This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

30 July, 2013


Cover by Larry Rostant


ISBN: 978-1-90884-415-6
Pages: 350
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Published: 1 August 2013 (UK)/6 August 2013 (US/Can./e-book)

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website)

Scott Tyler is not like other teenagers. With a single thought he can alter reality around him. And he can stop anyone else from doing the same.

That’s why he’s so important to ARES, the secret government agency that regulates other kids like him: Shifters.

They’ve sent him on a mission. To track down the enigmatic Frank Anderson. An ex-Shifter who runs a project for unusual kids – as if the ability to change your every decision wasn’t unusual enough. But Anderson and the kids have a dark secret. One that Scott is determined to discover.

As his obsession with discovering the truth takes him further away from anyone he cares about, his grip on reality starts to weaken. Scott realises if he can’t control his choices, they’ll control him.

    Last time we saw Scott Tyler come to grips with his new-found power, this time we go a bit deeper into that power and what it can do. I wouldn't consider this a "true sequel" in the sense that you have to read Shift, the first book, before you read this, but you will be missing out on quite a lot if you don't.
   The setting hasn't changed, although it may have Shifted, Scott still has the same job and works together with Aubrey Jones. Some time has passed since we last saw them, so there has been things happening both on a personal and professional level for our protagonists.

   It doesn't take long to realise that the stakes are higher in Control than they were in Shift. This novel is definitely "bigger" in that sense. What I liked about how the stakes are getting higher is how Curran has made this natural. Sometimes you can spot the same sort of sequel trick Hollywood uses, just turn the dial up a notch - make the explosions bigger, I never felt that this was the case here. When things "go bigger" here they do it because that is just how things happen to turn out, it's just natural.
   There's a very good connection to what happened last time here. ARES is the hub of events, and that means we'll see the characters connected to that organization again. We also get a return of others. I'll refrain from going near any details on who, I will say it's done very nicely and that it doesn't fell like it's cheating.

   The pacing of the novel is very good, it moves along quickly but doesn't feel rushed at all. Curran is very good at combining development that gives depth with events that gives movement in the story. And it really does move.
   As a reader you just have time to settle in when things really start happening. Once it does it doesn't really let up. Pages turn fast as you get into what is going on, and Curran's excellent storytelling ability means you really get invested in finding out what happens next. Something that creates quite a lot of suspense.

    Perhaps the greatest strength of the book is that even when you have a mystery that would not exist without the supernatural ability that Shifting is, it doesn't feel like it is constructed to highlight that ability. Curran makes the mystery and the Shifting work together to create high levels of suspense. That a Shift can turn the world "upside down" means that it is hard to see where things are going beforehand. And that creates an extra layer of tension that makes it very tempting to just keep reading, because you are going to want to find out what is going on. Curran creates a really exciting ride that keeps you gripped in for the whole novel.

   I've really become invested in this world. I do care about what happens to Scott Tyler and Aubrey Jones. They are interesting people to follow.They are also surrounded by other characters that hold their own. I find that the whole of Curran's cast heightens the whole of the novel. There really isn't anyone here that suffer from being too stereotyped. And, thankfully, the teenagers in the cast manages to come off as realistic while remaining unannoying.

   All in all this is a really good Science Fiction novel. It keeps the Action Thriller vibe of Shift while adding to the Alternate History aspect created by the Shifts. It's perhaps bordering a bit on Parallel Universe Science Fiction, but that is a feature, not a bug. Straddling so many aspects of Science Fiction should certainly give it wide appeal.
   And this deserves a wide appeal. It's a really entertaining novel that has a lot of depth under the surface. The story is fast-paced and entertaining with satisfyingly high levels of suspense.
   Combined with great writing by Curran that makes for a novel I have no hesitation in recommending. And the Young Adult label should be no means frighten anyone away.

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley.


LINKS: Kim Curran  Strange Chemistry

29 July, 2013


Cover design and illustration by
Fjeldheim & Partners/Bjørn Kulseth


ISBN: 978-82-03-35294-2
Pages: 526
Publisher: Aschehoug
Published: 6 June 2013

Note: English translation, with directly translated title: Police, will be published in September.

On the cover:
(My translation.)

In the hospital a critically injured man lies in a coma. The room is guarded by the police, and no one is told what the name of the mysterious patient is. Meanwhile, policemen are being found killed at the scene of old, unsolved, murders. The police stand without any evidence and on top of that are missing their best investigator. In the hospital the patient is showing signs of regaining consciousness.

   The tag line under Nesbø's name translates as "Harry Hole is back". I guess it would have been impossible to keep that under wraps, but in a way it's a major spoiler for the novel. But Nesbø seems to be very well aware of what was going to happen when he wrote this novel, and he uses that this is a comeback for Hole, after the events of Ghost (Gjenferd), to great effect. And here's a natural place for this warning, that this review had to contain: 
Do not read this book without reading Ghost (Gjenferd) first.
   You see, this is really a sequel to Ghost (Gjenferd). If you haven't read that, now is the time to do so while you wait for this to be released. (Assuming you are waiting for the English translation.)

   It says a lot about this book that just acknowledging it is a Harry Hole book is a spoiler, and it's not easy writing a spoiler free review of it. But I did make a decision that I would have spoiler free reviews here, so that is what I am going to do. Even if having spoilers means I could write this in a third of the time, and that I sometimes have to be vaguer than I would have liked to.

   One of Nesbø's strengths lies in his ability to misdirect the reader. That is something he really excels at here. And it's not just the little things either, there are huge plotpoints in this book that will lure the reader to think they are going down a road they are in reality not even near. 
   Nesbø does this so incredibly well here, it's really a masterclass in almost telling someone something - just letting them add that little bit of detail themselves - and making them believe things are different to what they are. There isn't any lying to the reader, no sudden "pop-up" of solutions that the reader had not seen before, it's all in there. But sometimes not in the way you thought.

