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Christopher Halo "The Book Swede" (UK)
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The Isle of Battle (Swans' War)
The Isle of Battle (Swans' War)
by Sean Russell
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A rare, good "middle book" in an excellent trilogy (A Book Swede Review), 8 Oct 2007
The Isle of Battle starts off directly after the hectic events of The One Kingdom (9/10) , and it starts off fast! Sean Russell provides a kind of synopsis to the previous events -- very useful, as throughout the book, no reprieve is given to the reader, with Russell constantly moving from scene to scene with an almost fierce abandon.

The story in The Isle of Battle is more developed, as is to be expected, and a sense of pettiness, almost, is established at the lesser events -- it becomes very clear that much more is at stake that the honour or ancient enmity of two Houses, as mighty powers rage for control of their land.

As for characterisation, I really liked the importance Lord Carral was given in this book, and I felt he developed well, particularly after suffering the news of what he thought was his daughter's death. Unknown -- at least, for a little while -- to everyone, is that his daughter still lives and has struck a bargain with one of the children of Wyrr ...

...And that's not good.

The Stillwater is one of my favourite locations for a show-down in any book I've read. On one of the "hidden roads" is where it lurks, and a lot of care has gone into making the Stillwater a vivid and memorable landscape. Alaan didn't spend much time traveling this time -- trapped as he was in marsh-type locale with the most powerful sorcerers trying to track him down and kill him. Also not good, especially after the injuries he received at the end of The One Kingdom...

The book manages to avoid the sluggish-ness of some second volumes in trilogies, and even without the inevitable show-down included, there are still several other great scenes towards the end, too -- I mentioned in my review of The One Kingdom that I felt Death and his minions would be playing a more corporeal part in this series ... and while I was right, it wasn't quite the way I expected. How Russell explored the history of Death, and his past, was fascinating.

The Isle of Battle has something of a cliffhanger ending which might disappointed some people, but it's a good read and another solid piece of work from Sean Russell. I continue to be impressed with his work. And nice artwork, too ;) 8.5/10.


The Awakened Mage: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Book 2
The Awakened Mage: Kingmaker, Kingbreaker Book 2
by Karen Miller
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.37

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good conclusion to an above-average duology (A, 8 Oct 2007
With the Kingdom of Lur in disarray following the sinister deaths of the royal family (save Prince Gar - who has no memory of the treachery that killed his parents and sister), it falls to Gar and Asher, his assistant, to pick up the pieces and bring order back to their kingdom. Meanwhile Asher (whom prophecy foretells as the Innocent Mage) is yet to come into his power or realise his role in the struggle for every life on their side of the Wall ...

For if Gar doesn't start using the Weather Magic soon, everyone fears that Barl's Wall - the magical barrier protecting Lur from the outside world - will fall. What they don't know, is that the Wall has already been compromised... and Morg, ancient enemy of the Doranen, is already inside Lur, possessing a member of Doranen nobility, and doing everything possible to bring the Wall down from the inside ... and remove Asher and Gar ...

I struggle to say anything that The Fantasy Review hasn't covered in his review - we agree almost 100% on this book - so I'll reiterate his view that The Awakened Mage kicks off much faster than it's predecessor with events seeming to quickly spiral out of control. The Innocent Mage actually belied its name, and didn't feature that much magic, despite it still being an integral part of the back-drop of the book. The Awakened Mage is far different - and it is in one of the key scenes, showing Gar working the Weather Magic - that Asher begins to notice something different about himself...

Typically in fantasy novels there isn't much physical consequence for using magic, but Karen Miller clearly went to great lengths to make magic something that was very harsh on its user - with Gar repeatedly bleeding from his eye sockets, etc (!) in one scene. Though I liked that this had been done, I was slightly incredulous as to whether anyone would be able to cope with that much pain, so often (even if it was to save his people). Still, it brought a grittiness to the magic scenes which I hadn't anticipated, and that was very welcome.

