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Promise of Blood: Book 1 in the Powder Mage trilogy
Promise of Blood: Book 1 in the Powder Mage trilogy
by Brian McClellan
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Take a Powder..., 23 July 2016
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It has taken me quite a while to read this book, that is down to lack of time rather than not being able to get into the novel. In fact, I was itching trying to find the time to read and getting more frustrated when that time was not forthcoming. Which is a sure sign that the book is one that is to be enjoyed.

A fantasy, but one that is a little different to the standard epic, there is a more down to earth feel to it, at least to start with. The story itself concerns the overthrow of the decadent and insular monarchy, reminiscent to the French Revolution, but there I also that feeling that it is merged with parts of the American old west, albeit one with a slightly lower level of technology – in this case muskets and flintlock pistols, rather than six shooters.

Of course there is a lot more going on than just the revolution, there is the aftermath and the growing realisation that just removing the nobility is not going to solve all problems in one fell swoop. There is going to be a period of instability, of power grabs, and of course there are other things going on at the same time, which start of just as urban rumours that seem to grow into life of their own accord.

McClellan introduced an interesting and varied magic system, from the Privileged, almost a traditional style magic user, using their hands to form and control their powers. They are the dominant form of magician, and are used by many as a power base to maintain order and power. They are joined by the knacked, individuals that have one talent that is beyond normal – a perfect memory or not needing to sleep. And then there are the newer former of magic users, the Powder Mages, individuals who are able to gather strength from gunpowder and use it to strengthen themselves and improve their abilities with guns. Seen as dirty and wrong kind of magic…

And it is one of these, the near legendary General Tamas who has caused the revolution. Initially it seems that he has done it out of altruism , but as the story it progresses we begin to see hints that there might be more to it than just that.

Just as in the way we see that Tamas’ true motives might be a little obscured we begin to learn that there is more going on than might be originally anticipated. Religion that seems to be little more than stories of another time begins to be looked at in more detail as new (perhaps old) powers begin to reveal themselves.

In the end it leads to a satisfactory story of political intrigued, entwined with more mystical happens. They are delivered in a well written and engaging manner, with characters that stand out. Some you just want to like, some you respect, some you hate and some you just want to punch in the nose, which is always a good sign.

The Evolutionary Void (Void Trilogy)
The Evolutionary Void (Void Trilogy)
by Peter F. Hamilton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

5.0 out of 5 stars Peter F Hamilton is one of my favourite writers. Although he writes science fiction, 18 Jun. 2016
Peter F Hamilton is one of my favourite writers. Although he writes science fiction, space opera he is one of my favourite writer’s period. It is true that his books are long, and some people definitely feel that they are too long, overwritten perhaps, in the need of a bit of editing here and there, but perhaps, just perhaps they are not long enough.

Hamilton has evolved the knack for big ideas. And I mean BIG ideas, just one of the innovations in his novels would quite happily make up the basis of a whole book. But within his own they are just part of the whole. And it is not just one but a veritable plethora of bigger, crazier and drastic ideas that expand outwards in a display of creative imagination akin to a nova going pop in the middle of a dreamscape that is as colourful and as expansive as a galaxy.

Even then they are not part of the story, just those things that have become everyday articles in the lives of the people that exist within Hamilton’s universe.

The Evolutionary Void is the third book in his Void series set in the same universe as his previous Commonwealth Saga, but this takes the set up from the first series and makes it even larger, as if that were possible.

The story is simple in our galaxy there is a strange artificial disturbance called the void. It has been there for a long time and every now and then it expands. Sooner or later the fear is that it is going to expand and destroy the galaxy. But…

An individual has started to dream dreams of life inside the void, sharing those dreams with the populace of the Commonwealth. These dreams show a fantasy type society where the inhabitants are trying to achieve some form of fulfilment. This simple life appeals to many citizens of the Commonwealth who want to go there and try this utopian existence for themselves…

And it is there that all hell breaks loose, as various factions want to gain access to the void for their own ends, while the advanced alien lifeforms see this as a threat, that an influx of life into the Void will start its expansion again…

And so we have all these different factions, with miraculous super-science and all working at odds to get in the void, to stop them getting in the void and the odd one or two doing their best to save everything, while the most advanced aliens are determined to give it up as a lost cause, pack their backs and pootle off to another galaxy before ours is gone.

