Monday, 8 June 2015

Book Review: Husk: Hunt or be Hunted (A Maresman Tale) by D. P. Prior


About the author:
D.P. Prior is the bestselling fantasy author of the Nameless Dwarf and Shader series.
Raised on a diet of old school Sword and Sorcery, and later influenced by the Heroic Fantasy of David Gemmell, the literary epics of Stephen R. Donaldson, and the "grimdark" offerings of Joe Abercrombie, Prior combines the imaginative daring of the old with the realism, tight point of view, and gallows humor of the new.
As well as being a prolific author, D.P.Prior is also an experienced fiction editor with an impressive portfolio of clients (http://homunculuseditingservices.blogspot.com). 
He has also worked as a personal trainer, and is a competing member of the US All-Round Weightlifting Association.

My rating:
Very good (8/10)

My review:

Husk: A Maresman Tale is the latest novel by D. P. Prior, the author of Deacon Shader and the Nameless Dwarf series, and also set in the same world as them. It’s an exciting and well-written story, with a gritty atmosphere, a carefully thought-out plot, and a memorable but flawed central hero. The world is diverse, the world-building top notch, and the twists surprising enough to keep you interested and guessing until the end. At certain times the novel reminded me of Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane tales, while in other instances it brought to mind Stephen King’s Dark Tower series or one of Clint Eastwood’s classic western flicks, if the latter were penned by H. P. Lovecraft. 

The main antagonists of D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale are the aforementioned “husks”, a form of shape-shifting demons that cross between lands to fulfil their dark purposes, leaving a trail of blood and misery in their wake. 

That's why the Maresmen were formed - trackers and warriors charged with holding back the tide. Each of them is different, uniquely suited to the task in hand, but one thing they hold in common: they are half-breeds, part human, part husk; and they are bound by an inviolable rule: 

Hunt the husks, or be hunted themselves. 

Jebediah ‘Jeb’ Skayne has been hunting husks his entire adult life, but there's something different about the trail leading to the fishing town of Portis on the shores of the Chalice Sea: no spoor, no footprints; nothing save the unmistakable feeling of wrongness. 

Finding a husk in Portis would be near impossible for someone who didn't have the sixth sense, but the instant Jeb arrives, all trace of the incursion vanishes. Forced to rely on more mundane methods of investigation, he starts to uncover a town rife with corruption, where a man will kill you for looking at a woman the wrong way; a town that's seen its share of incursions from the land of nightmares before. 

As events start to slip from his control, he realizes the husk he's come to kill is one step ahead of the game, and it holds a secret that will shake his world to the core.

D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale starts off a bit slow, taking time to establish the world our characters inhabit and to set up the small town of Portis, where most of the drama is to be played out. It’s pretty clear from the get-go that the author is intimately familiar with his world, unfolding it layer by layer before the readers’ eyes, while in the same time providing us with clues regarding the main mystery. The world-building is impressive, and the writing style witty and confident, thus offering an engrossing story.

Mind you, it’s not necessary to be familiar with either Shader or the Nameless Dwarf series to follow and enjoy the novel. It stands perfectly on its own.

Apart from the strong world-building, D. P. Prior’s Husk: A Maresman Tale also features a well-realised and developed protagonist. In correspondence with current and recent trends, Jeb is a flawed and somewhat damaged ‘hero’, who despite having a dark and haunted past still retains a sense of honour, duty and fairness. He’s in no way perfect, and in a couple of occasions does some really stupid things, but that only serves to show that he is only human…

Or rather, only half-human. The “husk” half of Jeb’s heritage gives him certain sex appeal that makes him somewhat more attractive than normal to members of the opposite sex. As a result, there’s a number of mildly erotic encounters which occur throughout the novel, but nothing overly-explicit, graphic, or offensive, if you prefer your fantasy chaste and Tolkienesque. If anything, the sexual content is similar to that of Anne Bishop’s novel Sebastian. And just as well-written.

Another character I need to mention here is Jeb’s horse Tubal, who, I confess, was a bit of a scene-stealer for me. It may sound a little odd, but you’ll know what I mean once you’ve read the novel. Tubal is awesome. And that includes his rather particular name.

