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The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel
The Alloy of Law: A Mistborn Novel
by Brandon Sanderson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Good for fantasy/crime novel readers, excellent for Mistborn fans, 7 Dec. 2012
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I read Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy last year and it is one of my favourite epic fantasy works. I hope that one day I can actually review those books here, maybe after reading them again, but for now I'll just say that I became a fan of Sanderson's writing, his world building and the way he tackles a lot of interesting and important issues throughout the trilogy's plots. He has said, to my absolute delight, that his intention for that world was to produce three trilogies in different times. Meanwhile, he seems to have decided to give Mistborn fans a dessert with The Alloy of Law.
This book has a short story, a typical gunslinger-western plot with the addition of Mistborn's magic system, happening 300 years after the events of the original trilogy. It follows Waxillium Ladrian, a noble turned lawkeeper, initially in the Roughs (the rural part of that civilization) and then as he comes back to the big city somewhat forced to assume his role as the family's heir. Although there are some references to Wax relearning to live with the aristocracy after spending years away, that's by no means the main focus of the book. There are also some steampunk elements, namely the introduction of guns, cars, trains, lamps in a magical and somewhat unindustrialised world, the emancipation of women, or even the main character with his tendency to individualism - a typical "I'll change the world by myself" kind of mind - and his do-it-yourself science (here in the form of alloying). Despite all this I wouldn't consider The Alloy of Law a steampunk novel. The plot is first and foremost that of a crime thriller and a very good one at that, with a bit of mystery kept until the end. The reference and description of the multiple weapons used adds to the western feel of the book. The characters are very believable, if somewhat predictable, though the plans they concoct aren't as obvious and keep the story quite interesting all the way through. The action is also constantly present, giving the plot a fluid and exciting development.
The fusion of magic and technology was very well done and I actually wish I could read more stories exploring the possibilities Sanderson's allomancy/feruchemy/hemalurgy system allows in multiple contexts (in other words, I can't wait for his urban fantasy and sci-fi story arcs). The way the gun fights are enhanced by the movement the magic allows, the increased bullet power, a kind of kinetic shield, the time warps and the healing ability had really cool consequences. Another marvellous addition is the association with the previous trilogy, mostly through religious (which for those who have read Mistborn is particularly good) and historical references. The characters I knew and liked became legends for this society, used as moral examples but also as everyday expressions, in Scadrial's own versions of "oh my god" or the even the boogieman.
One particular theme I enjoyed seeing explored was the effects of taking ideals as your only compass, here shown by a character who doesn't mind harming or killing innocent people in the name of his own revolution, his war against injustice and exploration. For those who have read the previous trilogy, another thing one must notice is the recurrence of nobility systems. It seems that whatever cataclysm this world goes through, the society ends up organizing itself in a similar manner, despite the consequences such injustices have had before.
The one negative claim I can make is that, probably to try to make the book readable as a stand alone story, there are some moments where the narrator slows the action and dumps some information. But I should add that this is by no means too frequent or considerably damaging to the reading experience.
With The Alloy of Law, Brandon Sanderson offers both a bonus read for Mistborn fans and a genre bending humorous and very refreshing story, probably as a bridge to his second arc in that same world, establishing a new social and technological context and defining a mythology based on the events of the first trilogy. If this is in any way a sample of what's to come, good for us all.


Collins Complete Photography Course
Collins Complete Photography Course
by John Garrett
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.89

38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Simple, useful and encouraging for beginners, 15 July 2011
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This was the first of three photography books I decided to read as introduction into the theme, its techniques and creative possibilities. The one best thing I can say about this Photography Course is that reading it has really got me into trying my new Sony Cyber-shot DSC HX100V. If the title with the word "complete" might be an overstatement, in fact it does include most or all of the subjects one would expect to find in a technical photography book.
It starts by a quick review of the history of photography and then moves to a chapter on equipment with enough information for a newcomer to understand what kind of camera one should buy and what else is needed to produce the wanted results, from torch to tripods and even a swiss army knife. After this, the book has sections on exposure, aperture, shutter and lenses, interesting for both SLR or compact camera and film or digital users. Next, the authors introduce the reader to the planning and production of a photo and creative possibilities in sections such as composition, light, colour, filters and black and white. All of these sections include small projects to encourage the reader to try as he learns and small explanations on how the image achieved can go wrong. Finally, the last two chapters are on image enhancement (mostly, but not only, based on Photoshop) and management, organizing and printing images. I was glad to find that the book offers further reading advice and other strong points to it are the good quality images as examples to almost every concept and technique described, the reference of artists considered experts on them and the inclusion of a glossary and an index, sometimes forgotten but always useful in this kind of book.
All in all, this is a really good read for photography beginners such as myself and, though one might need more information on some topics or could be happy with less time spent reading about others, as what each reader knows and is interested in a priori is different, I believe most would be satisfied with the organization and clear explanations given in Collins Complete Photography Course.


