Saturday, August 28, 2010

Spotlight: Pyr Books

As Pyr recently sent me a handful of back-catalogue novels to review (Jon Sprunk and James Enge, most notably), I thought I’d just take an opportunity to draw your attention to four upcoming releases from the US publisher. It would appear that Pyr are the US publisher for many titles we Brits will know as part of Gollancz’s stable of fantasy and science fiction authors. The four below (excluding the first), however, seem to only have US release dates thus-far.

First off, one that’s already available in the UK:

Mark Hodder’s The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack

Hodder-TheStrangeAffairOfSpringHeeledJack

[ US    |    UK ]

London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton — explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne — unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.

Their investigations lead them to one of the defining events of the age, and the terrifying possibility that the world they inhabit shouldn't exist at all!

One of the few instances when I like the US artwork as much as I like the UK artwork. Both very different, almost suggestive of different genres entirely, but both are also pretty interesting. I’m not sure if/when I’ll have a chance to get to read this, but if I find the time, I’m certainly intrigued.

Griffith-VE-Greyfriar Next up: Clay & Susan Griffith’s The Greyfriar: Vampire Empire Book One

In the year 1870, a horrible plague of vampires swept over the northern regions of the world. Millions of humans were killed outright. Millions more died of disease and famine due to the havoc that followed. Within two years, once-great cities were shrouded by the gray empire of the vampire clans. Human refugees fled south to the tropics because vampires could not tolerate the constant heat there. They brought technology and a feverish drive to re-establish their shattered societies of steam and iron amid the mosques of Alexandria, the torrid quietude of Panama, or the green temples of Malaya.

It is now 2020 and a bloody reckoning is coming.

Princess Adele is heir to the Empire of Equatoria, a remnant of the old tropical British Empire. She is quick with her wit as well as with a sword or gun. She is eager for an adventure before she settles into a life of duty and political marriage to a man she does not know. But her quest turns black when she becomes the target of a merciless vampire clan. Her only protector is the Greyfriar, a mysterious hero who fights the vampires from deep within their territory. Their dangerous relationship plays out against an approaching war to the death between humankind and the vampire clans.

Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar is the first book in a trilogy of “high adventure and alternate history”. Combining pulp action with a steampunk style, Vampire Empire brings epic political themes to life within a story of heartbreaking romance, sacrifice, and heroism.

My initial thoughts were: “Hm. More vampires… Mixed with steampunk.” This, actually, might work rather well. I’m still a newbie to the steampunk genre, having not read any of it (at least, not knowingly) but certainly intrigued all the same.

Resnick-WW-TheBuntlineSpecial Mike Resnick’s The Buntline Special (A Weird West Tale)

The year is 1881. The United States of America ends at the Mississippi River. Beyond lies the Indian nations, where the magic of powerful Medicine Men has halted the advance of the Americans east of the river.

An American government desperate to expand its territory sends Thomas Alva Edison out West to the town of Tombstone, Arizona, on a mission to discover a scientific means of counteracting magic. Hired to protect this great genius, Wyatt Earp and his brothers.

But there are plenty who would like to see the Earps and Edison dead. Riding to their aid are old friends Doc Holliday and Bat Masterson. Against them stand the Apache wizard Geronimo and the Clanton gang. Battle lines are drawn, and the Clanton gang, which has its own reasons for wanting Edison dead, sends for Johnny Ringo, the one man who might be Doc Holliday's equal in a gunfight. But what shows up instead is The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo, returned from the dead and come to Tombstone looking for a fight.

Welcome to a West like you've never seen before, where "Bat Masterson" hails from the ranks of the undead, where electric lights shine down on the streets of Tombstone, while horseless stagecoaches carry passengers to and fro, and where death is no obstacle to The Thing That Was Once Johnny Ringo. Think you know the story of the O.K. Corral? Think again, as five-time Hugo winner Mike Resnick takes on his first steampunk western tale, and the West will never be the same.

When I read this, my automatic point of reference was Will Smith’s Wild Wild West movie. This might well get me lynched among the sci-fi/fantasy'/steampunk world, but that’s just the way it goes. (And, I don’t remember the movie being quite as terrible as people made out – save the ending.) Needless to say, I like the Wild West as a setting for novels, and the combination of that and steampunk seems – to me – to be a winner. Definitely interested in reading this novel. (The fact that it’s subtitled “A Weird West Tale” almost suggests there might be more to come in the future…)

Akers-NornsOfRuin And finally: Tim Akers’s Horns of Ruin

Eva Forge is the last paladin of a dead god. Morgan, god of battle and champion of the Fraterdom, was assassinated by his jealous brother, Amon. Over time, the Cult of Morgan has been surpassed by other gods, his blessings ignored in favor of brighter technologies and more mechanical miracles. Eva was the last child dedicated to the Cult of Morgan, forsaken by her parents and forgotten by her family. Now she watches as her new family, her Cult, crumbles all around her.

When a series of kidnappings and murders makes it clear that someone is trying to hasten the death of the Cult of Morgan, Eva must seek out unexpected allies and unwelcome answers in the city of Ash. But will she be able to save the city from a growing conspiracy, one that reaches back to her childhood, even back to the murder of her god?

Another author I’ve never read. Can’t remember when or where I heard of this first, but I really like the artwork (I know; “don’t just a book by its cover”…), but after reading the synopsis, my interest is definitely increased.

*     *     *

So, those are just a handful of books coming our way in the near future. Clearly, the global interest in steampunk continues apace, and I think the only lesson we can take away from this is that I really should read some! I guess I just worry that the idea I have in my mind of steampunk – an idea and imagery that’s always intrigued and attracted me – might not be what I find in here. I have Cherie Priest’s acclaimed Boneshaker, and it’s on that never-shrinking “to read” pile, so I’m sure I’ll start with that. At some point. As soon as I get more PhD work done, and a couple of Orbit and Tor releases read and reviewed.

Hope your interest has been piqued.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

“Throne of Lies”, by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (Black Library)

Dembski-Bowden-ThroneOfLies

Night Lords audiobook from one of the Black Library’s most promising up-and-coming authors.

The Night Lords are among the most feared Chaos Space Marines in the universe. Betrayed, cast from the Emperor’s light and hunted as heretics, they are the rebels of the 41st Millennium. Garbed in symbols of death, the Night Lords are remorseless hunters and killers. They will never repent for the blasphemies that saw them banished. They prey upon the dying Imperium, bringing death from the darkness between the worlds. And terror is their most powerful weapon.

The warband of the Exalted, travelling aboard The Covenant of Blood, are recovering from the events at Crythe Primus. But their dark crusade against the loyal Imperial forces continues, and they will leave a trail of blood and terror behind them.

Running Time: 72 minutes

Performed By: John Banks & Beth Chalmers

Directed By: Lisa Bowerman

This is the second Black Library audiobook I’ve tried out. It’s a tie-in to Dembski-Bowden’s Night Lords series, which I haven’t yet read (but have heard nothing but good things – so, you really have to wonder why I haven’t read it yet… I’ll get on it). I’m never sure what to write when reviewing audiobooks – with a running time of only 72mins, it’s basically a short story on tape, so to go into too much detail would be to spoil the story.

The story centres on a Night Lords warband, which is searching for a mysterious hololith, presumably containing some secret information that is of considerable value to their Legion. From the opening sequence of a navigator’s efforts to massage a tense translation from the Warp into real space, to the final, almost sad scene, Throne of Lies clicks along at a fair pace.

