Posts Tagged ‘Orbit’

This is another of those books that I stumbled upon in a charity shop which had long been on my list to read. Written by co-authors Chris Bunch and Allan Cole in 1982, Sten is a military sci-fi adventure set far in the future and full to the brim with action.

Considering when it was produced, the novel does a great job at subverting the premise of a benevolent empire, focusing on a factory planet named Vulcan. Within, migrant workers (or Migs), are trapped in never ending contracts, forcing them and their children into a life of servitude. The company that owns the planet is a ruthless hierarchy of elitist capitalists who care for nothing other than profit. The Eternal Emperor, for whom the company works, turns a blind eye so long as the company remains loyal.

The company, and Vulcan, is run by one Baron Thoresen, a man of epic ambitions and absolutely no morals. When he carelessly murders hundreds of Migs, he sets in motion his own demise. One of the families he jettisons into space belongs to a young boy called Sten. Smart and capable, Sten, however, finds himself under the grindstone of the company and in short order begins to rebel. Soon, he tries to escape Vulcan, bringing himself to the attention of the Empire’s military when he joins a group of likeminded youngsters living in the tunnels and vents of the factory planet.

What ensues is a story of rebellion and revenge peppered with classic military sci-fi boot camp episodes, guerilla warfare and pitched battles as Sten makes his way back to Vulcan to end Thoresen’s reign of terror. The book is a fast, no-frills read and all the better for it. Sten is action packed and great fun. As the start of a series, this is a must for pulpy military action enthusiasts.

My copy

Published by Orbit

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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

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Brian McClellan’s Promise of Blood is epic in every sense of the word. It’s a heroic adventure at its brilliant best but it’s also a full blown awesome fantasy. Deriving his world and building it from the idea of the Napoleonic age, McClellan has mixed ancient sorcery and emerging industry, magic and gun powder, gods and guns. Think Sharpe with magic. The concept is inspired and the story does it more than justice.

We’re introduced to Adro, one of the Nine kingdoms in this world, and Field Marshall Tamas just as he completes a bloody plot to overthrow a corrupt King and a bloated nobility. This coup is the catalyst for entire plot of the novel but it also reveals one of a number of dichotomies at work in the book. Whilst the first concerns the clash between royalty and society the second looks at the sense of loyalty between family and country which occurs for a few of the main actors, especially Tamas. He also features in the clash between magic and sorcery. Tamas is a Powder Mage; he has the power to control gun powder, use it to enhance his senses and give him superhuman strength. On the other side of this is the Privileged; sorcerers who can tap into an ancient power, cast spells and manipulate huge forces.

Prior to his execution, the King of Adro had frittered away his nation’s wealth and while the people starved, he aimed to sell his country to the neighbouring Kez. Tamas won’t stand for it but the results of his coup are far reaching. The Kez made Tamas an enemy when they beheaded his wife for spying; now that hatred is once more burning as they attempt to invade the weakened Adro. However, having killed the royal cabal of Privileged, Tamas has unleashed an ancient sorcery that will bring down the wrath of a god. A god that most people think is myth or mere religious dogma.

Entwined in all this is Adamat, a semi-retired investigator, employed by Tamas to uncover the truth behind the Privileged’s mysterious messages. He is a great foil for the author to discover the city and it’s inhabitants from the high borne to those dwelling in shadier surroundings. Whilst his integrity is compromised due to his family being kidnapped, Adamat’s involvement is intriguing and he is a brilliantly balanced character. Tamas on the other hand is hard and unforgiving, especially in the eyes of his son, Taniel, an equally gifted Powder Mage. A soldier of repute, Taniel is tasked with a mission that ends up seeing him caught in the centre of the conflict both against the Kez but also with a set of powerful sorcerers and ancient magics.

Whilst the plot is innovative and engaging, and the world building effortless, it is the cast of actors that really stand out. Tamas, Taniel and Adamat all have close allies each of whom are exceptional. But it is also the cast of villains, all pulling and plotting against each other and the book’s heroes. It’s such a vast and believable world that this was a true page turner for me. The writing and the story is fantastic whilst the ideas underpinning it all are brilliantly creative. McClellan is definitely another giant voice amongst the new breed of fantasy authors and I’m most definitely on board for the rest of this trilogy.

