Tuesday 30 June 2009

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Poison Garden - Sarah Singleton


It is the 1850's, and a young boy, Thomas, leaves his family to be apprenticed to a pharmacist, at the behest of his dead grandmother. He also inherits a magical box from her, which provides him entry into a mysterious garden. But while visiting it, he sees a ghostly vision of his grandmother, who tells him she was poisoned, and warns him that he must find the person responsible, and save her precious garden. For she was one of five members of an arcane guild, each of whom cultivated an individual garden, mastering the art of poison, perfume and medicine. The guild members jostle for power as, one by one, they are murdered...can Thomas solve the mystery, before he in turn is threatened?


This was a very quirky and strange offering from Sarah Singleton and whilst I was immediately gripped by the tale from the first couple of pages I did get a little upset with the ending of the tale as it really didn't seem to have any consequences or any real justice for the tale as a whole.

I felt cheated and whilst the rest of the story was beautifully put together I'm a firm believer in having a moralistic ending for a story especially when its designed for the YA market. Don't get me wrong, a lot of readers will have a lot of fun with this as they try to puzzle out the crime/thriller elements and the magic within really does work beautifully but that one niggle really did ruin the whole experience for me.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Blood Noir (Anita Blake 16) - Laurell K Hamilton


Anita is scared. Really scared. And not much gets under the skin of a US Marshall with jurisdiction over preternatural matters, who also happens to be a necromancer. Anita's life is dangerous, and she wouldn't have it any other way, but the scars - both mental and physical - are starting to show. You'd think that her connections with the vampire, werewolf and wereleopard communities would come in handy. However, as her powers grow and develop in new and uncharted ways, her links to both friends and lovers could endanger them all.


To be brutally honest I have to say that this time Laurel was quite restrained with the sex. Why? She waited until page 13 before starting to give the readers a 10 page sex session. What really infuriates me about this is that it appears that Laurel really can't write anything that doesn't end up with an orgasmic session sacrificing the plot on the alter of nepotism.

Whilst this may work with an immature audience, we the readers who helped her establish herself have been thrown by the wayside in order for her to indulge her vanilla sexual fantasies. But wait, whats that? In this book there's reference to... SHOCK HORROR, BDSM. At times I do wonder if this author knows anything about personal relationships as its completely ridiculous. Anita would earn more cash flat on her back than she seems to make doing anything else plus the way things are going it's a case of any excuse to make the beast with three, four or five backs. Also throw into the mix the lack of mental stimulous and Anita really should be a case book study for any number of psychologists as the human brain really does need more stimuli than is actually presented to the character.

Anita must obviously be suffering from at least one brain injury now that is turning her into a sexual addict as it seems to be her only answer to anything. "What your Dad's dying? Quick jump into bed with me and lets have sex." "What do you mean that your dog died yesterday, you know what helps you get over it? Lots of sex."

Whilst I'm not coming over as a real fan I've more than paid my dues to this author and so I want to lay down a challenge. I want her to write a book that whilst it can have the occasional sexploit within, rests purely on plotline with characters that we care about that have real hooks in them, where sex is there as an aid to the plotline and allows a relationship to develop rather than the "flat on her back for "vanilla" sex with all and sundry." After all Laurel appears to be a one trick (and yes, I do realise the irony of that statement) pony. The challenge is set so lets see if she can attempt to create such a book however should this turn out to be the mythical white whale, I really do think that Laurel should personally have to repay all her long suffering fans every penny they've spent on the dross that is so dire it cant even be classified as "literoritca."

Monday 29 June 2009

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Ed. Nick Kyme and Lindsay Preistley - Heroes of the Space Marines


In the grim darkness of the Warhammer 40,000 universe mankind is beset by foes in a galaxy wracked by eternal war. Step forth the Space Marines, superhuman warriors and the ultimate protectors of humanity. Heroes of the Space Marines is an anthology of stories about these brave champions and their dark counterparts, the Chaos Space Marines.

This anthology features an Ultramarines series tie–in by Graham McNeill featuring the Iron Warrior Honsou, a prequel story to the forthcoming Salamander series by Nick Kyme, a tie–in to the new Imperial Fists series by Chris Roberson and all–new Deathwatch and Night Lords stories, setting the stars ablaze with the fury of the Space Marines.


