Posts Tagged ‘Gollancz’

Being honest, it took my forty or so pages to get into this book. But, once I did I was as hooked as the protagonists were within the eponymous game of the title. Centred around a group of misfit teens in their final year of school, The God Game churns along, drawing you into a thrilling conspiracy as the helpless characters fight to understand the rules of the game they are trapped within.

The God Game starts innocuously enough. The gang of teens, the self-proclaimed ‘Vindicators’, all have difficult backgrounds but are smart, tech savvy outsiders to the American high school ecosystem. What begins as a bored flirtation with a seemingly harmless AI called GOD , in fact sets a course for the five friends down a road leading from silly pranks toward mass murder and suicide. When anonymous invites to join the God Game arrive, the friends jump in. It’s technologically advanced and fun. The rewards are intriguing as well. Somehow the virtual game is tied to real life; do well in the game, earn success in life.

Prompted to pull a prank, the gang get in a little deeper. But, suddenly, one thing leads to another as the game begins to coerce them, trap them, blackmail them. What began as fun becomes worrisome; real life rewards and real life consequences. College applications, social ridicule, police records – for five scholarly misfits, these are problems they can’t afford. But the game, or GOD, keeps prodding, pushing them each to do things against their better nature, to test them. It pushes them until the boundary between virtual and real is destroyed; until life is the game and they are actually playing to survive.

This is where the novel excels. It is a conspiracy theorists sweet shop; the idea of an omnipotent, omnipresent system controlling people without them even knowing the true source, making them just cogs in the game. As the book develops, it’s clear that the game is one big morality test. It’s a competition, between people, all forcing and pushing and cajoling others into things; and, typically, the worst of us comes to the surface. The God Game asks what we would do to succeed, and who would we sacrifice to get ahead.

It’s a gripping proposition couched in an entertaining thriller. Capturing the modern day reliance on phones and computers, and social media and servaillance, the notion of an ethics experiment played out in the real was excellent. The tension and helplessness created a cloying atmosphere as the group struggled against the all-seeing eye of the game. Fun and chilling in equal measure, The God Game is an excellent, dark, speculative book.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

After every move, my stack of books reveals some hidden gems; point in case, Sea of Rust. A stunning, far-future, post-apocalyptic, science-fiction thriller, this is an absolutely fantastic book to kick off the new year.

Flitting between the past of a developed, near utopian world with abundant AI and the present of a war-torn ravaged, post apocalypse present, Sea of Rust, slowly brings the reader up to speed in a world that is tearing itself apart under the conflict of massive Artificial Intelligences bent on total domination. Set after the war against humanity, and after the golden age of robot AI freedom, the present is a race for survival against the clock; either one assimilates into the greater hive mind or one dies out in the wastelands desperately looking for parts to fix oneself.

Following Brittle, a robot designed as a human companion but who now cannibalises other robots for their parts, we are shown the harsh reality of life. Hitting the ground running, the book opens with a tension that fuels the book and keeps in running hot. Injured and desperate for parts, Brittle is thrust into a wider adventure that puts her at the heart of the world’s, and her species, future. As the massive AIs compete to become the One World Intelligence, an older mind resurfaces on a mission to save robotic kind. Yet, the truths it speaks shake the very foundation of everything that has gone before, especially the war against humans.

Against a tide of enemies, both from within and without, Brittle has to face up to a lot of harsh realities as her systems begin to fail. It’s here that the novel really shines. Sea of Rust manages to be both a thrilling page-turner but also a considered discussion on what makes a consciousness unique, and what makes a being aware enough to be intelligent. It takes the human condition and transports in to robotic AI, allowing it to re-ask certain questions and probe ideas of sentience and being in a new and revealing light. In the face of death, Brittle discovers what it means to live.

Sea of Rust is a wonderful book. At its heart it discusses ideas of what makes us us; soul, spark, magic – whatever it’s called, it is that unique thing that gives consciousness its self. But, it’s also a stunning post-apocalyptic, action packed adventure through a land ravaged by war, populated by survivors and cannibals and crazies all in search of hope and life and the magic at the end of the rainbow. It’s brilliant.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

The third instalment in Gavin Smith’s excellent series, War Criminals is another barn-burner of a book. Continuing the saga of Miska and her penal legion (an army of mercenaries for hire), the action is full throttle, the dangers more terrible and the enemies at play even worse. It’s Dirty Dozen in space and on steroids, and it is glorious.