My copy
Published by Orbit

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Sometimes there’s a book that makes work seem like a nuisance as you just don’t want to stop reading. Yet, you also don’t want it to finish. Blood Song by Anthony Ryan was one of those books for me. Check out the blurb below…

Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin’s father was Battle Lord to King Janus, ruler of the unified realm. Vaelin’s rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He cherishes the memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the realm, but the world.

Book one in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, Ryan’s Blood Song is epic fantasy at its finest. Introduced to the protagonist Vaelin Al Sorna when he is a child, the first part of the novel focuses on his journey from boy to man, from a lonely child to a feared warrior. His training by the Sixth Order is brutal, teaching and forging Vaelin into a powerful instrument of war. Along with his band of brothers, Vaelin undertakes numerous challenges as each year passes, whittling out the weak and leaving only those skilled enough to survive the hardships and harsh tests.

However, the book quietly builds as intrigue and mystery begin to insinuate themselves into the story. Vaelin’s life is threatened and a number of times he thwarts attacks against his fellow Faithful. In his final exam, a test of his martial skills fighting three criminals to the death, Vaelin realises he has killed an innocent man. Embroiled now in a web of deceit and political intrigue which pits his place in the Order against the King of the Realm, Vaelin’s infamy and legend grows with each battle. Before long Vaelin is commanding a company of men, sent on a mission designed to cause war.

It is here that the true character of Vaelin becomes clear, as all the losses and lessons that have made the man coalesce. As the novel draws to a close, the plot rises to an uncertain crescendo echoing the title of the book. Ryan’s skill in telling the tale, using the ending as the beginning and focusing on Vaelin makes for a wonderful, fluid read. As each new intrigue is added the book builds and builds, driven first by the characters and then by the stunning and gripping action.

The author has created a fantastic world of fractious nations, civilisations and religions. It’s a brilliant backdrop to Vaelin and his brothers in the Faith and their adventures. But, it’s the depth of the book and how Ryan allows certain elements, such as the curious and fascinating notion of magic, to rise up out of the story that makes it such an absorbing read. Thankfully the second in the series, Tower Lord is already out and I can’t wait to read it. In short, Anthony Ryan is highly recommended.

Review copy
Published by Orbit

Angus Watson was kind enough to take some time and answer a few questions about his debut, Age of Iron, the idea of ‘grimdark’ and British sense of humour.

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For those yet to read Age of Iron, could you give a brief outline of the novel?

The trilogy rewrites how the ancient Britons defeated Roman general Julius Caesars’ unstoppable legions and his druid’s dark magic (which actually happened, possibly without the dark magic bit). In book one, a skilled but lazy warrior, a beautiful, revengeful archer, a weird mystical child and others unite to defeat the evil forces of southern Britain’s tyrant king.

I’ve heard that the novel was born from a newspaper article you wrote, could you explain how your debut came about?

I wrote an article on Iron Age hillforts for the Telegraph. There are loads of these gigantic forts – ditches and ramparts dug around the flattened top of a hill – all over southern Britain. The Iron Age was a busy, massive, but totally unknown part of British history despite being relatively recent (Age of Iron is set just over 2000 years ago. Egypt’s pyramids that still sit next to KFC in Cairo are 4500 years old). Walking on a hillfort with an expert called Peter Woodward, I asked him if the British Iron Age was like Conan the Barbarian, full of muscle-bound warriors rescuing virgins from snake temples. He said that as far as we know, yes. I decided to write a novel set in the period there and then.

Whilst there are obvious differences, how did your journalism background feed into your novel writing?

Economy. My hillforts article for the Telegraph, for example, was 800 words long but I could have written 30,000. I learnt to cram everything I wanted to say into fewer words without it feeling crammed. At least that was the idea. The Age of Iron trilogy is about the same length as famously long War and Peace, so some might disagree.

The Iron Age is an intriguing setting for a novel – how much research was involved and what was it like to infer and extrapolate from the little available history to create your background?

Because the ancient British didn’t write and any oral histories have since disappeared, there is very little research that can be done. So I read all the available books, went to three museums, climbed a load of hillforts and that was that. Then I very much enjoyed building a world within the parameters of known history.

