Profile for Steve D > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by Steve D
Top Reviewer Ranking: 1,410
Helpful Votes: 813

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
Steve D (London, England)

Show:  
Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12
pixel
The Coldest War (Milkweed Triptych)
The Coldest War (Milkweed Triptych)
by Ian Tregillis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Coldest War, 12 Mar. 2013
I won't say anything further about the plot beyond the Amazon blurb, what with this being a sequel and all. Sometimes a sequel comes along that you're looking forward to so much that it can't possibly meet your expectations. Just occasionally one comes along that defies your expectations. The Coldest War completely floored me. With it, Tregillis has not only refined his writing skills, he has also excised the aspects of Bitter Seeds that maybe didn't work so well, taken the parts that did work, and kicked them up several levels.

Take the first book as set-up. Now he is polishing and honing his ideas until they are dazzling. Every question left unanswered at the end of the first book is answered here, revelations that - on a couple of occasions - had my jaw hanging open in awe. I could actually feel my heart thumping as I read the final chapters. I had no clue what was going to happen and, when it did, I immediately read it again, then dived back into the first book to look for something, and then felt my jaw hanging open again.

One thing I can say, without really spoiling anything, is that the action - with the exception of a handful of stunning set-pieces - is actually played down in this book. The emphasis is very much on the characters, and the effects the events in the first book has had on their friendships, their marriages, their families. The science fiction elements are still there, woven seamlessly into the telling of the story. Tregillis has a set of rules and he sticks to them - the Lovecraftian horror and man-made super-humans serve the story, rather than vice versa - but oh how they serve it. Gretel is still the character who stands head and shoulders above the rest, enigmatic, scary, charming, with everyone being aware that they are being manipulated, but nobody quite sure how or why.

On the cover of each of these books is a quote from George RR Martin saying that Tregillis is 'A major talent'. Now George and Ian are friends, apparently, so I would normally take that with a pinch of salt, but I think I might have to agree with him. This is only Tregillis's second book. I can't wait to see what happens next, and what he does beyond that.


Traitor: John Shakespeare 4
Traitor: John Shakespeare 4
by Rory Clements
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Traitor, 2 Feb. 2013
This is the fourth of Clements's 'John Shakespeare' novels. I've really enjoyed the previous three, which have been fast-paced, gripping conspiracy thrillers set in Elizabethan England. The publishers seem to love comparing these books to those of C J Sansom, plastering quotes such as "Does for Elizabeth's reign what C J Sansom does for Henry VIII's" across the covers. I don't think that Clements is as good a writer as Sansom, but his books are faster-paced, more action-packed, and don't involve a main character who spends most of the time feeling sorry for himself. Clements's style is efficient, almost brusque. He doesn't mince words, or spend pages telling you a character's innermost thoughts. This is a plus and a minus. It means the characters are sketched quickly, and then you are left to build a more detailed image of them from their words and actions. Some readers don't like this sort of thing, but it works well, imo. He manages to convey atmosphere with brutal economy. It also means that, to me, his stories have felt more streamlined, more focused, more exciting.

Up until now, this series has stuck to conpiracy thrillers, and there is much of that in Traitor. But this is the longest book in the series so far, and the reason for this seems to be that Clements wants to change things up. In order to do this he has expanded the landscape for this story, brought in a host of new characters, and - most tellingly - thrown a bewildering amount of plots and sub-plots into the mix. As a result, the story leaps around like a rabbit on a spring, and barely pauses for breath. When I say it's fast-paced, it's almost Usain Bolt. And, rather than sticking to the conpiracy elements of the tale, it also veers into Bernard Cornwell war story territory. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, I just wasn't expecting it (which, again, isn't necessarily a bad thing). But part of me would like Clements to stick to being Clements.