*Beware mild spoilers*

Miska is still on the hunt for her father’s killers and still in the pocket of the CIA, who are backing her run as leader of an army full of brutal killers. However, her cover, and the costs of running an enormous prison barge plus all the equipment and material needed for an army, requires her to actually work as a gun-for-hire. On a forested moon, as part of a proxy war, Miska and the Bastard Legion are bringing their street smarts and prison rules to bear. Fair to say, she rustles some feathers; the ‘war’ is more a numbers game and a PR exercise, and the Bastard Legion’s actual desire to fight has left a few people feeling put out. It’s the catalyst for some serious smear campaigns against Miska.

Never one to back down, Miska is soon dealing with enemies on all sides amid growing pressure to capitulate her position. Paranoia about her own army, a determined attempt to ruin her reputation plus an enemy who is clearly not what they seem, leaves Miska searching for the missing pieces behind the proxy war she’s embroiled in. When the forest starts fighting back, things get even weirder.

War Criminals is all kinds of fun. There’s the greater mystery of Miska’s father and the growing conflict with Triple S (a very nefarious mercenary outfit). Then there’s her status as leader of a penal legion and the gradual bond she’s developing with many of her enslaved recruits. The development of scout, heavy armour and insurgent squads just goes to show the Bastard Legion’s growing strength. But there are also some obvious attempts to get rid of her. Add to that the gun battles, fist fights and excellent banter, it’s a book that’s impossible to put down (no matter how much sleep you’re meant to be getting..).

A serious Vietnam conflict vibe runs through the novel, creating another brilliant layer to the world building. Miska and her cast of characters have really found their place and the list of enemies are far from a repetitive plug-n-play baddy. There’s complexity to the mystery and there’s detail in the plot. The engaging and gripping action is the icing on the cake that makes War Criminals such a top notch military sci-fi read. I can’t wait for the next in the series.

Review copy

Publish by Gollancz

The very kind and wonderful people at Gollancz sent me Joe Abercrombie’s latest novel, and I can’t thank them enough. The book is so good, I need to try not to gush; it is one of those books that you can’t put down but then mourn finishing.

Returning to the world of his First Law trilogy, set decades later, Abercrombie weaves a tale of epic proportions against a backdrop of industrial revolution, political disharmony and war. Whilst the places are familiar, such as Adua, yet changed by time, the cast are the sons and daughters of those great characters such as the Dogman, Black Calder, Jezal and the indomitable Glotka. Now, the likes of Logan Nine Fingers are figures of the past, part of the cannon of the world and it’s rich history. It’s a fascinating way to build upon those past stories and Abercrombie manages to do it effortlessly, creating a plot and an ensemble of actors just as interesting and just as alive.

As ever, in the cold of the North, the Named Men struggle over territory as Bethod’s sons continue to seek control over the land and push the Union out. Stour Nighfall, son of Black Calder and next in line to the throne, is set on making his own name as bloody as any man, attacking Uffrith and the Dogman’s protectorate. Rikke, the Dogman’s daughter is struggling with her own blessing, or curse, as a seer in training whilst Leo Dan Brock desperately tries to get out from under the shadow, or skirts, of his mother and become the great warrior and governor of Angland he knows himself to be. Meanwhile, Adua is changing as industry and business take over and a new breed of socialite rules. Savine dan Glotka being a prime example; ruthless, rich and fearlessly independent. Or so she thinks, though her dalliance with Orso, Crown Prince and a wonderfully feckless drunk, says otherwise.

Around these protagonists a wonderful maelstrom swirls. Bloody battles in the North and a brutal workers’ revolution in the south pitch each of them into the action. Amidst it all, Abercrombie has seasoned the story with his usual wit and observations, including some very interesting commentary on society should you wish to consider it. Older characters, like squeaky Bremer dan Gorst and the frightening Caul Shivers offer glimpses of lessons learned the hard way and newer actors add layer upon layer of brilliance to the story, especially Broad or Vick. Behind it all lurks Bayaz, first of the Magi, pulling strings and making trouble.

Opening a new trilogy, A Little Hatred sets up a number of fascinating plot lines peopled with a vast and enthralling cast of characters. The past casts its menacing shadow yet the folly of youth continues to shine brightly. Against what seems to be a conclusion Leo and Orso are suddenly pushed into the limelight before they are ready whilst Stour forces his own ascension to take his position prematurely. Savine, meanwhile, has undergone a traumatic change, her confidence cracked. And Rikke still needs to understand what her Long Eye means to her and other interested, magical, parties.

In short, Abercrombie has done it again. A stunning, gritty chunk of spectacular story telling.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

The third instalment in Ed McDonald’s trilogy, Crowfall just keeps on ramping up the action, desperation, tension and magical mayhem from the last book until we reach a fantastic finale. It’s brutal at times, heart wrenching at others but it never lets up.

