Archive for December, 2015

Similar to last year, I wanted to round out my blog in 2015 with my best reads of the year. Whilst my family and I have moved half way around the world and back again, and my reading time has taken a slight back seat due to other responsibilities, I’ve still managed to review some fantastic novels. So, without any further beard stroking, here’s my top five books..

I’ve been chopping and changing between new works and old, fantasy and sci-fi, and one title that really surprised me for it’s depth and detail was Crashing Heaven by Al Robertson. The setting and world building was enthralling whilst the buddy-cop feel to the two lead characters, accountant and deadly software/puppet, was brilliant. For me, Al Robertson created a truly awesome slice of science fiction.

Equally layered and astounding in scope was Tanya Huff’s An Ancient Peace. Part of an on-going set of stories concerning the seriously no-nonsense Marine Gunnery Sergeant Kerr, An Ancient Peace is a character driven adventure that nails down the action, science fiction and world building with an effortless ease. Though I was embarrassed I’d not heard of Tanya Huff before, this is an author I’ll be seeking out in the future.

Whilst not fitting into an clear cut category, Finn Fancy Necromancy was sheer, unadulterated fun. Snappy dialogue, a case of ‘whodunit’ and a boat load of 80s references all came together to form a wonderful and up-to-date magical mystery. Author Randy Henderson has a great feel for comedy and, as a debut, this was a flawless novel that left me wanting more.

I’ve read a fair amount of fantasy this year but both Beyond Redemption by Michael R Fletcher and Promise of Blood by Brian McClellan were stand out novels for me. McClellan’s flintlock fantasy was absolutely epic; the magic system of powdermages was inspired and the setting was intriguing. With so many stories and characters intertwining and driving forward Promise of Blood held my imagination from start to finish and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in the trilogy very soon.

I just recently finished Michael R Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption and this remains a key example of where modern fantasy is excelling right now. There’s a lot of great authors writing in the fantasy arena and Fletcher deserves to be amongst them already. Beyond Redemption was full of brutal characters and the idea of insanity manifesting as reality took the idea of ‘magic’ to the next level. There’s great characters but little respite in this book and it’s definitely a work of fiction that stays with you; fantastic fantasy in my opinion.

This year I’ve actually managed to watch a few films and catch up with my favourite show The Walking Dead, even getting to finish season 5. I even found time to watch the prequel Fear The Walking Dead but more on that in another post. Top of my movie choices has to be Edge of Tomorrow the adaptation of All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. Not only was it visually stunning but the play on the video-game idea of regeneration and it’s consequences to the protagonist was brilliantly handled.

It’s been a slightly sporadic year for me and my reading but I’m hoping next year will bring more awesome books, new, old and e-based. And, as ever, I’ll blog my thoughts on them all..
Happy reading!

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There’s a lot of innovative fantasy based in creative settings being published at the moment, exemplified by Michael R Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption. It’s as removed as you can get from typical tropes; there’s no hero, no greater purpose and definitely no good triumphing over evil. The novel is peopled with nasty, selfish, dishonest and vicious characters and all are bent toward their own ends. What Michael R Fletcher has achieved, however, is a fascinating story that makes you care about the fate of its cast.

Set in world where a person’s insanity and belief actually shapes reality, sociopaths and psychopaths are some of the most powerful and influential people about. In essence, the ‘magic’ in this realm is made from madness. It’s a unique idea and Fletcher takes it to fantastic places with all manner of craziness manifesting in different ways, both dangerous and horrifying.

The creativity doesn’t stop there: this is the first time I’ve read a novel where a protagonist has to deal with a heavy dose of flu throughout most of the book. It’s a weird feature but one that seems to perfectly fit the feel of the story and the world of it’s setting. On one hand we have a man who has created a religion with the sole purpose of producing a god he can control; on the other is a trio of murderers and thieves, drifting about looking for a score yet causing havoc at every turn.