    Being a Crime/Murder Mystery novel, it's pretty important (, at least to me,) that there is some level of suspense. As you probably have already gathered, there's plenty of that in Nesbø's misdirecting. But there is also a lot of it in the more straightforward events happening in this story.
   Nesbø is very good at building up tension, and he really drags you into the middle of things and lets you experience them with the characters of the novel. Sometimes you almost wish he didn't get you so close to what is happening, there are things described here that can make for unpleasant reading for those who are in any way squeamish. Not that it veers into Horror territory, but Nesbø doesn't shy away from the fact that murder is not something pleasant.

   The Mystery elements are of course essential to a good Crime novel. And since this is a Murder Mystery where the main characters are police officers, that is supplied by investigating the murders that have happened. The mystery, or mysteries, surrounding who is, or are, the killers here is very well handled. I feel I repeat myself with the misdirection mention, but I think you'll understand why if you ever read this novel.
   The situation surrounding the investigation(s) are also constructed to bring some tension to the story. Once you do have a real grip on who is doing what, that doesn't mean the tension has left the story. Nesbø continues to serve up uncertainties and thrills until the end.
   Nesbø has combined high levels of tension and suspense with a narrative that moves forward pretty quickly. There are usually several elements in play at once here, especially in the beginning, and if one of them is at somewhat of a standstill there's movement in another one. This makes for a novel that is a fast paced read that is hard to put down.

   I've already mentioned that the main characters are police officers. Not all of them are, but most of them. And those that aren't are connected to the police in very natural ways. 
   Harry Hole is of course in the novel his name is on the cover, and false advertising is against the law in Norway. But I am actually not going to say anything about what he does, and what happens to him, in this novel at all. That specific character arc will be much more satisfying if you discover it wholly on your own, in my opinion.

   Hole is not the only character in the book of course. There are several other important players in this story. What may be most satisfying to many is that two of them are female police officers, and that they both play a vital role in what happens.
   There's other characters as well here. Many of them will be familiar to those who have read previous Harry Hole novels, but they are supplemented by some new arrivals. The character gallery here is really good, - another highlight of the novel. Nesbø handles the diverse cast really well, and he gives each of them a distinct personality of their own. And much more importantly they all seem to be well rounded and realistic, even though since this is fiction they may exist on the outliers of people you'd normally expect to meet.

   This novel is set in Oslo, a city I have spent quite a lot of time in, seeing as I never have lived more than a two hour train-ride away, and my grandparents used to live there. My brother still  lives not far outside the city. Nesbø gets the feel of Oslo across very nicely. What you get in this story is how the city, and to an extent Norway, is. He also makes use of the fact that Norway has very few murders in the narrative.
   Harry Hole is a different kind of hero than the American or English investigator. He lives in a society that in many ways are different from US or English society, and Nesbø's writing reflects that. As a Norwegian myself I can say with great confidence that even though he has had international success he hasn't changed how he writes. This is still Norwegian Crime, with all the little details that separates that from Crime written anywhere else.

   I feel I have been rambling on more than enough now. This hasn't been easy to keep spoiler free, and it has been made even more difficult by there really not being much left to do after that than to try to avoid just gushing about how great Nesbø does things in this novel.
   Nesbø just seems to get better and better as a crime writer. This is the tenth Harry Hole novel, and in some ways they all lead up to this. This is a bit more polished, a bit tighter, a bit better plotted, has a bit better misdirection, or in short just is a bit better than the last Harry Hole novel from Nesbø.
   This is modern Crime at its best, everything here is so close to perfection that I have a hard time seeing how it could be improved. For Nesbø fans who are up to date this will come as a welcome continuation of a great Crime series
   If you haven't read anything by Nesbø before, as mentioned above, this is not the place to start. But  this really is so well written that you should do yourself a favor and catch up to it. It is really that good.


27 July, 2013


   First off this time is another cover for a Strange Chemistry book, it's an imprint that lives up to the Angry Robot Books tradition of having very good and interesting covers. This one is by Steven Mayer-Rossow, and the book will be out 1 October. It's absolutely a nice cover that goes very well with the cover copy. I like it, especially the fox symbol at the top.

   This one is actually already out, at least in e-book. The print edition will follow in late August. It's from Night Shade Books. All I need to say is that this is a brilliant cover for a Horror anthology, and that it's by Allen Williams.

   This is the Tor UK cover for this book. I've done the US one previously. This one has art by Angelo Rinaldi, and will be released 21 November. And according to the author, this is a better likeness of the main character than the US cover. It's also in line with the previous UK covers. I really like it, a great cover. And that sort of pains me, because I have the US edition of the first four books and I can't really justify using what little money I have to get four new UK editions of the previous books. (And seeing as I am a completist I'd have to do that if I got this one...)

   Del Rey cover for the UK edition of Hines's sequel to Libriomancer. It's by Larry Rostant, who seems to always be able to make great covers. I think it's a very good cover, and it actually makes me want to get the first book before this is released 7 November.

I'll end this post with three Mammoth Book of... anthologies from Robinson (,meaning this is UK editions of the anthologies. US names may differ). (Sadly I don't have any artist information on these.)

   This long running series gets a very traditional cover. I'm not sure I like the double-vision effect, it's a bit confusing. If it hadn't been for the text and the woman in the foreground I'd have thought it was an error. It will be out 19 September.

   Another long running series, and another rather traditional cover. I like this cover, it looks very suitable for a Horror anthology and I would certainly take a second look at it if I saw it in a bookstore. This one will be out 17 October.

   This one looks really interesting. More because of the title than the art perhaps, but it really is eyecatching. We'll have to wait until 21 November for this.

   As always you are more than welcome to put any thoughts you have on the covers, and even the books inside them, in the comment field below.

26 July, 2013


Cover photo by Ilona Wellmann/Arcangel Images


ISBN: 978-1-444-72355-7
Pages: 340
Publisher: Hodder
First published: November 1984
This edition published: 20 December 2012

On the cover:

'Thinner' - the old gypsy man barely whispers the word. Billy feels the touch of a withered hand on his cheek.

Billy Halleck, prosperous if overweight citizen, happily married, shuddered then turned angrily away. The old woman's death had been none of his fault. The courts had cleared him. She'd just stumbled in front of his car. Now he simply wanted to forget the whole messy business.