I’ve described Age of Iron as ‘grimdark’ what are your thoughts on this type of classification?

The book is grim and dark in parts but I don’t think that is the overall feel, considering that the real centrepiece, possibly, is the platonic relationship between a jaded man and an enthusiastic child. However I realise that books need to be categorised, and if Age of Iron is being put into the same category as Joe Abercrombie’s excellent novels (which aren’t that grim or dark either) then I’m very happy.

However, your novel (and many of the characters) displays a fantastic sense of humour – what were the roots behind that?

I think there’s an amazing prejudice against people in the past. We see them as one dimensional and stupid and I think that’s utterly wrong – they were as passionate, clumsy, manipulative etc etc as we are. So, if you go into any office or factory or school or army barracks or wherever today, you’ll find witty people making funny jokes. I think it was the same in the past, so that’s why many of the characters have senses of humour. As to the book itself having a sense of humour, I think you can either cry or laugh at the world and I choose the latter.

There is some great scepticism and discussion around religion and the Druids – could you unpack your thoughts on why your characters have such reactions in what was, seemingly, a religious age?

See previous answer. People in the past were the same as us. Today we have a new religion called climate change. Some believe fervently and will scream hatred if anyone says a word against it, some defend it passionately but still drive Range Rovers, politicians and business exploit it to make political capital and money, and some people, while not necessarily denying that climate change exists, observe the others’ behaviour and mock it. Christianity got the same treatment when it was big, as did the Roman gods, so think it’s safe to say that the Iron Age gods provoked the same reactions.

I was also intrigued by the very modern attitudes of the British women and your strong female leads – would a Lowa have existed back then?

I’ve got a half-baked, badly-researched idea the Romans subjugated women through their own culture, then by changing Christianity into the form that’s been passed down. Before the Romans conquered Europe and the Roman version of Christianity conquered the world, women were seen as equal to men. It’s a theory, it would probably fall apart if someone who knew what they were talking about debated it with me, but I like it and I believe it. The theory is slightly backed up by the most famous British rebel against the Romans – Boadicea – being a woman.

The mix of historical fact and fantasy was inspired and your magic system was fittingly subtle – what was the thinking behind the magic and those who wield it?

I like the idea that there was a bit of magic around at the time. Plenty of people believe that Jesus could do a few tricks less than a hundred years after the events in my books and I don’t think Spring, Drustan’s or Felix’s magic is any weirder than his. There’ll be more about what that magic is and why it’s gone in the next two books.

Dug and Spring are wonderful characters with a funny and touching relationship – can we expect to see more of them?

There will be more of both of them, but they’re going to face challenges that make the Monster look like a baby rabbit (there were no rabbits in Britain during the Iron Age, so they won’t face any actual rabbits until one of them goes to Gaul (France) in book three).

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There’s a debate in fantasy about the category ‘grimdark’: Joe Abercrombie seems to embrace it (just check his twitter handle) whilst Mark Lawrence thinks it pointless. I’ll not argue with either of those titans of fiction. Angus Watson’s debut, however, fits the criteria for that category well as his novel is definitely grim and, at times, very dark. Set in the less than understood Iron Age of ancient Britain, Watson may not have created a new world but he has been brilliantly inventive with the sparse information historians have of that period to produce a superb fantasy story.

Following the self-reflexive and humble warrior Dug, we’re soon introduced to the way of the Iron Age from the everyday village full of crafts people to some very nasty and power drunk Druids and Kings. After finding himself on the wrong side of a battle (more accurately a slaughter) against the very King he was hoping to enlist with, Dug’s simple plan for an easy life becomes very complicated. He first meets Spring as she and her companions scavenge for treasure amongst the battle’s dead. Spring turns out to be an extremely strange ten-year old girl with some impressive talents. After deciding and failing to mercy kill her and then deciding to abandon her, Dug soon finds himself entangled in helping Lowa, an archer from the very army responsible for the earlier slaughter.