Now, with all this in mind, I must point out that Husk: A Maresman Tale wasn’t without its faults. The pacing felt uneven at times and some of the secondary characters came off as underdeveloped. There are a couple of scenes I could only describe as cartoony, with the biggest offender being the introduction of the so-called Graceful Goddess and her cronies… er… Laurel and Hardy. I don’t know. Maybe I have a very poor sense of humour but this particular chapter really felt out of place to me.

Fortunately, all these minor annoyances aside, I have to admit that I really enjoyed reading Husk: A Maresman Tale. D. P. Prior is a very accomplished writer and storyteller, and the world he has created was a joy to explore and get to know. Jeb, too, made for some excellent company, and the action sequences and plot twists more than compensated for the (few and in between) slower sections. The ending was satisfactory as well, paving the way for further instalments in the (potential) series. I, for one, would gladly return to the world of Husk for a second Maresman Tale…

Husk: A Maresman Tale by D. P. Prior is another excellent offering from Ragnarok Publications and a must-read for fans of grimdark fantasy, Westerns, and everything else in between.


Sunday, 19 April 2015

The Music of the Night: Dimmi cos'e by Nek


Here's one of my favourite songs by Italian singer and songwriter Nek, "Dimmi cos'è" (Tell Me What), from his acclaimed 1997 album "Lei, gli amici e tutto il resto" (She, friends and everything else). 

Enjoy!


Through the Looking-Glass: More Upcoming Book Releases


Good day, ladies and gentlemen.

First off, please excuse my failing to live up to my word and offer a weekly, new edition of this section of the Blog. You have my assurances that this will not happen again.

Secondly, I hope you enjoy my selection of upcoming novels and share in my excitement! Some truly fantastic books.

Manners and Mutiny by Gail Carriger
The fourth and final book in the Finishing School series.


Synopsis:

When a dastardly Pickleman plot comes to fruition, only Sophronia can save her friends, her school, and all of London... but at what cost? Our proper young heroine puts her training and skills to the test in this highly anticipated conclusion of the rousing, intriguing, and always polished New York Times bestselling Finishing School series!

About the author:

Gail Carriger writes to cope with being raised in obscurity by an expatriate Brit and an incurable curmudgeon. She escaped small town life and inadvertently acquired several degrees in higher learning, a fondness for cephalopods, and a chronic tea habit. Her latest book is Prudence, first in the new Custard Protocol series.

Subscribe to Gail's newsletter ~ Miss Carriger's Monthly Chirrup! http://www.gailcarriger.com/contact

Personal note:

There are few authors I idolize as much as Gail Carriger, whose novels I've read many, many times. Her Parasol Protectorate series is one of my all time favourites, on par with Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time and P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves books. In Miss Carriger's novels, there is everything one could desire - adventure, mystery, romance, whimsy, and, before all else, tea. So sit comfortably and enjoy.

The House of Shattered Wings by Aliette de Bodard


Synopsis:

Multi-award winning author Aliette de Bodard, brings her story of the War in Heaven to Paris, igniting the City of Light in a fantasy of divine power and deep conspiracy…

In the late Twentieth Century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins. The Great Magicians’ War left a trail of devastation in its wake. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France’s once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires’ salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.

About the author:

Aliette de Bodard is a multi-award-winning author. She is a half-French, half-Vietnamese computer and history geek who lives in Paris and has a special interest in non-Western civilisations, particularly Ancient Vietnam, Ancient China and Ancient Mesoamerica.

Personal note:

Not much to say here. I love Paris. I love post-apocalyptic fantasy. And most importantly, I love Aliette de Bodard's Obsidian and Blood series, which is one of the best I've read in recent years. 

Of Noble Family by Mary Robinette Kowal
The final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories.


Synopsis:

Jane and Vincent have finally gotten some much-needed rest after their adventures in Italy when Vincent receives word that his estranged father has passed away on one of his properties in the West Indies. His brother, who manages the estate, is overwhelmed, and no one else in his family can go. Grudgingly, out of filial duty the couple decide to go. 

The sea voyage is long and Jane spends enough time unable to perform glamour that towards the end of the trip she discovers that she is with child. They are overjoyed, but when they finally arrive at the estate to complete what they expect to be routine legal tasks, they realize that nearly everything they came expecting to find had been a lie. Also, the entire estate is in disarray, with horrifying conditions and tensions with the local slave population so high that they are close to revolt.