One Month to Live (Marvel Premiere Editions)
One Month to Live (Marvel Premiere Editions)
by Rick Remender
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not nearly as original or though provoking as expected but still well written, 11 July 2011
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I ordered this book from Amazon.co.uk together with the first Heroic Age Avengers' compilations because I was interested in what the story promised. It's not the first time one hears about a random person getting superpowers in a comic and following someone who was just given a determined amount of time to live on account of a medical condition is not at all an original concept but I was open and willing to look for a new interpretation of this. And that was precisely what I didn't find.
Dennis Sykes - the main character - reacted mostly as one would expect him to, the plot was well developed, made sense and was coherent in spite of the many contributors but the most interesting events were his meetings with Spider-man and other Marvel celebrities just for the fun of it and even the end was generally predictable.
I admit that no single criteria should be used alone when commenting on any book but in this case I considered the originality of paramount importance. On the other hand, I must emphasize that the story was well written, specially when by Rick Remender, and the illustrations were good, particularly the ones drawn by Andrea Mutti, Koi Turnbull, Shawn Moll - issues 1 and 2 - and the all of the issues' covers by Michael del Mundo
Overall it's not a bad comic book but it wasn't really exciting and by no means nearly as thought provoking as I expected.


Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes
by Edith Hamilton
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £8.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A nice walk through Greek and Roman myths and a small introduction to Norse mythology, 4 July 2011
Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes proposes to give the reader a walk through the most important myths drawing as possible directly from the texts and original authors that brought their knowledge to later civilizations. Examples as Homer, Virgil, Ovid and Euripides are surely known to most people that are interested this theme. I was a bit disappointed to find out that it was mostly about Greek and Roman mythology, I'd have enjoyed reading more about others but this by no means kept me from enjoying it. The author covers a lot of what is known, ranging from creation myth to specific stories of gods and human heroes, including of course the epics as the Quest of the Golden Fleece, the Iliad, the Odyssey and the Aeneid but is by no means limited to those. In fact, some of my favourites were short ones about lesser gods or humans' not at all epic as for example Biton and Cleobis'. The way Edith Hamilton decided to transmit these stories is also quite interesting. At the start of each chapter she talks about the poets who first wrote those specific tales, which were the ones she decided to use as source and why, whether it was because they were the most complete or because she likes their style best. As she writes, she adapts most of the original texts, adds some quotes, comments, interprets and gives context to the tales. Although the beginning feels slow and at times confusing, as one continues it enthrals the reader and becomes easier and pleasurable. The last part of the book is the small introduction to Norse Mythology, with some stories and the identification of the main characters, while at the same time comparing it to the Greek and to humanity itself, showing it as a more sombre myth, frustrating and simultaneously somewhat conformed to the hardness of life and inescapable death.

More than only getting to know the classic mythologies, this book allows one to peek into the minds of the Greek and Roman people, notice the evolution of the stories and feel the belief fading as they are told by more recent authors. One thing that came to mind often is how human centred they are, how the gods end up behaving pretty much as humans do, being petty, loving, hating, envying, powerful and immortal as they are. The Norse gods seem to me more inspiring, probably because, not being omnipotent - themselves just living until Ragnarok, when they are sure to be defeated and die - they are more similar to humans and would probably help people fight through their lives, face the problems to which they found no solution, giving them purpose, even if it's not fighting for a blissful eternity as nowadays more prominent religions came up with. I must say though that I still have much to read and find out about the Mythology of the Norsemen.
Overall, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes is good as a first look into the theme, interesting enough for those that already know some of the stories but want a closer look and an organized source and is probably even good to keep as a myth encyclopaedia to peek into it once in a while.


