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B. D. Wilson (UK)

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The Relic Guild
The Relic Guild
by Edward Cox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.54

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Interesting Start to a New Series, 7 July 2014
This review is from: The Relic Guild (Paperback)
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
It's been a long time since I last reviewed anything on the Amazon Vine programme. In fact, I have only ever reviewed one item on it before, and that was five years ago. So it should certainly be seen as a compliment to Edward Cox that after all that time, I finally saw "The Relic Guild" as something worth breaking the silence for. The description intrigued me and I could instantly see the promise in it just based on the plot synopsis.

So was it worth it? Overall, my answer is "Yes", although I certainly would not say the book set my world on fire.

The novel kept my interest from start to finish, and had enough intrigue to make me keep turning the pages and find out where it was all leading. The majority of the "good" characters were interesting enough to make me root for them (although some, such as Clara, have back-stories which seem tacked on and irrelevant at the moment), while the majority of the "bad" characters, such as Fabian Moor, feel somewhat cardboard-ish at this stage. The world-building is pretty good, and Cox has done fairly well in staying away from many fantasy tropes, creating a world that has resemblances to our own in various stages of its development. The book has a detective-story feel to it at times, which is quite unusual but welcome for a fantasy novel, and the suspense certainly does grow as it proceeds towards its conclusion.

I would tend to agree with a previous reviewer that the novel ends on a little bit of an anti-climax, and I must also add that I'm not totally convinced by the format of interlacing the story with interludes that feature many of the same characters forty years earlier, as I didn't feel that they really added any tension or meaningful exposition for the present-day story.

This is a book full of flaws, but it does have potential. The book ends with a promise of an escalation, in both excitement and scope. I, for one, certainly hope that as the series proceeds, Cox will up the ante and build to something really epic. Since this is his first novel, he can get away with ending it on a bit of a damp squib. But if he wants to make this a series to remember, he needs to pull out the big guns as soon as possible.

* * * Note: There is absolutely nothing on the cover of this book to tell a potential new reader that this is the first in a series. I only know this because it is mentioned in the promotional notes of the advance copy I was sent, and because the book did not resolve all of its plotlines by the end. But it is not even clear how many books will be in this series. A previous reviewer assumes it will be a trilogy, but this is not mentioned anywhere as far as I remember. I am strongly opposed to publishers sucking readers in this way without warning them that they may have to make a deeper commitment. * * *

At the Gates of Darkness (The Riftwar Cycle: The Demonwar Saga Book 2, Book 26) (Demonwar Saga 2)
At the Gates of Darkness (The Riftwar Cycle: The Demonwar Saga Book 2, Book 26) (Demonwar Saga 2)
by Raymond E. Feist
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Satisfactory, 20 Jan. 2010
I will not comment on the various mistakes, typos, etc, in this book. They have been covered well enough by other reviewers. Suffice to say that despite the presence of FOUR editors in Raymond E. Feist's creative process, they must obviously be completely useless to still leave so many errors in the final text.

That said, I still enjoyed "At The Gates of Darkness", certainly more than some of the other reviewers have done. I have been completely unimpressed by everything Feist has written since the original Riftwar trilogy. The Serpentwar saga was heinously bloated, and was a whole TWO BOOKS too long. The Darkwar trilogy was simply dull and underwhelming, and never provided the sense of any kind of threat to Midkemia (not to mention the fact that there was never any war during the DarkWAR worth talking about).

Then "Rides a Dread Legion" came along. For the first time in twenty years, Feist had actually written a book that captivated me from start to finish, the way the original trilogy did. AtGoD is not as good, but I still liked it. It clearly serves as an intermediary series, providing some set-up for the final trilogy set in this universe. This, of course, may explain why many characters were not fully developed, just as it explains why numerous plot points opened in this duology, as well as during the Darkwar trilogy, were never followed up. There is, after all, more to come. Some would take umbridge with the fact that this makes the Demonwar duology essentially just "filler", and I'm not going to argue with that, except to say that I still enjoyed it.

This book does not have as much action as its predecessor (in fact, there is arguably no action at all until the final three chapters), but it does contain much intrigue, as well as setting up some interesting mysteries for the reader to ponder as we wait for the next book. There are, of course, problems, but one fact remains, and if it is only a statement of subjective opinion, then so be it: I enjoyed the Demonwar series very much, and consider it to be the best thing Ray Feist has written since "A Darkness at Sethanon".

Dust of Dreams (Book 9 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen)
Dust of Dreams (Book 9 of The Malazan Book of the Fallen)
by Steven Erikson
Edition: Hardcover

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars As Elvis Might Say: "Whole Lotta Nuthin' Goin' On...", 2 Oct. 2009
At last, after a decade, the single most ambitious work of fantasy fiction ever written is drawing towards its end-point. Plot strands are drawing together, and a titanic conflict is on the horizon.