This then, is the final book in the series drawing all the threads together in a conclusion that is worthy of the entire series. It showcases all Hamilton’s strengths and some of his weaknesses too, but it is satisfying, epic in scope and size and delivers on just about every level.
Although I am not afraid to admit that I enjoy the way Hamilton writes I can see how some people would find it overwritten and there is more detail than is needed, ironically the very things that I really enjoy about it.

Overall an excellent read that successfully and satisfyingly brings the end to a truly epic trilogy.

Dragon Keeper (The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1)
Dragon Keeper (The Rain Wild Chronicles, Book 1)
by Robin Hobb
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good start to a promising series (4 1/2 Stars if I could!), 5 May 2016
It’s funny when friends tell you that a book you have to read is good, but not as good as some of the other output by the same author. This then, was the case as I prepared to start The Dragon Keeper, first book in The Rain Wild Chronicles by Robin Hobb.

Of course you know that when reading a book by an author of the calibre of Hobb, that a weaker book is still going to be head and shoulders above a lot of the other novels out there.

The story is set around Bingtown and the Rain Wilds, both locations that played heavily in her Liveship Trader novels, while at the same time picking up events from both the end of those books and the Tawny Man Trilogy. The reappearance of dragons in the form of Tintaglia has triggered major changes for the traders of Bingtown and the Rain Wild natives, perhaps the biggest being their role in preparing the way for the next generation of dragons. But things have not gone as planned, when hatched the dragons are far from perfect, weak and deformed. To make matters worse Tintaglia has apparently gone, losing interest in the new generation after finding a mate in the form of the dragon Icefyre.

With humans losing interest in the dragons, and the dragons slowly succumbing to the appalling conditions in which they live it seems that the is a grim future ahead, until a plan is hatched, by both dragons and humankind, to move them away from settlement and to freedom, a quest to find another long forgotten, ancient home of the creatures. Along the way they will need keepers, and so the story is set up and executed.

As one would expect from a Hobb book the characters are exquisite, presented, quite literally in some cases, in their warts and all glory. In fact it is there individual stories and backgrounds that steal the novel away from the quest that is to be undertaken. In that aspect the book cannot fail, Hobb has always had a knack of giving you characters that can make you squirm all root for, and the Dragon Keeper is no different. From an independent woman binding herself into a loveless marriage, to social outcasts finding a role for themselves, to dragons who don’t really know what they are, to honour bound traders agreements and subtle plays for leadership the book is driven well.

There is the world itself, obviously already constructed and in place from previous books. It works beautifully, but this is where some of the ‘discontent’ might creep in slightly. We get to see the world in full flow, the way people live in the world, the society of Bingtown, and the alien severity of the Rain Wilds, but we are offered nothing new. The descriptions re-enforce what we have learned before, but there is nothing that adds to the well-built world that was first revealed to us. (This book though by the end takes us into new territory so it is something to look forwards to).
The dragons themselves are handled well, but not in the way you might imagine. Tintaglia, and Icefyre have burned themselves of the page with a majesty and wonder that seems larger than life. This is not the case here, the dragons are more base, animal like. Listless and dulled. Not a criticism though, it is the way they are meant to be portrayed you can see that they are not quite the same as the full grown dragons, that their spirit is as dimmed and malformed as their bodies. It is something that starts to change as they have keepers to look after them, even more so as they gain a freedom they have never known.

In the earlier part of the book I did find a problem with one of the main relationships, there is a homo-sexual element in play that is underplayed but obvious, so when the revelation comes there is no big shock. This might be the way it was intended, but then why not mention it from the beginning unless it was a way of portraying a naivety within the main character, Alise. There was also the feeling of the orientation of the characters being hidden as though it were wrong, but then it is a reflection of the society in which the characters live, not our own - and it is something that strengthens as the story continues.

There is a lot put in place here, with some interesting hints of what is to come.

So, not Hobbs best book, but a superlative read never-the-less.

The Adventures of Sir Edric (The Hero of Hornska Book 1)
The Adventures of Sir Edric (The Hero of Hornska Book 1)
Price: £2.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Funny Stuff, 13 April 2016
The Adventures of Sir Edric is a comedy fantasy that hits the ground running and does not really let up until the final page. As with many such novels it is not just a question of being funny but it has to have a strong story to carry it.

Sir Edric manages with some aplomb to balance this, although it is unfair to call it a novel, as it is two stories, albeit with strong connections to one another.