Later, when the scales told him he was losing weight, it was what the doctor ordered. His wife was pleased - as she should have been. But . . .

'Thinner' - the word, the old man's curse, has lodged in Billy's mind like a fattening worm, eating at his flesh, at his reason. And with his despair, comes violence.

   When reading any of King's Bachman books I'm struck by two things. The first is how easy it is to see that King wrote this, and how strange it is that it wasn't discovered at once. Of course that is pretty much hindsight, and it does take a coincidence (or a tweet) for someone who is in a position to recognize a big name author's style to even be reading a no-name author's books.
   The second thing, and very much in connection to the first, is how many people have tried to copy King over the years. It's really not strange that anyone failed to notice Richard Bachman in the myriad of novels that have been published in the hopes of copying King's success.
    Of course there's a third thing... There was no internet when Bachman was publishing. No social media making it tempting for those that knew something to spill the beans.

   No internet would also have made it harder to discover an obvious huge flaw in this novel, "Gypsy" language. The language used in the book is actually Swedish. Not only that, it is atrociously bad Swedish. As someone who can remember when the number of TV channels available was tripled by the addition of two Swedish channels, I'm very familiar with Swedish.
   It goes without saying that seeing a familiar language being mangled on the page of a book is going to bring you out of it to some extent, but that is actually something I could live with. What I actually find worse is that the "Gypsies" do have their own language, Romani,  and it is substituted for a different one here.
   I completely understand that back in 1984, or perhaps a bit earlier, when this was written, King did not have access to the information he needed to use Romani in his book. And you know what, I have absolutely no problem with that. But being bi-lingual I do not like the idea of substitute languages. It's kind of offensive, it is in a way telling people that what their language is is not important. The only thing that matters is that it is "foreign".
   And it really is not hard to make it clear in the text that what is spoken is not English, even if you write it in English. Not that I think King should go back and change his book. As I started with, this was written in different times, and it should remain as it is as an artifact of that time.

   Thinner is a strange book, or not really considering it is King. It's pretty normal for King to write things that can be hard to classify neatly into a definitive genre category. Not that you'd notice that from all the people who state that King is a Horror writer.
   This is certainly leaning much more towards the Thriller side of the fence. While there certainly is a very central supernatural element making this Horror, that element almost exist as a separate state besides what else is going on in the story. And the other element of the story is absolutely a good one.

   As already mentioned this story has two different strands. The supernatural element is the one that we first get to hear about. Presenting it so quickly, without any build up at all, means that you very quickly get dragged into the story. It's very well done too, King hooks you right away and then he lets you simmer for a bit. And that is really my polite way of saying that after a very interesting opening the novel slows down quite a bit.
   This slow period is used for a bit of character development, especially of the main character William Halleck. Usually this is where King excels, in that he creates characters that you really care about, and that you really want to spend time with. There's nothing wrong with the "getting to know you" portion of this build-up period in this novel, it's just that the main character at first is not a very sympathetic person.
   You shouldn't actually take that as a complaint, it is an important part of Halleck's development. And in many ways it does strengthens the novel that the MC has more than one note to him.

   When the novel starts going again after the brief quiet period, it really gets going. This is where the Thriller part comes in to full effect. The structure gets very familiar to Thriller readers, as the story goes into a search mode. Familiar as this structure is, it is kept very interesting. There is some real tension to the narrative at this point. And this is ratched up quite a bit when a previously introduced character steps up to join a strong supporting role.
   There's a final confrontation that is really tense, and at times seems to be on the verge of dragging the novel into Action Thriller territory. It does get a nice resolution, although perhaps not a conventional one.
   The ultimate ending left me really ambivalent. Although there's a while since I read the novel I am still not wholly sure how I feel about it. It's certainly one I can see divide opinion.

   With relatively few characters, and a somewhat limited time frame, this almost has the feel of a shorter work. It feels pretty intimate, perhaps so than most of King's work.
   It's a good story that is executed very well, and it is certainly worth reading. Being pretty light on Horror this is a good place to start for those that have been scared off reading King by the impression of him belonging solely to that genre.
   For King fans this will of course be a must read, it is a good example of how King can write quality when he focuses on other plot points than the horror ones.

24 July, 2013


Cover art by Tom Hallman


ISBN: 978-0-425-26250-4
Pages: 399
Publisher: Berkley (Penguin)
First published: 14 November 2011
This edition published: 6 November 2012

On the cover:
(Actually on the inside of the book.)

A Japanese cargo ship bursts into flames near the Azores, and a gang of pirates speeds to take advantage of the disaster—but their boat explodes. What on earth is happening? Is it connected to the kidnapping of a top scientist from the streets of Geneva? Or the discovery of an extraordinary underwater graveyard of ships and planes littered across the seafloor?

As Austin and the rest of the NUMA® team rush to investigate, they find themselves drawn into the extraordinary ambitions of an African dictator, the creation of a weapon of almost mythical power, and an unimaginable audacious plan to extort the world’s major nations.

The penalty for refusal? The destruction of the world’s greatest cities. Starting with Washington, D.C....

   Just to get this out of my system: 
   Dear Mr. Cussler, Heinrich Nordengrun is not a Norwegian name. If you are planning on using any Norwegian names, or words, in the future I will be happy to help you get it correct. My e-mail address is in the right hand corner of this page underneath my picture.

   As usual for any Cussler (,with or without co-author,) novel this one has a prologue that gives us an artifact. This time the artifact is rather recent, and it doesn't come into play that much.

   As in any Adventure novel, there is a certain level of "turning off critical thought" here, but there's not unforgivable levels of it. There's the usual narrative coincidences that most fiction rely on, but Adventure to a greater degree, and there's some technology here that is a bit ahead of what we can expect science to provide us with at the present date.
   But once you have accepted these "Adventure conventions", this is pretty good at keeping things at a plausible level. There's perhaps a coincidence too many even for this kind of novel, but that is quickly forgotten.