One thing that Black Library always does well is compendium’s of short stories. They’re cracking value for money as for the cost of a book, you get to try a number of their authors to see which style fits your tastes as well as a chance to pick up a favoured author’s within. Here in this offering you get tales from all points of view, be it the Orks, Chaos or even the saviours of mankind, the Adeptus Astartes (or Space Marines to most people. LOL)

Add to the mix that the reader never knows the outcome of the tale until the last few lines and you’ve got a cracking series of stories. Great stuff.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Last and First Men - Olaf Stapledon


One of the most extraordinary, imaginative and ambitious novels of the century: a history of the evolution of humankind over the next 2 billion years. Among all science fiction writers Olaf Stapledon stands alone for the sheer scope and ambition of his work. First published in 1930, Last and First Men is full of pioneering speculations about evolution, terraforming, genetic engineering and many other subjects.


To be honest this tale whilst considered a modern classic is very difficult to get into. Perhaps it’s due to the times in which it was written (1930.) Whilst dated by modern standards the book is considered to be Stapledon’s best tale with the idea’s and concepts having inspired others to dream. By modern standard’s it is clunky although the idea’s are well executed in the antiquated language within. Definitely a book to try however don’t be surprised if it takes a few goes to finally hit that last page but you’ll find the effort well worth the time as you can see how other authors have been inspired by this modern great.

Thursday 25 June 2009

TV TIE IN: Battlestar Galactica: Downloaded


"Battlestar Galactica" the 're-imagined' version of the cult 1970s series and now in its fourth and final season is without doubt the most critically acclaimed SF show on TV. With a classy ensemble cast, including Edward James Olmos ("Miami Vice") and Mary McDonnell ("Independence Day"), cutting edge special effects, superb production design and adult-oriented scripts, the new "Battlestar Galactica" is both a worthy successor to a classic original, and a stunning piece of television in its own right. This official full-colour companion to the first and second seasons is packed with exclusive interviews, stunning photos, behind-the-scenes secrets, and a complete episode guide with in-depth commentary from both cast and crew.


If you’ve been a fan of the series and currently mourning its loss, you can get your fix by picking up this enjoyable book that explores the world of Adama, Starbuck and the crew in their embattled universe as they seek to find a new home. Not only is this stuffed full of concept artwork for the battleships along with information about the filming of the series but it also deals with the details of the individual series and how it went from part mini series to the full blown epic it was to become. A great offering with plenty of graphic and photographic illustrations to keep even the most ardent fan glued for hours. A great offering from Titan.

FICTION REVIEW: Fragment - Warren Fahy


Jurassic Park meets Lost in this electrifying new adventure thriller. When the cast and crew of reality TV show 'SeaLife' land on picturesque, unexplored Henders Island it's a ratings bonanza. But they're blissfully unaware that the decisions they make there will shape the fate of mankind ! if they can only survive. For they quickly discover that the island is seething with danger. Having evolved in total isolation from the rest of the planet for millennia, Henders is home to host of vicious and exotic predators, terrifying creatures who live in a lightning fast blur of kill or be killed. A team of crack scientists is sent in to assess the situation and they are astounded by what they find. It soon becomes clear that if even the smallest bug ever made it off Henders island, life on earth as we know it would change very quickly indeed. The President is faced with the toughest decision of his career: take the risk of letting one of these creatures escape so that further research can be done, or nuke the island to protect the rest of planet Earth? Just when it seems the stakes couldn't get any higher, the scientists make a surprise discovery that changes everything!


With the death of Crichton there became a huge hole in a specific niche of the market, that of fiction based on real science principles. Research was the key word with Crichton and when this offering landed on my doorstep I was intrigued enough to pick it up and see where it ran to.

Within the book followed a Darwinian evolution theory that utilised an insectoid based life-form over that of the mammals along with how the restricted ecosystem adapted to the challenges presented by island life. Add to the mix science based upon differing species and it really did tick all the boxes for me as a reader. One thing I did wonder about whilst reading this novel however was a slight change to the way it progressed as I’d have liked the evolution of the higher insectoid “primate” to have had a different route such as the utilisation of humankind as each genetic code warred with the other as if the insectoid RNA were a parasite. It had potential to follow that route yet the authors own choice did work on a level to tie the whole tale up with a nice flowing style. Definitely an author to watch and one whose next book will move straight to the top of my reading pile.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Awakening - Kelley Armstrong


Chloe Saunders used to be a normal teenage girl - or so she thought. Then she learned the shocking truth - she is a walking science experiment. Genetically altered at birth by a sinister group of scientists known as the Edison Group, Chloe is an aberration - a powerful necromancer who can see ghosts and even raise the dead, often with terrifying consequences. Even worse, her growing powers have made her a threat to the surviving members of the Edison Group, who have decided it's time to end their experiment - permanently ...Now Chloe is running for her life with three other supernatural teenagers - a charming sorcerer, a troubled werewolf and a temperamental young witch. Together they have a chance for freedom - but can Chloe trust her new friends?