Jane and Vincent's sense of peril is screaming out for them to flee, but Vincent cannot stand to leave an estate connected with his family in such a condition. They have survived many grand and terrifying adventures in their time, but this one will test their skills and wits more than any they have ever encountered before, this time with a new life hanging in the balance. Mary Robinette Kowal's Of Noble Family is the final book of the acclaimed Glamourist Histories.

About the author:

Mary Robinette Kowal was the 2008 recipient of the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer and a Hugo winner for her story "For Want of a Nail." Her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov's, and several Year's Best anthologies. She also writes the Glamourist History series, which began with Shades of Milk and Honey. A professional puppeteer and voice actor, she spent five years touring nationally with puppet theaters. She lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and many manual typewriters.

Personal note:

Here's another series I love that's coming to an end this year. The Glamourist Histories  are very gripping and feature some of the best writing I've had the pleasure of reading. Mary Robinette Kowal has an extraordinary talent and command of language, and I highly recommend her stories to anyone who loves the works of Jane Austen, Gail Carriger, or Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.

Death Descends On Saturn Villa by M.R.C. Kasasian
The third novel in the The Gower Street Detective Series.


Synopsis:

Gower Street: 1883.

March Middleton is the neice of London's greatest (and most curmudgeonly) personal detective, Sidney Grice. March has just discovered a wealthy long-lost relative she never knew she had. When this newest family member meets with a horrible death, March is in the frame for murder - and only Sidney Grice can prove her innocence.

Grice agrees to investigate (for his usual fee) but warns that he is not entirely convinced of her innocence. If he were in her position, he might have been tempted. But the more he uncovers, the more all the clues point to Grice himself...

About the author:

Martin Kasasian was raised in Lancashire. He has had careers as varied as factory hand, wine waiter, veterinary assistant, fairground worker and dentist. He lives with his wife in Suffolk.

Personal note:

I discovered the Gower Street Detective Series by accident. It happened a month ago. Since then I've bought and read both of M.R.C. Kasasian's previous novels in this highly entertaining and suspenseful series, The Mangle Street Murders and The Curse of the House of Foskett. 

Tales of the Primal Land by Brian Lumley
Deluxe edition by Subterranean Press.


Synopsis:

THE PRIMAL LAND... 

...Was in fact a primal continent, but that was so long ago--even before Uthmal and Mu, and long before comparatively recent Atlantis--that a majority of today's palaeoethnologists might never be persuaded of its existence. But now let it be known that there was in Primal Theem'hdra (the vast island continent's name,) an hitherto unsuspected, even unimagined Age of Man, where barbarous nomadic tribes wandered the stony steppes and thirsty, burning deserts, while self-styled ''civilized'' folk dwelled in the so-called ''sophisticate cities'' of more luxuriant, mainly coastal, semi-tropical and agricultural regions...in its way a world much like that of today, albeit in a guise exquisitely prehistoric. 

But the Primal Land's peoples were among the first human races, when mutable evolutionary processes together with a vacillating Nature were as yet undecided which abilities, both mental and physical--and metaphysical--men should be allowed to retain and develop down all the ages, and which to abort as unworkable and even dangerous... 

And thus there was true, often dark magic in those times, while in our ''enlightened'' age we have found different names for such as Magicians, Sorcerers and flying carpets; for Nature has never ceased her dabbling, and now we acknowledge such words as telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation and so on almost casually, haphazardly. But just think: wasn't Einstein himself a Magician, whose ''runes'' were surely as powerful as any Wizard's in ancient Theem'hdra? 

These then are the surviving tales--or the ''fables'' if you prefer--of an age of men and monsters, and of Wizards both black and white, in a time before Pangea and a world predating the dinosaurs...

About the author:

Brian Lumley is the author of the bestselling Necroscope series of vampire novels. An acknowledged master of Lovecraft-style horror, Brian Lumley has won the British Fantasy Award and been named a Grand Master of Horror. His works have been published in more than a dozen countries and have inspired comic books, role-playing games, and sculpture, and been adapted for television. When not writing, Lumley can often be found spear-fishing in the Greek islands, gambling in Las Vegas, or attending a convention somewhere in the US. Lumley and his wife live in England.

Personal note:

It's Brian Lumley. When it comes to horror fiction, he's the best. Forget Stephen King and Clive Barker. Brian Lumley's books are smart, dark, suspenseful, beautifully written, and highly, highly addictive. Consider yourselves warned.

