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Whilst choosing to read books with a post-apocalyptic bent created by a virus might not seem the best choice during the current pandemic we are all experiencing, The Raven is an exceptionally enjoyable and satisfying read. When age-old mythological monsters are made real, one man’s journey to redemption is paved with blood and guts.

After a cadre of scientists, determined to rid the world of humankind’s destructive and polluting nature, unleash a virus across America, all hell (literally) breaks loose. The virus alters people’s DNA, releasing, for many, their inner monster. The old stories of vampires, werewolves, witches and other beasts are actually real accounts and, hidden in our genetic coding, are our ancestor’s true natures. People turn and become bloodsuckers or, worse, flesh-eaters; cannibals who can consume other people’s power. Though some, like protagonist Dez McClane, are unaffected, the population is decimated and only the strong survive.

Normal people are hunted for flesh, blood and other nefarious desires. Dez, having survived for a few years amongst colonies and groups, is attacked and loses his girlfriend, Susan, to a warlord who captures and sells people. Determined to get her back or achieve his revenge, Dez sets out to find the Four Winds Bar and the man who runs the trade in bodies.

Gloriously, The Raven is a rock-em, sock-em adventure across a dark and brutal land. Dez is soon battling huge, muscle bound cannibals and wild, unstable werewolves as he seeks the bar. In amongst it all, he is plagued by his own inner-demons; the loss of his father and his son and his futile and ineffectual attempts to save them. It’s the galvanising factor behind his quest to find Susan and quiet the voices that admonish him for his cowardice. And, when he finds the bar, he holds nothing back.

Fast paced and eminently readable, The Raven is a violent, post-apocalyptic, fantasy adventure with an intriguing premise and a likeable protagonist. Plus, when the smoke clears, it seems that Dez McClane isn’t finished with his quest just yet and Jonathan Janz has more in store for his readers.

Review copy

Published by Flame Tree Press


I’ve been lucky enough to be sent a review copy of Tim Lebbon’s latest novel, Eden. Not only is it excellent but I’ve also been offered the opportunity to be part of the blog tour.

Happy days!

Review – Train to Busan

Posted: February 17, 2020 in Film, Horror, zombie
Tags: , ,

I got to catch this film recently and it definitely scratched the horror itch I’ve had of late. That blend of gore, gut wrenching emotion and suspense made Train to Busan a rollercoaster of a viewing experience. A frightening premise with suitably disturbing infected monsters and a cast of likeable protagonists trapped on a high speed train combine to make this one of my favourite zombie movies of late.

Whilst a biological outbreak begins to take hold, spreading like wildfire through the population, we are introduced to a father, Seok-woo, and his daughter, Su-an. A workaholic, Seok-woo realises that overlooking his daughter’s birthday isn’t the kind of role model he wants to be. Promising to take Su-an to see her mother, the two embark on a long train ride. As their journey begins, what appears to be riots start to break out across the country. And, one of those caught up in the violence makes it on to the train.

The film does a brilliant job of introducing us to the characters; a team of baseball playing high schoolers; a pregnant wife and her husband; an elderly pair of sisters; plus, a bullish businessman. As the train chugs on, the stowaway is revealed to be infected with something very, very bad. She quickly turns into a flesh eating zombie, causing chaos as she attacks passengers and train attendants in the confined space of the carriage. Those bitten are soon turned, joining in the carnage, and a bloodbath ensues.

It’s here the emotional power of the film takes hold. Su-an admonishes her father for his self-centred reaction; though a child she prefers to help the other passengers than leave them to their own fate. Soon the infected far outnumber the healthy and, when the train is forced to stop at a station, the group are separated. Thankfully, Su-an is helped by the pregnant wife and husband but in amongst the chaos, the divide between the altruists and selfish is made clear. It’s here that Soek-woo makes his choice.

Train to Busan manages to capture the horror of violence, the helplessness of being confined within a train and people’s reaction to a terrifying situation. Some can’t help but help whilst others are intent on using their fellows with little regard other than their own survival. The characters are resourceful and determined and the choices they make reflect this. There are some tough moments and the film doesn’t shy away from any of it. The action is full bore right until the end and it’s a finale that doesn’t hold back. This is top notch zombie horror, highly recommended.

Review – The Silence

Posted: February 11, 2020 in Film, Horror
Tags: , ,

Continuing my horror viewing as Storm Ciara battered the UK, I decided to give The Silence a watch. Unfortunately, afterwards, I felt like I should have read the book by Tim Lebbon instead. The premise for the story was great and there were moments that showed promise but the film couldn’t capture it. Instead it fell short, opting for a series of set pieces that didn’t really gel together and as a whole didn’t add up to much, lacking any real emotional effect.