It is refreshing to have a lead character who is not a young chosen one, rather a middle aged veteran, who might just be on the wrong side of that line. Allegedly a hero of some note, Sir Edric lives off his reputation and the wits of his servant, Dog. He is a philanderer, greedy and borderline alcoholic and it would have been easy for White to set things up, with him being an almost stereotypical coward, living of the skills of others to make his reputation. But surprisingly there is more to Sir Edric than that. He has a surprising depth, and at least a level of skill to back up his reputation.

The first of the two tales sees the hero sent off on what can only be described as a near death mission by his king. The reason for this is a bit muddled, but Sir Edric has a slight suspicion that it might be something to do with the fact that the queen was having an affair with him.

What follows is a riotous adventure across a fantasy landscape with Edric determined to make a bolt for it at the first opportunity, while complication after complication ensues, and a pesky but attractive female elf keeps him on the right path.

If there is a problem with this first story it is as though White has decided to throw absolutely everything at it, in an attempt to make it as funny as possible. This actually works against it as there is the feeling that the reader is being overwhelmed with a tsunami of jokes, one-liners, descriptions and other attempts to raise a smile. This does not mean that it is not funny, just that it might be too funny, and the story itself suffers (slightly) from the deluge of humour that overwhelms the tale.

The story itself is a good one, and has a lot to recommend it. The relationship between Dog and Edric is probably the highlight, but some of the little touches – Edric not being a total idiot living off Dog’s skills is definitely a plus, and some of the references to Edric’s past work well, and his marriage is a classic, with references made to his off page wife being a lot more effective than had she been physically present in the story.

There is also the fact that I have discovered that I find any line that uses birds and feathers to be very funny!

The second story is a lot more restrained and works well for it. White has admitted that this is his first real attempt at trying ‘hardcore’ humour and it could well be he is really finding his feet in the second tale.

Once again Edric and Dog are off on a quest. This time an elderly rival, who has amassed a fortune over his years of adventuring and collecting, desires one last artefact – the one he could never obtain. He offers a competition for all his rivals to hunt it down and return it. The winner gets his fortune.

Once again Edric finds his journey complicated by challenges along the way, including distractions such as a librarian elf, bounty hunters, a minotaur and a cyclops nun (yes really). This is the better story of the two, and the humour is more effectively contained and directed.

The character of Sir Edric is a good one, possibly only bettered by Dog, and further adventures would certainly not go amiss.

The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty)
The Grace of Kings (Dandelion Dynasty)
by Ken Liu
Edition: Mass Market Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars ... this book to read because I had seen a good review for it, 2 April 2016
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I picked this book to read because I had seen a good review for it, both the words and the rating spoke highly so I thought it would be something a little bit different and well worth a read. It was but…

Let’s start with saying that I undeniably enjoyed it. With a background drawn from Eastern history rather than European it gave it a different feel and a freshness that worked well.

The story itself is a group of lands, islands, think Japan and the warlords vying to rule them. Each land has traditionally been ruled by a king, but things have changed, one has risen who would call himself Emperor and despite his conquest of the lands there are those who would see him fall. In some ways the book is a study of what it is to rule, to desire to do something good and how what one may perceive as good another may see as tyrannical.

In that context there is a lot of good material as we see men forced into positions they did not expect, men climbing social ladders in a way that they would have seen impossible at the start; there are loves, compromises, friendships and broken hearts. It is a fast paced read that is very different to anything else that I have read recently in the fantasy genre, all of which stand it in good stead to be something really special, and yet…

A long time ago now author Janny Wurts produced a novel called Master of Whitestorm. It had all the trademarks of an epic fantasy, but it was all about the main character, so when there was a long journey the book cut it out. This made it fast paced but it felt somehow lighter, and this is the case with Grace of Kings.

It feels light, as though a lot of the stuffing has been pulled from it. We see years fly by throughout the novel, and it does not feel like it. All the hard work put into world building and character building seems to be shortchanged by the fact it feels as though it happens so fast.

Liu jumps from event to event, telling some epic stories, but there is much of the detail missing of what happens in between, and for me this is where the novel is let down. It feels odd to say this about a book of 500+ pages, but there should have been a lot more of it. I want to feel the land suffer as the lord’s war over it, rather than skim the surface of a wondrously thought out lake and not see what lurks in the depths.

There is so much to recommend this book, but in the end it felt as though it were a casual easy read, something that will be enjoyable from the moment you pick up the book until you turn the last page, before being forgotten like a dandelion on a breeze, and that is what will stop it becoming a great of a genre.

(It might however trigger more work based on Eastern history, and that would be more than welcome.)