Book Review: Bad Mojo by Shane Berryhill


About the author:
Shane Berryhill is a novelist and comic book writer. His work has been praised by Publishers Weekly, NPR, NBC Today.com, Wired Magazine, Horror World, and others. He's been a guest and speaker at events ranging from the National Council of English Teachers conference to San Diego Comic Con. Find Shane online at Amazon, Goodreads, www.shaneberryhill.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

My rating:
Excellent (10/10)

My review:

Bad Mojo is Shane Berryhill’s first novel in the Zora Banks series and if I had to describe it in three words, those would be ‘gripping, suspenseful, and (freaking) awesome’. In fact, I’d go so far as to call it my favourite Urban Fantasy novel of the first half of 2014, even counting the latest Harry Dresden offering. Yes, it is that good. The plotting, characters and world-building are all superb, and Mr. Berryhill is nothing short of a writer-extraordinaire. The whole time while reading Bad Mojo I felt like I was watching a movie play out in my head. The writing has a way of coming to life, which is sure to keep you awake late into the night as you hunger to see what happens next…

But first thing’s first. Bad Mojo is the story of Zora Banks – a beautiful, Southern conjure woman of mixed race – and her partner, Ash Owens, a pretty boy-redneck cursed with a monstrous alter ego.

When Tennessee State Representative Jack Walker hires Ash to find his missing, drug-addicted wife, Ash finds himself at odds with Chattanooga’s various underworld gangs – both the living and the unliving – as he and Zora become embroiled in a far-reaching occult organization’s grab for ultimate power.

Unlike most other Urban Fantasies, Bad Mojo – the first Zora Banks novel – is told through the point of view of Zora’s partner, Ash. This helps build a sense of mystery around Zora’s character, which for me personally was one of the highlights of the novel. Mind you, I'm not saying I didn't enjoy Ash’s narrative. On the contrary – he’s badass, sarcastic, and tough, while also showing enough vulnerability to win one’s sympathy. Plus, he gets some of the best one-liners in the novel. As a long-time fan of True Blood’s Pam, I can’t help but like a character like that. 

Besides the two protagonists, Bad Mojo offers a colourful cast of supporting heroes, both human and supernatural alike. Highlights for me included Ash’s friend ‘Baby Shit’ (best nickname ever!), who I’d love to see as the hero of his own short story, the mouthy and tough-as-nails Earlene, and the Faye woman Autumn. The latter plays only a minor role, but will definitely leave a lasting impression in your minds… trust me. 

The antagonists of Bad Mojo are also quite exotic and well-realized. There are zombies, vipers (aka vampires), a particularly creepy necromancer, and… wait for it… politicians. Yes. I’d argue that the latter were the worst, but you’ll probably think I'm bias… so I’ll keep my opinions to myself and let you judge for yourselves as you read.

One aspect of Bad Mojo I particularly enjoyed is the rich mythology introduced throughout the novel, and Shane Berryhill’s ability to make the setting of Chattanooga its own character. The landscape is painted beautifully and masterfully, while the author manages to maintain a fast-paced plot full of twists and turns, as well as sex, drugs, and Rock and Roll. It’s like Sons of Anarchy and True Blood had a bastard child with American Horror Story: Coven, and… Wait. Need I even continue? There’s so much to like in Bad Mojo that whether you’re a fan of Urban Fantasy, horror, or suspenseful thrillers, you won’t be disappointed. 

Now, all I've said so far doesn't mean that Bad Mojo is perfect. There were a few small things that irritated me, including a bit of language and a rather explicit scene I found unnecessary, but ultimately those minor annoyances didn't in any way lessen my overall enjoyment of the novel.

In conclusion, I’d say that if you’re on the lookout for a new and exciting Urban Fantasy, you need look no further. Bad Mojo is a striking beginning to a promising series that hopefully will continue for many years to come. Shane Berryhill is an author of considerable talent, and his characters are like new friends you’re only just getting to know and can’t wait to ‘see’ again. 

