit, resourcefulness, and so on. I would have liked his story to have been a bit more of a struggle, like Sarene's and Hrathen's. After the Shaod took him and his life turned inside out, Raoden shows little emotional response and I found that a bit hard to take. The fact that his father (the king) had made no attempt to help him didn't seem to bother him, and he seemed to take to Elantris like a fish to water - it should have been far harder than that. A little vulnerability wouldn't have gone amiss.
I found the explanation of why the Elantrians' magic stopped working to be clever and original, but couldn't believe the Elantrians didn't figure this out, given their high intelligence. Still, a relatively minor quibble.
All things considered, Elantris is a fresh, promising debut novel and I look forward to checking out more of Sanderson's work.
On a different note, I think Sanderson has set a fantastic example for aspiring writers. He proved that if you work hard enough and have the ability, you can achieve great things. For his determination alone, he deserves special credit.
Monday, 5 January 2009
Speculative Horizons' first birthday :)
I think it's been a pretty successful debut year for Speculative Horizons. The main aim was really to just create an entertaining blog that allowed me to transmit my passion and enthusiasm for the genre onto the interwebs. This I feel I've managed to do. I was also keen to write in-depth book reviews that were both honest and articulate, so hopefully this has been the case (I'll leave you guys to be the judges of that!).
While writing the blog has been a lot of fun, and getting free books an experience that never grows old, the best thing has been getting to know so many terrific people. Speculative fiction fans tend to be both passionate and intelligent, so it's been a real pleasure and I hope to get to know more cool people in 2009.
This is going to be a massive year for fantasy and probably for most genre blogs too. I'm not planning any changes to the blog other than the odd minor cosmetic alteration, though this year I am hoping to do more author interviews (always good fun) and also perhaps explore the possibility of having more guest posts from authors and other industry folk. So, if any authors/editors/agents reading this would like to do a guest post, feel free to drop me a line!
Ultimately, it's the readers that make a blog, so I thank all of you for stopping by and sharing your opinions. Whether you read the blog regularly or just pop back every once in a while, thanks so much for bothering to read what I write here. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. :)
In terms of upcoming content in the next week or so, look out for a review of Brandon Sanderson's Elantris and reviews of 30 Days of Night and Ironman.