Ever since "Reaper's Gale", I have been disappointed with each new Malazan volume, and "Dust of Dreams" is no exception. It's certainly an improvement over the dreary "Toll the Hounds", but once again I am struck by how remarkable it is that given this book's huge length, that so little really happens. The novel does draw to an impressive conclusion, but much of what comes before shouldn't really, in my opinion, be classified as "build-up" - much of it is the same self-indulgent philosophising that Steven Erikson has included in all the other books to date.

Erikson, of course, accounts for this in his author's note, where he states that Dust of Dreams and the final book in the saga, "The Crippled God", are really just one huge novel, where DoD is the set-up and TCG is the pay-off. That's certainly understandable, and allows me to accept this book as it is just a little more than I might have done otherwise, but to me it still begs the question: is it right that a novel - especially one this long - should be treated by its author as something that needs to be got out of the way so he can do something he likes better? If the author shows this lack of respect for his work, won't that reflect on the readership's attitude towards it as well?

It's a question I leave open, but in any case one positive aspect of the book for me was a slightly tidier writing style. Erikson's style has infuriated me for years now, and while there are still problems here, there are also improvements.

Despite my misgivings about Dust of Dreams, it is undeniable that The Crippled God has the potential to be utterly brilliant. The scale of Erikson's achievement with this series should never be downplayed, but as for me, the Malazan Book of the Fallen has temporarily fallen off my list of favourite series'. For me, Malazan has lost the magic it once possessed. However, I really, sincerely hope that the final book will propel it back to the top.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Oct 10, 2010 5:42 PM BST

United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror
United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror
by Jamie Glazov
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.16

41 of 49 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars United In Hate, 10 Jun. 2009
"United in Hate" aims to answer one of the most perplexing questions in contemporary politics: why does the Left so often support and take the side of Islamic jihadists whose values are anathema to those that the same Leftists purport to uphold? Why do Leftists consistently pour scorn on their own societies while heaping praise upon totalitarian dictators and terrorists?

Jamie Glazov's new book is the most complete examination yet of the Left's informal alliance with radical Islam. It begins by providing a psycho-social explanation as to why the Leftist (who the author refers to as "the believer", in deference to Eric Hoffer's famous book "The True Believer") ideology so often results in hatred for one's own society and support for dictators and murderers.

At first I was not totally convinced by Glazov's hypothesis, as it seemed too much like pretentious double-speak and/or mere speculation. However, in the next section, Glazov illustrates his formula by documenting how the Left, for EXACTLY THE REASONS he describes in Chapter 2, revered and supported the communist tyrannies of Stalin, Mao, Castro and others. This whole section puts the above "theory" into observable and demonstrable practice and serves as a perfect background to the modern liberal love affair with Islamic jihad.

The next section examines the ideology of the jihadists themselves, and explores the psychological ramifications of Islam's violent, intolerant and misogynistic doctrines on those who take them seriously, and how these constructs mirror those of the Left.

Finally, Glazov documents Leftist support for radical Islam in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, quoting abundantly from self-loathing left-wing bigots such as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore. As Glazov writes: "[T]he new generation of believers found their own idols in the terror war. The romance with Islamism is just a logical continuation of the long leftist tradition of worshipping America's foes."

Dealing in specifics, Glazov also covers the leftists' defense of Islamic gender apartheid and their hatred of Israel. Regarding the latter, he makes an unconvincing case that Leftist hatred for Israel is based primarily on antisemitism, an increasingly common right-wing position that I have always opposed because of its striking similarity to the equally imaginary phenomenon of "Islamophobia". Ultimately, some of the other explanations the author presents are far more accurate and persuasive than the "Jew-hate" line.

Overall, United in Hate does the best job of any currently published work of explaining why the Left frequently romances with tyrants and terrorists. It is recommended reading for all those who value Western freedoms and wish to defend them against the totalitarian ideology of jihad.

Rides a Dread Legion (The Demonwar Saga): The Demonwar Saga Bk. 1
Rides a Dread Legion (The Demonwar Saga): The Demonwar Saga Bk. 1
by Raymond E. Feist
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars At last!, 25 April 2009
Words can't express how delighted I am that I have finally found a Raymond E. Feist book outside of the Riftwar saga that I consider to have been really worth reading. This is, in my opinion, Feist's best book in over twenty years.

"Rides a Dread Legion" successfully brings back the epic action-adventure style that so gripped me back in "Silverthorn" and "A Darkness at Sethanon". There is a good dose of action and intrigue, along with some decent new characters, a gripping plot, some hanging questions and a few good surprises. The book also begins to further explore the universe Feist has created, setting things up not only for the next book in the series, but also for the next series itself, the Chaoswar saga, which will be the last in Feist's planned Midkemia cycle.