When the three stumble unto the idea of kidnapping the would-be god, a young, innocent boy, it unleashes a set of events with catastrophic results. The kidnappers, a grizzled, old warrior, a handsome and deluded swordsman, and a psychotic kleptomaniac are brilliant. The bickering and back-biting makes for a tense but fun read as the trio steal the boy away. His creator, a powerful sociopath and ruler of a small kingdom is equally dangerous as his own madness begins to spiral out of control and he sends some terrifying assassins after his fledgling god.

In the end, everyone’s insanity is the cause of their own demise; all the scheming and paranoia, all the murder and theft, all the hubris and delusion becomes the catalyst of the actors’s downfalls. It’s a tough read in one way as every character is riddled with hatred and selfishness and desperation. Yet, it’s also a rip-roaring page turner because of all the above; the cast is driven and twisted and crazed and it makes for a brilliant book. Beyond Redemption is a brutal world, featuring a hateful cast of actors and it’s great.

Published by Harper Voyager
My copy

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I’m going to preface this review with a “why haven’t I heard of this author before?” I regularly compile lists of books I want to read or see recommended yet I’m confused as to why I haven’t heard of Tanya Huff before, because, she really is very good.

An Ancient Peace is all about robust dialogue, well defined characters and a rock solid plot that drives the story onward. I’m going to assume that Huff has been writing about these characters for a while and it shows. The dynamic between the main cast is brilliantly illuminated with choppy banter packed full of half said jokes and references. Equally, the structure of the universe Huff has built feels exceptionally well explored. As an example, the alien races we encounter are fascinating and far from any clichéd humanoid that are so often shoehorned into sci-fi. This is intelligent, well written, character driven science fiction falling into that sweet spot between hard sci-fi and pulp action.

A mix of races, the main cast is an intriguing bunch but none more so than the lead actor, Torin Kerr, ex Gunnery Sergeant in the Marines. With war being ‘officially’ over (because it was a social experiment constructed by a weird, hive mind alien race), Kerr and her crew take on jobs that few others can do. Tasked by the military to undertake a secret mission, Kerr is sent out to stop the possibility of another deadly and wide reaching conflict; someone is robbing the graves of an ancient alien world searching for weapons of mass destruction.

The novel parcels out information about the nature of the past conflict and the wider universe effortlessly, avoiding info-dumps whilst filling in the blanks. As the narrative switches between Kerr and her quarry, the tension ratchets up a notch as the ex-Marines close in on the robbers. But, cleverly, Huff manages to cast a decent amount of grey over the proceedings and whilst Kerr and her team are obviously the ‘good guys’, the chain of command above isn’t so clearly de-marked. It’s part of what makes the book so interesting; not only are we exposed to all manner of detail regarding alien races and the political landscape at large, we also get to see how all this trickles down to affect each of the characters.

An Ancient Peace is subtitled Peacekeeper Book 1 so here’s hoping there’s more to come; the novel finishes with a nice concluding episode indicating that there is. Huff is a great writer and this is a great piece of science fiction. Using an assemble cast, it can be difficult to really nail the group dynamic but this author does. Similarly, there’s a lot of information revealed but the pace never slows and the action, when it kicks off, is deftly handled. In short, An Ancient Peace is an engrossing and engaging read.

Review copy
Published by Titan Books

Gollancz have announced they will be publishing a sequel to The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, first published in 1897. Massacre of Mankind will be written by the multi-award-winning co-author of The Long Earth novels with Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter and released in 2017.

Steve Baxter said: “HG Wells is the daddy of modern SF. He drew on deep traditions, for instance of scientific horror dating back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and fantastic voyages such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And he had important near-contemporaries such as Jules Verne. But Wells did more than any other writer to shape the form and themes of modern science fiction, and indeed through his wider work exerted a profound influence on the history of the twentieth century. Now it’s an honour for me to celebrate his enduring imaginative legacy, more than a hundred and fifty years after his birth.”

The blurb from the press release sounds pretty interesting…

In Stephen Baxter’s terrifying sequel, set in late 1920s London, the Martians return, and the war begins again. But the aliens do not repeat the mistakes of their last invasion. They know how they lost last time. They target Britain first, since we resisted them last time. The massacre of mankind has begun.