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Swords and Spectres (MELTON MOWBRAY, United Kingdom)

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Renaissance: Assassin's Creed Book 1
Renaissance: Assassin's Creed Book 1
Price: £1.99

2.0 out of 5 stars I felt let down as a fan of the series, 21 Oct. 2017
Renaissance is set around the first game in the Ezio story arc of the Assassin’s Creed video game franchise. The author sticks to the video game content very well and fans of the game will remember playing whilst they read. Sadly, large parts of it read like a video game plays. Especially the first part where Ezio has a race with his brother. And many, many more parts that are too numerous to list.

To me, a fan of the series, I don’t want to read a video game walkthrough with action. I want a historical fiction that encompasses everything that makes Assassin’s Creed great. I want the backstory, I want the training, I want the secret war between Assassins and Templar. I don’t get that in Assassin’s Creed Renaissance.

What I get is, at least, a complete story. It’s well told for the most part and parts of it are genuinely hard to put down. Equally, other parts of it are hard to believe. Ezio is too perfect in most parts. He will pick skills up very quickly or, where he learns them over time the author will simply say ‘five years passed and Ezio’s training intensified.’ I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the general gist. He will also skip more exciting parts along with the duller training bits. Ezio is, without a doubt, a skilled fighter/killer. So let me see his skills on display. Don’t put him against four enemies and say ‘Ezio dispatched the guards with ease’. That is not combat. That is an insult to Assassin’s Creed fans and your reader in general. The book is over 500 pages in length. How does a man cut so much out but still leave it so long?

I liked the interactions with Da Vinci and many of the other minor characters, even though, at times, dialogue was incredibly weak and the characters didn’t seem overly fleshed out. I even enjoyed the majority of the story, I just did not like how the author handled it. I think the story deserved better and I hope he gives the following books far better than he gave Renaissance. Characters also have a habit of turning up randomly to save the day. Everything like that just felt shoehorned in.

Also, the author will stick ONE Italian word in a sentence here or there. WHY??? It makes you look incredibly stupid as a writer. Incredibly stupid. It takes away from the realism of the piece as it is all set in Italy. Why on Earth would any of the characters switch languages? I can see why he used a pen name when writing these books. Due to the varied flaws, I would not want my real name on the cover either.

As I said, I am a devoted Assassin’s Creed fan and will be reading the rest. I just hope I will be enjoying them more than I enjoyed Renaissance.

Quiet Places: A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror
Quiet Places: A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror
Price: £2.98

4.0 out of 5 stars Good, creepy stuff, 14 Oct. 2017
I received a copy of 'Quiet Places' for free in exchange for an honest review.

Quiet Places was a strange one for me. Not strange in the fact that I didn't enjoy it, as I really did. It was strange because I loved pretty much everything about it ... everything except the main character. I frequently found myself tiring of her. She was so bitter and her bitterness seeped through the pages and into me.

I understand she isn't having the best time, but her thinking the town is selfish is kind of hypocritical. As she is being selfish in wanting the same thing they want.

It had a great plot, the author did some clever flashbacks (and in some cases it was like Inception, with flashbacks within flashbacks). These parts in particular felt as though they added a new dimension to 'Quiet Places'.

One thing I really like is the use of the local legend and how well Jasper Bark links it back through both the town, and the McCavendish's family history. There is also so much going on in 'Quiet Places' on a supernatural/mythical level that just adds so much enjoyment to the piece.

The parts where the author takes us back through the McCavendish family history are enthralling, as are any of the ritualistic things mentioned throughout. All in all it's an enjoyable read.

Clockwork Wonderland
Clockwork Wonderland
Price: £4.62

4.0 out of 5 stars Seriously Clever Wonderland Horrors, 3 Oct. 2017
I received this book for free in return for an honest review.

Clockwork Wonderland is an incredibly fun and incredibly quirky short story anthology where every story is set in Wonderland or, at the very least, heavily features the characters from Wonderland. Each story also features clocks/time in a predominant fashion.

I won't lie, I went into this sitting on the fence, not expecting great things. After all, how many stories about time and Wonderland can you read before it all starts to feel quite 'samey'? Apparently lots and lots, as it never felt 'samey' to me. There was a pretty wide variety on offer from 'The Jabberclocky' to 'The Midnight Dance' (the latter being my personal favourite from the entire collection. Gotta love a Wonderland version of Groundhog day ... with zombies).

