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A. D. MacFarlane (England, UK)

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The Orphan's Tales Vol. I in the Night Garden: 1
The Orphan's Tales Vol. I in the Night Garden: 1
by Catherynne M. Valente
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.10

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautiful weave of fairy tale fantasy, 8 Dec 2006
"Now this child had a strange and wonderful birthmark, in that her eyelids and the flesh around her eyes was stained a deep indigo-black, like china pots filled with ink."

Catherynne M Valente's latest novel begins in the vast garden of a Sultan's palace and with a girl who has been banished from the palace into the garden because of a peculiar marking: her eyelids and the skin around her eyes are stained black. When a plucky boy approaches her, she tells him that the markings are stories written in tiny handwriting; and at his request she begins to tell him the first story, from the crease of her left eyelid. These stories are the focus of the book, although there is an important subplot of the boy getting in trouble for his growing association with the girl.

The stories she tells have a fairytale, mythical quality about them; there are stories within stories within stories, weaving in and out of each other; and it is all told in Valente's flowing, beautiful prose. She takes some basic archetypes - the prince, the maiden and the witch, for instance - and turns them on their head in an oft-peculiar way, sometimes subtly and sometimes not, with ideas drawn from a wide spread of cultures and a fair few from the imagination-rich world inside her own head.

This is a dazzling, original, interesting book, and I recommend it to everyone who wants a taste of something fresh and fantastic.

The Etched City
The Etched City
by KJ Bishop
Edition: Paperback

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars More people need to write fantasy like this lady!, 10 Oct 2006
This review is from: The Etched City (Paperback)
"Have you seen a split cranium, growing flowers like a window box? I saw that, a mere hour ago."

The promise of this little quote atop the blurb was delivered within the pages of KJ Bishop's excellent novel.

It's not a perfect book. I spent the first few chapters wondering where the plot was going - but I was so engrossed in the superbly-drawn world and characters that I didn't really care.

When the plot did emerge, it did so with a dangerous smirk. It begins with Raule, in the desert. She bumps into an old associate, Gwynn, and together they flee the desert and their enemies to the city of Ashamoil. There things get weird. Gywnn is the main character there, though Raule's story continues to be told in the sidelines and intertwines with Gwynn's at times. A gunslinger currently employed as the henchman of a slave trader, Gwynn is surprised to find himself depicted in an etching. He becomes determined to track down the etching's artist and, with the aid of a delightfully trippy scene where he gets high, he finds her. While he becomes closer to the strange artist Beth, his 'career' runs into trouble. It is with Beth, though, that the weirdness happens. It's hard to describe. Think of warped, chimeran dreams brushing against reality, and you're close to the focus of this book.

This is a book I heartily recommend to anyone who is sick of the Tolkien-esque clichés still bouncing around, and who wants to read something dark and weird and wonderful. KJ Bishop is an example of what fantasy writers are capable of when they're not afraid to do something new.

Crusader Gold
Crusader Gold
by David Gibbins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.18

12 of 26 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't bother., 30 July 2006
This review is from: Crusader Gold (Paperback)
When I find myself skim-reading after just a few lines, I take that as a clue there's no point in reading further. Something about an eagle, and a man watching the eagle. Apparently there's some beheading on the second page, which is a shame because I like a bit of beheading - but by then I'd lost interest.

A story is meant to grip readers from the first few lines. It should force them to read more because they're desperate to find out what the heck's going on and why. After reading a few lines, I didn't care. I didn't want to read on. So I didn't.

This is yet another of those thrilling-historical-revelation thingywhatsits churned out in the wake of Dan Brown's success. Granted my review cannot comment on more than the first few lines, but my brother read a few pages in before stopping and I think my dad made it as far as the third chapter before he agreed that it was trashy stuff. At least I didn't pay for my copy. All my sympathies to those like my brother who paid good sterling for this door prop or roll of toilet paper.

In conclusion: Don't bother.

The Carpet Makers
The Carpet Makers
by Andreas Eschbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.77

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex but delightful tapestry of a novel, 8 Jun 2006
This review is from: The Carpet Makers (Paperback)
Like the hair carpets that form the central theme to Eschbach's novel, the plot is a delicate and superb weave of many different and all well-written strands. (You really would not guess that this is a translation, the English flows so naturally.) There is no main character, though most characters feature in more than one chapter; rather, each character plays his or her own role in illuminating Eschbach's vision of the future. Each individual chapter could be a short story. Taken together, they form a tapestry.