If that makes it sound like I didn't like it, nothing could be further from the truth. Shakespeare is a tough-talking, ruthless spy, and Boltfoot a hard-bitten, loyal companion. They spend little time together in this novel, and you can almost sense that each feels vulnerable without the other. Of the new characters, Ursula is a pigging joy (her words) - a member of a group of vagabonds who leaps off the page. I think Clements must've had a lot of fun writing her. I am disappointed that the wonderfully evil Richard Topcliffe - the scenery-chewing villain of previous stories - barely appears here. The battle scenes are exciting, the red herrings many, and - to Clements' credit - he somehow manages to juggle them all and bring them together in a surprisingly downbeat conclusion. I don't think it's his best book and, for a while, I was worried that it was lurching far too close to Sansom's disappointingly silly Heartstone in the situations it was throwing at its characters (you certainly have to suspend your disbelief a lot more than in the previous books), but he just about manages to keep his head above water. I hope - for the next book, The Heretics - he scales it back a bit but, for now, this is a huge amount of fun.


The Man in the Snow (John Shakespeare)
The Man in the Snow (John Shakespeare)
Price: £0.99

35 of 35 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Man in the Snow, 12 Dec. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Over the course of the last twelve months I've read the first three of Rory Clements's 'John Shakespeare' novels and he has quickly overtaken C J Sansom as my favourite writer of historical crime/mystery novels. I think a lot of this has to do with him writing in third person, which means he can use different character viewpoints, whereas Sansom uses first person, meaning he sometimes has to come up with rather convoluted ways of getting his creation, Matthew Shardlake, into situations that further his stories. I also like the tone of Clements's writing, which has a briskness to it that works very well for both the characters and the pacing. So I was really pleased when I saw this novella was being released, especially with only a little over a month until his fourth JS novel, Traitor, gets its paperback release

For all its brevity, The Man in the Snow still manages to include a lot of what makes the novels so much fun. Obviously, it is not as deep and the characterisation is done with broader, quicker brushstrokes, but the essence of John Shakespeare's world is still there, even if his arch nemesis, the wonderfully obsessed and vicious priest hunter Sir Richard Topcliffe, makes only a cameo appearance. There are a few suspects for the murder, that of a young Moor - shot in the back and left buried in the snow outside the walls of London, all of whom have a motive. There's a bit of action, and a lot of snow. In fact, the snow is the only Christmasy thing in the story, which amused me considering it says it's a 'John Shakespeare story for Christmas', lol ;)

I found it an enjoyable, quick read, with some intrigue and danger thrown in and, whilst I'd never recommend it over and above the novels, it's a nice way of keeping the interest going, and worth the £1.99 asking price.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 20, 2015 5:58 PM GMT


The Heroes (First Law World 2)
The Heroes (First Law World 2)
by Joe Abercrombie BA
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.74

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Heroes, 29 Aug. 2012
I read Joe Abercrombie's 'First Law Trilogy' a couple of years back and, whilst I enjoyed it, I was slightly puzzled as to why he was being praised so highly. The Heroes has changed that. It is a tour de force, one of those rare books that I didn't want to end, and that I lay awake thinking about after I finished it last night.

The 'Heroes' of the title are not the characters in the novel - they are a circle of standing stones perched atop a hill in a contested valley, and the high ground that becomes the focus of the ensuing battle between the Northmen and the Union. Some of the characters are carried over from his previous books, but the novel can be read on its own without detriment - I recognised some of the names but, apart from Bayaz, didn't really remember what they'd done before. And some - no, all - of the characters here are brilliant, fully developed, interesting, sympathetic and believable.

Even though the blurb mentions three particular men, there are many more characters involved, and I loved the way Abercrombie introduced them and then gradually fleshed them out, in all cases totally subverting my expectations of them. Particular favourites: Caul Shivers, Black Dow's enforcer, scarred, one-eyed and exuding menace in a constant whisper; and Whirrun of Bligh, Craw's friend from far to the north and wielder of the Father of Swords, a weapon almost as long as he is tall, and possessing so much history that it rivals Dragnipur in the Malazan novels. To me, both of those characters almost deserve books of their own. Then there's Finree, the ambitious daughter of the Union's Lord Marshall, who has plans for her husband's rise in the political stakes, and is involved in one of the most terrifying, heart-stopping set-pieces I've yet read in a novel.

The action is superbly handled. In one extended sequence on the first day of the battle, Abercrombie takes a character and tells the story from their viewpoint - until they are killed. Then he switches to the view of the person who killed them and continues until they are killed, and so on. There is something intensely fatalistic and emotive about it, that many of these characters don't even know what they're fighting for, just that they've been pointed in a certain direction, and that they're likely to die.