One thing that was incredibly strong through 95% of the stories were the endings. They were some of the best endings I have read in short stories. Ever. Heck, one even managed to tie into a very well-known fairy tale. That one had me grinning from ear to ear like a loon. Some seriously clever writing on show.

As with all short story collections; there were one or two I didn't enjoy. Some were down to the author's writing style and a couple were simply far too insane for me to understand what was going on, let alone have a chance of keeping up.

All in all, though, Horroraddicts.net have put together a pretty impressive little collection that is sure to have horror fans and Wonderland fans alike curious. If you fall into either category and would like to see the Wonderland characters you know and love in a hugely different light, I'd highly recommend getting Clockwork Wonderland.

Assassin: A Vyder Ironstone Short Story (Ironstone Saga Book 0)
Assassin: A Vyder Ironstone Short Story (Ironstone Saga Book 0)
Price: £0.00

2.0 out of 5 stars More of a tavern brawler than an Assassin, 10 Sept. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This was a really strange one for me to review. I know, the score I gave it was a mere 2 out of 5. You’d expect it to be really bad, right? Well, it isn’t. The writing is good and the ending to the story really does intrigue me as to where it’s going. Enough that, if I didn’t have such a huge reading list that I may well hop on and read the series. Here’s why it only scored a 2:

To me, an assassin should use a multitude of weapons, skills and techniques in order to finish his task in as silent and efficient a way as possible. Vyder, supposedly an assassin, kills his mark in the most un-interesting and un-assassiny way imaginable. I said ‘supposedly an assassin’ and I mean that. The author tells me he is one. But what the author shows the reader is a bar-room brawling drunk with enough money to have a maid looking after his home and nothing more. 

Admittedly, I have said that a good few points of the story are pretty good. But, for me, if I can't enjoy a character than that detracts just as much, if not more, than a bad end or a poor story. Sounds like Vyder is just a mercenary/sell-sword rather than an assassin. 

I didn’t feel intrigued by his character towards the end. I am intrigued to see where the series goes as the author set that up well. I’m just not intrigued by Vyder. At all. This could well just be me expecting more than I got and anyone else who reads this short story may well enjoy it far more than I did. I only wish I liked it more.

Mistress of Crystals: Chronicles of the Second War of the Gods
Mistress of Crystals: Chronicles of the Second War of the Gods
Price: £2.34

2.0 out of 5 stars Struggled to get on with the writing style, 27 Aug. 2017
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Writing negative reviews isn’t something I enjoy doing, but I can’t wax lyrical about how much I enjoyed a product if I simply didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have hoped.

When the author approached me to read and review ‘Mistress of Crystals’ I was told it would suit the style of books I enjoyed reading. I, however, felt the book leaned more towards a younger audience than the dark fantasy I regularly read. I will stress that the book is by an author whose first language isn’t English, so some of the drawback I found may be due to nuances of the author’s writing being lost along the way in translation, but I can only review the product I have in front of me.

There were two main drawbacks that stopped me from enjoying ‘Mistress of Crystals’ as much as both myself, and the author, would have hoped. The first being the writing style. It simply isn’t a style I am used to reading. I am used to being shown a world where my mind can run wild with what it’s taking in. In ‘mistress of Crystals’ everything was matter of fact. The reader is told everything rather than shown. Very little room for romanticising an image in your head as you are given exactly what is there down to the exact thoughts every character is having. My second drawback was the overuse of unnecessary adjectives. For instance: they walked through the opulent door’. What makes the door opulent? Why do I need to know it is opulent? A lot of the time it felt more like padding than necessary description.

Those two drawbacks being so frequent throughout made the reading process far slower for me.

The whole reading process wasn’t entirely negative for me. There were aspects of the story, and book as a whole, that I enjoyed. Menfer’s character was perhaps my favourite. I did not feel the characters were overly fleshed out but I thought his character was by far one of the more intriguing. I also enjoyed the whole basis of the story, I just felt that very little happened. Action scenes were present, they were just few and far between which gave it the feeling more of a novel about talking and court intrigue/politics than it did about a dynamic plot.

