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LJM

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Kingmaker
Kingmaker
Price: £3.99

2.0 out of 5 stars Emotionless and Alienating. All Telling, No Showing., 23 Oct 2013
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This review is from: Kingmaker (Kindle Edition)
First of all, I have to admit I couldn't finish 'Kingmaker'. I got about two thirds of the way through before giving up for good - and I really, really hate not finishing a work of fiction - so make of the following what you will based on that information.

A lot of sci-fi and fantasy novels I've seen on Amazon lately have been (as far as I can tell at least) the work of self-published authors, works that might be somewhat generic or derivative but nonetheless enjoyable if they weren't rendered all-but inaccessible by a horrendous lack of editing, or even proof-reading: poor grammar, incoherent narratives, and sometimes simply terrible writing abounds. As such, I was pleasantly surprised by the extremely high level of language on display in 'Kingmaker'. Not only does Cantrell seem to have a much better grasp of the English language than a lot of other writers competing in this increasingly-crowded market, 'Kingmaker' also gives the impression of having actually been proofread, which was a nice change. In addition, near-future sci-fi it might be, but 'Kingmaker' seems to take a lot of its inspiration from cyberpunk, creating a rich and coherent world in which to set its action.

However, this is where I took issue with the novel: much of this (admittedly fascinating) world is presented to us in huge chunks (often at least five pages on my Kindle) of flat description in the narrator's voice, rather than via exploration or through the eyes of the characters - that is, there's a lot of 'telling', and not much 'showing' - which not only broke up the narrative, but also made the world seem somewhat dry and distant, rather than vibrant and living. This touches on my second gripe: we're frequently told what 'Kingmaker''s characters are doing, but not why, or what they're feeling about what's going on. Indeed, I was frankly mystified as to the protagonist's motivations for anything he did, at any point. Clearly there's some sort of plan underpinning his actions, but without knowing what was going on in his head, it was impossible to empathise with him on any level. Given the very character-heavy focus of the book, this was extremely alienating, and between the lack of emotional depth and the pages-long enumeration of weapon-systems and political histories, I couldn't help but mentally apply the adjectives 'slightly autistic' to the text as a whole. (Or at least those parts of it I ended up reading.)

Finally, there's the problem that several other reviews have raised: the timeline of events described in 'Kingmaker' is beyond confusing. While I'm appreciative of the attempt to employ something other than a simple linear progression of chapters, as the novel progressed it became frankly impossible to know where in the book's timeline any given scene was taking place. If this had been deliberate (or at least not interfered with my understanding) then I could have lived with it, maybe even enjoyed it. As it was, however, I found 'Kingmaker''s narrative structure frustrating and obstructive to both my comprehension and my enjoyment.

A big question for me whenever I read a book I don't like by an author I don't know is 'would I read another book by this author?' Usually, the answer's an easy 'no', but in this case I might be willing to give another work by Cantrell a read - provided it's not a sequel to 'Kingmaker', at any rate, as this book gave me absolutely no reason to care about what happened to any of its characters.


Legend (Area 51 series)
Legend (Area 51 series)
Price: £3.49

1.0 out of 5 stars Terribly Disappointing, 11 Jan 2013
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This book was a real shame. I was very much looking forward to a book tracing the involvement of Donnchadh and Gwalcmai (Duncan and Turcotte) throughout human history since their arrival on Earth, but 'Legend' doesn't read like an original novel at all: huge parts of it are simply copy-pasted from earlier works in the series (literally word for word), and there are barely any new episodes at all. It's almost as if Donnchadh and Gwalcmai's involvement hadn't already been mentioned in an earlier work in the Area 51 Series, then Mayer didn't want to rock the boat by introducing them elsewhere. We do get some expanded scenes - more details on their role in the Exodus, and Arthur's Court for example - but otherwise it was extremely frustrating, with the narrative lurching between already-established plot-points with lacklustre prose.

In fact, by the time I was half-way through the book I found I was able to tell whether I was reading a section that had been lifted from an earlier work or written 'fresh' for 'Legend' simply by the quality of the writing. The 'Legend' prose was workmanlike, but there was a total lack of the believable, engaging dialogue that, in my opinion, characterised the first few books in the series. Even overlooking this, some of the supporting cast - particularly Artad's and Aspasia's Shadows - make some completely bizarre decisions in the course of 'Legend''s plot, for which I could see no motivation other than Mayer realising he'd painted himself into a metaphorical corner.