The Awakened Mage is slightly unusual in that there are no swords - just sorcery! While swords do tend to be a staple part of a fantasy novel, this was a nice change.

A tiny, niggling thing, to do with the actual dialogue - a strength of Karen Miller's - it seemed that the word "fratch" (a slang word within the novels) was used repetitively. It was probably my mad eyes unnecessarily jumping on the word every time they saw it, but it did jar when a variety of different characters were using it (to my mind) overmuch. This is as much a personal nitpick, as it is a criticism, however.

As for characterisations, I found Asher as amusing as usual, and he seemed to develop a lot more, too. I liked the fact that, closer to the end of The Awakened Mage, he felt something akin to hatred towards Gar - now while that may make me seem crazy (and sadistic), I think it would have been all to easy for Miller to have Asher forgive Gar for what had been done to him (I tread close to Spoiler), but instead Karen Miller took a different road, and Asher seemed more real as a result.

Morg was slightly less developed as a character - little seemed to be known of his motives for wanting to kill/enslave/torture/generally upset most of the world, save his spurned love for Barl. In spite of the fact that Morg was a POV character, it would have been good to have seen more of his actual motives. I think a tale of Morg and Barl's lives would be very interesting - and I'm not normally the kind of person who likes prequels.

The Awakened Mage is a very engaging and fun-to-read novel. The Fantasy Review has precisely my thoughts on the nature of the storytelling, so I'll just quote him: "... [It] provides a perfect blend of magic and drama..." Asher and Gar - even Darran! - were fun to be with, and Karen Miller has done a superb job of sharing their adventures. I look forward to her future works - she currently is having her first trilogy published in her native Australia, so I'll be looking forward to their worldwide release!


The One Kingdom: Book One of the Swans'  War Trilogy
The One Kingdom: Book One of the Swans' War Trilogy
by Sean Russell
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Very, very good... (A "BOOK SWEDE" REVIEW), 16 Sep 2007
Three young travelers leave their village to see more of the world - that's when the trouble begins. Meeting a mysterious man, Alaan, who seems to know more about their family and ancestors than they do, they're suddenly attacked by nameless soldiers and forced to flee - leaving Alaan, presumed dead, behind them.

Barely escaping, Tam, Baore, and Fynnol stumble into a Fael camp. The Fael - a people of wandering minstrels and storytellers - remind me, for some reason, of Robert Jordan's Tuatha'an.

Meanwhile, a feud between two noble houses - the Renné and the Wills - threatens to open up again, and engulf the world in a bloody fire of vengeance and betrayal. But, both sides are being played against each other by the sinister Eremon - thought killed many years ago, under another name...

From a somewhat unoriginal and atypical fantasy start, the story soon started taking on its own flavour; quickly becoming apparent that Sean Russell was not simply dredging up old cliches, but doing something new and inventive ... as well as just being a plain great writer!

I thought the idea of a story-finder - able to pick up memories and events from the past - was a really original idea, and Cynddl was certainly an interesting character. It was a very clever way to have someone knowing about the past, but not be a Useless Guide type of character.

The background characters were fleshed out well, too; it can be all too easy to have main protagonists well developed, and the supporting cast, cardboard, cliché-cut-outs. The Renné and the Wills were very intriguing, and it'll be exciting to see in the next two books, whether Russell lets both Houses realise their similarities and same cause ... or will it turn to war when they should be fighting the common enemy, à la A Song of Ice and Fire. I suspect the latter, though I did grow attached to even the minor characters of both families: I felt for the scarred Llyn when she was shamed before everyone she knew, and I think that is one of Sean Russell's many talents: making you feel for the characters, no matter how important.

The One Kingdom has quite a traditional High Fantasy feel, but it's clear that Sean Russell has tried to bring something a bit different to the genre. The magic, while obviously an integral part of the story, is very low key - there are no blue bolts raining from the heavens and squashing enemies flat. Instead, we have various old myths from the book coming to life, ancient powers re-awakening, but in a way that is subtle, rather than melodramatic. No armies of 400 million Dark creatures marching on Everywhere, but men being used by other men. The all-powerful bad guy is one that would be familiar to us, too - Death - though, he does insist on taking a slightly more corporeal part in the story!