Leading with a group of researchers opening up a buried cavern system beneath a mountain, the film starts strong. The cave unleashes a horde of carnivorous flying creatures that immediately begin to ravage America, leading to apocalyptic destruction. People soon discover that the ‘vesps’ hunt by sound forcing many to flee the cities for the quiet and isolation of the countryside, including the film’s lead characters. However, this is as far as the film gets before unravelling, unable to do the source material justice. Not even the ever solid Stanley Tucci could save it.

I’ve no doubt the book makes more of the recently deaf protagonist and her family, including their ability to use sign language to communicate silently and avoid the monsters. The film can’t and clumsily introduces a very 2-D villain who, for some inexplicable reason has cut out his and his followers tongues. It’s not unreasonable to quickly realise that you still make noise even without a tongue…

This, and other glaring plot holes, rendered the film a bit toothless. It’s a shame. As I said, the premise seemed good, the cast were solid, the horde of flying monsters presenting a frightening situation. However, in the end it just didn’t come together to make a good film.

The current storm over the weekend made for the perfect setting to view some horror movies. There’s nothing like the howling wind and torrential rain to accompany a scary film. First up, was The Babysitter, a fun gore-fest with a very 80s slasher vibe.

It’s not the kind of film I’d usually pick but the reviews were fairly decent. Set in a single location and using, and somewhat subverting, the trope of high school killers, the film did a fantastic job of hitting all the right notes whilst maintaining a self- awareness about itself. It was that blend of actual slasher horror and 80s pastiche that really made the film so entertaining, along with a cast that fit the bill perfectly.

From the self-obsessed cheerleader to the shirtless jock, the murderous gang were brilliantly led by the ‘babysitter’ Bee. Portrayed as the cool girl and the crush of the teen protagonist, Cole, she managed to be both fun and super creepy all at once. Along with this, Cole himself was played by a great young actor who, for some reason, reminded me of Micheal J Fox. So, after a great opener where Bee protects Cole from a bully before segueing into a entertaining montage, night falls. Sent to bed, Cole is encouraged by his friend to spy on his babysitter and see what her gang get up to.

It’s not good. What appears to be a cliche teen gathering, turns bad fast. A hapless outsider caught up in the game of ‘truth or dare’ finds himself in the spotlight. Rather than a very public first kiss, instead he gets killed; fairly gruesomely too. And, Cole witnesses it all; the bloody (over the top) death, the ensuing discussion about the evil ritual the blood is for and Bee’s true, frightening reason for babysitting. They need his blood.

What follows is a game of cat and mouse as Cole has to use all his ingenuity to escape the teen cult. Like all classic slashers, he has to take on and defeat each of the gang; each kill a mix of laughs and gore. There is a decent dose of tension to the proceedings and Cole is a smart capable hero.

Comedy-horror is tough to pull off but The Banysitter did a decent job at keeping me entertained. The actors were well cast and, though it didn’t raise the bar, the blend of gore fuelled horror and 80s homage to the genre made it a fun film.

I’ve failed to write up my best reads over the last two years (time seriously flies) but this year there were a few books that really stood out and stayed with me. Books that deserve mentioning twice. However, I’m going to cheat a bit as some of my favourites were series.

Set in a stunning fantasy world of immortal magicians vying for power and control, against a backdrop of war and apocalyptic wastelands, Ed McDonald’s The Raven’s Mark series is one of the best trilogies I’ve read. Peopled with a brilliant cast of characters, headed up by the grizzled, jaded Galharrow, it’s a series that builds and builds. From the excellent opening Blackwing, Ed McDonald creates a world of epic and intriguing proportions. Superb writing, a fantastic plot and great storytelling.

When it comes to science fiction, I am a big fan of military action adventures. Ticking all the boxes, Gavin Smith has produced the magnificent Bastard Legion. Fast paced and full of action, the series follows Miska, a black-ops Marine, who has, for all intents and purposes, taken control of a massive prison barge and forced the prisoners into a fighting force. As I’ve said before, it’s Dirty Dozen on steroids. In space. And it is brilliant. Miska’s penal legion are a reluctant army but as the series progresses the dynamics in play become ever more complicated. The story lines play out against a background of enemies and engagements but there’s more to the books. Great world building and excellent characters makes the Bastard Legion some of the best military sci-fi I’ve read in the last few years.