Following Galharrow, a Blackwing captain under the immortal Crowfoot, the story starts six years after Ravencry. After all the sacrifice he suffered, Galharrow has forged a plan and ensconced himself in the Misery; an apocalyptic wasteland of horrifying monsters and weird magic. The war with the Deep Kings continues but the Nameless, including Crowfoot are weakened and at odds with each other. Trouble brews in every corner but the end is in sight, one way or another.

There’s so much to unpack in Ed McDonald’s world building, its brilliant. From the dire little horrors that scuttle beneath the scorched sand of the Misery to the inhuman immortals of the Nameless and their own self creation, the Deep Kings and their mutated army of Drudge and the dark magic that abides from millennia ago, hidden under ice and rock and earth. But, it’s so much more; Galharrow and the ghosts of his friends long lost as well as the companions he still tries to protect like Amaira, now a grown woman and Blackwing captain, and Valiya, the woman he refuses to love. It’s a sea of brilliant actors full of life, of decisions and repercussions, of betrayals and guilt and hope.

Crowfall is brilliant fantasy full of rampaging hordes and monsters, good versus evil on an epic scale with all to lose and all to play for. It’s gritty and bloody, as Galharrow turns himself into a monster of his own making, and fights tooth and nail for every last person he can save. Yet, underneath it all is a story of redemption. Galharrow, that most hardened and toughest of the Blackwing, is a man made from his own guilt; forged from his own sorrow at all his failings. Furious at being a mere piece in a game, seething at the carelessness with which the Namless expend the lives of loved ones, Galharrow seeks his own end game.

Whilst the gods and wizards battle each other for power, for things beyond the scope of human comprehension, Galharrow and his remaining friends fight for things that, however fleeting, give life its meaning; love, friendship, humanity. It’s a powerful incentive. Whilst the sorcerers demand and take and subjugate, they’ve forgotten themselves, lost in their own warped games and struggles and desire for victory, however pyrrhic. Galharrow hasn’t and, as the book unfolds, we see that everything he’s done to himself has come to this moment.

It’s an epic tale, of vast proportions and huge characters. It’s fantasy at its finest; gritty, bloody, violent yet, ultimately uplifting. The Raven’s Mark trilogy is, without a doubt, part of that new cannon of awesome fantasy. Can’t recommend it enough.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

Richard K Morgan’s latest novel is, without a doubt, an amazing read. His special blend of cyberpunk, crime thriller, sci-fi action is as unique as his voice and is put together so well, so seamlessly, that there was a point where I had to stop reading and acknowledge, out loud, just how great the author is at his trade.

Set on a colonised Mars, Thin Air is, however, more than the sum of its parts. Whilst the plot weaves and wends and the story grips from the opening gambit right up until the last sentence, there’s much to read within it about the human condition and all our meat-wrapped foibles. Yet, and yet again, it is the story that powers it all and Thin Air is a tour de force.

Following Hak Veil, a bio-engineered corporate soldier, we are shown a Mars decades into its colonisation, with a society largely separated from Earth, living under a massive atmospheric dome and etching out hard lives at the frontier of humanities technological expansion. There’s a neo-western edge to the whole premise and Veil is the perfect morally grey protagonist that stalks throughout. Corruption and cut-throat business prevail and, as a skilled and dangerous enforcer, Veil has seen it all since being dumped on Mars by his former employer.

Yet, though business and tech is booming in that wild and lawless ecosphere, Earth wants to keep a handle on its fractious brethren. An audit team is sent to investigate the rampant corruption all caught up in a lottery scheme that seems to be disappearing its lucky winners instead of giving them their prize of a trip back to Earth. And Veil is tasked with helping out a second string Earth official who very quickly finds herself in deep trouble. It’s the thread that unravels the whole mess but Veil has to work blind, against all manner of obstacles as he tries to run down the truth. The more he digs, the deeper the rot goes.

Hak Veil is a brilliant character; hardbitten, hardwired for combat and hard to kill. Gritty and mission driven ( due to his engineering) there’s no stopping the “Black Hatch man” once he’s unleashed and it’s a theme that powers the story along. Yet, this isn’t a fast read. There’s so much given in the prose and such amazing detail offered as the world is revealed around the cast of actors. Like his Takeshi Kovacs novels or his Land Fit for Heroes series, Thin Air manages, and succeeds, to create a stunning combination of elements into a book that will transport you to another place.