As a huge fan of Kelley’s work any book that lands with her name on automatically moves its way up the reading pile to give me some pure reading pleasure. Yet with three series on the go, and with a punishing publishing schedule you do wonder if quality is being sacrificed for quantity.

All these questions and more (mainly to do with the cliff-hanger from the original tale in the Darkest Powers series) were bubbling as I began the opening chapter to quickly find I was sucked straight back into this YA series through the eyes of the protagonista. It’s a definite must buy for fans of Kelley and a great way to have an adult author bridge the gap between children’s books to Young Adult with this addictive telling. Exciting, emotional and above all a story to thrill you long after the final page is turned as you sit to imagine what will happen to the characters next. A must own.

FANTASY REVIEW: The Colour of Magic/The Light Fantastic: Anniversary Edition - Terry Pratchett


There was a time when no one knew about the Discworld, a huge disc supported by five elephants standing on the enormous giant turtle known as the Great A'tuin . . . Rincewind was a perfectly ordinary failed wizard until he met Twoflower, the Discworld's very first tourist, and before he quite knew what had happened, he found himself employed, at an outrageous salary, as Twoflower's guide to this strange world. They started off in the Disc's oldest conurbation: proud Ankh and pestilent Morpork, the twin city known as Ankh-Morpork. Before too long the irrepressible Twoflower and Rincewind, who is both inept and cowardly, are forced to flee from the city. They meet up with an increasingly colourful cast of characters as they find themselves spending too much of their time being shot at, terrorised, chased, hanging from high places with no hope of salvation, or plunging from high places (likewise, with no hope of salvation) . . . THE COLOUR OF MAGIC continues in THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, where an event is happening way overhead, far above the elephants and A'Tuin, where the very fabric of time and space is about to be put through the wringer.


If you’ve not heard of Terry Pratchett then you must surely have been living in a cave with your fingers in your ears singing La, La, La at the top of your lungs. For everyone else the well established authors latest offering is something of a god send in case you didn’t purchase these two novels in their original format as Transworld releases these two tales in a hardback format. And if your going to be honest it’s a must own in this format as the amount of rereads that these books go through mean that I personally have worn out about three copies of each. (Great for Terry’s pocket, not so good for mine.) Here I got to enjoy the adventures or Rincewind and Twoflower in a nostalgic moment before rereading the entire series again. Here’s hoping that they’ll keep doing this with other novels in the series.

Monday 22 June 2009



Sprung from a prison in the centre of a star, the universe's last criminal is employed to kill the population of a planet. It is a crime that will tear apart an interstellar utopia. Keeping ahead of detection and preparing the crime, the killer voyages to numerous worlds and hones the instincts required for murder. And wonders who is behind the contract. Roberts' new novel is an extraordinary fusing of ideas, exotic locations, personal drama and an enquiry into the nature of crime in a society that thinks it has forgotten how to commit it.


Another classic offering from Gollancz and really has made this a great month for Science Fiction . Well written, this first person examination into a future from a sociopath’s point of view. Cunningly crafted and above all a tale that will grip you not only with the lovingly crafted characters within but with the plausibility of the world for which they all inhabit with the only draw back being the tale nicely tied up with a big bow in the final chapter. Its definitely worth a read and a tale that will set the bar high for the sheer quality within.



Taking the events and characters of the Iliad as his jumping- off point, Dan Simmons has created an epic of time travel and savage warfare. Travellers from 40,000 years in the future return to Homer's Greece and rewrite history forever, their technology impacting on the population in a godlike fashion. This is broad scope space opera rich in classical and literary allusion, from one of the key figures in 1990s world SF. Ilium marks a return to the genre for one of its greats.