Overall, I was really happy with this book. Pretty much all of Feist's Midkemia novels since A Darkness in Sethanon have been frightfully dull, and it was wonderful to see that the magic is back in RADL. I only pray now that the author doesn't ruin it again in the next book.

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy)
The Strain (The Strain Trilogy)
by Guillermo del Toro
Edition: Hardcover

4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A pleasure to read, 22 April 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
"The Strain" is the first order I have made from the Amazon Vine programme, even though I have been on it since last year. I was just intrigued to see what a notable film director like Guillermo del Toro could do with the novel format.

And boy am I glad I gave it a go. This is a fantastic thrill-ride of a book, which starts with a brooding sense of atmosphere and mystery, and quickly escalates into an action-packed thriller that gripped me until the end.

I liked del Toro's take on vampires, which dispenses with many of the old cliches but keeps others in place, and adds some nifty new features, too. What is notable is the way that the vampires are barely dealt with as supernatural entities - rather, they come across more as just very old, but very natural, creatures.

There are some minor problems. For example, every now and then del Toro and Hogan break out of the usual prose and explain technical details - such as aeroplane mechanics and human biology - directly to the reader. This, in my opinion, detracted from the pacing and tone of the rest of the writing, and should have been done in a much more subtle way.

Other than that, there really isn't much else I can fault it on. It's not literature, but it doesn't pretend to be, and it is as cinematic and exciting as any book of this type that I have ever read. It also ends in such a way as to create the promise of something pretty epic just around the corner. The only downside is that I now have to wait another whole year to read the next volume in the trilogy!

Even so, I'm fairly sure that when this cracking novel is released at the beginning of June, it's going to be a monster hit.

Wrath of a Mad God (Darkwar, Book 3)
Wrath of a Mad God (Darkwar, Book 3)
by Raymond Feist
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What has happened to Raymond E. Feist?, 7 April 2009
In my review of "Into a Dark Realm", I stated that I absolutely loved the Riftwar series, but that nothing Raymond E. Feist had written since then had ever got even anywhere near to matching it.

For a long time, I thought "Wrath of a Mad God" was going to change that trend. It gripped me right from the start, and seemed to have the same kinetic energy and gripping storytelling as "Silverthorn" and "A Darkness at Sethanon". I was ready to come on here and give it a rave review.

And then it just...fell apart. First of all, I don't know why it has become so difficult for Feist - and a number of other noted fantasy authors - to write a decent battle scene. This trilogy was called the "DarkWAR", and yet, hardly any trace of the actual war can be found within it. The few battle scenes there are get skimmed over as if they are not important, when in fact the entire survival of a planet's population is supposed to be at stake. I just don't understand why Feist and others seem intent on PURPOSELY glossing over epic battles like this.

Aside from this, in the final quarter, the novel takes a number of unnecessary diversions just as it's supposed to be building to its climax. Then several major incidents occur in only a few lines. Macros just completely disappears about half way through the book and doesn't return. There are several glaring continuity errors between this book and Feist's other works that I simply don't know how they came be printed.

This book is a shocking mess throughout its final third, and while it does still contain some nice surprises, it is yet another crushing disappointment from an author who is rapidly becoming a sort of one-hit wonder in my mind. Something compels me to keep buying his books in the vain hope that he will recover his Riftwar touch (so for that reason I will probably buy his latest, "Rides a Dread Legion", some time in the next few months), but I remain unconvinced that he ever will.

The Born Queen (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone)
The Born Queen (Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone)
by J. Gregory Keyes
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.18

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It went nowhere..., 16 Mar. 2009
In my reviews for the previous book in the "Kingdoms of Thorn and Bone" series, I have essentially stated that this is a good fantasy series, but not a great one. Perhaps a thrilling conclusion would have elevated its status in my eyes, but that was not to be.

"The Born Queen" is like queuing up to ride on a roller-coaster which then just crawls ten feet along the track and lets you off. It really doesn't take the series to the heights that it needs, and comes across as extremely rushed.

The first half is largely the same as the previous volumes - fast-paced; good chapter cliffhangers, etc - but doesn't really go anywhere. And then in the second half, many of the characters suddenly completely change personalities (Keyes employs various mechanisms to facilitate this change, some of which work better than others), and remarkably we're where we have to be. It all reads very conveniently.

Several times, important events seemed to happen in the "in between" moments. A chapter would finish with a character facing a mini-cliffhanger, and when we next return to that character, something major has happened and we missed it. I just do not understand what Keyes was playing at here.

Then there is a "war" promised on the back cover. Don't bother going looking for it - it isn't there. We don't see a proper battle in the whole book.

The story of Leoff the musical genius turned out - as I had expected - to be completely pointless to the overall story and a waste of the time it took me to follow it.