A word of caution: this srikes me as the kind of story that won't appeal to everyone. However, I personally loved every moment of it and I recommend it to any science fiction or fantasy fans as a taste of something a little bit different.

One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night
One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night
by Christopher Brookmyre
Edition: Paperback

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely bloody brilliant!, 29 May 2006
I have read this book so many times that some of the pages are beginning to fall out!

Brookmyre's writing style is witty and clever, wonderfully bringing to life his characters and the situation they find themselves in. A school reunion on a converted oil rig goes disastrously wrong as a group of not-so-professional mercenaries try to take control of the rig. Despite the differences they once had on the playground, the now mature ex-students and their English teacher must band together to save themselves.

Featuring guns, bombs, rocket launchers and a laundry chute, this is one of the best books I have ever read.

by Valerio Massimo Manfredi
Edition: Paperback

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't finish it, 29 May 2006
This review is from: Tyrant (Paperback)
Highly interested in ancient history, I approached this novel with enthusiasm and high hopes but ultimately I felt let down. While Manfredi's characterisation of Dionysius is very good - throughout the story, his motives and actions are wonderfully clear - I found the style of the piece far too dull.

I think the problem is that Manfredi has tried to cover a very large chunk of history in what is an average-sized book, and in doing so he has skimmed over some parts of the history. While this is possibly a good thing - every little detail might get boring - the way that Manfredi does this is lacking. I feel that he spends a lot of time telling things and that his narrative when doing this, sometimes covering a period of several years, is uninteresting.

I got about two thirds of my way through the book before I finally lost interest. I know the outcome and while I would normally read on anyway (as I learnt while studying ancient Greek plays, it's not so much as the outcome as the journey getting there), in this case I probably won't.

The Fall of Lucifer: Bk. 1: The Chronicles of Brothers
The Fall of Lucifer: Bk. 1: The Chronicles of Brothers
by Wendy Alec
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.79

8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Missing some depth, 29 May 2006
I felt that this novel fell short of what it could have been. My first main criticism is that the outcome was far too clear-cut. Yes, we all know that Lucifer will fall and Michael and Gabriel will not, but Wendy Alec did next to nothing to play with this assumption. What do I mean? Well, for just a handful of pages, there was this wonderful doubt about Gabriel's fate - I found myself thinking 'Surely he won't fall!'. I never had that doubt with either Lucifer - the moment he heard of Man he got in a huff and decided that they would usurp his position as Jehovah's most beloved - or Michael - he was like a piece of cardboard, to be honest. The novel would have been so much better if I had found myself wondering about the fates of all three brothers, if even for just a moment I wondered how they would fulfill their known destiny because something that happened made it look as if they would swing the other way. Because this happened with Gabriel, for just a moment, I found him the most interesting character.

Which leads me to my second main criticism: lack of depth in characterisation. I never felt like I got into the heads of any of the three brothers... but they're the main characters, surely, as the series is named after them. With Lucifer, his turmoil was only ever seen by others; I would have loved to get right inside his head while he still struggled with himself, before he fell. I would also like to have known Michael's motives rather than just take for granted that he will serve Jehovah forever. Even Gabriel, who was the most interesting, didn't get nearly as much depth as he deserved.

A final criticism, and one that is probably just me being anal, is her writing style. She started almost all of her sentences with either the character's name or the pronoun (he), which is incredibly dull to read. Also, she had a habit of listing adjectives while describing something, which doesn't quite bring the scene to life.

But despite all these flaws, I did enjoy the book and don't regret buying it. The author has some very interesting ideas. Furthermore, I intend to buy the next book in the series because I would still like to see where it goes.

Bizenghast Volume 1: v. 1
Bizenghast Volume 1: v. 1
by M. Alice LeGrow
Edition: Paperback

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bizenghast Vol 1, 8 April 2006
I think what drew me to this in the bookstore was that the art style is a bit different from all other manga I've seen. And, as I read through the book, I found that the whole story was very different. There's a gothically magical, haunting feel to the story and the artwork that dragged me right into Dinah's twisted world. Definitely worth a read (and a re-read, and another, and yet another...) and I can't wait for more!

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