All in all, the Zora Banks series is yet another thrilling addition to Ragnarok Publications’ growing catalogue, and a ‘must-read’ for anyone who loves the fantastic and the macabre.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Book Review: Cocaine Blues (a.k.a. Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates) by Kerry Greenwood



About the author:
Kerry Greenwood has written more than forty novels, six non-fiction works and is the editor of two collections. She is also the author of the Phryne Fisher mystery series and the Corinna Chapman crime series, several books for young adults and the Delphic Women series. When she is not writing she is an advocate in Magistrates' Court for the Legal Aid Commission. She is not married, has no children and lives with a registered Wizard. Visit her website at: phrynefisher.com

My rating:
Very good (8/10)

My review:

Cocaine Blues (published as Miss Phryne Fisher Investigates in the UK) is the first novel in Kerry Greenwood’s acclaimed Phryne Fisher Mysteries series. The story’s fast-paced and whimsical, full of twists and turns, and colourful characters. It’s a light and fun read, perfect for a lazy afternoon with a cup of tea, or a cold weekend when the rain won’t stop.

In Cocaine Blues, bored socialite Phryne Fisher leaves the tedium of the London season at the end of the 1920s for adventure in Australia! Tea-dances in West End hotels, weekends in the country with guns and dogs... The Honourable Phryne Fisher - she of the grey-green eyes and diamante garters - is rapidly tiring of the boredom of chit-chatting with retired colonels and foxtrotting with weak-chinned wonders. 

Instead, Phryne decides it might be amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective - on the other side of the world! As soon as she books into the Windsor Hotel in Melbourne, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, drug smuggling rings and corrupt cops... not to mention erotic encounters with beautiful Russian ballet star Sasha de Lisse; England’s green and pleasant land just can't compete with these new, exotic pleasures!

Kerry Greenwood’s novel Cocaine Blues grabbed me from the very beginning and kept me turning the pages late into the night. In fact, I finished it in one sitting and immediately hurried off to order the next instalment in the series. I loved almost everything about it. The prose is light and often witty, the characters are well-drawn and vibrant, and the story moves swiftly to its (hilarious) conclusion. Sure, the murder-mystery wasn't all that hard to solve, especially if you’re a fan of the genre, but that didn't lessen the fun. Why? Because of Phryne, of course.

So what’s so special about Miss Fisher? Well, let me see. She’s glamorous and chic (check); she’s confident and resourceful (check); she can dance, pilot a plane, and knows how to shoot a gun (check); she owns every room she walks into and is not afraid to get her hands dirty, so to speak (check). Did I mention her wardrobe’s to die for, and so are the men in her life? Surely I must have. No? Well… duh!

But enough about that. The truth is, Kerry Greenwood has done a splendid job with her whole cast of characters. Everybody from Phryne’s tough and decisive friend Dr MacMillan, through her shrewd, tidy and yet also a little naïve maid and companion Dorothy, to the witty Communist taxi drivers Burt and Sec is vividly imagined, portrayed and depicted.

Now, here I must point out that if you, like me, have discovered the books through the TV show of the same name, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, then you too are in for a little disappointment. And his name is Detective Inspector John ‘call me Jack, everyone else does’ Robinson. Or rather, it’s his absence from most of the novel. (And don’t even start me on Aunt Prudence…)

Minor quibbles aside, Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood is definitely a novel worth reading. It’s like the delicious lovechild of Agatha Christie’s Poirot and French novelist Colette’s Chéri – fun, sassy, and classy – like Phryne herself! Sure, it probably won’t change your world, but you know what? Dash it all and jump on for the ride! I promise, it’ll be one hell of a lot of fun.

Personal note:

If you haven’t done so already, check out ABC Australia’s excellent television series, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, starring Essie Davis, Nathan Page, and Ashley Cummings. The first two series are available on Amazon, and probably elsewhere too, with a third series in the works and planned to air later this year. You won’t regret it.



Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Through the Looking-Glass: Five Upcoming Book Releases


Good day, ladies and gentlemen. I hope you're keeping well.

Now, if you're still reading this, let me say that I'm excited to share this new section of the Blog with you. As the title suggest, it will focus on upcoming book titles, maybe a week from now, or a month from now, or six months from now. I'll try to feature a diverse selection of authors and titles in more than just one genre.

Another goal is that this becomes a weekly section of the Blog, posted somewhere around Wednesday. Not specific enough for you? I promise I'll do better in the future.

Without further ado, here are a few books that I'm looking forward to reading in the coming months!

The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher
First book in the upcoming Steampunk series, The Cinder Spires.