There’s a lot more description going on here than there is dialogue or interaction between characters. The Night Lords crop up quite late in the story, all things considered, when they ambush a Callidus assassin during her mission to execute a local cult high priest. Talos, the leader of the warband, is seeking a specific Callidus temple, in which the hololith that has eluded him for so long supposedly resides. The quest is based on the Night Lords’ oldest grudge: it was an assassin from the Callidus temple that carried out the execution order place on their Primarch, Konrad Curze. (This is actually one of the more interesting events of the late Horus Heresy, so I wonder if the novels go into more detail… More reason to check them out.)

The audiobook is well-acted, if at times a little over-done. The writing and story come across very well, and one even feels sympathy for the Chaos Marines in that final scene. The description sometimes feels a bit too florid, but I think this is partly because of the medium and the tenor of the delivery – there are times when it feels too dramatic for what’s being described. The quality of the story has certainly piqued my interest in the Night Lords series (and Dembski-Bowden’s other writing), and I’ll endeavour to get the first instalment – Soul Hunter – read and reviewed before the second book (Blood Reaver) is released in May 2011.

I think it’d be fair to say that I don’t find audiobooks as satisfying as novels or short-stories. There’s just something far more pleasurable in reading a story than having it read to you. For me, this has everything to do with the ‘voice’ of the story – narrative, in my head, is usually pretty monotone, whereas the actors on audiobooks sometimes seem a little too eager to turn it into some oratorical event. There are just some things that will never stir peoples’ emotions, though… If there’s just one thing you don’t like about the performance, it can make the whole experience less pleasurable (the voice of the navigator’s attendants, for example, were a problem for me, as were the slight changes in accent that differentiated certain characters).

Overall, I would say that Throne of Lies contains a great short story based on the Night Lords Chaos Space Marines, one that manages to generate a surprising sympathy for such dark and brutal characters. It is certainly Dembski-Bowden’s story that carries this audiobook. If you haven’t read the author’s Night Lords series, then this will certainly make you want to read them.

If I could request one thing, however, it would be for this story to be printed in an anthology or omnibus edition of the series at a later date.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Upcoming (Exciting) Books from Tor

This is just a quick post to let you know about some exciting 2011 releases from Tor. It looks like next year will be another cracking for fantasy, sci-fi and other speculative genres, with Tor among the leaders of the pack.

tor_Images_tor_logo

Alan Campbell

Campbell, the talented author of the Deepgate Codex series, has apparently submitted the manuscript for Sea of Ghosts, his next novel, and the first in the Gravedigger Chronicles. Here’s the description from the press release:

Set in a world of entropic sorcerers, poisoned seas, the Drowned, drug-addicted dragons, Deadships and a powerful sisterhood of telepaths, and featuring ex-soldier Colonel Thomas Granger, this is an incredible novel of imaginative fantasy with strong characters, non-stop action and tremendous descriptive world-building.

Apparently, editing has just finished. The jacket design from artist Larry Rostant has also been completed, and is amazing:

Campbell-GC1-SeaOfGhosts

Sea of Ghosts will be one of Tor’s lead fantasy hardback releases in 2011. Emma reviewed The Deepgate Codex and loved it, and it remains one of the series (along with those of Adrian Tchaikovsky, Brian Ruckley, George R.R. Martin, and Joe Abercrombie) I am kicking myself for not yet reading.

Adrian Tchaikovsky

Just a quick mention of Tchaikovsky’s continuing Shadows of the Apt series (book six, The Scarab Path, was release this month in the UK). The artwork for the seventh volume has now been released, and it’s another corker:

Tchaikovsky-6-SeaWatchUK

The Sea Watch is scheduled for publication in February 2011.

Doug Hulick

Tor has just acquired the publishing rights to debut author Hulick’s new fantasy series, The Kin Wars. Among Thieves is the first instalment, and here’s a quick description:

Among Thieves follows the morally ambiguous Drothe. He's a Nose, an informant who finds and takes care of trouble inside the criminal organization he's a part of.

When his boss sends him to Ten Ways to track down who's been leaning on his organization's people, Drothe discovers hints of a much bigger mystery. Someone is trying to stir up trouble between the lower-level criminal gangs. And there's a book rumored to contain forbidden Imperial magic that a lot of very dangerous people seem to be looking for - including two very powerful crime bosses known as the Gray Princes. When Drothe discovers the book, he finds himself holding a bit of swag that can bring down emperors, shatter the criminal underworld, and unlock forbidden magic…

If that’s not enough to whet your appetite, here’s what bestselling (and CR favourite) author Brent Weeks had to say about the novel:

“Among Thieves is an unalloyed pleasure: a fast-moving, funny, twisting tale in an evocative setting with great characters. The kind of story that reminds you why you love to read. This book may just give you that feeling you had the first time you read Rothfuss or Abercrombie: Oh hell yeah, there’s new talent in the game. Read this book. No really, read this book.

Sadly, there’s no artwork to share with you just yet, but who cares – they could dress it in simple brown paper, and I’d still want to read it. Among Thieves is scheduled for an April 2011 UK release.

Alden Bell

The interwebs have been all atwitter about Alben Bell’s The Reapers Are the Angels, and it seems that the hype is justified, if the slew of glowing reviews are anything to go by.

First, here’s the artwork (UK and US) and also the synopsis:

Bell-ReapersAreTheAngelsUK-US

Zombies have infested a fallen America. A young girl named Temple is on the run. Haunted by her past and pursued by a killer, Temple is surrounded by death and danger, hoping to be set free.

For twenty-five years, civilization has survived in meager enclaves, guarded against a plague of the dead. Temple wanders this blighted landscape, keeping to herself and keeping her demons inside her heart. She can't remember a time before the zombies, but she does remember an old man who took her in and the younger brother she cared for until the tragedy that set her on a personal journey toward redemption. Moving back and forth between the insulated remnants of society and the brutal frontier beyond, Temple must decide where ultimately to make a home and find the salvation she seeks.

If you’d like to read a little more about the author and his novel, then check out the interview of Bell, conducted by fellow Tor author Mark Charan Newton, which can be found here.

Tor has just also released a trailer for the book, and here it is:

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

“No Angel”, by Jay Dobyns & Nils Johnson-Shelton (Canongate)

This review has been cross-posted on our other (non-fiction) site.

Dobyns-NoAngelUS&UK US   |   UK

An ATF agent goes undercover with the Hell’s Angels

The first federal agent to infiltrate the inner circle of the outlaw Hells Angels Motorcycle Club, and the inside story of the 21-month operation that almost cost him his family, his sanity, and his life.

Getting shot in the chest as a rookie agent, bartering for machine guns, throttling down the highway at 100 mph, and responding to a full-scale, bloody riot between the Hells Angels and their rivals, the Mongols – these are just a few of the high-adrenaline experiences Dobyns recounts in this action-packed true story.

Dobyns leaves no stone of his harrowing journey unturned. At runs and clubhouses, between rides and riots, Dobyns befriends bad-ass bikers, meth-fueled “old ladies”, gun fetishists, psycho-killer ex-cons, and even some of the “Filthy Few” – the elite of the Hells Angels who’ve committed extreme violence on behalf of their club. Eventually, at parties staged behind heavily armed security, he meets legendary club members such as Chuck Zito, Johnny Angel, and the godfather of all bikers, Ralph “Sonny” Barger. To blend in with them, he gets full-arm ink; to win their respect, he vows to prove himself a stone-cold killer.

Hardest of all is leading a double life, which has him torn between his devotion to his wife and children, and his pledge to become the first federal agent ever to be “fully patched” into the Angels’ near-impregnable ranks. His act is so convincing that he comes within a hairsbreadth of losing himself. Eventually, he realizes that just as he’s been infiltrating the Hells Angels, they’ve been infiltrating him. And just as they’re not all bad, he’s not all good.