   There is a lot of action, which goes without saying for anyone who has read a novel that Cussler has had a hand in. The action is well written, and frequently works in conjunction with an element of danger to create much of the suspense in the novel. In fact, putting characters in peril is used to great effect here. The authors are great at getting that feeling of "this could be it" across, even though the events in themselves are bordering on the impossible.
   Often the story itself is driven by these "impossible dangers", I think that works here, but it is certainly something that I can understand if someone feels that makes this novel uninteresting to them.

   The story here is really a good one. It starts off with action, and it continues to contain enough action to satisfy throughout its length.
   It can be debated whether or not the premise is really likely at all, but I was fine with it. Nothing overly original, or sophisticated, but very well executed and absolutely interesting. NUMA being a "secret" government agency does of course colour the novel to quite some extent. There's a grand scale here that does differentiate this from the average Adventure novel. I found it worked well here, and the story certainly would not have worked if NUMA had just been a band of adventurers.

   The authors have also found the room for some character interactions that are really interesting here. Two of the characters are married, in itself rather unusual for Adventure, and they are given quite a bit of room. They even have their own point of view chapters. I thought their relationship was well presented in the story, and it was actually quite refreshing to see a female character that goes beyond the love interest/superspy stereotype.
   The real main character though is Kurt Austin, a character fans of previous Cussler novels will recognize. He hasn't really changed much from when we last saw him, whether that is good or bad is up to individual tastes. I must say that personally I find him a good Action Adventure hero. And he's one I don't mind following through a novel.

   All in all this is one of the better Cussler (and co-author) novels of recent years. It's clear that Brown is very capable of holding up Cussler's standard. The story is good without too much that requires the reader to "turn off the brain", and it is an enjoyable action-filled Adventure story. If you go in knowing what to expect, this should be to your liking. A recommended read for those that want some entertaining reading with an action movie flavour to it.

REVIEW: The Jungle

22 July, 2013


Cover art: Cliff Nielsen
Cover design: Lauren Panepinto


ISBN: 978-0-316-04393-9
Pages: 575 +extras (includes short story)
Publisher: Orbit
First published: 6 October 2011
This edition published: 27 October 2011

On the cover:

For two thousand years the Arameri family has ruled the world by enslaving the very gods that created mortalkind. Now the gods are free, and the Arameri's ruthless grip is slipping. But they are all that stands between peace and world-spanning, unending war.

Shahar, last scion of the family, must choose her loyalties. She yearns to trust Sieh, the godling she loves. Yet her duty as Arameri heir is to uphold the family's interests, even if that means using and destroying everyone she cares for.

   The concluding volume in The Inheritance Trilogy, just as book two, doesn't follow straight on from the previous book, but it does advance the story of the gods in the world Jemisin has created. This time we are following Sieh, a god we first met in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

   Sieh really shines as a main character. His story here is really one of personal growth in many ways. Despite starting out the novel as a god, the strength of Sieh here is how human he is a character. What we see Sieh go through is a journey of discovery that will be very familiar.
   Sieh is of course not the only character, there are plenty of others. And although most of them are actually gods, they are relatable. Jemisin is good at getting you to care for the characters she has created, and that makes it easy to get drawn into what is happening to them.

   There's several layers to this story. Like I mentioned above there is a clear element of growth, and change here, but there is a significant element of mystery here too. Jemisin does create a lot of suspense in the mystery part of the story, she really writes in a way that creates a lot of suspense. There is much that is hidden as the story progresses, but it never feels like it should have been told. That which isn't disclosed does have a reason for being secret behind it.

   The pacing of the story is really an interesting one. The speed at which things progress can best be described as measured, but with some sudden spikes of speed. This works very well in this story, you do get a sense of it going along at its natural pace all the time. When things do speed up from time to time it is because events demand it, and that is especially true of the ending.
   If you want endings that take your breath away, then this really will be perfect for you. There is a lot happening, and it's hard to have any idea of how things are going to end up. Some of what happened took me completely by surprise, but I never felt Jemisin "cheated" to do that. This just isn't your average ending to a Fantasy trilogy, and it is all the better for it.

   All in all I found this a really satisfying conclusion to the Inheritance Trilogy. What begun in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms comes to a conclusion here. Even though we have followed different characters, on a path that has never been completely straight, this trilogy does really come together.
   This really is a great ending to a debut trilogy, and one that shows anyone who has had any doubts that Jemisin is an author to be reckoned with. It's a powerful ending to a great story, and I highly recommend these books to any Fantasy fan.

REVIEWS: The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms  The Broken Kingdoms

LINKS: N.K. Jemisin  Orbit

19 July, 2013


   Only a week since last time I did one of these posts, so most of these will be pretty new, or at least new-ish, reveals. I'll just get on with it:

   First up we have a Science Fiction cover by Will Staehle, who also did the covers for Adam Christopher's books from Angry Robot Books. This book will be out in March 2014 from Tor Books, and you can read more about the design of it on  I think it's a good cover, although I have to admit I am not a fan of that shade of green

   This the cover for the third Shadow Ops book, it's by Michael Komarck. The book will be out in January 2014 from Ace. I must admit that I haven't had time to get to Cole's books yet, they are however on my radar. This cover makes me more interested in reading the books, it's a really nice one.

   A good cover by Stephen Youll for this second book in another Dune trilogy. Kevin J. Anderson has some words about how it came into being on his blog. I have all six original Dune books, but have not even re-read the original novel (the only one I have read) after buying them. Based on this cover alone, I feel like I should get going on those so I can catch up.

    This Zach McCain cover is for a novella coming in March 2014 from Dark Fuse. This cover, combined with the cover copy, makes this something I really want to read. (That was a not-so-subtle hint that I'd appreciate it if you could get me an ARC, Colin.) The cover does have a certain At the Mountains of Madness feel to it, and in my book that is a very good thing.

   This is the cover for a collection of short stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky, coming from Newcon Press in (about) the middle of August, with art by Jim Burns. I think it's a good cover, it certainly has me curious about the stories in it. (You can see a list of stories here.)