As a long standing fan of Dan Simmons, I’m more than pleased to see this reissued as part of the Gollancz modern classics range. Here is a futuristic retelling of the Greek classic and whilst some may think that Dan’s Hyperion is superior, this is my personal favourite of his. The writing is crisp, the characters enthralling and above all it’s a tale that will keep you gripped to the last page. Truly a modern classic and something that bridges the gap between the fantasy and sci-fi. Great stuff.

Friday 19 June 2009

FICTION REVIEW: Made to be Broken - Kelley Armstrong


To the outside world Nadia Stafford is a smart, good-looking, law-abiding citizen. Well, two out of three's not bad...An ex-cop with a legal code all her own, Nadia has a secret life as a world-class assassin. She works only for one New York crime family, who pay her handsomely to bump off traitors. But when a troubled teenager and her baby vanish in the woods near her home, Nadia's old detective instincts - and the memory of a past loss - compel her to investigate. With her enigmatic mentor Jack to support her, Nadia unearths sinister clues that point to an increasingly dark and deadly mystery. As her obsession over the case deepens, Nadia realises that the only way she can right the wrongs of the present is to face her own painful ghosts - or die trying. And so she sets off on the trail of a young woman no one else cares about - and a killer who is bound to strike again...


Fans of Kelley Armstrong will perhaps know her best for her Supernatural writings in her Otherworld series along with her Young Adult Darkest Powers series, yet this offering might not be getting the full press to which it rightly deserves as we follow the exploits of an ex-cop turned assassin. Its well written, its gripping stuff and above all, she brings her trademark sassiness along with well rounded characterisation to the book.

Its something that may elude a number of readers due to being plain fiction but its definitely a series that I highly recommend to readers who want something a little different and as a good example of character creation and development.

ART BOOK REVIEW: Graff - Scape Martinez


With original colour illustrations, "GRAFF" provides the basics of creating legally sanctioned graffiti, a style that's been around for many years but has become more popular lately. It discusses roots in vandalism and its separation from those roots to the art form as we know it today - dynamic, over-the-top styles that deliver maximum impact with the same sense of creative risk graffiti writers have always taken on. Readers get real instruction for creating graffiti-style art, from sketching ideas based on design principles, to the basics of developing letter forms, to handling spray paint, to step-by-step demos for different types of compositions.


As a huge fan of the Impact series of How To art books I wanted to get to know the artform that made Banksy a household name. What was staggering was the detail to which Scape Martinez went into for the whole thing taking the reader from beginning concept to colours, from effects to the finished product explaining everything including techniques used by various artists in great detail along with a huge selection of photo’s to back his POV. Its gripping, its compelling and you’ll want to tackle a project of your own, however, one thing I will advise, is to make sure its your own wall or get permission from your local council, who if they refuse permission, will generally know of an ongoing project within your area where you’ll be allowed to practice street art legally.

Thursday 18 June 2009

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Eyeball Collector - FE Higgins

I’ve been a fan of FE’s writing since the original book, The Black Book of Secrets and its always been something of a guilty pleasure when each offering arrives. This latest offering doesn’t disappoint as it brings the reader another glimpse into the world as well as confronting the darker side of mankind in an easily understandable way along with bringing the reader a hero that learns the errors of focusing on the darker aspects of his own psyche. Well written, cracking series with each offering adding more to the world for greater detail as well as old friends making fleeting appearances. If you want a book to encourage the younger reader along with a book with some puzzles that may take some time to fathom then this is something you really want to get. However, whilst you can read this as a standalone, its best to read them as a series.

FANTASY REVIEW: Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie


Springtime in Styria. And that means war. There have been nineteen years of blood. The ruthless Grand Duke Orso is locked in a vicious struggle with the squabbling League of Eight, and between them they have bled the land white. While armies march, heads roll and cities burn, behind the scenes bankers, priests and older, darker powers play a deadly game to choose who will be king. War may be hell but for Monza Murcatto, the Snake of Talins, the most feared and famous mercenary in Duke Orso's employ, it's a damn good way of making money too. Her victories have made her popular - a shade too popular for her employer's taste. Betrayed, thrown down a mountain and left for dead, Murcatto's reward is a broken body and a burning hunger for vengeance. Whatever the cost, seven men must die. Her allies include Styria's least reliable drunkard, Styria's most treacherous poisoner, a mass-murderer obsessed with numbers and a Northman who just wants to do the right thing. Her enemies number the better half of the nation. And that's all before the most dangerous man in the world is dispatched to hunt her down and finish the job Duke Orso started... Springtime in Styria. And that means revenge.