No Angel has been described as the new Donnie Brasco and the most in-depth account of the world of Outlaw Biker Gangs since Hunter Thompson’s seminal work, Hell’s Angels (which I might also review one day). In No Angel, we get a riveting account of an undercover ATF agent’s experiences infiltrating the notorious outlaw biker gang – from the initial forays into that world; the scary moment when another biker accuses them of not being genuine (which carries a death penalty); the team’s year-long mission to gain respect and trust in the eyes of local Hells Angels; Dobyn’s eventual prospecting and ‘patching in’ with the Hells Angels; and finally the investigation’s big bust at its completion.

I must admit to the source of my initial interest in this book: I’ve been watching Sons of Anarchy, which is brilliant and has put me in the mood to learn/read/watch more about bikers and their culture, so I ordered this book on the strength of a Newsweek excerpt I remember reading a couple years ago.

Dobyns gives the biker gangs a quite funny acronym: “OMGs”. As someone who hates emoticons and text-speak, I was very amused by this. They are, however, nothing to laugh about: as “America’s only truly indigenous form of international organized crime” – one that has spread alarmingly easily and well-managed – “violence was and is the [main] source of the Hells Angels’ power.”

The ATF’s and other federal law departments’ interest in biker gangs had, prior to the investigation detailed herein, largely been small-scale, and not particularly rewarding or sensational: small-time drugs and weapons charges. With Operation Black Biscuit, the ATF was hoping to slap a great big RICO charge against the Hells Angels. This would require dedication, a long and dangerous investigation. The main impetus for this operation – or at least something that heightened its importance and the increased attention from the federal government – was based largely on the Hells Angels-Mongols rumble at a Laughlin casino, which resulted in a small number of deaths and a large number of hospitalisations (amazingly, though, no civilians were seriously harmed, if at all).

Dobyns goes into a great amount of detail, outlining not only his own investigation, but also gives us a look into the ATF’s past experiences with outlaw biker gangs. He highlights one of the stranger issues:

“some biker investigators assimilate and sympathize with their adversaries. Some even form their own clubs. This has always been a mystery to me. Cops don’t mimic mafia dons or dress as Crips and Bloods and form up neighborhood sets, so why would some choose to create their own motorcycle clubs patterned after criminal syndicates? Maybe it’s because they’re bound by the bikes themselves – one thing that cuts across all of them is the ‘live to ride, ride to live’ credo – but I wouldn’t know since I don’t really love bikes. Go figure.”

This, I must say, I found surprising – I would have thought a perfect agent to send undercover would be one who loved bikes. But, considering the tendency of biker lovers to ‘go native’, perhaps a non-bike-lover was the better choice. In the past, Dobyns explains, “these forces – a disregard for their legitimacy from above, a wary respect and kinship from below – combined to give the bikers some semblance of a safe haven.”

It’s worth mentioning the unfortunate role of women in these worlds – both that of the bikers’ and undercover cops’. No Angel is filled with descriptions of the sorry state of a woman’s lot in the biker world. They are treated very poorly by the bikers. Dobyns explains that many of them were, or appeared to be “old, broken-down women”, who had “been living too hard for too long”:

“Some were attractive, some looked like mudflaps on a snowy day in March.”

Ultimately, they are little more than toys or objects to be passed around and (horrifyingly frequently) shared.

“The women walked away. The backs of their jackets had single patches that read PROPERTY OF THE RED DEVILS. This referred to both the women and the jackets.”

When it comes to female undercover agents, there were problems with finding “Bird”, his undercover alter-ego, a believable and competent “old lady”:

“I’m of the minority opinion in law enforcement circles that women are as capable and essential as men are in undercover assignments, but the truth is they have a hard road to walk. Most of the time they play girlfriends, runners, or mules. What I needed was a woman the Hell’s Angels would actually respect.”

The many horrific, dark and depressing moments mentioned in No Angel – drug ravaged people, child neglect, etc. – are weirdly contrasted with some quite amusing moments and scenes. One, which was particularly funny, is Dobyns’s account of when he and two other tattooed and burly bikers metrosexed it up while waiting for their club president, talking about the aloe in sunscreen before doing each other’s backs: “three bikers rubbing suncream into each other on a hot Phoenix night”. Or when Dobyns mentions his “love [of] the seasonals at Starbucks”; in this case the Halloween seasonal, a “pumpkin-flavored latte with brown sugar cinnamon sprinkles’ which the hulking, tattooed outlaw biker gets “with extra foam and low-fat milk. Totally lame, but there you go.” It’s moments like these that show how, despite his tough-guy image, he’s still human like the rest of us, with eccentricities.

The effect Dobyns’s undercover life has on his home life is interesting. Beyond the expected family tension one might expect from a father and husband who is absent a good deal of the time, the nature of Dobyns’s undercover work, the fact that he has to allow his role to consume him, can make normalcy difficult to achieve. For example, at a neighbourhood party:

“I must have looked like a circus attraction at that party. I was strung out, and fresh tattoos peeked out from the edges of my clothing. I was the only guest with a twisted five-inch corkscrew goatee, that’s for sure.”

His embrace of the biker role meant he couldn’t relate to the people he was supposed to be comfortable around.

“All I could think was that I’d rather be hanging out with my guys. Not just Timmy, Pops, and JJ, but Smitty, Dennis, Bob, Joby – any of them. I didn’t like them more, but I didn’t feel so weird around them.”

For Dobyns (and also myself), the contradictions of the Hell’s Angels are fascinating. The author explains:

“The Hells Angels are separate from society, but they’re rooted in it; they’re noncomformist, but they all look the same; they’re a secret society, but also flamboyant exhibitionists; they flout the laws of the land, but they’re governed by a strict code; their name and their Death Head logo represent freedom, individualism, toughness, and lawlessness, but both name and logo are protected by legal trademarks.”

The camaraderie described by the authors is amazing – it really does give the Hells Angels the feel of a brotherhood – if you were accepted by one, you could be vouched to another – leading to invitations to rallies and parties, all making your time with them blessed.

The internal politics of the club were interesting. As time has passed, there appears to be a growing the rift between young and old members of the club. Covering almost all aspects of club business and function, the issue of drug use and trade, general comportment of members, and also – most importantly – the future direction of the Hells Angels club. Basically, the real-life tension portrayed by the Sons of Anarchy club (only reversed, as it’s the younger SoA Vice-President who wants to take the club in a legitimate direction).

“Generally, younger members felt as though they’d joined the Hells Angels to raise hell, to do what they wanted to, when they wanted to, and not be told otherwise. Older members – members, it should be said, who’d lived this freer, hell-raising lifestyle in decades past – preferred to rest on their laurels, doing whatever they could not to attract attention from the law.”

Following the suspicious, sudden murder of the Hells Angels’ heir-apparent – Daniel “Hoover” Seybert – Dobyns believes the internal tensions are simmering ever-closer to the edge, and might even have been the cause of Hoover’s murder (he was considered one of those wanting a calmer life and more legit club). He and his team started to hear more and more grumbling from the younger members about the strict, softening older members.

The investigation called for Dobyns and his crew to form a biker gang, which they do Рan Arizona charter of the Solo Angeles. As they get deeper into the world, tighter with its denizens, and rack up countless drug and gun buys, they still recognise the need to break out of their comfort zones in order to blow the case wide open and make it really count. Dobyns outlines many of these small deals, illustrating the ease with which some of them were completed, the almost blas̩ attitude the criminals had to buying and selling illegal (often modified) guns or drugs. The slow pace of the operation also created stress within the ATF group as to how best to approach the problem.