    The last cover today is for the third book in the The Walking Dead novel trilogy, coming in October from Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. I've watched the TV series, and quite enjoy it - despite it being a bit uneven in story quality. I think this cover represents the franchise very well from what I know of it from watching the TV show.

18 July, 2013


Spaceship image by Bruce Coleman
Cover design by Blacksheep


ISBN: 978-1-85723-457-2
Pages: 451
Publisher: Orbit
First published: 13 June 1996
This edition published: 15 May 1997

On the cover:

Two and a half milennia ago, the artefact appeared in a remote corner of space, beside a trillion-year-old dying sun from a different universe. It was a perfect black-body sphere, and it did nothing. Then it disappeared.

Now it is back.

   It's really strange sitting down to write this review. When I read this book, only two months ago, the author was still with us. Granted, the news had broken that Banks had cancer and was not expected to live long, but there was talk of some faint hope. That hope is gone now, along with undoubtedly one of the best Space Opera writers that has ever lived.
   But as I read the review notes I took while I read this book, in preparation to write this words, the one thing that became clear to me is that Banks will never be completely gone. The stories he wrote will always be with us. People who are yet to be born will one day discover, and fall in love with, the Culture, and everyone and everything Banks created to bring it to life.
   Iain M. Banks is not alive anymore, but he's not gone. A part of him will always be with us in the stories he has given us.

   Excession is the fifth Culture book. And although they are not a series in the traditional SFF sense, I have noticed that there is the feeling of a progression in the series as I read it. Banks is taking us deeper into the Culture as the series progresses, and he does it through focusing on different aspects of the Culture.

   Characters have always been rather important in Banks' novels, and here some of the most important ones are the Minds, the artificial intelligences who inhabit ships, space stations, and planetoids in the Culture universe. They really come to life in this novel. The Minds have been present in previous Culture books too, but here they become much more important, in many ways they take over. 
   There are also quite a few human (and alien) characters in the novel, and Banks manages to integrate their stories very nicely with that of the Minds. The interaction, and relationship between the artificial Minds and the living creatures is done extremely well.
   The characters are very interesting, in some ways they are too interesting. There's not that many of them, but enough that it feels a bit like the reader is shortchanged with not getting to follow more of their story. Of course that is a testament to how well developed they are rather than that they feel shallow.

   There are several strands to the story at the beginning of the novel. Banks manages to create some extra suspense, for me at least, by not giving away which of the story lines that is "most important" one. It's a type of narrative structure that can be annoying to a reader, but that works very well here.
   Banks opens the book in such a way that you are very quickly hooked in to the story. As more players are introduced they become one more hook for the reader to get snagged by. And once you start to get into this story you are pretty much lost in it. But there is also quite a bit of fragmentation to the story because of its structure, and that it isn't always told linearly makes it more complex to follow than the average Space Opera adventure.

   It's the complex structure of the story that really makes it interesting in my opinion. Banks way of writing what happens in bursts rather than a straight line adds both suspense, and another layer to what is going on. Sometimes it can be a bit jolting when the narrative makes a sudden jump in time, but these jumps are not random, they always come when they can give something more to the narrative than just a distraction.
   The weaving together of the different story lines and layers is Banks' greatest accomplishment here. Although at times fractured, it becomes clear that this is very much a whole with many strands to it. It's how everything meshes together in a way that feels natural in the end that makes this such a great story.

   I've mentioned great characters and a great story. And this comes together to create something that feels like it is much more than what was really put in in the first place. To use a cliche, this is greater than the sum of its part.
   This does however lead to what I feel is the only real flaw in the novel, the ending. The build up is so good, and the story so captivating that when it ends it feels disappointing. It just feels that there should be more to it, that it should have more impact than it actually does. It's not really a huge problem, but be aware of that this really is a case of the journey being more important than the destination.

   I really like Banks' Culture stories, and despite the flaw I mentioned above this is no exception. This is Space Opera with real depth to it. More character based and philosophical than action-filled, but that is certainly a strength not a weakness.
   This is of course essential to fans of Banks' Culture books, and likewise for those who wants a cerebral background to their Space Opera. It also has a somewhat "literary" leaning to it, so it would be a nice starting point to Science Fiction for someone who comes from that reading background.

REVIEWS: You can find my reviews of the previous Culture books here.

17 July, 2013


   For some reason the talk about boycotting the movie adaption of Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game has gone sort of viral in the last week or so. Well, that should be it has come up again because of the statement Card made about wanting people to be tolerant towards him. In SFF circles it's been months since I first saw talk about boycotting the movie. But as usual the press is not following what goes on in SFF (, or any other subculture for that matter), so it's taken a while for them to catch on.

   I'm perfectly clear where I stand, I will not let any of my money go to Card, so I am essentially boycotting anything he does. (Although I make an exception for anthologies, if someone needs to know why, ask in the comments.) Card has been very vocal in his hatred of homosexuals, his support of taking away their rights, and even imprisoning them.
   It's no secret that Card has been giving financial support to organisations who oppose basic human rights for homosexuals. And that means there is every reason to believe that any money you show Card's way, will be used to directly oppose the rights of homosexuals. Anyone who has read about the boycott should be aware of that. 
   So then it becomes a choice of what is more important to the individual. Is it the same rights for homosexuals as anyone else, or is it seeing (,or reading as may be the case, ) Science Fiction? Personally I think that is the easiest choice in the world. But if you want to be the kind of asshole that puts their personal satisfaction before universal rights, that's your choice. -I will however think you are an absolute fucktard if that is your choice. And I will not take anything you say about any anti-discrimination, or other social issue, seriously. Because you have shown yourself to be a bigot who only supports issues that don't effect you personally.