I also felt the first two chapters were a very strange fit for the book as a whole as, technically, the story starts in chapter three. The first was a chapter where an elf and a man are being chased by hellhounds. I honestly did not see how it added anything to the story for the rest of the novel. At first, I thought it might be introducing a character for later, or showing that hellhounds exist. But neither seemed apparent. Chapter two was literally just a whole chapter detailing the backstory of the world’s religion. Such info is important, but it could have been drip-fed to the reader throughout rather than as one huge info dump as its own chapter.

Considering the book has been edited into English, I do feel bad about the negativity in my review but, as I said above, I can only review the product that is in front of me, not the product as it was meant to be.

Judge Dredd: Year One
Judge Dredd: Year One
Price: £3.40

2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't feel like a Year One story. Do not buy if you are expecting an Origin story in any way., 20 Aug. 2017
Now I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t read much of the Judge Dredd stuff. I have, however, read enough to know that young Dredd is literally the same as old Dredd. They tell you he’s a rookie (don’t let him hear you say that, though) and he occasionally forgets what stealth is. But, besides that, he’s literally the same grizzled veteran without an ounce of fear that he is in all the other Dredd stuff not labelled Year One.

Personally, I always feel that a Year One story shows you the rocky road that brought an individual onto the path he walks for the rest of his life. This one, was literally just a case for young Dredd to solve. We are introduced to the fledgling Psi-Division and, to be fair, it kind of feels more of an origins story for the Psi-Div than it does for Dredd.

The overall plot is a mass breakout of psychic powers manifesting in the juveniles of Mega City One. The inevitable happens and mass violence ensues.

In all honesty, I found the entire graphic novel fairly boring. Took me a good couple of sittings more to finish this than it normally would. I think this could have been due to my expectations being high on a Dredd Origin story. But then, if you expect a steak and get a stick of celery, you won’t eat it with the same enthusiasm.

The story isn’t all bad. I feel it certainly gets better towards the end. Even has a few funny moments that kind of made me feel better about getting through it. The art is also very good, as you’d expect. In fact, the artwork and the last part is about all that made me not give it a 1.
Overall, I just felt fairly disappointed and thoroughly glad it was a library read rather than an actual purchase.

Magda: A Darkly Disturbing Occult Horror Trilogy - Book 3
Magda: A Darkly Disturbing Occult Horror Trilogy - Book 3
Price: £1.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A good end to a great trilogy, 21 July 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I have been hooked on this trilogy ever since reading the blurb for 'Father of Lies.' The whole idea of a patient in a mental facility being possessed by demonic entities was simply too good for the horror fan in me to pass up. I was not disappointed by Father of Lies. It was great.

Tanners Dell (book 2), I thought was better than Father of lies. It had way more action and just all around horror goodness in it. Now that I have finished Magda, I still think Tanners Dell is the better book of the trilogy but that is not to take away anything from the other two. They are both great, I just found Tanners Dell more exciting.

Following on from the events of the first two books, we focus on the aftermath of all the excitement that made Tanners Dell so interesting. I'm really struggling to say anything without spoiling, but I will do my best.

Much in the same vein as the previous books, shadowy people are working for the greater purpose of furthering the machinations of the ancient evil that dwells with in Tanners Dell/the village of Bridesmoore. In 'Magda' we are treated to a separate story alongside the main narrative. Every few chapters the author reverts back a few centuries to tell the tale of a young girl (named Magda in case you hadn't guessed) and how her life/actions shape the present day.

Admittedly, I did not really see the point of the Magda chapters until the very end. Up until then it doesn't really feel like it has anything to do with the main storyline and, with the tag line 'Are you ready to meet Magda', I simply expected more out of her than I felt I got. But, pushing through to the very end I can see how her chapters were important. It all ties up very nicely.

Although it doesn't boast as much action as Tanners Dell; Magda does offer a wide range of occult goings on from satanic orgies to other people looking back at you in the mirror. The theme of the unseen demonic presence being all powerful is very strong throughout. Whenever you think the main characters have something sorted or a solid bit of help coming their way, tragedy strikes as quick as a hiccup. At times I honestly couldn't figure out how they would get out of the situation they were in with their sanity in tact. That's not to say that they did. Win, lose or draw, you don't tangle with the ultimate mind warp that is the demonic and come out as sane as you entered.