“I wanted to pursue the Angels’ offers of membership. How often had a group of cops been given this opportunity? ... I felt we’d never get the true dirt on them as outsiders, that they could profess to trust us Solos till they were blue in the face, but it would never matter because we weren’t Hells Angels. If we wanted to take a swing at these guys... then this was the only way. My answer to break out of the comfort zone was to become a Hells Angel, to give ourselves over to our adversary.”

Given the considerable courting from established Hells Angels charters, and their respected, older members, it’s not surprising that Dobyns wanted to push as hard as possible for membership – literally to be invited into the belly of the beast. Slats, the operation’s ATF leader, had a different perspective. He preferred them to stay Solos, to maintain their relative freedom, but to push for more and bigger deals, to effectively make the Hells Angels’ own greed push them to work with the Solos. Also, if Dobyns and his fellow undercovers became Hells Angels prospects, then “our operation would become tied to the whims of the club and our sponsors.” As Solos, however, “we could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, wherever we wanted.” Dobyns is honest enough to concede that his approach may not have been best: “Slats is expert in the criminal mindset, and he might have been right, too.” When the decision was made, one thing is clear: the members of the task were supremely driven, even zealous – despite their solid case, which would have sent some shockwaves through the Hells Angels, they all wanted to push for a bigger, more devastating case. Their egos didn’t allow them to settle for a smaller bust.

No Angel is a gripping read – I found myself picking it up at every opportunity, and annoyed whenever I was forced to put it down (real life always has a tendency to get in the way of reading...). The glimpse we get of the bikers’ world is not a glamorous one, and yet Dobyns manages to deal with his subject in a balanced manner – his righteousness and hatred for much of it is evident throughout, but he’s not dishonest about the allures the lifestyle and the world present to those who are invited into it.

The writing is tight and stripped down, so you’ll find that you fly through the book. There are the occasional moments of normalcy, when Dobyns goes home to see his wife – his love for his family is clear, and sometimes leads to some slightly soppy chapters – it seems laid on a little thickly, if I’m honest. The strain his undercover work puts on his marriage is also fairly portrayed – he actually takes most of the blame for the difficult situation and stress.

Filled with colourful characters, riveting detail of the bikers’ criminal underbelly, No Angel is a gripping and entertaining account of life as an undercover agent, a detailed account of the dark world of bikers, and highly recommended.

Also try: Hunter S. Thompson, Hell’s Angels (2003); Kerrie Droban, Running With the Devil: The True Story of the ATF’s Infiltration of the Hell’s Angels (2009)*; Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger, Hell’s Angels (2001), Ridin’ High, Livin’ Free (2003) & Freedom: Credos from the Road (2005); William Marsden & Julian Sher, Angels of Death: Inside the Bikers’ Global Crime Empire (2007); William Queen, Under & Alone (2010); George Wethern & Vincent Colnett, Wayward Angel: The Full Story of the Hell’s Angels (2008); Andrew Shaylor, Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club (2007); Sons of Anarchy Seasons 1 & 2 (2009, 2010)

* Running With the Devil appears to parallel some of No Angel, and even ‘Bird’ is mentioned. It doesn’t seem to have been received as well, however.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

“The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice”, by Stephen Deas (Gollancz)

Deas-ThiefTakersApprentice

The beginning of an intriguing new fantasy series

Berren has lived in the city all his life. He has made his way as a thief, paying a little of what he earns to the Fagin-like master of their band, Hatchet. But there is a twist to this tale of a thief.

One day Berren goes to watch an execution of three thieves. He watches as the thief-taker takes his reward and decides to try and steal the prize. He fails. The young thief is taken. But the thief-taker spots something in Berren. And the boy reminds him of someone as well. Berren, not that he has much choice, becomes his apprentice… And is introduced to a world of shadows, deceit and corruption behind the streets he thought he knew. A city where he must learn to take not purses, but lives…

The first part of The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice describes how Berren came work for Master Syannis, Deephaven’s most feared thief-taker. Master Sy is an interesting character – clearly high-born with a mysterious past that led him to flee his home country. As two main characters, both Berren and Sy are pretty solid.

Berren dislikes parts of his training (learning his letters), and is chomping at the bit to get on with other elements of what he perceives to make up an integral part of a thief-taker’s life and trade. Namely, swords!

“He wanted to see swords flash and blood fly... The elegance of it. He wanted to see it over and over, again and again, until he’d learned to do it himself.”

At the same time, Berren’s nature is not that of a killer – he has a romanticised image of the dashing, gallant sword-master he thinks he will become, without following through in his head to logical conclusion and necessity of such a thing: death. It makes for an interesting glimpse into a young person’s hopes and dreams, seeing only the end result without the necessary in-between steps. Ultimately, Berren feels uncomfortable with his new life (certainly at the start, though he comes to accept it more as the novel progresses). He does not really fit in to Master Sy’s world of politics and intrigue, but equally is unable to return to his earlier life with Master Hatchet. This problem is less acute in the second half of the book, when they venture out of the city.

The relationship that develops between Berren and Master Sy is interesting: mainly a result of Sy’s erratic moods – at times he is the kindly uncle or god-parent, advising Berren on women; at other times he’s the harsh, angry task-master, Berren fearful and on the receiving end of Sy’s ire. The relationship is interesting, and it’s clear that a father-son-type bond does develop over the course of Berren’s training and his apprenticeship.

For a brand new world-setting, Deas has done a great job at making it inviting and familiar, introducing us to the city and its politics gently and without overloading the reader with information. Using Berren’s education to become a thief-taker as a device to inform the reader about the world is a good decision. Life in the city is richly observed, different quarters and the various neighbourhoods’ characters – dangerous and plush alike – are brought to life on the page.

The novel’s not quite as fast-paced as the blurb would have you believe: it is not quite the “hectic progression of fights, flights and fancies”, in my humble opinion. There are fights, for sure, but this is not the be-all-and-end-all of the novel. The book had a more languid prose-pace, which I enjoyed, and allowed for a little more world-building and gentler introduction to the characters.

If I had one issue, it would be Berren’s surprising, inconsiderable knowledge of his city before he’s sold to Master Sy – as a cut-purse operating in the city (in a specific quadrant thereof or otherwise), it seemed unlikely to me that he wouldn’t know at least a little more about the religions and politics of the place, not to mention the different characters of the various neighbourhoods. On the other hand, given the complexity and sheer size of the city, I suppose it’s not entirely unlikely (after all, how many of us actually know all about local politics and so forth, without being either in law enforcement or a criminal...?)

The novel ended well, setting up the rest of the series with just enough ambiguity to keep us guess as to where Berren and Sy will go next. There’s more about Berren’s own battles with his past, rather than Sy’s work as a thief-taker. This, while fine, was still a little disappointing – as the stuff hinted at with regards to Sy’s mission was tantalising stuff, potential fantasy gold. Perhaps in the future, now that Berren’s going to grow up and presumably embrace the life of a thief-taker, we’ll see and learn more of this world, and more about the politics and intrigue of Deephaven.

I really enjoyed reading Thief-Taker’s Apprentice, and I’ll definitely be looking out for future novels in the series. It’s a fantasy about a young man’s coming of age in a city dangerous with and from politics and intrigue, rather than epic battles. It therefore suited my tastes perfectly. One could perhaps describe it as being a bit like a seriously stripped-down Daniel Abraham (author of The Long Price Quartet).

As an introduction to Stephen Deas’s writing, this is perfect, and I’d be really surprised if reading this didn’t make you go out and buy The Adamantine Palace (or, if like me you already own it, move it up nearer the top of the ‘to-read’ pile). I was left wanting more – more novels set in this world, but also more detail (it’s a short novel, after all: less than 300 pages). I was also not sure, upon finishing, if this was YA fantasy or not – I’ve read that it is, but there are some pretty dark and/or graphic scenes in the story, which makes me question if this is accurate. Not that it really matters one way or another.