Siege: X-Men Premiere HC
Siege: X-Men Premiere HC
by Marjorie Liu
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars It was OK, but not really worth buying as a HC collection, 11 Oct. 2010
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The first and most important thing I must say about this is that Siege: X-Men doesn't speak of the X-Men at all, as they didn't participate in the siege. It concentrates on the events around two mutants, Daken and Valkyrie.
I know little of Daken, having seen him only a few times and having never read anything on him as main character, so I felt a bit lost while reading this comic. I do agree that the story was well adapted to an Asgard focused moment in the Marvel history, but other than that, I didn't connect with Daken and couldn't really follow his behaviour. This might have been intended, but because I know very little of Daken's personality, it just made me feel less interested. The story itself ends with a loose end making me recommend this only for people who already read or intend to start reading Daken.
Valkyrie's story was somewhat more interesting to me. Although I also know very little of her, this is a well written and well closed short story and I liked following Valkyrie and Hela's interaction. Niko Henrichon's illustration adds a lot to it, both the drawing and the colouring are amazing.
The last part of this collection is Siege: Storming Asgard - Heroes and Villains which is H.A.M.M.E.R.'s collection of information and analysis of almost anyone with some importance for the Siege event. I did enjoy going through this as trying to get inside Norman's mind (though not too much for the sake of my sanity) as he plotted the destruction of Asgard as a definitive step on to becoming leader of the United States and then, probably, of the whole world.


Powers, Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?
Powers, Vol. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl?
by Brian Michael Bendis
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars volume one is a great start, want to read the next volumes!, 10 Oct. 2010
I've read the first volume of Brian Michael Bendis' Powers a while ago, but only now had the time and concentration to write about it. This won't be a proper review of the book but a simple comment as I don't remember the details.
I must start by saying I'm a fan of Bendis, after having read some of his works for Marvel and now this. Powers is marvellously built, including a believable society, great characters and an interesting detective story that develops into much more than a simple investigation. Of note are his depiction of the media, one can recognize the usual broadcast media behaviour even through its adaptation to a world with super-powers, and some of the characters, mainly Callista and Deena, who piqued my curiosity as I got to know them. The writing is great and Michael Avon Oeming's illustration is as good as I could picture for this story. A nice detail is the inclusion of some supplemental material, with some short stories and the full script that originated this comic.
This first volume doesn't make for an absolute favourite of mine but the series do seem to have potential to become masterpiece material. I'll surely read the second volume of Powers, but it won't be soon as my shelf is already full of unread books.


Fables: Legends in Exile - Vol 01 (Fables)
Fables: Legends in Exile - Vol 01 (Fables)
by Bill Willingham
Edition: Comic

4.0 out of 5 stars A must read for comic book fans!, 2 Sept. 2010
I've finally been able to start reading the Fables series. Having heard some friends' opinions about the first volume, I had low expectations, which were easily overcome by the comic book. I like the cover, I like the characters, I like the story, I like the illustrations and I like the text.
Fables follows a group of characters borrowed from worldwide known folklore, myth and literature, transformed into "real" people, their past loves, wars or dramatic rescues being just background to who they are when the book picks them up. They seem matured, aged even, having been through what we expect of regular people's lives and much more. They are living in "our" world, exiled from their fable lands which were invaded and conquered, one by one, by the armies of an Adversary no one really knows. To give an idea of what these series offer, the fables have their own government, Snow White is single and is the deputy mayor of Fabletown, the Big Bad Wolf (Bigby) is the sheriff and Prince Charming is broke. In fact, the way Bill Willingham transformed the characters is my favourite part of the book, they have personality, are different from each other and act accordingly (I'll leave Jack out of this, his character being the weaker and less interesting one in my opinion, he seems to go along as the story needs it). Legends in Exile tells about the investigation of Rose Red's disappearance and suspected murder, but this plot isn't quite as interesting as the story of how they were exiled in the first place and it is my curiosity for that main element and the characters themselves that convince me that I'll pick up the next volumes. In spite of having a main plot falling short of the other elements' quality, it is still very well written and, as said before, well illustrated and that by itself makes reading it worthwhile. Another very interesting detail was the short story in the end about Bigby, Snow White and Rose Red's rescue from the Emperor's troops and of how the Wolf came to be a human integrated in Fabletown's society.
I recommend these series for all comic book readers, and from what I've read and heard, if you like the first volume as I did, you'll love the rest for sure!