   Having looked at the coverage of the proposed boycott, one argument against it is that you must "separate the art and the artist"? 
   In this case that isn't an issue at all. Card wrote this anti-homosexual novella, so he uses his art to promote his anti-homosexual stance.
   Another objection to boycott that comes up is the "slippery slope" argument. Some people have gone on record saying they are "uncomfortable" with boycotting Card because of what that could lead to. 
   I find that silly, we are talking about someone who actively promotes taking away, or not giving, someone rights here. None of the examples of people who have suffered political boycotts of their art that I have seen are in a remotely similar position.
   And then we have the argument about all the artists through history that have been racist, misogynist, fascist, etc, and how we would lose out on a lot of art if we started boycotting people with despicable views.
   That is a really easy one to counter. The people mentioned are DEAD, they are not actively promoting their views. They are not getting any money they can donate to their causes, because they are DEAD. In addition to that many of those mentioned held views that were not seen as despicable in their time. (Projecting modern sensibilities onto the past is at best ignorant and at worst historical revisionism.)

   But really all of that is a pointless exercise in debating. When it comes down to it every one makes choices of who we support with or money every day. Some people buy only fair trade products (when those are available), some only organic vegetables, some only buy books from local independent stores, and there's a lot of other choices that I'm sure you can come up with.
   When it comes to Card in particular, you have a choice. The choice isn't read Card, or don't read Science Fiction. There are plenty of Science Fiction (, or indeed Fantasy - something Card has also written,) books out there not written by Card for you to pick up.
   Likewise, there is a lot of Science Fiction to view that is not based on something Card has written. It may not be in the cinema at the same time as Ender's Game, but I'm sure there's some Science Fiction on DVD/Blueray that you haven't seen that you could buy for the money you don't spend on watching Ender's Game.

   Using your money to see Ender's Game is a conscious choice, and if you are reading this you know what you most likely are supporting if you do. I'd like you to think about if you really want to give Card the money he can use to support his causes before you see this movie.

16 July, 2013


Cover art by Larry Rostant


ISBN: 978-0-85766-214-9
Pages: 518
Publisher: Angry Robot Books
Published: 27 March 2012

On the cover:

When Tudor explorers returned from the New World, they brought back a name out of half-forgotten Viking legend: skraylings. Red-sailed ships followed in the explorers’ wake, bringing Native American goods – and a skrayling ambassador – to London. But what do these seemingly magical beings really want in Elizabeth I’s capital?

Mal Catlyn, a down-at-heel swordsman, is seconded to the ambassador’s bodyguard, but assassination attempts are the least of his problems. What he learns about the skraylings and their unholy powers could cost England her new ally – and Mal his soul.

   For Historical Fantasy or Alternate History, two of the genres this book belongs to, the pace of this book fells pretty slow. But when you look at this as Historical Fiction, something the story also is, the sedate pace becomes much more understandable. Expectations can influence how you look at the tempo a story is told, and I went into this expecting more of a Historical Fantasy/Alternate History structure, basically something a bit faster paced. It took some time before I got used to this having a structure more common in Historical Fiction, but once I realised and accepted that, I stopped waiting for the pace to pick up and instead got much more enjoyment out of what this really is.

   What this is, is a very detailed and interesting journey into an alternate version of the Elizabethan Era. Lyle paints a really vivid picture of the London of Elizabeth I. It's very easy to get pulled into the setting and immersed in the world this story is set in. There's lots of details that help with this immersion, but Lyle writes in such a way that the setting doesn't intrude on the story. The details that add flavour are in the background and don't intrude on what is going on.

   And there really is a lot going on. I mentioned the sedate pace earlier, but that doesn't mean boring in this case. The story may move along at a leisurely pace, but it is not uneventful. Much of this is due to a very excellent cast of characters.
   Lyle's troupe of players is a very interesting group of individuals. The main character, Mal, is absolutely someone that has enough in his background to drive a narrative all by himself. There's lots of secrecy around him in the (story's) present day but also some things from his past that contribute a lot to making him a well rounded and interesting character. But Mal isn't alone in this story, there are quite a lot of other players around. Most of them have stories that rival Mal's in terms of how interesting they are.
   What really lifts this story's ensemble for me is the way they interact, and play against each other. Every one of them brings something with them when they enter the stage, and they all feel as an organic part of the whole. Even the aliens have a depth to them that make them much more interesting than they often are in Historical Fantasy.

   Yes, I said aliens. The main element that pulls this away from being pure Historical Fiction is the non-human race that inhabits this world. I found it especially interesting how Lyle has managed to integrate them into the story in the way she has. Often creatures such as these seem tacked on, blatantly there to be played against for the protagonists. In this case they are not, without them the story of some of the characters would be very different. (And of course this world would be quite something else too.) This is definitely one of the best novels out there when it comes to the natural integration of a non-human group/race into the narrative. They actually feel part of the history of this Elizabethan England.

   I have mentioned how this story is not a fast paced one, and how it takes its time. That by no means should be taken as there being no suspense, or action, present in the course of the novel. There's plenty of suspense here. Lyle is very good at holding back enough information from the reader to make this a book you are likely to read in a fairly short time, while nicely avoiding holding back so much that it gets annoying for the reader.
   When it comes to the end of the novel, that is certainly an action-filled and fast paced affair. After the relatively sedate pace previously in the novel it can almost be too much when things start moving this quickly. It can be jarring when there's such a great difference in pace from what the reader is used to. But Lyle can't really be faulted for this change of pace, it feels natural. It's the way things happened in the story, and I can't really see how they could have been different.

   As someone who has both a greater than normal interest in history, and is a fan of SFF, this was a perfect novel for me. This novel bridges the gap between the historical and the fantastic extremely well, and I think this story is a great meeting place for fans of Historical Fiction and Historical Fantasy. I have absolutely no doubts about highly recommending it to fans of both genres, and I think Alternate History fans are close to obligated to give it a try.
   I'll end with saying I'm very thankful that I have the second volume in this series sitting on my TBR pile as I write this.

LINKS: Anne Lyle  Angry Robot Books

15 July, 2013


Cover photo by Fry Design Ltd./Getty Images
Cover design by John Fontana


ISBN: 978-0-440-42295-2
Pages: 515
Publisher: Dell (Random House)
First published: 26 October 2010
This edition published: 19 July 2011

On the cover:


In 1998, in the small East Texas city of Sloan, Travis Boyette abducted, raped, and strangled a popular high school cheerleader. He buried her body so that it would never be found, then watched in amazement as police and prosecutors arrested and convicted Donté Drumm, a local football star, and marched him off to death row.