This is very well realised and written fantasy. If you like your fantasy with a pace that is a little less breathless, a little more languid (with a few action sequences thrown in for good measure and to keep you on your toes), then this is definitely recommended for you.

Very enjoyable.

For fans of: Brent Weeks, Col Buchanan, K.J. Parker

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Westerfeld’s “Behemoth” final cover?

According to Wondrous Reads, this is the final cover for Scott Westerfeld’s Behemoth:

Westerfeld-BehemothUKv2

I’m not sure that I like it, to be entirely honest. The previously proposed UK artwork, I thought, was more appropriate:

Westerfeld-BehemothUKv1

Not only that, it matches the cover artwork of Leviathan, the first in the series, which is also pretty cool:

Westerfeld-LeviathanUK

Not only that, this ‘darker’ design matches the design of the author’s website. Westerfeld seems happy with the new cover (read his thoughts, here).

Here’s the banner head from the site:

Westerfeld-inside-header

See? The darker blue makes more sense.

Am I being unreasonable? Any thoughts?

On a related note, regardless of what you might think of this new cover, one this is for certain: the UK covers are better than the US versions…

Westerfeld-LeviathanBehemothUS

More Incoming Books (September-November 2010)

Here’s a quick run-down of all the notable, upcoming September-November 2010 releases in science fiction and fantasy:

Another great schedule for Black Library, who will be releasing a slew of highly-anticipated books in October and November (I posted about BL’s September releases here).

BlackLibraryLogo

Various, “Sabbat Worlds Anthology”

Abnett,Various-SabbatWorldsAnthology Set in the Gaunt’s Ghosts system/war

Across the Sabbat Worlds, a bitter conflict is fought, a conflict that can only end in victory or annihilation. The innumerable forces of the Arch enemy attack without mercy, and planet after planet burns with the flames of war.

Yet even amidst this nightmare, the Imperial Guard stand stoic against their foes. The Phantine Air Corps battle the enemies of mankind across burning skies, while the Gereon resistance tries to break the foothold of Chaos on their beleaguered world and the legendary Gaunt’s Ghosts fight in the most violent and bloody of warzones. This anthology opens the gateway to the Sabbat Worlds like never before, featuring new stories from some of the Black Library’s best-known authors including Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and many more.

Quite looking forward to this, it’ll be interesting to see how other authors deal with the worlds and setting created by Dan Abnett. Also, considering the new Gaunt’s Ghosts short story included herein, this could be a great anthology.

Nathan Long, “Zombieslayer”

Long-Zombieslayer Gotrek & Felix return to battle the undying

Pursued by the dark forces of the necromancer Heinrich Kemmler, Gotrek and Felix arrive at Castle Reikgard, where they must hold out against the zombie hordes.

The brutality of the siege is unremitting as wave after wave of horrific creatures, led by the undead champion Krell, attempt to take the walls. With supplies running low and morale sinking, the defenders begin to hear terrible whispers and endure awful nightmares. Suspicion and paranoia run rampant within the castle walls, and the defence seems impossible.

Somehow Gotrek and Felix must unite the forces of the Empire against Kemmler’s ever-growing legion until help arrives, or will the Slayer find his doom amidst the unrelenting undead?

I’m a big fan of the Gotrek & Felix series, ever since the first anthology to feature the characters (oh, so many moons ago…). Shamanslayer finished on such a high note, I was sad that I had to wait so long for the next instalment. The wait is almost over, however, so expect a review pretty soon.

Sandy Mitchell, “Ciaphus Cain: Defender of the Imperium”

Mitchell-DefenderOfTheImperium Anthology of stories chronicling Cain’s unwitting heroism

The legendary Commissar Ciaphas Cain, lauded as one of the great heroes of the Imperium, finds himself thrust onto the battlefield again.

Cain wants nothing more than to keep out of trouble and get to the other side of his commission in one piece, but the war-torn 41st millennium has other ideas.

Confronted with the powers of Chaos and hordes of alien foes, our intrepid Commissar seeks to sidestep danger and talk his way out of trouble. Yet each time he survives his legend grows, and his life is in ever-greater jeopardy…

Defender of the Imperium contains the novels Death or Glory, Duty Calls and Cain’s Last Stand, plus the short story Traitor’s Gambit and a new introduction from author Sandy Mitchell.

Ciaphus Cain is a great character in the WH40k universe – an unwitting (anti-)hero who gets into far more trouble than he wants and commits far more heroic deeds than he intends. I’ve enjoyed all the Cain novels I’ve read, so it’ll be nice to sink my teeth into this omnibus, which contains a couple I haven’t read.

Gav Thorpe, “Aenarion”

Thorpe-Aenarion Elf-y audiobook, set during The Sundering

The Sword of Khaine resides upon the Blighted Isle, veiled in mystery and guarded by forces both living and dead.

Despite the warnings, Aenarion rides out upon his dragon Indraugnir to seek the prize in order to save his homeland of Ulthuan. The journey is fraught with danger, and Aenarion must confront daemons, spirits and the elemental forces of nature itself if he is to succeed.

But in drawing the blade from the Black Anvil, he will unleash the ancient and malevolent force that will tear the elven race apart…

Another audiobook, this time to tie in with Thorpe’s Time of Legends series that focuses on the High Elf race and their fall from grace. I’m pretty much on the fence about audiobooks, to be honest, although I’m willing to give this one a go because I like the setting and I remember reading about the events in a (very) old army book, way back when. As it’s not too long, I’ll hopefully get this done one free evening in the near future.

Nick Kyme, “Firedrake”

Kyme-Firedrake The second book in the Tome of Fire trilogy

When Chaplain Elysius of the Salamanders is taken captive by Dark Eldar, he faces a fight for survival at the hands of these cruel aliens.

The Firedrakes of 1st Company attempt a daring rescue mission, but much more is at stake than the Chaplain’s life. He holds the key to secrets buried beneath Mount Deathfire, secrets that could reveal the damnation – or salvation – of their home world. The Salamanders must penetrate the Port of Anguish and defeat the xenos threat there if they are to unveil the mysteries within the Tome of Fire.

Meanwhile, Dak’ir battles to survive the brutal Librarian training, and in his visions lies an even darker future…

The second in the series, I will have to catch up and read Salamander before I tackle this novel (I’ve read the short story about Kyme’s Salamanders in Fear the Alien, and I felt a little like someone who’d arrived late at the party…). I do like Kyme’s writing, though, and the characters seem complex and ‘unpretty’ enough to keep me interested in something novel-length.

Darius Hinks, “Warrior Priest”

Hinks-WarriorPriest An Empire Armies novel

Warrior Priests are the holy crusaders of the Empire, crushing daemons, witches and heretics alike with righteous fury.

These bold men wield death and damnation, with warhammers held high and the word of Sigmar on their lips. They provide the final bastion against the forces of darkness that would run rampant and forever turn the hearts of men.

Jakob Wolff is one such warrior, and sets out to track down his brother, whose soul has been tainted by the Ruinous Powers. Family must be put to one side as he battles to prevent the Empire from sinking into Chaos, with only his strength of arms and the purity of his beliefs to call upon.

I don’t really know why, specifically, but I’ve been looking forward to this for some time. Maybe it’s the true-life historical influences of the Warrior Priests that is the root of my interest (I studied medieval history at A-Level), not to mention the generally more interesting aspect of this faction of the Empire’s military establishment. Not sure when I’ll get around to this, but I hope it’ll be soon (the book’s not released until November, so I’ll endeavour to get it read and reviewed before it’s available in stores).