Lowa, once a heralded soldier in King Zadar’s army is now on the run after narrowly escaping an execution that claimed her sister, and hell-bent on revenge. Dug, enamoured by the young warrior, decides to help. Spring tags along being equally hilarious and helpful exactly when needed. After numerous scraps, treacherous encounters and betrayals, the gang find themselves fulfilling Lowa’s plan though not in the way any of them thought. From Dug’s opening ruminations, the story gathers pace and momentum becoming more complex and intense until the fantastic set piece conclusion.

Age of Iron is a brilliant tale of vengeance packed with action and a tumble of vibrant and canny characters. Watson’s novel is also highly informative, showing how ancient Britain and it’s people lived (who apparently held some fairly modern attitudes). There’s some great chapters on the notions of power, religion and mysticism and even a little digression on the pleasures of long distance running. Coming in at well over 500 pages, the novel is hefty but what it does is allow Watson to wonderfully describe and uncover both his setting and his collection of actors. The book never feels slow or ponderous but reads at a decent pace as it gathers steam for the big finale.

From the intriguing blend of historical fiction and fantasy elements to the engaging sense of humour that underpins his main characters and their interactions, Watson has created a brilliant and confident debut. At turns the book is equally funny, thrilling, horrifying and informative. Dug and Spring are a truly fantastic duo bringing light to the dark and grim setting of an ancient Britain in the throes of tribal warfare and the threat of an approaching Roman invasion. If you like your fantasy packed with blood thirsty Druids, hammer-wielding heroes, strong female leads, action, intrigue, betrayal, and a brilliantly conceived world then Age of Iron is for you.

Review copy
Published by Orbit

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Whilst the postie around our way delights in cursing those of us who deign to have parcels delivered, I missed the wrath and colourful language of her this week and had to make do with a trip to the post office. But what a great trip.

The very wonderful people at Little, Brown Book Group (who publish Orbit books in the UK) sent me a couple of fantastic titles. I am truly a very lucky reader and can’t wait to get stuck in.

First up, Blood Song by Anthony Ryan. It’s a book that’s been on my radar for a while and I’m really looking forward to getting to read this very soon.

We have fought battles that left more than a hundred corpses on the ground and not a word of it has ever been set down. The Order fights, but often it fights in shadow, without glory or reward. We have no banners. Vaelin Al Sorna is the Sixth Order’s newest recruit. Under their brutal training regime, he learns how to forge a blade, survive the wilds and kill a man quickly and quietly – all in the name of protecting the Realm and the Faith. Now his skills will be put to the test. War is coming. Vaelin must draw upon the very essence of his strength and cunning if he is to survive the coming conflict. Yet as the world teeters on the edge of chaos, Vaelin will learn that the truth can cut deeper than any sword.

Next is D.J. Molles The Remaining – Refugees. Unfortunately, this is the third book in the series but, again, I’ve heard a lot of hype about this over the internet and I definitely want to read the author’s work. Hopefully, I’ll get my hands on the first couple of novels in the series soon.

He has fought the fight, and run the race.

But the enemies never stop coming, and the race has no finish line.

It has been three months since Captain Lee Harden found the survivors at Camp Ryder. With winter looming, Lee is on the verge of establishing Camp Ryder as a hub of safety and stability in the region. But not everyone agrees with Lee’s mission . . . or his methods. Growing tensions between camp leadership are coming to a head, and as Lee struggles amid the dissention and controversy, new revelations about the infected threaten to destroy everything he has worked for.

Lastly comes Angus Watson’s Age of Iron. The blurb sounds great and I’m really keen to check out the novel. I think this may get pushed to the top of the pile…

LEGENDS AREN’T BORN. THEY’RE FORGED.

Dug Sealskinner is a down-on-his-luck mercenary travelling south to join up with King Zadar’s army. But he keeps rescuing the wrong people.

First, Spring, a child he finds scavenging on the battlefield, and then Lowa, one of Zadar’s most fearsome warriors, who’s vowed revenge on the king for her sister’s execution.

Now Dug’s on the wrong side of that thousands-strong army he hoped to join ­- and worse, Zadar has bloodthirsty druid magic on his side. All Dug has is his war hammer, one rescued child and one unpredictable, highly-trained warrior with a lust for revenge that’s going to get them all killed . . .

It’s a glorious day to die.

What are you reading?