 The 'horrory' bits are written with just enough fright to make those noises in my house seem ominous when reading this in the dark on my kindle. The writing itself is very strong and the research done into the medical side of things is top notch, as with the last two books.

I would have liked an epilogue, sort of detailing how the characters get on in the future. I really wanted certain ones to have their happily ever after and would have liked to know if they got them, but I suppose I can't have everything. What I did get, however, was three very enjoyable books. Three books that have made it so I want to jump into Sarah England's next work 'The Soprano' when it comes out in August. 

by Mark Millar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars An over the top, violent tour de force, 14 July 2017
This review is from: Nemesis (Hardcover)
Nemesis, for me, was a total breath of fresh air. It was totally not what I expected and completely unlike most of the comics/graphic novels I have read. I will admit to thinking, at first, that it was just a Batman rip-off. To be fair, Nemesis pretty much looks like someone whitewashed Batman, so I will let myself off. In actual fact, it’s a comic revolving around the world’s greatest, most brutally violent super villain!

I don’t just mean your average violence in a comic. It’s got some seriously creative brutality and killings. And the artwork does that creativeness real justice when it comes to all the blood and gore and downright savagery. Just how it made it to the YA section of my local library I will never know!

As the product description states, it’s a story about a super villain who spends his days targeting Asian police chiefs. his calling card (quite literally a card) is a simple white card with a sentence or two on it. That sentence: the exact time, place and way you will die. Washington’s greatest police chief finds himself the recipient of one such card. Thus begins an epic game of cat and mouse between the greatest mind of law and order and the most devious mind of villainy.

Nemesis, from start to finish, is flat out over the top. But it’s over the top to such an extent that it makes the whole thing hard to put down and just simply absorbing. Constant twists and turns in the character back stories makes it hard to know just who you should be rooting for. I still don’t know who I wanted to win and I have gotten to the end to find out who does!

I’ll also say that it reads like the kind of comic Michael Bay would have written. Lots of explosions, action scenes and massively expensive property damage! In fact, if it became a film one day, I could imagine his over the top director-skills being ideal for this over the top work. Quite simply, it reads like an action movie would read if transported from screen to page.

My only negative is that it feels short. Other than that, I loved it.

Whispered Echoes
Whispered Echoes
Price: £3.15

4.0 out of 5 stars Good collection with an amazing novella inside!, 11 July 2017
This review is from: Whispered Echoes (Kindle Edition)
I received a copy of ‘Whispered Echoes’ from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Whispered Echoes is a collection of short horror fiction written by Paul F. Olsen. Most of the pieces were originally published in the 80s and 90s (with the exception of Bloodybones, this being a new novella).

From the word go you can tell that the author is highly-skilled. His writing style is wonderful and draws you in so that even when there’s nothing happening, you feel absorbed. His talents, for the most part, seem to falter when it comes to writing an ending. With the exception of Bloodybones (which is flat out amazing) I’d say I felt like he only managed to write an ending for one of the eleven short stories. I got the feel of what he wanted to do. He wanted to write up to a certain point and have the reader wondering what happened. Have the reader piecing together what happened in their own mind. But, in actual fact, it often felt like I took a turn onto a street and there was quite literally nothing there. I often felt like I had put so much into getting excited for the piece only to be short-changed by the authors inability or total unwillingness to write an ending.

Every single short story, every last one of them, had the potential to be groundbreaking. Up until the 95% mark they were just that. Two of my favourites, perhaps so because one (Through the Storm) felt like it had an ending, and the other (The Visitor) because it felt like it almost had one, will stick with me for a long time as two of my favourite short stories. Not just from this collection, but in general.

The rest could have done the same. If the rest had endings I would have given the book seven stars out of five, just to be a maverick.

The series had some interesting concepts that I hadn’t seen before; a town where everything was as if it had been designed by a child on drugs and frequently changed to more strange variations of itself. There was a simple, unassuming man who vacationed in a simple, unassuming little town for a month every year, leaving devastation in his wake.