Abercrombie has a lot to say in this book about the nature of heroism, cowardice, ambition, greed, jealousy, manipulation of the truth, and more, yet he does it with a light touch that never loses sight of the characters or their predicaments. His style changes for each character, and it really got me inside their heads, yet it still flows beautifully. It's a gritty, modern take on heroic fantasy. It's about people - there are no fantasy creatures involved and hardly anything in the way of magic. It is a dark book, full of violence, swearing and death, and yet it is leavened with gallows humour (which is frequently laugh-out-loud funny) and quieter moments which are sometimes profound. I think it's an absolute triumph for him.

Taking Ken Grimwood's Replay out of the equation (as it's a very different take on the genre), The Heroes is far and away the best fantasy novel I've read this year. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's one of the best fantasy novels I've ever read. George R.R. Martin may be getting all the attention at the moment, but this book is proof that there are other far better writers of fantasy out there. The Heroes deserves to sell by the shed load, in my opinion.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 6, 2012 9:08 AM BST


Ravenheart: A Novel Of The Rigante: (The Rigante Book 3)
Ravenheart: A Novel Of The Rigante: (The Rigante Book 3)
by David Gemmell
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.39

4.0 out of 5 stars Ravenheart, 29 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the third of Gemmell's Rigante novels. First thing to note: the cover is rubbish! Like Midnight Falcon before it, it's not a typical sequel, in that it doesn't carry on directly from the last book. What Gemmell liked to do was to create a world and then tell different stories about the heroes and villains who made a difference at particular points in time.

Jumping forward 800 years he now brings us to what may be the last days of the Rigante, a beleaguered people who have either been subjugated by the Varlish, or who have been pushed so far north that only a few hundred remain living in 'freedom'. It's another story of heroic deeds, sacrifice, and evil. However, it's quite refreshing in some ways. It's a story that is scaled down to just a few characters and how their troubles impact upon the greater picture.

There are some typically wonderful characters here, particularly in the shape of Jaim, Kaelin, Chara, Maev and Alterith. They are complex and believable people whose actions make perfect sense. Some of the things that happen to them are uplifting, some heartbreaking. When a young Varlish girl falls in love with Kaelin, a Rigante, there is outrage and bigotry. When she is taken, raped and murdered, the suspicion falls, of course, on the wrong people. Kaelin knows who has committed this foul act and pursues them, killing them with his father's pistols (weaponry has moved on a bit in those 800 years). The Moidart, local ruler of the Varlish, sets his best tracker and assassin to find the killer, leading Kaelin to escape to the north.

Gemmell's writing, by this stage, was honed to perfection for the genre. He had me hanging on every plot and sub-plot, building suspense masterfully. And, even if you think you can predict what's going to happen, he always throws in a twist, some spark of originality which sets his tales apart. The final pages contain some of his most emotive writing that I have encountered to date, and genuinely brought tears to my eyes.


The Algebraist
The Algebraist
by Iain M. Banks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars The Algebraist, 29 Aug. 2012
This review is from: The Algebraist (Paperback)
I can understand anyone developing an aversion to science fiction from reading a book like this. In a lot of ways, this is the sort of novel that gives sf a bad name. The first half of it is so full of jargon and incessant minutiae, and the text so dense on the page, that I would feel I had read about 300 pages, look at the page number and find I'd only read 50! As a result, it took me a long time to read. For the first time in ages, there were times when I just didn't feel like reading it at all.

This is the sixth of Banks's M. books that I have read. I've enjoyed the previous five, although I do struggle to see why he's rated quite as highly as he is. I thought, for a long time, that The Algebraist would be the one that put me off his work. My 'placeholder' system (where I happily go along with things I don't understand on the basis that they will become clearer later on) was overworked, to say the least. I think this is largely because, when I'm not enjoying something, I try to read it faster to get it over and done with and then end up not taking things in properly.