Now nine years have passed. Travis has just been paroled in Kansas for a different crime; Donté is four days away from his execution. Travis suffers from an inoperable brain tumor. For the first time in his miserable life, he decides to do what’s right and confess. But how can a guilty man convince lawyers, judges, and politicians that they’re about to execute an innocent man?

   I have read most of Grisham's novels, and I have enjoyed all of them to some extent. They are always interesting, fast-paced, and they usually have a good suspense element to them. When this novel starts, it seems to follow that pattern, and it does so very well. The story presented in the first few chapters is an intriguing one, and it seems like it will be interesting to follow it wherever it leads. But it soon became apparent I was going to have some issues with this novel.

   After the initial set-up, that as I said above is a good one, you will quickly get the feeling that you have encountered this story before. At least if you watch crime on TV, and especially if you have followed news to do with capital punishment in the US.
   Familiarity doesn't have to be a problem in a novel, sometimes it can even be an advantage, but I felt this was too much of something I have seen before. Not only were the characters pretty much what you would expect to see if you tried to come up with a list of character clichés for a story about an innocent man, but the story itself brought very little new to the table.

   As I  said the story is familiar. I think I actually may have read most of it in a magazine article at some point (, can't remember if it was online or offline). And in some ways I was just waiting for this story to veer off track, to deviate at least a little bit from what felt like familiar territory to me. This is actually where this novel surprised me the most, by not going "off the beaten path", it actually stuck to what I expected the whole time.
   There is only really a couple of minor points that bring in any suspense as to what will happen at all, and those are quickly done. Especially one of them, who would seem to be a long awaited source of some suspense, was quickly resolved.

   All of the above are not actually bugs in this story, they are features. And while I have a reading/watching/news experience that makes this old to me, that isn't necessarily the case for anyone else. If you have little or no expectations of what to find in a story about an innocent man on death row, you'll probably find this much fresher than I did. And there will probably be a lot of suspense in there for you.
   The writing isn't really bad in itself, the novel is on the same level there that you can find in all Grisham novels, and it is really a fast-paced novel. Even with the problems I had with it, I found myself reading chapter after chapter at a steady pace.

   This is definitely one of those novels where the readers mileage will vary to a great extent. I can't really say that there was really something wrong with it as such, it just wasn't a story that worked for me personally. It hasn't put me off reading Grisham though, and I will surely pick up one of his novels again in the future.

12 July, 2013


Cover art by Glenn Chadbourne


ISBN: 978-1-848631-26-7
Pages: 174 (+afterword)
Publisher: PS Publishing
First published: 4 October 2005
This edition published: December 2010

On the cover:
(From the publisher's web-site. There's no text on the actual cover.)

On an island off the coast of Maine, a man is found dead. There's no identification on the body. Only the dogged work of a pair of local newspapermen and a graduate student in forensics turns up any clues, and it's more than a year before the man is identified. And that's just the beginning of the mystery. Because the more they learn about the man and the baffling circumstances of his death, the less they understand. Was it an impossible crime? Or something stranger still? 

   I feel it's important to get one thing clear from the outset when it comes to this novella; It is not SFF. If anyone ever needed any evidence that King is not solely a SFF writer, this would be exhibit A. What we have here is a story belonging in the Mystery genre. A strange mystery perhaps, but not as strange as to take it into the SFF genre.

   We learn very early on that this is a mystery, and what this novella really is, is the story of this mystery being told to (what is arguably) the book's main character. And what really struck me is how simple, yet complicated, the structure of this story is.
   In one way the story is actually too simple to really work. Although I thought it was great the whole time when reading it, there was the feeling every time I did my review notes (,something I do after every chapter, ) that this shouldn't really work. But it is undeniable that it does. Part of it comes down to King's storytelling ability, something that this kind of storytelling structure really shows off to great effect. And part of it is because although you do know it is a mystery, the discovery of what the mystery is makes for compelling story in itself.

   We get quite close to the main characters, there's three of them. And in a sense these three characters are more important than the mystery we are being told about. It's the interaction between the three, the two who tell the story of the mystery and the one being told the story, that makes everything work - even though as I pointed out earlier, in some ways it shouldn't.
   King manages to tell us quite a lot about these three characters as the mystery is told. I really felt I got close to them, and by the end of the novella I had even come to care about them. That is not really unusual for King's characters, but he does show here that he can do it in few pages if he is so inclined.

   This really is a story that appeals to my love for the weird and strange. In many ways it is common - just a slice of reality - but at the same time it is a wonderfully bizarre story that fits in very well with some of King's more fantastical work.
   I think this would be of interest to anyone who likes mystery, and also to those that like to read about a slice of small town life. And it should be a high priority for those that like to see the mundane mixed with the strange.
   And of course, it goes without saying that this should have a place on the shelves of every Stephen King fan. This is King at his absolute best, and he really shows off how great a teller of stories he is in this novella.

NOTE: I don't do "buy links" (, a matter of principle for me,). But I know this can be a bit difficult to find in a paper edition, so if you want to own this novella in Hardcover version it might not be a bad idea to start looking on the publisher's website.

LINKS: Stephen King  PS Publishing

11 July, 2013


   It's been a while since I last did one of these (as usual), so some of these covers will have been revealed quite some time ago. I will however start with some covers that have just made it into the public eye.

   This is an absolutely lovely cover by Paul Young for Student Bodies, Sean Cumming's sequel to Poltergeeks. As with the cover for the first book, I really love this one. The novel will be out 3 September from Strange Chemistry.

   A totally different type of cover for another 3 September release from Strange Chemistry. This one is by Argh! Oxford for When the World Was Flat (and we were in love) by Ingrid Jonach. I like that it is "clean", basically it stands out by not being anything special when every other cover seemingly tries to be.

   Next is the UK cover to Jo Nesbø's Police. What I like most about this is that the picture is actually of the correct prison in Oslo (Botsfengselet). That matters to most Norwegians, who are very familiar with the image because of a long running film series. Lots of credit to the UK publisher for commissioning an Oslo photographer to take the photo. -And let's face it, it is a pretty good cover for a crime novel of that type even if you are not already familiar with the image.