Having made a name for himself in recent years with his First Law trilogy, Joe takes his world in a new direction with this new offering that blends fantasy with the classic Dumas tale, The Count of Monte Cristo. Well blended, excellently executed this tale really has to be a must own tale and demonstrates how well Joe’s writing has developed from his initial creation. A must own and definitely a book that we recommend that you put enough finances to one side to own. Add to the mix a character for every situation and for all readers appreciation and taste and you really can’t beat this for an epic adventure.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Skin Trade (Anita Blake 17) - Laurell K Hamilton


Anita Blake’s reputation has taken some hits. Not on the work front, where she has the highest kill count of all the legal vampire executioners in the country, but on the personal front. No one seems to trust a woman who sleeps with the monsters. Still, when a vampire serial killer sends her a head from Las Vegas, Anita has to warn Sin City’s local authorities what they’re dealing with. Only it’s worse than she thought. Several officers and one executioner have been slain – paranormal style...

Anita heads to Las Vegas, where she’s joined by three other federal marshals, including the ruthless Edward hiding behind his mild-mannered persona. It’s a good thing Edward always has her back, because, when she gets close to the bodies, Anita senses “tiger” too strongly to ignore it. The were-tigers are very powerful in Las Vegas, which means the odds of her rubbing someone important the wrong way just got a lot higher...


As many who have read Falcata Times before can attest to, I’ve not been the biggest fan of Laurell’s writing in the more recent Anita Blake novels primarily as she changed the character of Anita from the first few books from a pure heroine to a character who spent most of the book flat on her back doing little else. Making her books more about the sex rather than about the character and a descent plot to which most readers originally fell in love with.

In this offering, book 17 of the Anita Blake series, Laurell seems to go back more to what made the series a must own with a full plot driven devices over the sexploits. It is refreshing and it is more of what I wanted within the novel. Yes, there is sex and yes, there is some questionability of one of the acts (which thankfully we’re not witness too) that will make a number of readers shout with anger. Its well written, its back more to the original form, and brings a surprise of two. Whether you’re a fan of the series of not its perhaps not the best book to start with but if your up to date and an initiate in the LKH cult then this will be a must purchase and perhaps the first showing that she’s going back to what made the character so fascinating in book one.

MISC, FACTUAL REVIEW: The Everything Vampire Book, The Girls Guide to Vampires - Barb Kang


From Bram Stoker's "Dracula", to Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series, vampires have fascinated and frightened young and old alike for centuries. Whether it is an evil, sharp-fanged creature who appears from the mist, or a handsome, erotic man or woman of mystery, the vampire in all its incarnations is one of the most popular and intriguing characters of literature and film. Vampires alternately terrorize and become objects to be idolized and desired. "The Everything[registered] Vampire Book" examines their notorious history and legends, their evolution and portrayal in books, television, and cinema, and the on going fascination with the 'vampire lifestyle'.


"The Girl's Guide to Vampires" is the perfect supernatural reference for teens who enjoy romance literature laced with mystery and a twinge of darkness. Young adult readers have a major fascination with all things vampire. Millions are reading Stephenie Meyer's "Twilight" series and eagerly awaiting the movie adaptation. They're also devouring other vampire series, like "Vampire Academy", "The Vampire Diaries", and "Vampire Kisses". And they're devotedly creating and visiting hundreds of vampire-themed Websites.


How can you tell if you’ve got a Vampire Hottie or a Vampire nottie? Quite simply get one or other of these two books written by screen writer and journalist Barb Kang. Each has their own individual nuggets not included in the other although with a lot of the same ground trodden in each you’ll get some repetition. Whilst both books are fun I wouldn’t advise to buy both but to spend a few minutes flicking between each to see which one is more your own style (or the person for whom you’re purchasing it for.) Barb is entertaining, her writing witty and for the layman theres gold in these there books, to the informed the nuggets are there for the claiming from little known vampiric facts to more books to indulge your fascination with.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

FANTASY REVIEW: Reiksguard - Richard Williams


The Reiksguard knights are entrusted with the sacred duty of the Emperor's protection from foes within and without. Under the command of Marshal Kurt Helborg, the Reiksguard live and breathe their code of loyalty, courage, strength and honour.

But in the midst of a ruinous war, the young knight Delmar von Reinhardt discovers that this most venerated order hides deadly secrets.