Synopsis:

Since time immemorial, the Spires have sheltered humanity, towering for miles over the mist-shrouded surface of the world. Within their halls, aristocratic houses have ruled for generations, developing scientific marvels, fostering trade alliances, and building fleets of airships to keep the peace.

Captain Grimm commands the merchant ship, Predator. Fiercely loyal to Spire Albion, he has taken their side in the cold war with Spire Aurora, disrupting the enemy’s shipping lines by attacking their cargo vessels. But when the Predator is severely damaged in combat, leaving captain and crew grounded, Grimm is offered a proposition from the Spirearch of Albion—to join a team of agents on a vital mission in exchange for fully restoring Predator to its fighting glory.

And even as Grimm undertakes this dangerous task, he will learn that the conflict between the Spires is merely a premonition of things to come. Humanity’s ancient enemy, silent for more than ten thousand years, has begun to stir once more. And death will follow in its wake…

About the author:

Jim Butcher, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Dresden Files and the Codex Alera novels, conjures up a new series set in a fantastic world of noble families, steam-powered technology, and magic-wielding warriors…

Personal note:

A new novel by Jim Butcher is always a cause of excitement. A new novel by Jim Butcher, which is set in a Steampunk world? Yes, please!

Iron and Blood by Gail Z. Martin & Larry Martin
The first Jake Desmet Adventure


Synopsis:

A Steampunk adventure novel set in the fictional city of New Pittsburgh.

New Pittsburgh in 1898, a crucible of invention and intrigue, the hub of American industry at the height of its steam-driven power. Born from the ashes of devastating fire, flood and earthquake, New Pittsburgh is ruled by the shadow government of The Oligarchy. In the abandoned mine tunnels beneath the city, supernatural creatures hide from the light, emerging to feed in the smoky city known as 'hell with the lid off.' 

Jake Desmet and Rick Brand, heirs to the Brand & Desmet Import Company, travel the world to secure treasures and unusual items for the collections of wealthy patrons, accompanied by Jake's cousin, Veronique 'Nicki' LeClercq . Smuggling a small package as a favor for a Polish witch should have been easy. But when hired killers come after Jake and a Ripper-style killer leaves the city awash in blood, Jake, Rick and Nicki realize that dark magic, vampire power struggles and industrial sabotage are just a prelude to a bigger plot that threatens New Pittsburgh and the world. Stopping that plot will require every ounce of Jake's courage, every bit of Rick's cunning, every scintilla of Nicki's bravura and all the steampowered innovation imaginable.

About the authors:

Gail Z. Martin is the bestselling author of The Chronicles of The Necromancer series from Solaris Books,  The Fallen Kings Cycle from Orbit Books, the Ascendant Kingdoms series from Orbit Books, and the Deadly Curiosities series from Solaris Books.

Larry N. Martin fell in love with fantasy and science fiction when he was a teenager. After a twenty-five year career in Corporate America, Larry started working full-time with his wife, author Gail Z. Martin and discovered that his writing and editing skills transitioned well to fiction and that he had a knack for storytelling, plotting and character development as well. While Iron and Blood is their first official collaboration, readers have benefited from Larry's contributions on several earlier works. On the rare occasions when Larry isn't working on book-related things, he enjoys pottery, cooking and reading.

Personal note:

Just like with Jim Butcher, I'm always eager for the next novel by Gail Z. Martin. Her first series, The Chronicles of the Necromancer, is among my personal favourites. A Steampunk adventure with a dashing and daring hero? Seriously, I can't think of anything that sounds better!

Shower of Stones by Zachary Jernigan
The second Novel of Jeroun


Synopsis:

At the moment of his greatest victory, before a crowd of thousands, the warrior Vedas Tezul renounced his faith, calling for revolt against the god Adrash, imploring mankind to unite in this struggle.

Good intentions count for nothing. In the three months since his sacrilegious pronouncement, the world has not changed for the better. In fact, it is now on the verge of dying. The Needle hangs broken in orbit above Jeroun, each of its massive iron spheres poised to fall and blanket the planet's surface in dust. Long-held truces between Adrashi and Anadrashi break apart as panic spreads.