   The last of the recent images (, all four were revealed yesterday as far as I know) is this cover by John Coulthart for Fiendish Schemes by K.W. Jeter. If it looks familiar it's because it is the same artist, and same style, used for the covers for Jeter's two books from Angry Robot Books, this book will however be released by Tor Books on 15 October.

   Creepy clown time! Not really any need for me to say anything else about the cover, except that it is by SL Johnson. -This is a collection edited by K.A. Laity coming from Fox Spirit Books this Saturday (13 July).

   This is the kind of cover that will always get me interested in looking closer at a book. Art by Steven Wood. The Woken Gods is written by Gwenda Bond, I loved her debut Blackwood so I am definitely looking forward to this one. Out 3 September by Strange Chemistry.

   I've previously had the UK cover for Stephen King's Doctor Sleep in one of these posts, and here is the US one. As a King fan I would have read it if it was just the name of the novel in crayons, but this is a good one in my opinion.

   The third Owner novel by Neal Asher has, according to what I think we can call tradition at this point, gotten a Jon Sullivan cover. I really like Sullivan's covers, and you can read more about the creation of this one in this post on the Tor UK blog.

   This cover is for a Historical Fantasy by Mark Barrowcliffe M.D. Lachlan Mark Alder. The cover isn't too much to write home about (or in a blogpost about for that matter), but it fits very well with the book description I've read, and I like this simple style for an Historical Fantasy novel.

   A really nice cover for the follow up to Katya's World. Love this cover, and I'm really excited to read the novel. It's coming 5 November from Strange Chemistry. (November?!? I don't want to wait that long!)

   Larry Rostant has made the cover for the third Night's Masque novel, like he did for the first two. I think all three covers are great, but this one is my favourite.

   Finally, there's two covers for novels released by Strange Chemistry on 1 August.

   This is the sequel to Shift, the art is by Larry Rostant. Another great cover by him.

   I like the magic associations in this cover by Steven Wood, makes me want to read the book.

09 July, 2013


Cover by Amazing 15


ISBN: 978-1-90884-448-4
Pages: 301
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Published: 2 April 2013

On the cover:
(From the publisher's website.)
While running away from home for reasons that are eminently defensible, Emilie’s plans to stow away on the steamship Merry Bell and reach her cousin in the big city go awry, landing her on the wrong ship and at the beginning of a fantastic adventure.

Taken under the protection of Lady Marlende, Emilie learns that the crew hopes to use the aether currents and an experimental engine, and with the assistance of Lord Engal, journey to the interior of the planet in search of Marlende’s missing father.

With the ship damaged on arrival, they attempt to traverse the strange lands on their quest. But when evidence points to sabotage and they encounter the treacherous Lord Ivers, along with the strange race of the sea-lands, Emilie has to make some challenging decisions and take daring action if they are ever to reach the surface world again.

   So, I'll just get the obvious out of the way first. A novel set in the interior of the Earth will inevitably invoke comparisons with Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Having read Verne's book I can sum up what they have in common pretty fast: They are both set in the interior of the Earth. That's it really, Although I must admit that loving Journey to the Centre of the Earth when I read it made me want to read this book, they are two totally different stories. -Not that invoking Verne is totally misplaced, this story is part of the same Adventure* tradition that most of Verne's work falls into. But enough about Verne, let's move on to Wells -Martha, not H.G.

   Wells wastes no time in getting the story started. The first chapter is packed with action, and before you know it you have been pulled into the story and is invested in finding out what is going to happen. That you are thrown straight into the action is not a problem at all. We join the story at the same that Emilie does, and find out what is really happening along with her, this is very well done. Information is delivered in a non-intrusive manner and doesn't interrupt the flow of the story.

   The flow of the story is certainly an important element,  and it is a very fast flowing story. From the opening chapter until the penultimate chapter there is hardly any part where the story doesn't have something happening. There are quite a few passages with talking, but they are almost drowned out by all that is happening. This is by no means a bad thing, this is true Action-Adventure in the sense that there is always action and/or adventure waiting just around the corner.
   The journey undertaken by the cast in this novel is in some ways a familiar one, but Wells has made it a very interesting one. And I can't honestly say that I felt that there was any lack of suspense at what was going to happen next. 

   The structure of the story lends itself very well to creating suspense. And there is absolutely no doubt that Wells is very accomplished at putting the reader (, me at least,) in the position of *having* to read "just a little bit more" to find out what is happening next, something which makes this book a quick read. There are several cliffhanger-type events in this story, and the way Wells has gotten the reader invested finding out the resolution to them isn't really something you feel like putting off. So my advice is to set aside the time to read this until the end when you begin.

   Sometimes the characters can drown when there is this much happening in a relatively short novel, but Wells avoids that. We do get to learn quite a lot about the characters as we follow their, figurative and literal, journey through the Hollow Earth, and we get quite close to Emilie.
   Emilie is really an interesting character in her own right. What we learn about her in the course of the story would make her an interesting person to follow in any setting. I especially like how she is resourceful and quick thinking, but without being "superhuman" or too sure of herself. She feels well rounded and realistic, not far off from someone you may meet in real life, and someone who's well worth spending some reading time on.
   There is also some very good supporting characters in this story. Anyone who has more than a walk on role is presented in such a way that we get some insight into what makes them tick. And in all honesty, a couple of them would not be out of place as the main characters in their own stories.

   For me this was really an enjoyable read. I like this type of Adventure, and there is an added Steampunk(y) element that makes it even better. There's really lots of action and suspense here, and combined with characters that are interesting to spend time with, it makes for a very good reading experience.
   This will be an especially great read for anyone who likes "Hidden World" fiction, and it will be a great read for anyone who longs for some action and adventure in their stories. 

NOTE: I got an e-ARC of this book from the publisher/NetGalley.

*I wrote something on what I define as Adventure here (, and that was a long time ago - that post could probably do with a rewrite).