X-Necrosha HC (Oversized)
X-Necrosha HC (Oversized)
by Craig Kyle
Edition: Hardcover

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit disappointing but still worthwhile for X-Men followers, 31 Aug. 2010
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X-Necrosha is a collection of X-men themed comics by authors Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost, Zeb Wells and Mike Carey, from specific Necrosha comics to issues of X-Force, New Mutants, New X-Men and X-Men Legacy.
As could be expected I have mixed feelings towards such a varied book, both in terms of writing and of illustration. First of all, I must say the main story, developed in the X-Necrosha and some X-Force issues was somewhat disappointing. Selene should have planned better, prepared better, taken her time with everything to be more believable as a character from my point of view. Her defeat seemed too easy and too obvious, even with the death toll involved, for a character who bragged godlike powers, surrounded by so many dangerous companions. I'm also not very keen on the illustrations to the said issues, the 3D lighting effect and the colours stray too far from what I learned to love in comic books. Not that I consider them bad or the effort a mistake, I'm probably just not used to them and prefer more traditional drawing/painting.
Having said all this, I should also highlight what's good about X-Necrosha. The story continues to follow the life on Utopia, now showing the mutants organizing themselves to fight an attack on their race and on their memories and emotions, as Selene finds a way to bring back a whole lot of dead mutants, transforming Genosha into the Necrosha that names the story arc. Cyclops leads the X-Men as confident as he showed to be able to on Nation X, commanding both the efforts of the people in Utopia and of the X-Force team, sent to deal with Selene by any means necessary. It was very interesting to see other reactions to the attack, as Emma Frost's when she sees the Hellions and Warpath is a nice character to follow all the way through the story. What I liked best in this collection were the side-stories and the tie-ins with M-Day and with Bastion's plans. The X-Men Legacy part was my favourite. The interaction between the mutants sent to Muir Island and the way they finally defeated their powerful surprise enemy was very good. The illustrations for these other issues were very nice. The background stories about Selene's team and how she gathered each one of them were also quite interesting and add to the book, making buying this as a collection worthwhile.


Siege
Siege
by Brian Michael Bendis
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.43