With no allegiance to either side, the disgraced soldier Churls walks into the divided city of Danoor with a simple plan: murder the monster named Fesuy Amendja, and retrieve from captivity the only two individuals that still matter to her—Vedas Tezul, and the constructed man Berun. The simple plan goes awry, as simple plans do, and in the process Churls and her companions are introduced to one of the world’s deepest secrets: A madman, insisting he is the link to an ancient world, offering the most tempting lie of all... Hope.

Concluding the visceral, inventive narrative begun in No Return, Shower of Stones pits men against gods and swords against civilization-destroying magic in the fascinatingly harsh world of Jeroun.

About the author:

Zachary Jernigan is a science fiction and fantasy writer whose work has been featured in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Crossed Genres, and Escape Pod, among others. Shower of Stones is follow-up to his critically-acclaimed literary debut No Return. Jernigan lives in Arizona.

Personal note:

If you haven't read Zachary Jernigan's debut novel No Return, you should. Right now. I won't be exaggerating if I say that it's one of the best debut novels I've read, period, and my personal favourite since Gail Carriger's Soulless came out in 2009. 

Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen
The ninth Royal Spyness Mystery


Synopsis:

Lady Georgiana Rannoch won’t deny that being thirty-fifth in line for the British throne has its advantages. Unfortunately, money isn’t one of them. And sometimes making ends meet requires her to investigate a little royal wrongdoing.
 
While my beau Darcy is off on a mysterious mission, I am once again caught between my high birth and empty purse. I am therefore relieved to receive a new assignment from the Queen—especially one that includes lodging. The King’s youngest son, George, is to wed Princess Marina of Greece, and I shall be her companion at the supposedly haunted Kensington Palace.
 
My duties are simple: help Marina acclimate to English life, show her the best of London and, above all, dispel any rumors about George’s libertine history. Perhaps that last bit isn’t so simple.
 
George is known for his many affairs with women as well as men—including the great songwriter Noel Coward. But things truly get complicated when I search the Palace for a supposed ghost only to encounter an actual dead person: a society beauty said to have been one of Prince George’s mistresses.
 
Nothing spoils a royal wedding more than murder, and the Queen wants the whole matter hushed. But as the investigation unfolds—and Darcy, as always, turns up in the most unlikely of places—the investigation brings us precariously close to the prince himself.

About the author:

Rhys Bowen, a New York Times bestselling author, has been nominated for every major award in mystery writing, including the Edgar, and has won many, including both the Agatha and Anthony awards. She is also the author of the Molly Murphy Mysteries, set in turn-of-the-century New York, and the Constable Evans Mysteries, set in Wales. She was born in England and now divides her time between Northern California and Arizona.

Personal note:

I'm pretty new to Rhys Bowen's works, but ever since I discovered her Royal Spyness Mysteries I haven't been able to get enough of them. The writing is humerus and fast-paced and enjoyable, and the setting is gorgeous. Also, the series reminds me of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries. The novels, that is. Not the (gloriously fun) TV show. 

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
The newly discovered novel by the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird


Synopsis:

An historic literary event: the publication of a newly discovered novel, the earliest known work from Harper Lee, the beloved, bestselling author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning classic, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Originally written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman was the novel Harper Lee first submitted to her publishers before To Kill a Mockingbird. Assumed to have been lost, the manuscript was discovered in late 2014.

Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

Exploring how the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird are adjusting to the turbulent events transforming mid-1950s America, Go Set a Watchman casts a fascinating new light on Harper Lee’s enduring classic. Moving, funny and compelling, it stands as a magnificent novel in its own right.

About the Author:

Harper Lee was born in 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She attended Huntingdon College and studied law at the University of Alabama. She is the author of two novels, To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman. Harper Lee has been awarded numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


Personal note:

It's Harper Lee. She wrote To Kill a Mockingbird. Need I say more? I didn't think so.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Book Review: Undertow by Naomi Clark


About the author:
Naomi Clark lives in Cambridge and is a mild-mannered office worker by day, but a slightly crazed writer by night. She has a perfectly healthy obsession with giant sea creatures and a preference for vodka-based cocktails. When she's not writing, Naomi is probably either reading or watching 80's cartoon shows, and sometimes she manages to do all three at once.

My rating:
Good (7/10)

My review:

Undertow is the first novel in Naomi Clark’s Ethan Banning series, published by Ragnarok Publication. It’s a fast-paced and stylish mix of Urban Fantasy and Lovecraftian horror, with a hint of Supernatural (the show) in it. The setting is well-realised and authentic, and the characters are charming enough to win you over and keep you turning the pages. The novel’s most memorable feature? Mutt the Dog – hands down!