Standing out as another absolute favourite, is Joe Abercrombie’s return to the First Law universe. A Little Hatred features the descendants from the initial trilogy whilst somehow managing the feat of being both familiar yet original. The world building is just as brilliant as ever, having evolved toward an early industrial culture. The characters are, as ever, wonderfully whole and flawed, and difficult. It’s grim and troubled as the North, once again, erupts into war whilst the Union struggles with enemies and challenges from within. The social commentary is spot on, the action brutal and bloody, and the writing as sharp and clever as possible. Abercrombie is a fantasy powerhouse and A Little Hatred is just awesome.

Lastly, Richard K. Morgan’s Thin Air remains one of the best books of 2019 I’ve read. Blending hard-boiled detective sentiments within a cyberpunk setting, mashed together into a dystopian Mars of the future, makes this top sci-fi action adventure an absolute barn-burner. From the gritty, battle tested protagonist to the grim, harsh landscape, the level of detail and complexity is breathtaking. Considering ideas of rampant, unchecked capitalism and the ensuing human cost it requires, Thin Air weaves a wonderful story of corruption, conspiracy and all-out combat into an amazing novel. It’s a must read.

Though I’ve had an unsettled year in terms of reading, I’ve watched a lot of films. The standout was Prospect. It’s a unique and original in its style whilst the story was a gripping tale that mixed the Wild West with science fiction perfectly.

I’m looking forward to next year and getting more reading done, both new titles and older books I’ve got on my saved list. As ever, happy reading and thanks to all of you who follow or read my ramblings 🙂

The second book from Gary Kemble, once again, features the reluctant investigative journalist, Harry Hendricks. Less than a year after the events of Strange Ink, Harry once more finds himself embroiled in a dark mystery with frightening supernatural spirits at its heart. And, for a second novel, Dark Ink has ramped up the horror and criminal elements a number of notches.

Recovering from his near-death experience, Harry has taken up martial arts, gone freelance and, generally, turned his life around. But, when an old police contact calls him to help with a string of mysterious deaths, Harry can’t help but be intrigued. It’s a gruesome case, but there’s something more to it and the police can’t figure out what it could be, nor if it’s suicide or something else. The fact that four other cases have all left similar ‘suicide’ notes behind naming a goddess is even more worrying. Soon, Harry is chasing down leads on other cases too, his days as busy as ever, looking into a potential fraud of union funds to pay for prostitutes as well as a private school paedophile ring.

As he begins to dig into the stories, he finds himself intrigued by a madame who is connected to a number of the deceased men. She is also being visited regularly by a union boss whose wife suspects him of using misappropriated funds. It’s the beginning of a thread that wraps up Harry in a web of darkness. Determined to uncover the dominatrix’s part in the deaths, Harry visits the woman, a Mistress Hel, but is soon entranced by her. Unable to think clearly, his obsession with Mistress Hel takes a dark turn.

Befuddled and floundering, Harry can’t see how close he is to putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. However, his psychic helper, Sandy, once again comes to his rescue. The Mistress has performed a demonic ritual, and has used her power to enthrall Harry and others to her whim. Yet, her whim is more than mere humiliation and torture; it is a desire to destroy lives and bring about the rising of a terrifying supernatural spirit. With Sandy’s help, Harry finally realises what all the threads connect to and just how deep the mystery goes.

Once again, Dark Ink captures Brisbane and it’s urban life perfectly, creating a wonderful canvas against which to paint its grisly plot. The blend of thriller and horror is brilliantly balanced yet, this time, little is held back. From the brutal opening chapter, Dark Ink gets under the skin; the pages fly past, each chapter urging you onwards. The build up to the conclusion is well constructed as the pieces fall into place, revealing a complex and horrifying reason behind everything. It’s an unsettling read at times but the eminently likeable Harry keeps the action rolling until the explosive end.

Published by Titan Books

Review copy

Aside from the frighteningly accurate and realistic introduction by editor John Joseph Adams, I do enjoy a good tale of the apocalypse and this collection contains stories from a number of highly regarded authors. I’ll be doing a series of reviews as I read the anthology.

First up, Elizabeth Bear’s Bullet Point. How the author manages to pack so much into the short story just goes to show her skill at the craft. After an unknown event, where the entire population of Las Vegas simply disappears, Isabella is left wondering and wandering in the desert heat. Ticking off lists off what is left and what has gone, never to return, Isabella finds solace in a future free from the troubles that plagued her past.

That is, until she meets a fellow survivor. What follows is a tense yet intriguing and, to be fair, unexpected. It’s a wonderful window into a weird scenario that captures a feeling with impressive ability.