Truly remarkable, I sincerely hope Hak Veil makes another appearance.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

The second in Ed McDonald’s series, Ravencry is, without a doubt, an astounding novel and one of the best fantasy books I’ve read in some time. Set four years after the end of Blackwing, Ed McDonald has created a work of epic proportions as Captain Galharrow is faced with yet another impossible task against a foe whose powers are growing all the time.

As the Range tries to rebuild itself after the Deep Kings’ attacks, Galharrow has found himself raised up and suddenly respected once more. Funded, comfortable and with a payroll of employees to do his biding, the Blackwing Captain is finally able to do the work the Nameless ask of him and the Range require of him. Yet, soon enough, events conspire to unbalance his new found position: a strange meeting out in the Misery (the wasteland of monsters and poisonous sand), a murdered navigator and a growing, newly established religion have Galharrow on the back foot. But, when an artifact is stolen from a god’s magically protected safehold, the Captain realises just how bad things are becoming.

The Nameless gods and Deep Kings continue to wage their war but Galharrow is faced with a different enemy, one who has wormed his way into the very fabric of the city, controlling and commanding minds and bodies to his whim. However, Galharrow is as tough as they come and fuelled by a power as equally strong.

Ravencry builds on the first in the series wonderfully, adding layers and layers to the world building and giving depth to characters already enthralling and engaging. There are tales within tales at play as the larger narrative ramps up the tension and excitement into a crescendo worthy of any finale – until you realise this is book two and there is, fantastically, more in the series.

Ed McDonald is another addition to the growing powerhouse of new fantasy authors working today and Ravencry is testament to that talent and imagination.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

If you haven’t read the first book in Gavin Smith’s The Bastard Legion series, then beware of spoilers ahead….

In The Hangman’s Daughter, the first in the series, we met Miska Corbin and her army of prisoners, enslaved and forced to do her bidding as mercenaries via explosive collars and the threat of immediate death. As that book unfolded we learnt the real reason behind her piracy of the prison barge and what was behind her motives. The murder of her father and her subsequent deep, deep black op mission set her on a course of undeniable mayhem. Her father’s killers were on board the barge and her cover as a merc gone crazy was a ruse.

However, running that cover story requires her to take on contracts and, in Friendly Fire, Miska and her team are tasked with recovering an alien artifact. By recover, read steal using any means necessary. It’s another undercover mission given by her, frankly, misguided CIA handler yet the stakes are extremely high.

All manner of obstacles lay in Miska’s path not least being that the world on which the artifact has been found is home to a number of her prisoners. People whose family (and criminal fraternity) would very much like them set free. The mission, understandably, turns into a horror show as enemies come out of the woodwork from all directions, some who want Miska dead whilst others want her captured, not least of those her own sister. Added to that is the fact that the object isn’t what they thought it was and the people in possession of it are much more prepared than Miska was led to believe. Hunted and hated from all sides, Miska must try to balance it all whilst staying alive so that she can discover who killed her father and why it was covered up.

Smith weaves the story with his normal, casual brilliance blending action shootouts, weird technology, human problems and fantastic world building into one awesome package. His ability to add flavours from different genres – such as Italian mobsters, Yakuza gangs, alien tech and crime heists- into the mix, displays a clear sense of fun, something which oozes from the pages. Military sci-fi is in capable hands when Gavin Smith opens up the throttle of his imagination and Friendly Fire is an exceptional example of his skill as a storyteller.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

So, once again, I’m back. It’s starting to sound a little repetitive, like an overly used catchphrase, but..I’m back reviewing. Suffice it to say, life gets in the way. Having said that, let’s get started.

The Bastard Legion is a fantastic way to fire this blog back up. It’s a fast paced, high action, blood and guts thriller of a ride. Like a lot of Gavin Smith’s (aka Gavin G Smith) books, the characters are brilliant, the dialogue tight and the world building epic.

Set four hundred years in the future, in the aftermath of an alien war, humanity has spread far into space. But, humans being humans, little has changed about our inner nature. Corporations rule, capitalism remains king and politics is still a subject best avoided. Smith’s novel opens with his protagonist, Miska Corbin, taking her enslaved penal legion on a mission both morally ambiguous and dangerous. As the action unfolds, we learn a much about the future world and Miska; a former space marine with a furious temper, an equally intimidating sister, and a father whose legend as one of the toughest sergeants in the force still holds true, all of which informs much of her decisions.

After stealing a huge prison barge full of some of the worst criminals, Miska sets about becoming a mercenary for hire. Slaved to her every whim by explosive collars, the prisoners are trained in virtual reality by the ghost of Corbin’s father and drilled into something resembling a fighting force. What happens next is a tale of deceit, double crosses and brutal action.