I'm really surprised I hadn't heard of this one sooner; it's one of those books you expect to see on every fantasy "Recommended Reading" list on the Internet, and it definitely deserves a place as one of the best openers to a fantasy trilogy in quite a while. I'm extremely glad I found it, and I can't wait to see how Russell continues this epic story. Unmissable! 9 out of 10, for sure.

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Shadowplay (Shadowmarch Quartet)
Shadowplay (Shadowmarch Quartet)
by Tad Williams
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent (A Book Swede Review), 7 Sep 2007
Well first, I'd like to say a massive thank you to Tad Williams for personally sending this one out to me, all the way from the US! It was a great feeling to receive a review copy of a book from one of my favourite authors.

That said, I was looking forward to this one with a mixture of pleasant anticipation, and dread. You see, I didn't really enjoy the first book, Shadowmarch, that much. As other reviewers have said, though, what Tad produces, even if weak for him, is still at the top of the genre.

But Shadowplay blew me away. The story moved a bit slower than to be expected in the second volume of a trilogy, but I have no doubts that Tad Williams will wrap it all up with the consummative skill he has shown in his other works. I remember feeling the same way with Book 2 of his amazing, debut trilogy, Memory, Sorrow & Thorn.

It's been said that nothing major happens in Shadowplay, which is in my opinion, a little true. Rather than the massive action and events that were expected from the conclusion of Book 1, lots of threads and storylines that seemed completely random in Shadowmarch, have been woven together to weave a story that is richer in characterisation and revelation than I think any of Williams' other works have ever been.

My favourite new characterisation was of one of the invading fairy folk. In Shadowmarch we got a glimpse of the Qar, invading fey from behind the Shadowline--a magical barrier stopping movement between the two races. In this book, though, the glimpse is much bigger when Prince Barrick, trapped behind the Shadowline meets Gyir, a high ranking soldier and personal friend to Yassamez, ruthless leader of the Shadow armies. Now don't worry if all these names sound crazy to you--Shadowmarch, Book 1 of the Shadowmarch trilogy, is obviously, very necessary reading.

It was nice to see that, for once in the fantasy genre, the bad guys aren't a nameless evil, attacking everything and anything for no reason. Cruel, deformed, mad, etc, a large majority of them may be but Gyir reveals the real reasons for their attack (though, old scores with the humans are of course to be settled. The Qar are long lived and they neither forgive nor forget...)

There were also a few moments of humour in this book. Most moments of this came (perhaps, tellingly) from the dark thoughts of Gyir.

Other characters developed well, too; Olin, kidnapped king, spoke of and reminisced of a lot in Book 1, actually plays a part in this book, and from the events of Shadowplay, an even larger part awaits him in Book 3; Princess Briony, forced from her home by traitorous courtiers, becomes very interesting, which makes a nice change as I found her annoyingly whiny in Shadowmarch.

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The Princes of the Golden Cage
The Princes of the Golden Cage
by Nathalie Mallet
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £4.88

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Debut - great concept, brilliant writing - a Must-Read. (THE BOOK SWEDE), 7 Sep 2007
Prince Amir, son of the Sultan of Telfar lives in a richly-afforded and lavish cage - but it is a Cage nonetheless. There he will live - if he can avoid his murderous, scheming brothers, and the dark evil that is slowing killing the other princes - until the Sultan is dead and a new one named.

Keeping relatively to himself, in the studies of books and the arcane, Amir has so far managed to avoid unwanted attention... but when said nameless evil has killed several of his brothers in strange circumstances, Amir, with his books and knowledge, is called on to find the murderer - before he gets blamed.