Aaron Dembski-Bowden, “The First Heretic”

DempskiBowden-TheFirstHeretic The Horus Heresy continues

Amidst the galaxy-wide war of the Great Crusade, the Emperor castigates the Word Bearers for their worship. Distraught at this judgement, Lorgar and his Legion seek another path while devastating world after world, venting their fury and fervour on the battlefield. Their search for a new purpose leads them to the edge of the material universe, where they meet ancient forces far more powerful than they could have imagined. Having set out to illuminate the Imperium, the corruption of Chaos takes hold and their path to damnation begins. Unbeknownst to the Word Bearers, their quest for truth contains the very roots of heresy…

There aren’t many words to explain how excited I am about this book. The Horus Heresy grows and improves with each new book, so on the strength of the preceding two volumes (A Thousand Sons and Nemesis), The First Heretic will be awesome. I’m not sure if I should wait until closer to the release date to review it, but I imagine I won’t be able to.

*     *     *

OrbitBooksLogo

Orbit Books, the grandee publisher of Fantasy and Sci-Fi, has an equally impressive roster for September (three of which – including the most exciting – were mentioned here). Here are two more titles to watch out for:

Kate Elliott, “Cold Magic”

Untitled-1 Magic, Dragons, Steampunk – a new series begins!

As they approach adulthood, Cat Barahal and her cousin Bee think they understand the society they live in and their place within it. At a select academy they study new airship technologies and the dawning Industrial Revolution, but magical forces still rule. Drawn into a labyrinth of politics involving blood and old feuds, Cat is betrayed by her family and forced to marry a powerful Cold Mage. As she is carried away to live a new life, fresh dangers threaten her every move and secrets form a language she cannot read. At least, not yet.

I’ve wanted to read one of Elliott’s novels for some times, now, but have always been too late to catch the beginning of a series. With Cold Magic, not only will I be able to get there from the beginning, but the premise sounds particularly great. Expect a review relatively soon.

Celine Kiernan, “The Crowded Shadows”

Kiernan-2-TheCrowdedShadows

Book 2 in the Moorehawke Trilogy

Every tyrant who ever threatened the Kingdom is gathering to Alberon’s table, and the forest is alive with spies, wolves and bandits. Within these crowded shadows, Protector Lady Wynter Moorehawke travels alone and unprotected, determined that she shall find the rebel prince and heal the rift that has come between the King and his legitimate heir. But who is an ally and who is a foe? In this, the second of The Moorehawke Trilogy, old friends and even older enemies ensure that Wynter is never certain of who she can trust.

Alyssa’s review of The Poison Throne, the first in this series, was very popular when it was first posted, and she’s been eagerly awaiting The Crowded Shadows. She’s got a couple books and reviews in the works, so not sure exactly when the review will come for this, but it will be done. Watch this space! (Or Twitter…)

*     *     *

SolarisLogo

My experiences with Solaris releases have thus far not been great. I’ve tried a number of them, and just couldn’t get into the stories. They seem to have, as a general rule (shared by Angry Robot Books) great premises let down by uneven execution. Here are the latest two to arrive:

Paul Kearney, “Century of the Soldier”

Second volume in re-issued The Monarchies of God series

By the mid sixth-century of Ramusian reckoning the great struggle is approaching its climax. For the victor there will be supremacy; for the vanquished, cultural annihilation.

Fighting that war, Corfe of Torunna will find that court intrigue can be as murderous as any martial foe. The monks Albrec and Avila will explode a bombshell of secret knowledge which will change the continent irrevocably. And Richard Hawkwood will return with the discovery of a New World.

The sixth century is the crucible of history. The century of the soldier.

I haven’t had a chance to try out the first volume of the series, but I’ve heard some pretty good things about it. I’ll try to fit it into the schedule as soon as possible.

Rowena Cory Daniels, “The Usurper”

Daniels-TheUsurper

The final book in the Chronicles of King Rolen’s Kin trilogy

Now a slave, Piro finds herself in the Merofynian Palace where, if her real identity is discovered, she will be executed.

Meanwhile, Fyn is desperate to help his brother, Bryen, who is now the uncrowned King. Bryen never sought power but now he finds himself at the centre of a dangerous resistance movement as the people of Rolencia flee vicious invaders.

How can Byren defeat the invaders, when half his warriors are women and children, and the other half are untrained boys and old men?

Hm. I’ve started The King’s Bastard, but I must sadly admit to having a great difficulty in getting into it. The first 50~ pages were interesting, and showed some promise, but then it seemed to get too bogged down and peculiar (there was something… off about the character development). I’ll try the series again when I have a moment to spare – although I think Shevaun might like to give them a try.

*     *     *

That’s all for now.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a lot of exciting reading to do…

“Blood Pact”, by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

With the paperback release of Abnett’s Blood Pact coming up in the not-to-distant future (October 2010), I thought I’d re-post my earlier review of the hardback, with just a couple of tweaks, in case you missed it the first time. Almost a year on from reading, I still think fondly of the book, which is certainly among not only the best in the series, but also one of my favourite sci-fi novels, ever. I can still remember most of it and how much I enjoyed reading it. Abnett is, without doubt, the Black Library’s best author – his writing is as good as, if not better than, most other science fiction published today, and I can’t recommend his work highly enough.

(A small warning: there are a couple of minor references to earlier volumes in the series, so if you’re afraid of spoilers, then you might not want to read this too carefully.)

*     *     *

Abnett-BloodPact Far from the front, trouble comes for the resting Tanith First & Only

Pulled back from the front line, the men of the Tanith First await news of their next deployment. But when an enemy prisoner is brought in for interrogation, Gaunt is drawn into a murderous web of intrigue.

Who can be trusted, and what exactly does the prisoner know that makes him so valuable? The fate of the Sabbat Worlds Crusade rests upon the answers, and Gaunt must find them out before he is eliminated.

Kicking their heels on Balhaut, far from the warfront, the Tanith First & Only are awaiting their next deployment. After the bloody events of Only In Death, Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt is recovering well, and getting used to his new augmetics. While he finds himself slipping with ease into the calmer life far removed from the battlefront, the same cannot be said for his men: experts at the conduct of war, unequalled in their given specialty (infiltration, scouting, and being generally sneaky), it turns out they don’t do well as a garrison force. As Commissars Hark and Ludd (Gaunt’s junior officers) discover, the more time spent with nothing-in-particular to do only makes restless Guardsmen go crazy, pushing the envelope and boundaries of what is allowed and acceptable behaviour from Imperial forces.

All is going moderately well until Gaunt is called in by Section (the HQ of the Commissariat on Balhaut) to take part in the interrogation of a high-level prisoner. As events escalate to violence, Gaunt must navigate through the web of intrigue (on both sides of the conflict) to discover what is so valuable about the prisoner’s knowledge. Without knowing who can be trusted, he has to rely on his wits and a small core of the Ghosts to survive and get to the bottom of things. The legacy of the Gereon campaign (the subject of Traitor General and The Armour of Contempt) makes him distrusted by his superiors, and the Inquisition is sniffing about the Ghosts, looking for anything damning. Gaunt just needs to stay alive, keep his prisoner from being killed, and discover the truth that, supposedly, could help decide the fate of the Crusade. As Gaunt hunkers down, the various factions looking for him and his companions draw nearer, culminating in an explosive, gripping and bloody finale.

Each new Gaunt’s Ghosts novel is an event for me. Each time Abnett turns his attention back to Gaunt and company, he goes some way to reimagining the science-fiction war novel. He has been referred to as the “master of war”, which is certainly accurate: no other author can bring you into the mindset of the grunts on the ground, while retaining a keen eye on characterization, character development, and superb story-telling. Whenever there is a switch in perspectives, you really get a sense of the person’s character and voice; and Abnett manages to keep things fresh and exciting each and every time (the only novel of his that I couldn’t really get into was Double Eagle, a stand-alone).