Undertow follows Private Investigator Ethan Banning as he struggles to find a way to rid himself of the demon possessing him. He has already tried everything from an old-fashioned exorcism through voodoo to witchcraft and nothing has helped. He’s desperate to stop the nightmares and the evil urges that fill him. 

Professor Benedict Walters thinks he can exorcise Ethan with clean living and ancient history, but he won’t do it for free. Ethan’s got to track down Heather, a missing colleague of Walters in the quaint and creepy seaside town of Beacon’s Point. It should be simple...but Heather may not want to be found.

Even if Ethan can crack the case, he’s still got to deal with a trainee necromancer, his own fading self-control, and an ancient entity that terrifies Ethan’s own demonic denizen…

To be perfectly honest, Undertow left me feeling a little conflicted. There’s a lot to enjoy in the novel – the writing, the mythology, the character interactions, all is top-notch. The main protagonist, Ethan, is a likeable character with a distinctive voice, and the relationship he shares with his dog, Mutt, is sure to make you feel all fuzzy inside, even if you’re a die-hard cats’ lover. 

Then there’s the Voice – the name Ethan uses for the demon possessing him. Naomi Clark has done a great job of making the demon both menacing and somewhat comical, with his constant taunts, insults and violent urges, all of which made me laugh on more than one occasion. (Okay, maybe I have a sadistic sense of humour, who knows?) Point is, the Voice has some of the best one-liners in the novel! In fact, at times I found myself wishing I could read a verbal sparring match between the Voice and True Blood’s Pam… Just for the giggles

Another highlight for me was the necromancer Gabriel Gravebane (not his real name, so don’t roll your eyes!) who pretty much plays Watson to Ethan’s unconventional Sherlock. The two develop a fast friendship and share a number of exciting adventures that will surely appeal to fans of Supernatural. A lot of the banter is classic Sam and Dean… Which surely is a good thing?

Characters aside, Naomi Clark has an excellent sense of humour. On more than one occasion while reading the novel, I found myself thinking, “Well, this sounds like H. P. Lovecraft” or “And here comes Cthulhu!” (My inner dialogue is lame like that, deal with it). Funnily enough, Ethan seems to think the same thing and even points it out, which I thought was brilliant. Call it a little ‘geek-out’ moment…

Two other things about Undertow I liked: the genuine description of Ethan’s struggle with his nicotine and alcohol addiction, and with trying to stay clean of both, and the fact that unlike most Urban Fantasy heroes he actually has a reason to say the dumb things he says. Let me explain: from time to time, the Voice would take over Ethan’s vocal cords and insult people, who he really shouldn't be messing with. Yes, just like Harry Dresden, and Anita Blake, and… Well, pretty much all the snarky, smartass protagonists in Urban Fantasy. Maybe it’s just me, but that’s always bothered me. Why would you deliberately provoke people into punching you? What happened with good old-fashioned self-preservation? The way I see it, Naomi Clark has found an excellent explanation: the demon did it!

Unfortunately, not everything about Undertow is perfect. For starters, the villain (or villains) is rather predictable and easy-to-guess, and some of the supporting characters could have used more ‘screen time’, so to speak. Also, I felt that the ending was somewhat rushed and came off as a bit of a letdown, after all the build-up throughout the novel.

To be perfectly honest, I have a couple of other issues with the last third of Undertow, but can’t really talk about them without giving away important plot points… Besides, since this is the first novel in a series, I'm willing to give Naomi Clark the benefit of the doubt and wait to see if some of my lingering questions won’t be answered in the second instalment. 

Bottom line is, I enjoyed reading Undertow and will definitely be checking out the next Ethan Banning novel, Descent. Naomi Clark is a talented writer and her world-building is vivid and complex, hinting at much bigger and scarier things to come. Both Ethan and Mutt are wonderful and exciting characters, and the Voice is sure to stay with you long after the final pages… Just make sure you don’t pay too much attention to whatever it is he’s whispering. It won’t end well…

Undertow by Naomi Clark is another great novel by Ragnarok Publications and a worthy edition to their ever-growing catalogue. To learn more, check out the publisher’s website and make sure to follow Naomi Clark on twitter.