It also had some concepts I’d class as oldies but goodies; The tale of a ghost boy seeking help from beyond the grave, not realising he was dead and gone for decades. Inheriting haunted property, Indian burial grounds boasting unquiet spirits and, last but not least, a serial-killing ghost.

It had everything I wanted, except for endings.

What it did have, above all else, was Bloodybones. Bloodybones is worth buying this anthology for on its own. If you hate short stories, still buy this book just to get your hands on that novella. It has everything from spooky goings on to solving unsolvable mysteries. I genuinely could not put Bloodybones down. It also proves that Olsen’s skill as a writer has improved over the years. He was great before, but Bloodybones is better. It also proves that he does know how to write an ending. And a very good one at that. Bloodybones is quite easily the best short fiction/novella I have read this year. I think it will keep that title without a shadow of a doubt. If I had my way, I’d have it made into a BBC mini-series in the style of ‘The Secret of Crickley Hall’.

To summarise: Buy this book, because Paul’s writing is wonderful, even if his endings don’t exist for the main part. Also, because if you don’t … well, you won’t be able to read Bloodybones. And that would make you a very unlucky person, indeed.

A Gathering of Ravens
A Gathering of Ravens
Price: £9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A Tale of epic vengeance, 1 July 2017
I received this book in return for an honest review.

I had been excited to read ‘A Gathering of Ravens’ for months. When the chance to get my hands on it as an ARC came about, I nearly bit the publisher’s hand off to get my mitts on it.

At first, I thought the book started off really well. I was immediately sucked into the simple yet daunting task our protagonists had of bringing the word of Jesus Christ to savage Danes. The first few chapters had me hooked, the world was immersive and felt very real. The author did such a fine job that I could almost hear the wind and rain lashing at the Danish countryside. I felt the promise of non-stop action told at a fast pace loomed tantalisingly ahead. After getting past those chapters I felt a tad let down. The tale seemed to slow from the pace I expected and it almost felt like the author was trying too hard in certain places as far as the fights and gore etc … went. In fact, at some points, it felt a little too fantastical.

This feeling of unenthusiastic reading persisted for large parts of the first half of the book. It was broken up with smatterings of intrigue and great interest but it still lingered. I just felt like I was plodding along on a bit of a slow-burn. I then thought of Stephen King and how ALL of his books are like that. A slow-burn often leads to a dazzling pace in the latter half of the book. So I placed my faith in this thought and this thought alone.
And my faith was well-founded and duly rewarded.

Grimnir started off as a bit of a one-dimensional savage. In fairness, that’s about the only way he could have been painted to begin with. He is, after all, the last of his people (an orc of a type, no less!) and has been living in seclusion with nought but his burning rage for the vengeance of his slain brother to keep him company through the long centuries of his life.

He develops throughout the book into one of the more interesting characters I have experienced in my time as a reader (and as an author). His character development is, obviously, a slow-moving thing, but it has to be. He has centuries of isolation and bitterness to overcome! His little Christian captive, Etain, whom is his chief target for enjoyment as far as ridicule goes (blasted hymn-singer, kneeler, worshipper of the Nailed God etc …) feels somewhat surplus to requirements as far as much of the first part of the book goes. I genuinely felt that she was simply there so that the author had a human viewpoint rather than the very alien viewpoint of Grimnir.

My opinion changed when the second half of the book loomed. She fast became the catalyst for Grimnir’s shift in personality. His character development would not have happened had he not had his little hymn-singer by his side, doling out unwanted Christian teachings whenever he wanted to simply smash or kill his way through the next obstacle.

The second half of the book certainly made me re-think my opinions on the first and had me smiling at the cleverness of it all. On the face of it, ‘A Gathering of Ravens’ is an epic Norse, Irish and English historical fiction with a HEAVY fantasy/myth undertone to it. But, on top of that, and perhaps more so than that, it is the tale of the revenge and almost rebirth of Grimnir. Throughout the whole work I just found myself enjoying his metamorphosis from who he was when he began his journey of revenge upon Bjarki Half-Dane (his brother’s murderer) and who he became after his saga had ended.

I look forward to future works by Scott Oden and, with how A Gathering of Ravens ended, I wonder if we will see future adventures or, at the very least, future mention of Grimnir.

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