Battling an unholy alliance of a goblin warlord and an ogre tyrant, Delmar must unearth the truth no matter which noble knight he should find at its heart.


With recent offerings from the Black Library theres always been something to tickle the readers taste buds by offering the reader something a little different from the norm. Here we follow the exploits of one of the Empires most famous knightly orders through the eyes of an initiate who after a rigorous training and initiation explored his own failings along with learning the truth of his fathers death. Its well written, it’s thought provoking but above all its about the unification of a bond of outcasts into one order who will listen to each other or at least have a mutual respect for one another. Good fun, cracking offering which encourages the more uplifting and highly regarded nobleness of mankind.

MISC, SCI-FI REVIEW: The Alien Survival Handbook - WH Mumfrey


Ask yourself: Are you ready for an alien invasion? When it happens, will you find yourself helpless to resist? This book teaches readers the skills they need to battle hostile visitors from outer space, covering everything from escape strategies to improvised weaponry. Helpful line drawings illustrate defensive techniques and pinpoint weaknesses within the alien anatomy. With a blend of humour and pop culture mythology, "The Alien Invasion Survival Handbook" is everyone's must-have guide to combating the extraterrestrial menace in day-to-day situations.


When this book landed I’d hope it would do for Alien Invasions what the Zombie Survival book did for the groaning, shuffling, undead. Not only did it meet my expectations but passed them though its clever use of diagrams and wit and above all gave me a very enjoyable trip through some of the 50’s B Movies that made the genre so popular. Its fun, its quirky and above all its written tongue in cheek in such a way that you can’t help but chuckle at this essential guide in case they do invade. If you’re a fan of everything from ET to Fiend without a Face (If you haven’t seen this then it’s a must,) then this is the book for you with tips from everything useful from fight tips like the eye gouge to how to hide although some useful phrases in Jawa might have been nice. You never know when you might have to buy a used speeder. LOL

Monday 15 June 2009

SCIENCE-FICTION REVIEW: Century Rain - Alastair Reynolds


Three hundred years in the future, Verity Auger is a specialist in the archaeological exploration of Earth, rendered uninhabitable after the technological catastrophe known as the Nanocaust. After a field-trip to goes badly wrong, Verity is forced to redeem herself by participating in a dangerous mission, for which her expertise in invaluable. Using a backdoor into an unstable alien transit system, Auger's faction has discovered something astonishing at the far end of a wormhole: mid twentieth-century Earth, preserved like a fly in amber. Is it a window into the past, a simulation, or something else entirely? CENTURY RAIN is not just a time-travel story, nor a tale of alternate history. Part hard SF thriller, part interstellar adventure, part noir romance, CENTURY RAIN is something altogether stranger.


This is a firm favourite of mine amongst the current batch of reissues. It’s definitely a modern classic in my book and blends classic Science with the thriller genre as the tale brings together an unseemingly disconnected selection of events and delivers something that is beautifully constructed along with executed. It’s a great book and one that will fully immerse the reader in the experience and if you’re only going to read one of this reissue selection make it this one. It clearly show’s why Reynolds has become a firm fan favourite.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Three Unbroken - Chris Roberson


Three Unbroken is the next epic novel in the Celestial Empire sequence and details the explosive war between the Chinese and Aztec empires as they battle for control of the red planet, Fire Star. Based on the sixty-four elements of the I-Ching, this novel follows the lives of three soldiers from their induction into the armed forces to their eventual fight for survival on the front line…


Solaris really is a publisher who offers alternate books to the mainstream of most of the UK publishers. What is refreshing about this is that a tale will often bring something new and different to the readers market and whilst some of it isn’t as appreciated today as it could be, it does present the reader with perhaps a glimpse into the future that no one else has dared dream.

In this offering, Chris Robertson presents the reader with a future where the Chinese are in control of mankind and tells the tale from three different points of view, that adds a greater depth as well as flavour of the world through the principle protagonists point of views. Its cracking and whilst the battles are quite sparse it is a tale that will keep you occupied and gripped to the last page to understand how the world will function in a believable offering of a bleak future. Well written and lovingly crafted this will be a book that you’ll either love or hate for its departure from the norm within the genre. Definitely an author to watch for future tales.

Friday 12 June 2009

COMPETITION: Win with Falcata Times

You have the chance to win one of five copies of each of these books and to do so couldn't be easier. Plus there are two ways for you to enter.