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things
by Patrick Rothfuss
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A High Regard for Magical Things, 3 Mar. 2016
It rather takes the fun out of reviewing a book when the author covers most of the things you wanted to say in his own notes at the end of the novel.

This is not so bad, in this case, as Rothfuss quite happily informs the reader that this is an unusual book, the way it is told breaks most rules of storytelling, and as such it is not going to be for everyone.

After all a story that only has one character may seem quite a stretch and something that a lot of readers would not like… but it works.

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is a unique story, focusing on the character of Auri from the Kingslayer characters and studying an approximate week in her life. This is a life that exists of a ‘cracked’ girl wandering the abandoned depths of a university, where inanimate things are given names and locations are seen all from her point of view which is, to say the least, slightly skewed.

I’m sure there are many authors who might consider trying something different and this experimental, but might shy away because of the level of commitment and skill involved, but Rothfuss has that talent, and reading this is the closest one can come to reading magic.

There is something ethereal and wondrous in the way the story is told, allowing us to look into Auri’s head. Her world view is not our own, it revolves around order, but this is an intricate order, skewed to one side that should seem chaotic, but Rothfuss not only makes it work but makes you empathize and connect with a character who should be unfathomable.

As a reader you get to learn that there is a logic to the way she does things, there is a wonder and a sadness in the way she lives, an organic connection with the world she inhabits and the way she is part of it. There is the feeling of near perfect symbiosis between character and world, but there are just about hints about her past, that she was something more (or less).

Some stand out moments include Auri repairing a pipe so the upper world will continue to run smoothly, following a trail of leaves up a chimney, nearly drowning and (as is stated in the notes at the end) making a candle.

It is also the way that everything makes a pattern, even it cannot be initially seen, allowing us to realise that maybe there is a sanity to her perception and maybe it is the way that we see things that is wrong.

Steelheart (Reckoners 1)
Steelheart (Reckoners 1)
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars A Super Tale, 22 Feb. 2016
To say Brandon Sanderson is prolific is an understatement, it seems as though he produces a number of books throughout the year and does not let up. (The only other writer I read that matches this is L E Modesitt Jr and as they both live in the same area it makes you wonder what’s in the water…).

But does this prodigious output affect the overall quality? Well that is a question that is hard to answer, after all if he did write less would the quality be better or as it is now. It does not really matter as the trick to Sanderson’s popularity is his ability to totally engage the reader.

Obviously he is going to have his detractors, who doesn’t? But he has a certain style that just draws the reader in, and it is something that is evident in most of what he writes.

Steelheart is aimed at a younger audience, and it shows, but that does not make it a terrible read. In fact I enjoyed it. A lot. In a world where super beings have come into existence everything changes, especially when those beings are corrupted by their powers and become evil. Some of them are incredibly powerful, pull lesser powers to their sider and break down the world, ruling cities with a despotic, iron hand and they are virtually untouchable.

Even the most powerful of these beings has a weakness, but it is discovering what that weakness is that is the trick. (The fact that both implementation of powers and weakness are not bound by logic just makes it all the more tricky.)

This is the story of one of the most powerful of beings, Steelheart, a man with the ability to transform all he touches to steel and is effectively invulnerable. The main protagonist, David sees his father killed by Steelheart when he is a young man, and grows up with a seething hatred for the ruler of his city and has made it his life’s work to understand the beings, so he can take them on and destroy them. The book is the story of his journey, of finding and joining fellow rebels, of learning to see more than his hate, and finally to get revenge on the monster that killed his father.
Just how do you kill someone that is indestructible?

The story is well written, but being aimed at a younger age group it is an easy read. Not always a bad thing as it makes it fly of the page, really fast paced and this works wonders for some of the action sequences that can draw you in and leave you nearly breathless.

Obviously it is not going to be as appealing to adults as some of his older work, but for a pleasant way to spend some time the books succeeds, an engaging page turner.

The Hammer of Dr. Valentine
The Hammer of Dr. Valentine
by John Llewellyn Probert
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.00

4.0 out of 5 stars The doctor is on the loose.... again., 7 Feb. 2016
It is very hard to review a book published by Spectral Press without mentioning the small publishers collapse and the effect it has had on the authors and the books it published. It has left a rather dynamic hole in the publishing field and one that will take a while to be filled.

This is because whatever else might be said or believed about Simon Marshall-Jones at the moment, one of the things that is truly evident is that he had a talent for picking quality, backed by a similar skill for presentation.