Fortunately there are events, even in the first half, which kept my attention, and Banks's trademark humour alleviates some of the tedium. The story isn't half as complicated as it thinks it is, buried beneath all the waffle. Basically, Fassin Taak is a Seer. Seers are the rare people who can communicate with the Dwellers, an aloof alien species that lives within the clouds of gas giant planets (imagine a bunch of giant yo-yos living in the red spot on Jupiter and you pretty much get the idea). On one of his trips to commune with a Dweller called Falseir he unknowingly uncovers a clue to a secret which could change the face of the galaxy forever. Now other factions want it, and they're all converging on the planet of Nasqueron to try and get it, by peaceful means or otherwise. Fassin is pressganged into one of these factions and sent back to the planet to try and find out the rest of the secret, and naturally finds himself in great danger.

Happily, halfway through the book, things suddenly move up through the gears. It really kicks off with an amazing battle sequence set within the eye of a storm on the gas giant, one of the best action sequences I've read in a long time, and from there Fassin's journey is launched into overdrive, and the book - belatedly - becomes a thoroughly entertaining read. A lot of this is down to the introduction of some very amusing characters, especially the Dweller Y'Sul, and a 'twinned' Dweller, which is basically a Dweller with two brains in one body, and their fast-paced, witty dialogue makes for some genuinely laugh-out-loud moments. Banks also manages to keep the intrigue going and puts to good use the ideas he developed in rather long-winded fashion earlier in the novel. Added to this is a baddie of Darth Vader-eque proportions in the Archimandrite Luseferous, who is so evil it's hilarious, and takes great pleasure in decapitating his victims, keeping their heads alive, and hanging them from the ceiling to use as punchbags ...

Throw into the mix other aliens, murder, betrayal, tragedy, and rogue AIs who are hunted as abominations, and it really has the potential to be a heady, thrilling ride. It's such a shame that the first half gets so bogged down in the detail, because the second half is riveting stuff.


A Crown of Lights (Merrily Watkins Mysteries Book 3)
A Crown of Lights (Merrily Watkins Mysteries Book 3)
Price: £3.79

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Crown of Lights, 29 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This is the third of Rickman's 'Merrily Watkins' novels and it's another very entertaining read. The village of Ledwardine, setting for the first two books, features very little in this one, as the story moves to a place called Old Hindwell on the Welsh border, where a couple have bought a farm beside a ruined church. As soon as they move in they see a shadowy figure outside the house and, upon investigation, discover a wooden box left on the doorstep. Inside the box is a piece of paper upon which is written an anti-Wiccan incantation, and so their paganism comes to light, and their plans to reconsecrate the church into the 'old ways'. Merrily, meanwhile, is asked by the Bishop of Hereford to appear on a late night tv show in which the church is pitted against paganism, and quickly gets drawn into the midst of a very complicated situation.

Rickman has a way of writing that is at once slightly confusing but also quite riveting. He has a habit of telling you the aftermath of a particular event - hence the confusion - and then gradually going back and telling you what happened. He does this frequently, and it almost demands that you read it quickly. The characters are, once again, really well drawn. My favourite this time around was probably Gomer, who gets a lot more to do. He and Merrily seem to chain smoke like there's no tomorrow, which makes me think they must both stink like ashtrays. Jane, Merrily's daughter, gets a little less to do, but her prior interest in pagans bears significant fruit.

Rickman paints country life with an air of suspicion and foreboding hanging over it, which means that all the supporting characters are coloured in shades of grey, and nobody is quite who they appear to be at first, and he keeps you guessing right up to the end about what has actually happened, whilst juggling some potentially incendiary subject matter with a good deal of aplomb. It's spooky, mysterious and quite tense, and there's some nice humour in it, too.

I've read four of Rickman's books so far and have yet to be disappointed.


Prince: John Shakespeare 3
Prince: John Shakespeare 3
Price: £3.95

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prince, 29 Aug. 2012
This book had me from the very first page, starting - as it does - with the assassination of Christopher Marlowe. It grabs your attention and, from that moment onwards, moves at such a cracking pace it is almost impossible to put down. Also, at just over 400 pages, it is just about the perfect length.

Prince is the third of Clements' series about 16th century intelligencer John Shakespeare. Much like Martyr and Revenger before it, it is a first rate thriller, easy to read but packed with historical detail, lots of intrigue and tension, plenty of edge-of-seat moments, and some genuine surprises.