Amidst all this is an Eastern setting, realistic and fascinating. Mallet clearly spent a lot of time researching this part of the novel - from the customs, language and names, to the demons, jinn and djinn, Nathalie Mallet has managed to create a rich back-drop for an intriguing story.

When Amir meets Erik, another brother, his life really does start to change. Slowly becoming good friends, they start to work together. Erik is able to give Amir some of the freedom he has always craved, and when Eva, Erik's cousin (and daughter of a northern king) arrives - destined to marry the new Sultan - Amir is able to sneak out of the previously impenetrable Cage and speak with her.

There were a few minor issues I had - and they seem to have already been expressed by some of the other reviewers I've mentioned. There were maybe too many secret tunnels, not that I mind them, but I was slightly incredulous when one happened to lead directly to Amir's chambers. They were though, apart from that, a necessary plot device and used, not as a cheat, but as something to aid the story, without making it seem farcical. That said, I hope Amir doesn't discover any secret tunnels in book 2, The King's Daughters, when he travels to the cruel-cold country of Sorvinka...

...Yes, okay, I made the totally avoidable mistake of reading the teaser for The King's Daughters, which has me on tenterhooks already! That one will be out sometime next summer and I certainly look forward to it.

The novel was small (298 pages (plus the teaser for book 2)) but it certainly packed a punch, and I would hate for the seeming smallness of this story to turn you away - rather, because of its size, each page and every sentence is to the benefit of the story; no needless filler here. All in all: a riveting book, not just a tale of mystery, but of magic, betrayal and love. That tends to be the blurb logline for just about every fantasy novel, but this is one where it is true and well-earned.

On her blog, Nathalie has just announced that the first three chapters are now available to listen to on audio file, narrated by Alex Wilson. I'll also certainly be interested to see which publishers snap this book up abroad; it certainly deserves every success.

For more fantasy/SF reviews, regular amazing competitions, and author interviews, visit: [...]


Tomes of the Dead: The Words of their Roaring
Tomes of the Dead: The Words of their Roaring
by Matthew Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.91

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Roaring good fun, 7 Sep 2007
First and foremost, thanks to the nice people at Abaddon, for sending me a box full of what seems to be their entire back catalogue of books. Nice!

When a top-secret, Government Military Research Lab creates an infection that can bring the recently deceased back to life (the perfect soldiers) they have no idea of the side-effects... or trouble, that it is going to cause...

Soon, all over England, the dead are awakening, and, well... consuming the living.

For some, this is promised Armageddon. For others, this is an opportunity to rule unopposed. One of those men is Harry Flowers, gang lord and ruthless tyrant. Gathering around him the best of what's left: body guards, soldiers, scientists, etc, he seeks a way to control the zombies, to control the country.

I really liked the way some things were done in this book, adding new twists and turns to the zombie legend. The idea of a Government research lab, creating an infection, etc, etc, is fairly cliché , but the rest of the book does its best to be original.

One of the ideas--certain zombies being cleverer than the rest of the shambling hordes, and developing the same emotions and ways of thinking as they had when they were human, was, I thought, brilliant. It was great to also see interaction between characters that had been human and were now zombie. But, I tread close to Spoiler...

There were several interesting developments that had been set up right from the beginning, but, in most cases, I didn't see them coming. Matthew Smith has a talent for keeping people guessing.

I seem to be suddenly getting very fussy over endings, though, because it seemed to me, that the last chapter added nothing to the story, and it existed only to give some relevance to the book's title.

One of a few flaws in an otherwise excellent book. The Words of their Roaring is one of the best-written zombie books I've read. 8 out of 10.

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The Jennifer Morgue: Book 2 in The Laundry Files
The Jennifer Morgue: Book 2 in The Laundry Files
by Charles Stross
Edition: Paperback

21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stross does it again, 7 Sep 2007
The Jennifer Morgue is a direct sequel to The Atrocity Archives which I reviewed earlier this year (and loved).

When billionaire, Ellis Billington, tries to get his hands on a piece of forbidden technology that's been hidden in the depths of the sea for millenia by things with too many tentacles and not enough arms (aka aliens!), there's only one man good enough to stop him.