19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As good as a graphic novel can be in the mainstream MU context, 15 Aug. 2010
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This review is from: Siege (Paperback)
It took me just a couple of very intensive reading hours to get through Siege. I had read some of Brian Michael Bendis' work before, as Powers, House of M and Civil War but this time he hit the spot. I couldn't stop reading until I reached the end and I would have continued all night long if there was more.
"The Marvel Universe is under the control of its greatest villains. Norman Osborn - the man previously known to the world as the Green Goblin - is the commander of H.A.M.M.E.R., the international peacekeeping force." This part of the story starts with Siege: The Cabal, where the reader is shown Osborn's madness is again overwhelming him. As he goes paranoid and while, after losing Namor and Emma Frost's support, Doom leaves the cabal and actually attacks him, Norman is seen falling prey to Loki's mischief. Afterwards the book collects Siege #1-4, where the attack on Asgard actually happens and comes to a somewhat surprising and close to apocalyptic end.
Siege is a very interesting story from the beginning, having its roots in the latest big Marvel events, probably better noticed by those following the cabal and also Thor, told just at the right pace to make the reader feel excited but not like jumping pages to the end. It's easily understood by anyone that knows what's generally been happening in the Marvel Universe. The war on Asgard allows the author to bring a lot of heroes and villains into play and still be able to peek into their personal troubles, their personality, so that by the end of this event, everything could change or just come back to normal, and all would be fairly within limits of credibility.
SPOILERS
As Osborn's, the full power of H.A.M.M.E.R. and the initiative are attacking Asgard, Steve Rogers gets the true Avengers into play, joined by Fury's Secret Warriors and later by a still recovering Iron Man into play. They manage to beat the attacking forces and disable the Iron Patriot armour but there is still one force to contend with - the "also" mentally unstable Sentry. Finally losing all control, Robert Reynolds fully unleashes the Void after destroying Asgard and becomes a danger to the whole world. When even the might of Thor's lightning and the heroes empowered by the Norn stones seem unable to stop him, Iron Man remotely crashes the H.A.M.M.E.R. helicarrier on him making him revert to human form. Reynolds begs the heroes to kill him and when they notice he is again losing control over the Void, Thor does just that and burns his body on the sun. In this single event, Thor has shown the extent of his determination, Loki demonstrated that even he cares for Asgard's existence over his own plans, Iron Man and Steve Rogers made heroic comebacks and in the end, friendships seem renewed.
NO MORE SPOILERS
The Siege of Asgard, together with the X-men's Utopia stories, reset the Marvel Universe, preparing it for a Heroic Age, which seems to want to prove that after all the trouble, through the Civil War and the Secret Invasion, the superheroes can still find their old places in the world, as recognized defenders but also as friends with hopes of happiness. But any Marvel reader knows this will not be the end of the story, that problems will keep coming and the cycle will begin again, so all I can ask of the writers is that they do so in style, with the quality that Brian Michael Bendis showed in Siege. I must also make due reference to the amazing illustrations, penciled by Olivier Coipel or, in The Cabal, by Michael Lark. If not a masterpiece, in level with what can be done with separate, more independent graphic novels as Maus, Persepolis, Watchmen or even Sandman are considered (I still have to read some of those), I believe Siege is as good a novel as I've ever seen given its context.
I recommend Siege for all of Marvel's usual readers as I believe only those with enough knowledge of the current state of affairs in the Marvel Universe and of most of the characters can enjoy all that this graphic novel has to offer.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2010 10:57 AM BST


The Palace Of Dreams (Vintage Classics)
The Palace Of Dreams (Vintage Classics)
by Ismail Kadare
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For people who enjoy dystopian dictatorships, 11 Aug. 2010
The book follows Mark-Alem, a member of the Quprilis, a very important family in an Empire under a totalitarian regime, who starts working in the Tabir Sarrail. Known as the Palace of Dreams, the Tabir Sarrail is a kind of government department that catalogues and interprets all the dreams that the people report as the dreams sometimes include prophecies. As Mark-Alem rises in the Palace's hierarchy, he learns about its purpose, the most important one being the choice and interpretation of the Master-Dream, one which has consequences to the state or its rulers and for that is presented directly to the state's Sovereign, the Sultan.
The story is always told from Mark-Alem's point of view, and the reader learns everything as he does, understanding the event as they unravel around him. In the beginning, the author seems to concentrate in making the reader understand Mark-Alem, his thoughts, his habits, his insecurities, his family and his work. But after a while, the plot thickens as it focuses on the relationships between the Quprili family and the Tabir Sarrail, as Mark-Alem himself starts to understand what happens inside the Palace of Dreams, building up to the moment where he understands how far the rulers will go acting solely on what has been interpreted in a dream. Kadare still keeps a surprise to the very end of the book, which you may predict if you were paying attention to the details all the way from the very beginning.
It was very interesting to read a story that although being obviously about a totalitarian regime that even oversees people's future acts, is different from the usual for keeping within one character's point of view and focusing on his specific story, having no reference to heroes that fight it, to apocalyptic situations or even to the fall of the sovereign's regime as could be expected. Kadare manages to convey how one feels living under the control, being part of the very "machine" that keeps said control and still playing your part as if there was no other chance or there was no conscience of consequence. A notion that reminds me of surviving rather than living, that shows how the true, absolute control can be achieved. The text itself is easy to read and the story develops at just the right speed, being neither too slow nor overwhelmingly rushed to the end.
The Palace of Dreams wasn't one of my favourite books and I'm not about to read all that Ismail Kadare wrote but I did like it and I'd recommend it to people that enjoy stories based on dystopian dictatorships as Orwell's 1984 but don't mind a bit of fantasy as brought here by the prophetic dreams.


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