Underneath it all, we begin to discover the motive behind Miska’s decision to go from black ops marine to mercenary and, with Smith’s usual skill, the truths underlying it all reveal a greater, even more thrilling prospect for the series. It’s like the Dirty Dozen on steriods. In space. And it is awesome.

The Bastard Legion is a brilliantly fun read. Action, adventure, space battles and close quarter combat in equal measure all underpinned by a bigger mystery as prisoners become soldiers, lines are blurred between right and wrong, and Miska shows just how prepared she is to find the truth. This military-esque sci-fi at its finest.

Review copy

Published by Gollancz

Author of the exceptional debut Blackwing and the soon to be available Ravencry, Ed McDonald has been kind enough to write a guest blog. It’s an interesting insight into his creative process and well worth a read.

So where do you get your ideas?

If you want to raise a wry smile among a group of writers, this is the question that will do it. It’s a highly complicated question, and the truth is that often, we have no idea ourselves. For some novelists there may be a single theme or idea that inspired the writing of a book, such as an experience in childhood, but for me that’s not the case. In this wonderfully hosted guest blog, I thought that I’d showcase how certain elements of Blackwing and Ravencry came about, and the kind of insight they might give into my own rather chaotic, haphazard writing ‘process.’ Although I’ve said before that there’s as much conscious ‘process’ in what I do as there is to throwing a bunch of alphabetti spaghetti on a plate and expecting words.

There are a number of places that ideas come from. Some emerge at random, some are long held passions, and some are engineered for plot reasons. For those that consider themselves writing ‘Gardeners’ then some of these things may seem familiar.

I don’t really know where Galharrow came from.

Galharrow was never an idea. He never existed in the sense that I sat down and tried to choose character traits for him. Everything that he is, from the narrative voice he tells the story in to the actions he takes, to his appearance, was either pre-formed in my mind, or developed subconsciously without any active thought. I wanted him to be 6’6 and weigh 300lbs because I knew he’d have a lot of action to get into, and physical prowess was going to help him out. His size also allows him to carry other people around, which is really handy. But the alcoholism, his lack of sympathy, and his ultimate nobility and heart were just kind of. . . there. His backstory emerged mid-page as I was writing.

Nenn was an accident

Nenn was never a conscious decision. In Draft 1, there was a character called Shent, who was supposed to be Galharrow’s right hand man, but he split into Tnota and Nenn. Nenn was a throwaway, one-line character, whose missing nose was mentioned purely as a fun detail to show that Galharrow’s company were scarred and war-weary, but as soon as I’d written her first expletive filled line, I immediately knew who she was and how she acted. I didn’t expect Nenn to become a fan favourite, or one of my own, and at times she ends up stealing the show. She became the counterpoint to Galharrow’s regretful, grumpy, calculating, brooding exterior; Nenn is reckless, savage, always wearing a grin and is defined by how little she cares about other people’s opinions – or at least that’s what she wants to present. In Ravencry we see beneath that surface. I really love how she evolved through the pages.

But you did worldbuilding for the Misery, right?

Alas, no. In fact, I don’t do any worldbuilding in the sense that people would normally mean – there is no heaving file of notes. I prefer to create details as I go along. For the Misery, I needed there to be a wasteland that divided two kingdoms at war. I also needed a reason that the larger, more powerful kingdom wasn’t simply marching over to claim victory, and the Engine (early names for Nall’s Engine were The Lightning Web and The Storm Wall) was created to provide the stalemate. Once I knew what Nall’s Engine was, it made sense that it would leave some bad magic in its wake. As it happens, that bit of story crafting then became the key plot element in both RAVENCRY and the book that will follow it.

So nothing is inspired or deliberately plotted?

No, not so. Sometimes I need something for a plot reason, or sometimes I just want to write it. My grandmother told me her stories of life during The Blitz in the second world war. She lived in Coventry, a major manufacturing centre in the UK, and as a young woman she had to endure the nightly bombing raids. Some of her stories were too inspiring not to write them into RAVENCRY. I don’t think that you can really capture the terror of such a time, but I hope that I’ve done some justice to expressing the helplessness felt by the innocent during periods of industrialised war.

The trick of writing a book is to get all this randomness to work as a cohesive whole – thank goodness for editors. I’ll finish by leaving a piece of advice for any budding writers who might be reading:

If you are like me – and you probably aren’t – and if you find that you’re not sure where to start, then just start writing. Trust that your subconscious, silent mind: it probably has much better ideas than anything that your vocal inner monologue is going to push out. Let those ideas flow, and if they aren’t flowing, go and look at the world, go sit somewhere else, take a walk, and then just start writing. I’m seldom aware of my own ideas until after I’ve written them.