That man is Bond, James Bo... Erm, Howard, Bob Howard...

As usual with Stross, this book is packed with plenty of ideas. It's also much more laugh-out-loud funny than The Atrocity Archives.

"I'm going flat out at maybe a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour on the autobahn while some joker is shooting at me from behind with a cannon that fires Porsche's and Mercedes'."

There was perhaps, a bit too much info-dumping with regards to mathematical stuff and computer... stuff. Maths and computery-stuff are to me, what Marmite is to a jellyfish: meaningless, but avoidable. There wasn't too much though, and the story soon pulled off like an Aston Martin DB9 being chased by demon-possessed zombies...

The Jennifer Morgue didn't quite end right for me, though. The penultimate chapter concluded very satisfyingly, tying up loose ends and leaving a natural resolution to all the plotlines that Stross had (yet again!) woven into an excellent and richly developed story. I fully expected the story to end there. Instead, there was another chapter that seemed largely unrelated to the rest of the book and would have, I think, made a suitable opening chapter for another Laundry book. Nothing wrong with that particular chapter, just out of place.

Stross did though, escape the trap of filling the reader in too much on earlier events. Sure, there are lots of allusions to happenings in The Atrocity Archives, but I really think The Jennifer Morgue could be read as a stand-alone. That said, why would you want to miss out on any work of Charles Stross?! 8 out of 10.

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The Inferior
The Inferior
by Peadar Ó Guilín
Edition: Hardcover

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Inferior -- A Superior Effort from an Exciting Debut Author, 7 Sep 2007
This review is from: The Inferior (Hardcover)
Well first, I'd like to thank Peadar for personally sending the review copy of his book (despite his catapulting ideas!) to me. I was very intrigued when I heard about it. It's been marketed as a YA in some places, as a straight SF in others...

For Stopmouth and the rest of his Tribe, to kill is to survive. On a world where all other sentient life is out to eat you, community and family spirit is a must. No communications between any of the other races of beasts is possible--the only man who succeeded in learning any of their speech was half mad already...

That is, until a beautiful woman fell out of the sky, a woman with knowledge of civilization and technology far superior to, as some of her people call the humans on the ground, the savages.

Chased out of his Tribe, they begin the long arduous journey to the Roof, the place where the woman, Indrani, is safe and can reveal all to Stopmouth. But it is, of course, a journey fraught with peril, for, above all things, some races of beasts have found a way to cooperate and fight together. And the civilised humans of the Roof aren't so keen on having her back...

This was a really interesting, and fun YA/SF novel. The characterisation was rich and well done, and the ending of The Inferior leaves me in no doubt that the next two volumes in this trilogy will be just as good.

With Stopmouth, it's nice to see a hero with, well, in the eyes of the people of his world, at least, a disability. His relationship with Indrani and his nervousness in approaching her, after years of scorn for his impediment, was quite touching and realistic.

The promise of the world of the Roof, civilised and safe, overlapping with the world of the savages is something that excites me greatly. It soon becomes clear, as with many of the times humans have tried to put themselves above everything else, that perhaps the "savages" aren't the savages at all...

A truly original story with characters that could be read all day. There are flaws of course--this book is not going to blow your mind full of ideas (and headaches), and I would not expect any one to buy it thinking it to be a hard gritty SF novel, but it is nevertheless, a riveting and engaging YA debut. A very worthy 8 out of 10. The Inferior is superior to any Young Adult book I've ever read.

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The Jennifer Morgue (Decorating & Design)
The Jennifer Morgue (Decorating & Design)
by John Bell
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.94

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stross does it again! (A BOOK SWEDE REVIEW), 29 Aug 2007
The Jennifer Morgue is a direct sequel to The Atrocity Archives which I reviewed earlier this year (and loved).