An extremely disappointing work - rather than wrapping up a few loose ends and (potentially) offering a satisfying ending to the Area 51 series, 'Legend' left a sour taste.


Friends from Damascus
Friends from Damascus
Price: £2.54

3.0 out of 5 stars Flawed, but enjoyable, 5 Dec 2012
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"Friends from Damascus" wasn't quite what I was expecting. Given the way the author touts his real-world experience in a bio at the front of the ebook, I was anticipating a realistic, if action-packed, spy thriller along the lines of Robert Ludlum, or perhaps the new Taken films. Instead, "Friends from Damascus" is more like James Bond: there are definite good guys and bad guys, everything was very clearly black and white, and the good guys are exceptionally good at what they do - killing the bad guys. "Nothing wrong with that!" I hear you cry - and no, there isn't, nor is that why I'm only giving the book three stars, unlike its sequels, which I enjoyed more.

I think Happy was still finding his feet somewhat as an author with this work, as it felt unbalanced in several ways. Some scenes dragged on much longer than they needed to, and a lot of the supporting case felt fairly bland in comparison with the leads, who were phenomenal at quite literally /every/ skill they might conceivably need, as well as multilingual, charismatic, and stunningly attractive to boot. There were also some plot developments (I won't say which - despite its flaws, it's still worth a read) that felt a little forced, but all in all it was still an enjoyable read, and, for the price I paid (£2.54), not a bad investment. Plot? Three stars. Execution? Two-and-a-half. If you're looking to suspend your disbelief for a spy-thriller romp that won't cost the Earth, go for it.


Indentured (The Mystic Saga Book 1)
Indentured (The Mystic Saga Book 1)
Price: £0.77

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable, but didn't quite live up to its full potential, 21 April 2012
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I spent an enjoyable couple of hours reading 'Indentured', but this isn't me boasting about how quickly I can read: it's not a long work at all, probably somewhere between a quarter and a third the length of most novels. Given its 77p price tag I can't complain, but I was a bit disappointed when I downloaded the file to my kindle. I'd never noticed that Amazon actually has an 'estimated length' section under the price before, but I'll be checking that more often in future.

Still, as a novella, 'Indentured' has a well-rounded plot, with some interesting takes on established sci-fi tropes. There's nothing ground-breakingly new, but the author deploys his ideas in a suspenseful setting that makes for entertaining reading. I won't spoil any specifics, but I did feel that some sections weren't written as well as others: important events are skimmed over, characters' reactions aren't always made clear, and there's a certain hasty feel that makes me think the draft text could have used another edit before being sent to press. This is the first work of Scott McElhaney's that I've read, and I'd certain be prepared to give him a go again in the future, particularly if this is one of his early stories. 'Indentured' gets three stars from me as it didn't, in my opinion, live up to its full potential.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 29, 2012 7:19 PM BST


Siege of Titan (Star Crusades, Book 1)
Siege of Titan (Star Crusades, Book 1)
by Michael G. Thomas
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Mediocre material, awful execution., 10 Oct 2011
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As a huge fan of military sci-fi in all media, I was excited to start what sounded like an excellent new series with a promising, if not hugely original, premise. The use of generic religious extremists as the book's antagonists is a thinly disguised response to the War on Terror, but the promise of sci-fi ground and space combat drew me in nonetheless.

Unfortunately, while it seems that the author has planned out a reasonable if somewhat run-of-the-mill storyline, the text (at least the Kindle ebook edition) reads as if it was never proof-read, let alone looked at by an editor. Whole paragraphs are written in such poor language that I honestly struggled to understand what was supposed to be happening, with haphazard or entirely absent punctuation that made me want to give up by the middle of the first chapter. Still, I persevered, only to be met with shallow characters, unbelievable situations, unexplained jumps in the storyline, and clichéd and nonsensical dialogue.

What makes all of this worse is that I honestly believe that "Siege of Titan" could have been a reasonable (if not particularly noteworthy) novel had been properly edited - the elements for a decent military sci-fi novel are all there, but the text itself reads like the poor end of internet fan-fic. How this book was published in its current state I simply cannot understand.

I will certainly not be reading anything else by Michael G. Thomas, and would strongly discourage anyone else from trying him either.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 16, 2011 9:11 AM GMT


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