For Blood Pact, things are a little different in terms of style. For one, it’s is a slower novel – the action only really starts quite a way into the book. The novel has a more thriller-like feel to it, as the story is slowly unravelled for the reader. From the very beginning, I was hooked (it can sometimes take a couple of chapters for me to become truly taken with Black Library releases), and the plotting is expertly crafted for maximum effect and reading addiction. There’s a fair amount going on in every chapter – and, if it’s been a long time since you’ve read any of the previous Ghosts novels, it might take a moment to remember who all the characters are – but the pace is balanced and there is never a lull in the story.

The second big departure is the more nuanced approach to the Imperials and Chaos/Archenemy forces. The Blood Pact soldiers of the title aren’t portrayed as mindless minions – rather they are presented in a more three-dimensional manner, as Abnett gives us a deeper glimpse into their mindset. Eyl, in particular, is a clinical, sociopathic adversary for Gaunt, frighteningly focused, with the perspective of a true believer. That the Imperials have taken an agent of Chaos prisoner, rather than execute him on the spot is also a new take on the galactic crusade that forms the backdrop of the whole series (not to mention the complete Warhammer 40k oeuvre), and allows the author to take a look at the Imperium’s approach to non-combat warfare. Indeed, the author’s approach to the whole Warhammer 40k universe feels very different from other authors who take up the task of writing about it – things are more nuanced as a whole, deeper, and often far more intelligent and original, relying more on his own imagination than the information and background laid out by the army books. I wouldn’t be surprised, actually, if Abnett’s novels have gone a long way in redefining the universe he writes about.

Abnett’s sense of humour comes through well, without coming across as forced, out of place, or over-done – it is almost Pratchett-esque, in fact, made up as it is of amusing asides and sarcastic remarks, slightly impish in nature; the interactions between different troopers and members of the regiment, as well as Ayanti Zweil and Dr Kolding adds further colour to the novel. Considering it’s set in a fictional, dark and brutal future, it all feels very realistic, and Abnett’s skill at writing sympathetic characters will make you care about each and every one of the Ghosts.

It’s difficult to go into much more detail about the novel without ruining the story, so I won’t go into the plot any more. Needless to say, Abnett has written another winner – perhaps the best so far – and any fan of his writing should snap this up ASAP. His writing is broad in scope, with a keen eye for human nature and the effects war can have on the individual – not to mention the effects of social re-entry away from the battlefield.

Blood Pact should definitely appeal to readers of the Black Library’s wider catalogue, but also to fans of science fiction as a whole. Abnett’s noir-tinged war tales are exciting, engaging, and far more enjoyable than anything else in this genre. I also can’t help thinking that this is how good the writers of Battlestar Galactica wish their show had been (I was not a fan of that series).

Military sci-fi at its peerless, superior best. Highly recommended.

Series Chronology: First & Only, Ghostmaker, Necropolis, Honour Guard, The Guns of Tanith, Straight Silver, Sabbat Martyr, Traitor General, His Last Command, The Armour of Contempt, Only in Death, Blood Pact

Abnett’s Other WH40K novels: Eisenhorn Trilogy, Ravenor Trilogy, Double Eagle, Horus Rising & Legion (Horus Heresy series)

*     *     *

For those interested in the Sabbat Worlds setting, I just want to draw your attention to another Black Library release: the Sabbat Worlds Anthology, also released in October 2010, features a new Gaunt’s Ghosts short story, alongside other contributions from the Black Library’s stable of established and up-and-coming  authors. Here’s the cover art and the blurb from BL’s website:

Abnett,Various-SabbatWorldsAnthology

Across the Sabbat Worlds, a bitter conflict is fought, a conflict that can only end in victory or annihilation. The innumerable forces of the Arch enemy attack without mercy, and planet after planet burns with the flames of war. Yet even amidst this nightmare, the Imperial Guard stand stoic against their foes. The Phantine Air Corps battle the enemies of mankind across burning skies, while the Gereon resistance tries to break the foothold of Chaos on their beleaguered world and the legendary Gaunt’s Ghosts fight in the most violent and bloody of warzones.

This anthology opens the gateway to the Sabbat Worlds like never before, featuring new stories from some of the Black Library’s best-known authors including Dan Abnett, Graham McNeill, Aaron Dembski-Bowden and many more.

I’m currently reading the Fear the Alien anthology between novels (review should go live perhaps by the end of next week), but as soon as I’m done with that, I’ll get started on this collection. It’ll be interesting to see how other authors work with Abnett’s setting, and of course the new Gaunt’s Ghosts story is a real draw.

[I really hope Dan’s novels are among those that are released as eBooks when Black Library finally gets around to publishing in this formatapparently this October]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

BIG AXE!

That’s my intellectual way of introducing you to the (possibly final?) cover for Joe Abercrombie’s next novel, The Heroes:

Abercrombie-TheHeroes

In keeping with the magnificent style of the author’s other four novels, this is a gorgeous piece of cover art.

Published by Gollancz in the UK, The Heroes will hit stores in January 2011. Here’s the synopsis

They say Black Dow’s killed more men than winter, and clawed his way to the throne of the North up a hill of skulls. The King of the Union, ever a jealous neighbour, is not about to stand smiling by while he claws his way any higher. The orders have been given and the armies are toiling through the northern mud. Thousands of men are converging on a forgotten ring of stones, on a worthless hill, in an unimportant valley, and they’ve brought a lot of sharpened metal with them. Bremer dan Gorst, disgraced master swordsman, has sworn to reclaim his stolen honour on the battlefield. Obsessed with redemption and addicted to violence, he’s far past caring how much blood gets spilled in the attempt. Even if it’s his own.

Prince Calder isn’t interested in honour, and still less in getting himself killed. All he wants is power, and he’ll tell any lie, use any trick, and betray any friend to get it. Just as long as he doesn’t have to fight for it himself.

Curnden Craw, the last honest man in the North, has gained nothing from a life of warfare but swollen knees and frayed nerves. He hardly even cares who wins any more, he just wants to do the right thing. But can he even tell what that is with the world burning down around him?

Over three bloody days of battle, the fate of the North will be decided. But with both sides riddled by intrigues, follies, feuds and petty jealousies, it is unlikely to be the noblest hearts, or even the strongest arms that prevail…

Three men. One battle. No Heroes.

Can’t wait to read it. To be fair, I should really get around to finishing The First Law Trilogy and also Best Served Cold. Hopefully I’ll manage this before the year is out. Watch this space.

Orbit Book’s Artwork Research

Orbit Books has released a couple of great graphics that illustrate the trends in fantasy cover artwork, which I thought were great and wanted to share with everyone.

Here’s the first, covering the popular elements for the genre, or “The Chart of Fantasy Art”:

Print

And the second, which deals with just the changing fashion of urban fantasy heroines that are gracing ever-more novels:

Orbit-Heroines 2008-9

Links to the original posts here and here.

Monday, August 16, 2010

“Tempest Rising”, by Nicole Peeler (Orbit)

Reviewed by Emma Newrick

Untitled-1A new, intriguing voice in supernatural romance fiction

Living in small town Rockabill, Maine, Jane True always knew she didn’t quite fit in with so-called normal society. During her nightly, clandestine swim in the freezing winter ocean, a grisly find leads Jane to startling revelations about her heritage: she is only half-human.