Red Thread by Sofia Samatar is told through the eyes of a teenager, leaving messages on some sort of virtual notice board to her friend Fox. Each note tells of her travels as she and her mother find sanctuary and shelter at different ‘centres’. And, with each note we learn more about the world they live within; one populated with isolation zones and ‘centres’ and something described as the Movement. Between the lines and behind the personal story there is the greater concerns of climate change and war and violence, and in its subtle way, Red Thread draws a somber tale of humanity scrambling to survive.

I skipped ahead in the collection to read Jonathan Maberry’s Not This War, Not This World, because, well, it’s Jonathan Maberry. As the author explains, this short is a sequel to some of his other work, connecting other stories together and acting as a prequel to George A. Romero’s films. It is a no-holds-barred look into the life of a DELTA sniper, unravelling in the face of a zombie apocalypse. Maberry pulls no punches as his protagonist is faced with the most awful of choices. As the sniper, Sam Imura, breaks under the pressure, his world shrinks down to one of two decisions; to match forward and protect the innocent or to take himself out and end the nightmare. Under the stars, on a cold night, facing down a hungry, undead horde, neither is an easy road.

Published by Titan Books

Review copy

I watched something..

Posted: January 19, 2018 in Random, Uncategorized

Well, actually, I watched two short films but it took me about four days to view the collective forty minutes. It doesn’t really explain my six month absence from blogging however..

Things have been hectic, as life goes, and training has gotten manic recently (trying to keep up with training partners 20 years younger isn’t a great plan). I’m teaching more wrestling at the gym and on top of looking after my son and getting work done, the blog ended up being left by the wayside.

However, in amongst it all I saw some talk about Neill Blomkamp’s latest project. More to the point, his latest decision to start a film company to explore lots of different ideas and projects; an incubator of sorts for film directors and editors. Searching for Oats Studios will reveal all. It’s a fantastic idea, in my opinion, especially with the current reboot mania the major studios seem taken with.

I’ve also started watching The Punisher, which is proving to be very enjoyable; Luke Cage, a show that has some great moments and some slightly stilted ones; and I finished watching the season seven of The Walking Dead. More on all of that later.

Honestly, this post is just a marker for me; a way to push me back into blogging and recording the books I read and the films I watch. So, whilst I’ve been bouncing around like Sam Beckett, desperately trying to make the leap home, I’m back and will, hopefully, be blogging once again more regularly.

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This has been sitting on my shelf for some time and I’ve been eager to read it but for all the review titles I get sent (though I’m definitely not complaining). However, I couldn’t leave it any longer and now I’m desperate to get hold of the last book in this exceptional trilogy. I reviewed Promise of Blood here and can safely say, The Crimson Campaign is just as exciting and just as epic.

Once again, the majority of the action centres around Field Marshal Tamas, his son Taniel Two-Shot and Inspector Adamat. Tamas is trying to combat the Kez army from invading Adro but is battling an enemy who have the power and wrath of an injured god backing them. Taniel, after surviving the devastating battle of South Pike, finds himself back on the frontline along with his companion Ka-Poel, an enigmatic young women. Adamat, having confessed his forced treachery to Tamas, is desperate to find his family and is in the hunt for his enemy, Lord Vetas.

Each plot line intertwines and affects the other brilliantly. Tamas is caught behind enemy lines and must fight his way back to Adro against all odds. Taniel finds himself fighting against a military command who thinks his father dead and retreat as the only option. Adamat, caught in a game of cat and mouse, must capture a villain more cunning and vile than he’s ever encountered before. Each has a protagonist to better, obstacles to overcome and help from unlikely places. Ka-Poel, especially, is revealed to be more powerful than anyone, including Taniel, could imagine.

The book, at nearly 600 pages, burns along at a terrific pace, each plot line building and keeping interest. This is proper epic fantasy, helped all the more by the stunning worldbuilding, excellent characters and all-out action adventure. There’s tales of vengeance woven throughout; of heroism and bravery. Yet, there is also the political machinations of Tamas’s post-revolution at play in the background witnessed by Adamat. Equally, Taniel discovers more than just cowardice behind the retreating Adro army. Finally, there is Nila – a seemingly peripheral figure at first – who is revealed to be more than just a laundress.

There’s a lot going on in this second instalment and I’ve hardly touched on a number of things. That said, there’s no extra fat. It’s all flintlock fire-fights, magic and mages, gods and powerful politicians and it’s awesome.

My Copy
Published by Orbit