When billionaire, Ellis Billington, tries to get his hands on a piece of forbidden technology that's been hidden in the depths of the sea for millenia by things with too many tentacles and not enough arms (aka aliens!), there's only one man good enough to stop him.

That man is Bond, James Bo... Erm, Howard, Bob Howard...

As usual with Stross, this book is packed with plenty of ideas. It's also much more laugh-out-loud funny than The Atrocity Archives.

I'm going flat out at maybe a hundred and fifty kilometers per hour on the autobahn while some joker is shooting at me from behind with a cannon that fires Porsche's and Mercedes'.

There was perhaps, a bit too much info-dumping with regards to mathematical stuff and computer... stuff. Maths and computery-stuff are to me, what Marmite is to a jellyfish: meaningless, but avoidable*. There wasn't too much though, and the story soon pulled off like an Aston Martin DB9 being chased by demon-possessed zombies...

The Jennifer Morgue didn't quite end right for me, though. The penultimate chapter concluded very satisfyingly, tying up loose ends and leaving a natural resolution to all the plotlines that Stross had (yet again!) woven into an excellent and richly developed story. I fully expected the story to end there. Instead, there was another chapter that seemed largely unrelated to the rest of the book and would have, I think, made a suitable opening chapter for another Laundry book. Nothing wrong with that particular chapter, just out of place.

Stross did though, escape the trap of filling the reader in too much on earlier events. Sure, there are lots of allusions to happenings in The Atrocity Archives, but I really think The Jennifer Morgue could be read as a stand-alone. That said, why would you want to miss out on any work of Charles Stross?! 8 out of 10.

For more fantasy/SF reviews, regular amazing competitions, and author interviews, visit: [...]


The Mark Of Ran
The Mark Of Ran
by Paul Kearney
Edition: Paperback

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid Effort From UK Fantasist, 29 Aug 2007
This review is from: The Mark Of Ran (Paperback)
Firstly, thanks to the folk at Transworld for sending me this one! I'd been told it was good by quite a few people...

In the veins of Rol Cortishane lies the blood of the Elder race. Angels some say they are, exiled for sins none now remember. Other say they are demons...Either way, his folk are mistrusted by most they meet, and he is driven from his home.

Fleeing to one of his race's ancient strongholds, he meets Psellos, the man who will guide and train him in the art of murder, the one man with knowledge of Rol's true parents. A knowledge that Psellos will use to exert power over Rol. And destroy everything Rol holds dear.

Defying Psellos. he flees to the high seas...

I felt that some parts of the set-up had great potential to turn into a highly cliched typical fantasy--a boy, with no knowledge of his parents, highly gifted, etc--but Paul Kearney skillfully avoided the possible pitfalls. His characters, most neither good or bad (or if they are bad, they are for a very good reason) were certainly original.

Rol, particularly, the boy (later man) fleeing to an ancient stronghold of his race, to learn of his ancestry, could have been so uninteresting and typical. But he was not. He's a mixed bag, good and bad within him, and you're never sure which way he'll turn. Eventually, and much more satisfyingly, he just accepts the dueling nature within him and goes on to lead his life.

His blood, so we discover, is more pure than any others of his race descended from the Elders...he could even be one...which, of course, is impossible...

With Rowen, the female assassin, also an Elder descendant, Rol falls in love. It was interesting to see the inevitable love grow (and then end) between them, but Kearney did it in a way that would leave many surprises, and much more to add to the tale.

Later, with Rol on the high seas, captaining his own ship, it was strange to see his powers developing, particularly in battle. It's done in a refreshing way, but I still felt it made Rol too powerful. With such strength I could not see him having any difficulty in any kind of battle, be it magical or not.

The Mark of Ran ended well though--it's relatively self-contained for a book that's the first in a series. It was a fun and unusually good story, with characters that develop as the book moves on. There were a few flaws, but I look forward to what Paul Kearney makes of Book 2. Before reading The Mark of Ran, though, I would advise that you not look at the back cover blurb. It reveals half the story! 7 and a half out of 10.

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