The Spectral Press books always look good. They have perfect covers. The editing is spot on and the stories are entertaining and well written.
The Hammer of Doctor Valentine by John Llewellyn Probert is a sequel to the earlier The Nine Deaths of Doctor Valentine. In many ways it could be proposed that this is nothing more than a rehash of the original, after all the story is very much the same. Mad doctor takes umbrage at a group of people he perceives have done him wrong and leads the police a merry chase as he goes out of his way to murder his victims in the most inventive of ways.

Anyone who thinks tis though is missing the point. Both books are written as love letters to the films that so influenced the author. The first the movies of Vincent Price, the second the classic British Hammer Horror movies. Each death is lifted from a film, reinterpreted and executed with a murderous relish.

There is more to it than that, as we get to see the police investigation, as they try to get one step ahead of the bad doctor and bring him to justice only to find that he is slightly fleeter of foot. In fact the only way they stand a hop of catching him is to immerse themselves in the films the murderer loves so much, to try and get into his mind… and even if the police manage to match the killer, is it still enough to capture him?

If there is a weakness it is that the story has been told before, but that does not stop it being a resolute page turner. And it is the end where the path diverges and allows the story to shine in its own right. As both the police and Valentine play off against one another, the outcome is forever in doubt and the conclusion is spot on perfect.

In the notes at the end, where Probert truly shares his love of the genre, describing the influences and how it all fits together he talks about a possible third book and teases with just where he might go should it happen.

This is, perhaps the saddest part of the collapse of Spectral Press, as we might not get to see it.

A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction
A Slip of the Keyboard: Collected Non-fiction
by Terry Pratchett
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Different Type of Pratchett, 3 Feb. 2016
This is a little different from the normal Pratchett book as it deals with real life.

‘A Slip of the Keyboard’ could well be a reference to his writing, but it is also a metaphor for his condition and how it came to be recognised.

This is a collection of essays and writings, transcripts of speeches given, reflections on his life as he finds himself facing bigger issues than which characters are going to make us laugh in his next novel.

One of the first pieces is a description of the day in the life of a writer, and for anyone who has ever decided to spend a day writing it is a well observed piece that is guaranteed to raise a smile. I think that is the secret of the book, as it passes through stages of his life, from working in local papers, to being a press officer for the Nuclear Power industry, onto writing. conservation and then to his diagnosis with Alzheimer’s, his views on assisted death there is always the ever present Pratchett humour, that makes reading the harder material lighter.

The book is prefaced with an introduction by Neil Gaiman who sums up his friendship with Pratchett, and describes how for a man with so much humour, it felt that he was driven by anger. The same could be true with the introduction, Gaiman fuelled by anger at his friends untimely passing.

Hairy London
Hairy London
by Stephen Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Damn Fine Show, What?, 20 Jan. 2016
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This review is from: Hairy London (Paperback)
What ho, chaps this is a rollicking good adventure featuring those adventurous types from that notorious place, The Suicide Club. Cracking place that it is, where the members take part in all kinds of ridiculous escapades, you know that might be considered suicidal?

They're also partial to a few wagers, which is the case right here, what? A small group of wealth aristos putting their fortunes on the line if they can define just what love is. Well that's not going to be that easy is it? Especially when hair begins to bally well grow out of the streets of London! Blond, red, thick, thin... you name it the damned capitol is suddenly quite hirsute.

Stephen Palmer is not an author to travel the well trodden paths, most of his work that I have had the pleasure of reading is different, using strange, imaginative ideas that give a sometime hard-going but rewarding read.

This book is no different, although the central premise may well seem to be a trifle ridiculous - I mean hair growing out of the streets of London? Not only that but there is so much insanity thrown in, that it would be easy to claim the whole thing is mad. We have trains made of sweets, vehicles that seem to be animalistic...

The whole thing is set on an alternative Earth, where the British Empire is in it's prime, but the whole thing is slightly off kilter. Countries are recognisable but have slightly different names, while the British characters have names that seem to fit with the era, but are not common.

(And some historical characters are the polar opposites to their real world counterparts!)

On the face of it then, it could be a ridiculous book, but Palmer is a much more talented author than that, and it is filled with thought provoking ideas, and themes. It looks at politics, the nature of war, of peace, of parenthood, of rich and poor, of self discovery and. of course the nature of love.

He is also able to draw in religion and faith, psychology and political movements and the battle for independence not to mention a rather vicious Gandhi and Jack the Ripper, all without making the book seem crammed.

Thought-provoking and a lot of fun, it has everything a solid, different novel should have.

And a lot of hair.

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