What I love about this series is the way the characters and the period come alive. He's got a very distinct writing style, so much so that you can almost see the sights, hear the sounds and smell the stench of Elizabethan London. And it seems like it wasn't all that different from now: the people live in fear of terrorist attacks, immigrants are viewed with suspicion, the queen's called Elizabeth, and you still can't find a taxi when you really need one.

Into this cauldron comes John Shakespeare, sent to investigate by Sir Robert Cecil. Shakespeare's brother (guess who!) hints that Marlowe's murder may be something far more sinister, then runs off to Stratford - as you would - leaving John with a rather tangled mess to unravel. Within hours there is a bombing at a Dutch church, and the plot thickens still further.

Clements' style is so vivid it was easy for me to do my usual thing and have actors playing the characters in my head. Cecil was Sir Alec Guiness, Boltfoot was Ray Winstone, the ever evil Sir Richard Topcliffe was an ageing and white-haired Philip Glenister. The characters really leap off the page.

In true series fashion, Clements ties up all but a couple of tantalising ongoing storylines. The ending is quite thrilling and satisfying. You can't ask for more, really.


Fahrenheit 451 (Flamingo Modern Classics)
Fahrenheit 451 (Flamingo Modern Classics)
by Ray Bradbury
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fahrenheit 451, 29 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I found Bradbury's novel to be compelling, written with real flair. Lots of wordplay, lots of driven passages where you can almost feel his own anger seeping out through Guy Montag's pores. I did find that there were a few parts where I lost track of who was speaking, and had to re-read them to get it clear in my mind. This was particularly true when Montag has another character speaking to him through an earpiece whilst he was in the midst of a conversation with others around him. But that's really the only problem I had with it.

I didn't see the ending coming at all, even though the groundwork had been laid for it throughout the novel's brief length. It's one of those rare books where anything extraneous has been cut away to leave just the essential meat on the bone. Reading the 'afterword', I was amazed to learn that Bradbury wrote this in nine days. That sense of immediacy and urgency really shines through in everything that happens to Montag. His rage and confusion is palpable, pushing the story forward at pace. The characters around him are no less real, especially his wife Mildred (the most memorable scene in the novel takes place when she has her friends around to stare at the tv walls whilst Montag stands in the doorway quoting poetry), and the Fire Chief, Beatty, who seems to exist in a cloud of pipe smoke as he goads Montag at every given opportunity.

Highly recommended. And I haven't even mentioned the hound ...

RIP Ray.


Mockingbird (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
Mockingbird (S.F. MASTERWORKS)
by Walter Tevis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Mockingbird, 29 Aug. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book begins with the robot Spofforth climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and trying to throw himself off. Mockingbird is set in the 25th century, during the last days of mankind. Spofforth is a 'Make 9', supposedly the most advanced robots ever built, with their brains cloned from a human being. Unfortunately, due to various problems and suicidal tendencies, all the other Make 9's have been destroyed. Spofforth is the last and has been programmed so that he cannot harm himself.

Robots were built by man to take over every day chores but have ended up running the place as the human population dwindled into drug- and training-induced isolation. Anything from eye contact to the briefest conversation is considered an invasion of privacy and a crime. Enter Bentley, who is learning to read from the dialogue cards in old silent movies - a pasttime that disappeared long ago. When Bentley meets Mary Lou, a woman who inhabits the reptile house at New York's zoo, she tells him she wants to learn to read too ...

It all sounds very depressing and much of the time it is - except for the spark of hope that begins to burn in Bentley. The narrative circles around these three characters as they try to make sense of a decaying world. It's a thought-provoking read, with several profound observations. You can almost hear Tevis bemoaning the fact that we miss the world going past us because we're too addicted to other things, like tv screens and computer monitors, and showing us how Bentley's world blossoms because of his desire not to be a sheep or a lemming, but instead to learn and to read.

It kept me reading because I wanted to find out why this had all happened, how mankind had got itself into this predicament. Even at 280 pages it is possibly a bit too long for what it is, and my interest did wane a little in the middle of it. But once the book started to reveal its secrets it dragged me back in, and I have to say that the ending is worth it. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that the final page alone is so memorable it's worthy of mention alongside some of my other favourite endings, like I Am Legend, Deadhouse Gates, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Tigana et al.


Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-12