Finally, the novel is also pretty badly written in places, as well, showing classic signs of being written in a hurry.

Overall, this is a weak effort by an author whose reputation would suggest that he is better than this. In a way, then, I suppose it is a fitting ending to what was always, in my view, a mediocre series.

Speed Racer [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Speed Racer [Blu-ray] [2008] [Region Free]
Dvd ~ Emile Hirsch
Offered by DVD Overstocks
Price: £5.76

25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Misunderstood Brilliance, 28 Dec. 2008
There is something about the Wachowski Brothers that film critics, and much of the general public, simply don't get. We have already seen how their brilliant Matrix sequels were panned by critics - largely on the grounds that these people simply didn't understand them - and now we're seeing the same thing with Speed Racer, which is being subjected to some of the most undeserved vitriol from critics that I have ever seen.

I loved this movie. It's not perfect, and it's not a work of genius like the Matrix trilogy was, but it's yet another example of how these two brothers attempt to push the boundaries of film-making. The editing - including the floating wipes and non-linear narrative - are top-notch. As one online reviewer put it, the Wachowskis have managed to transcend the boundaries of time and space in this movie. Not only have they achieved shots in which we are looking at two different things happening in two different places at the same time, they are also able to move us back and forward through time with effortless ease, and without disrupting the flow of the story.

If you're an idiot bent on hating Speed Racer no matter what, though, it's likely that the complex, visual style of storytelling on display here will befuddle you beyond redemption. I read with amazement, for example, the amount of people who found the opening sequence, during which we see scenes of one of Speed's races interspersed with his back-story told through flashbacks, completely bewildering. And yet the storytelling couldn't BE any clearer, in reality. I even shook my head in dismay as I read the Guardian's Peter Bradshaw claim that in the film, cars go through other cars "like ghosts". No one who understood the film (and thus was worthy of reviewing it) could have made such a simplistic, embarrassing assertion.

Anyway, this is in fact a brilliant film. Ignore all the reviewers' tropes about "over-reliance on special effects", "style over substance", "no characterisation or soul", etc. All of these criticisms miss the mark at a basic level. Watch it free of the shackles of prejudice and prepare to be blown away by a tour de force in imaginative, visual film-making. I certainly was.

Besides, the film has a chimp in a hard hat, riding a buggy while rockin' out to Freebird. Need I give it any higher an endorsement?
Comment Comments (4) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 19, 2012 1:43 PM BST

Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs
Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam Is Subverting America Without Guns or Bombs
by Robert Spencer
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

41 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Terrifying, 3 Dec. 2008
I wish I could review this book as a horror novel, but unfortunately everything it says is real.

"Stealth Jihad" is a better and more thorough book than Spencer's last offering "Religion of Peace? Why Christianity is and Islam Isn't", which was a notch below his usual scholarly level of writing. He made unsubstantiated assertions and failed to cover numerous important issues. This book is a lot better, and it makes for worrying reading.

Spencer outlines in meticulous detail a worldwide plan initiated by Muslim groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood, to subvert and Islamise the West not by invasion or terrorism, but by stealth. This includes a number of tactics that, seen in isolation, seem inconsequential. But when viewed together, they make up a much more sinister picture.

One of these tactics is to legally and publicly intimidate all the opponents of the stealth jihad into silence. Spencer has experienced this personally many times, particularly from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has tried to ban him and others from speaking about the jihadist threat. There is also the initiative being advanced by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference to outlaw criticism of Islam by pressuring the UN to implement blasphemy laws that would make Islam a protected class. At the time of this book's publication, this proposal had not been formally passed; it now has.

The next step is pressure from Muslim groups to accommodate Islamic cultural norms, practises and laws in Western countries, disguised as merely a campaign for "civil rights". In reality, they are endorsing Islamic separatism and setting the precedent that whenever Western and Islamic mores come into conflict, it is the West that must give way, even here in the West. "Sharia finance" is a good example of this.

Stealth jihadists have also taken to turning Western schools into Islamic proselytising centres, filling textbooks with ahistorical, whitewashed rubbish, and buying off several university professors to spin for them.

Finally, Spencer explores how, most worrying of all, radical Muslims connected to the Brotherhood have infiltrated the US government and intelligence services, and are deliberately affecting anti-terror policies for the jihadists' gain. Spencer sounds off with a warning about the demographic jihad currently going on in Europe, before providing a set of practical steps we can take to defeat this threat before it wins out.

It is only to be hoped that people actually take notice of Spencer's dire warnings. Undoubtedly people will call this work racist, bigoted, hysterical conspiracy-mongering, etc. But they have never refuted Spencer's assertions or arguments, so those of us who are aware of the stealth jihad threat need to ignore them and concentrate on raising awareness of the problem...before it's too late.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 25, 2010 11:45 AM BST

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