The first and perhaps easiest method is for you to answer each question associated with the author of each novel, the second is to post the comp on your blog or a message board, letting people know about it and also to send in a link to us. Send all entries to the usually addy which is drosdelnoch (at) hotmail (dot) com with the subject heading of Highwayman Competition or Zoe's Tale Competition.

You can enter only once per question but as many times as you link to the comp in blogs or forums, provided you include a linky to us about where its appeared.

Onto the questions:

To win a copy of The Highwayman by RA Salvatore answer this question:
RA Salvatore is best known for which Character:
1) Branson Garibond
2) Drizzt Do'Urden
3) Cadderly

To win a copy of the new Scalzi book, Zoe's Tale, tell us what was the title of the novel for which he's best known?
1) Old Man's War
2) Metatropolis
3) Uncle John Presents Book of the Dumb

The closing date is June 30th, 2009.

FANTASY REVIEW: The Highwayman - RA Salvatore


It is God's year 54, many years before the Demon Wars, in the land of Corona. The roads are unsafe to travel; goblins and bloodthirsty Powries search out human prey. Two religions struggle fiercely for control. Bran Dynard, a monk of the fledgling religion of Abelle, returns from his mission in a far-off land with a book of mystical knowledge and a beautiful and mysterious new wife. But he soon realizes that the world he left behind has changed, and his dream of spreading the wisdom he learned to his fellow monks is crushed. Forced to hide his wife and his precious book, Bran must decide whom he can trust and where he should now place his faith.Twenty years later, the situation has grown darker and more desperate. Only the Highwayman travels freely, his sword casting aside both Powries and soldiers. The people need a saviour, but is the Highwayman on a mission of mercy...or vengeance?


Originally released way back in 2004 in the US, this is the first time that Salvatore’s Highwayman has been released in the UK, so what did we get out of the tale? As expected, a fast paced, action packed, no holds barred tale for which Salvatore is famous.

Yet the tale has something extra, a hero who is an antihero who makes wrong choices and can even be accused of being malicious in his judgements. It’s a cracking tale and one that will have you seaching the shelves for more of this rogue (The Dame, currently an unknown UK release date.) Definitely a tale to savour and one that will prove that Salvatore is more than just Drizzt.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Zoe's Tale - John Scalzi


How do you tell your part in the biggest tale in history? I ask because it's what I have to do. I'm Zoe Boutin Perry: A colonist stranded on a deadly pioneer world. Holy icon to a race of aliens. A player (and a pawn) in a interstellar chess match to save humanity, or to see it fall. Witness to history. Friend. Daughter. Human. Seventeen years old. Everyone on Earth knows the tale I am part of. But you don't know my tale: How I did what I did - how I did what I had to do - not just to stay alive but to keep you alive, too. All of you. I'm going to tell it to you now, the only way I know how: not straight but true, the whole thing, to try make you feel what I felt: the joy and terror and uncertainty, panic and wonder, despair and hope. Everything that happened, bringing us to Earth, and Earth out of its captivity. All through my eyes. It's a story you know. But you don't know it all.


As a huge fan of Scalzi since Old Mans War, I really do have to get these books in the series as soon as they land. So when the latest offering landed I was interested to see how this latest hero of the future would fit into the Hienlinesque universe to which Scalzi writes.

What appears is a character of great heart and warmth and whilst she won’t be to everyones cup of tea, the tale wouldn’t work if it wasn’t for the sheer likability as well as full roundedness of her. She’s a breath of fresh air in the Sci-Fi genre and hopefully a character that will have many other adventures so that we can get to see more of her. Add to that fully rounded supporting characterisation along the wonderful world building and the only thing that you do know is that no matter what happens you’re in for a real roller-coaster ride as the characters within try to find a way to cope with the changing needs of them not only socially but emotionally as well as communally. Great offering to the reader and make Scalzi a must own for all Sci-Fi fans.

Thursday 11 June 2009

INTERVIEW: Jonathan L Howard

Wanting to write from an early age, Jonathan, was creating tales that blended elements of Doctor Who, Gerry Anderson and the Grimm Brothers. Yet it wasn't until he received a review for a game script that he'd co-written that he decided to give the novel authorship a go and dug out his old script featuring a necromancer named Johannes Cabal. We decided that it was about time that we brought Jonathan out into the light of day (a place that apparently isn't too healthy for a lot of writers) and feature him with his debut release...