Now, Jane must enter a world filled with supernatural creatures that are terrifying, beautiful and deadly – all of which perfectly describe her new ‘friend’ Ryu, a gorgeous and powerful vampire. It is a world where nothing can be taken for granted: a dog can heal with a lick; spirits bag your groceries; and whatever you do, never – ever – rub the genie’s lamp.

Thanks to the likes of Twilight and the Sookie Stackhouse (True Blood) novels, supernatural romance novels are big business. Nicole Peeler’s take on the genre – in her Jane True Series – has enough of a twist to keep readers interested, but didn’t blow me away at first read.

Small-town girl Jane True is totally normal, apart from a penchant for swimming in the winter ocean. Her life is lonely – an ailing father, and the girls who run the bookstore where she works are her main companions, and she is mostly ostracised by the rest of Rockabill, thanks to a tragedy in her past. Jane is a pretty sympathetic character, real and easy to like, although her ‘dirty drawer’ took me aback a little – it felt shoehorned in too early by the author as a way to keep those looking for something steamy in their supernatural romance reading until the obligatory hot vampire turned up.

Speaking of which, when Jane pulls a body out of a whirlpool on one of her night-time swims, it leads to a meeting with a gnome and a kelpie, and she discovers that not only is she not quite human, but there are plenty more supernatural residents of Rockabill. The town plays host to many others, including Anyan, a barghest; Ryu, a vampire sleuth; a succubus and some pretty tough goblins. I liked that Peeler’s characters weren’t the standard supernaturals, but were drawn from more obscure folklore – it lends her novel an edge that Twihards don’t usually possess. The novel follows Jane as she tries to learn more about her heritage, and as she and Ryu try to solve the mystery of the murders spreading through Rockabill’s supernatural community.

Ryu was a bit of a disappointment – I felt as though I only had the author’s word for it that he was a hot vampire, because his character doesn’t really develop over the course of the novel, as Jane’s does. I also found myself suspicious of his motives, which ended up being unjustified. Perhaps we will learn more of Ryu in the next instalment (Tracking The Tempest). Anyan, in contrast, is fascinating, perhaps because Peeler deliberately gives us so little of him. What we do learn, however, hints that he has been aware of Jane for far longer than she realises, and may yet play a greater role in her life.

I really enjoyed Peeler’s take on the Fairy Court – very original and full of vibrant detail. I also liked her creepy naga. As a heroine, Jane has exactly the right balance between uncertain human slowly learning about a new world and getting to grips with her own powers, and feisty female who won’t be cowed no matter whose world or what situation she finds herself in.

Peeler has a distinctive authorial voice, and her characters come across as real and contemporary. She clearly has a story to tell, and while I wasn’t always spellbound, I did want to keep reading. I look forward to the next book.

[Tracking the Tempest is published by Orbit in the UK, and is out now. The third book in the series, Tempest’s Legacy, will be published in December 2010 in the US, and January 2011 in the UK.]

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Retro: “Pyramids”, by Terry Pratchett (Corgi, 1989)

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Pyramids, mummies, and assassins collide in this stand-alone Discworld novel

Being trained by the Assassin's Guild in Ankh-Morpork did not fit Teppic for the task assigned to him by fate. He inherited the throne of the desert kingdom of Djelibeybi rather earlier than he expected (his father wasn’t too happy about it either), but that was only the beginning of his problems...

Pyramids was the seventh Discworld novel, and is one of my favourite stand-alones in the series, although for some reason I’ve not re-read it that often. With my new-found commitment to reviewing older novels as well as new releases, I thought there was no better time to unearth Pyramids.

As always, Pratchett’s humour is spot on – even though this was an early novel, it didn’t suffer from the pun-and-joke-heavy nature (some might say ‘saturation’) of Colour of Magic, as it was clear the author was starting to become much more confident and comfortable in the world. There are still moments where the jokes, puns and gags come a little too fast and frequently, but for the most part, this is a well-balanced comic fantasy novel.

The novel starts with Teppic’s Assassins’ Guild final exam, interspersed with flashbacks to his time at the school, and memories of his father. It’s a good introduction to the Assassins’ Guild, offering an amusing portrait – particularly the importance of fashion, as interested in clean lines as clean kills:

“All assassins had a full-length mirror in their rooms, because it would be a terrible insult to anyone to kill them when you were badly dressed.”

Teppic’s memories of the school are great, and should bring a sense of nostalgia to anyone who went through (at least) the British school system – only, minus the instruction on the many ways to inhume someone... He’s an interesting character, and the novel follows his attempts to come to grips with his new-found divinity and position as King, in a land he knows little about. He was more comfortable and at home in Ankh-Morpork, yet his duty requires him to remain in Djelibeybi. He has to re-learn customs, language, and how to deal with his blinkered subjects and domineering High Priest. And then they build the largest pyramid ever, and everything goes… quantum

We are also treated with Teppic’s father’s opinion on assassination and politics, how he justified sending his son away to learn at the Guild. King Teppicymon XXVII, Djelibeybi's god-Pharaoh, ponders the issue, and

“felt that while assassination was probably worse than debate it was certainly better than war, which some people tended to think of as the same thing only louder.”

Teppicymon’s a great character. As death on the Discworld is a rather subjective matter, he hangs around his body while it is being embalmed and mummified. It’s an interesting perspective that one wouldn’t really have thought about writing. He gloomily watches his own mummification, but slowly grows accustomed to the process (the exchange about which wrapping-cloth to use was particularly amusing among a selection of very funny scenes), not to mention acquiring an interest for his former subjects for the first time. The embalmers he listens to are very funny, very good caricatures of working-class temperament and thought-processes. We learn that Teppicymon was worried when he was alive about how he would explain if the sun didn’t rise, if the river didn’t flood, or crops didn’t grow. It can’t be often that someone like this suffers job/performance anxiety.

The Kingdom of Djelibeybi, which Teppic inherits, is a well-crafted parody of ancient Egypt, and Pratchett clearly had a lot of fun playing with the history and so forth.

“two miles wide and one hundred and fifty miles long, which was almost entirely under water during the flood season, and threatened on either side by stronger neighbours who tolerated its existence only because they'd be constantly at war if it wasn't there.”

The ‘science’ and economics of pyramids, living and dealing with camels, a nation of high-superstition and fear of the gods… this is really fertile ground for punning and satirising, and Pratchett makes the most of his subject material. I don’t think many pages went by without a single laugh, chuckle, or smile.

In Dios, the High Priest, Pratchett has turned his imagination to the Grand Vizier who does not so much pull strings from behind the curtain, but rather pushes his king behind it. He’s a different character than many Grand Viziers (most notably, all High Priests, apparently, are very clear about being different, higher creatures), but it’s clear that Pratchett drew on such characters to inform this parody and distillation of the Machiavellian subordinate. It’s amusing to read Dios’s reactions whenever Teppic takes initiative, or tries to be personable with his superstitious subjects, bringing his ‘foreign thinking’ home.

Any review of a Pratchett novel could be endlessly filled with snippets of the author’s text, so quotable is his writing – for example, Pyramids contains one of my favourite descriptions of human beings: “little bags of thinking water held up briefly by fragile accumulations of calcium”. You’ll also learn about the unlikely, greatest mathematicians on the Disc (which is another great, Pratchett-ian touch).

I could quote endlessly from this novel, but I shall just leave it with – you need to read this. Pratchett’s gift for writing – puns, prose, characters, everything – is on perfect display, and makes Pyramids a pleasure to read. The novel isn’t quite Pratchett’s best, although it was getting there. I still think his Guards novels are better than any other – a little less farce, better storytelling, superb characters and interplay between them, and more established, confident writing – but Pyramids is one of the better stand-alone novels in the Discworld series.

Filled with great satirical wit, Pyramids is a fun read, and highly recommended.