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is your opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Jonathan L Howard: There's certainly some truth in it. I write pieces for my own amusement that I know are unpublishable, and that sort of activity seems to be scratching an itch. Actually, creating stories is the compulsive part in my experience. Writing them down is the grind part of the gig.

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

JLH: There are two interpretations of that question -- when did I realise I wanted to write, and when did I realise that I wanted to be a writer? The former was very early on. I was making up fantastical stories before I could write, fuelled by a mix of Doctor Who, Gerry Anderson, and a battered copy of the Grimms' Fairy Tales. I couldn't read it myself, but I could stare at the engravings and badger family members to read it to me. At school, discovering that writing down such stories was encouraged was a definite bonus. My local library had an interesting selection of books in the children's section, which is how I came to be reading Poe and Bradbury by the age of nine. At secondary school, creative writing was my favourite part of the curriculum, and the only reason that I didn't take English at "A" level was that at the time it was a purely critical syllabus with no actual creative work. I believe there is such a thing now, which makes me rather envious. So, the urge to write was on me from an early age. The realisation that it was actually possible to be a writer as a job, however, was much later.

I effectively backed into being a writer. I've been interested in games for as long as I've been interested in telling stories, and when the opportunity arose to join Microprose as a game designer, I jumped at it. Obviously, it's a creative job, and I amongst all the number crunching and describing things in painful detail for the artists and coders, I also had to write copy and script. This was very enjoyable, and I developed a special desire to work on an adventure game because this, I thought, would be the closest I would ever get to writing a published novel. Two companies later, I finally got that chance with Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars, which I cowrote with Dave Cummins. Dave was a great chap to work with, and very talented; one of the many unsung heroes of computer game design. I think it was from him that I learned that the mad ideas that occur to you while creating a narrative shouldn't be thrown away, as these are often the seeds of exactly the sort of plot twists you should be looking for to keep the story out of a rut. The game was a great success when it came out, and reviews were especially nice about the writing. I remember the "Fortean Times" review (the game involved Templar treasure and the like, so the FT had an interest) singled out a scene I'd written for extra kudos as it succinctly condensed every major conspiracy meme into a single super conspiracy. I was very proud of that review. All this positive feedback made me think that just possibly I might have the ability to make it as a professional writer. I dug out a lot of my old notes from years before, and started working on them again. One set of notes was about a necromancer called Johannes Cabal.

FT: It is often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves this POV?

JLH: To be honest, I've never heard of this. In my opinion, if you can write a sentence, you can write a novel. There's no great secret or supernatural talent to novel writing that is only gifted to a few. Assuming that you have an idea that is large enough to support a novel -- and, God knows, there are enough novels around hung on a premise that would barely fill a limerick, so even that isn't entirely necessary -- then one simply kicks off with a sentence. Repeat several thousand times, and there you have it. All you need is an idea that engages you, and endurance. Stick at it and you'll have a novel. I'm not saying it will be any good, but you'll have a novel. Short stories are slightly different beasts; they're often that initial idea burning brightly if briefly. It's difficult to sum up why one idea is suitable for a novel while another is for a short story, but I'd characterise it along the lines of how you feel when you have it. If it's "Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" then it's probably a short story, whereas if it's "Hmmmm..." you're probably onto a novel.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else's and how would you define it?

JLH: What a bizarre question. If somebody goes into Waterstone's to buy, say, a Catherine Cookson novel about poor but honest folk in Jarrow, I'm going to have a tough time selling them a humorous dark fantasy about a German necromancer (which is also a quick way of defining it). If pushed, I'd probably try emotional blackmail.

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

JLH: It's got the undead, Satan, serial killers, candyfloss, ghosts, croquet, elemental evil, and true love. And a really nice cover.

This is why we have Sales & Marketing.

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and whose latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

JLH: I feel a list coming on, in alphabetical order yet. Blackwood, Bradbury, M.R.James, Lem, Lovecraft, O'Brian (Patrick and Flann), and Sladek. Put me in a room with their collected works and I would be happy for a very long time. My current great enthusiasm is for Boris Akunin, translated brilliantly from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield. If you derive any enjoyment at all from the detective stories or thrillers of Conan Doyle, John Buchan, or even Ian Fleming, you absolutely have to read Akunin. Tsarist Russia of the late nineteenth century may seem very alien at first, but you learn the ropes quickly enough, and after that it's pure unalloyed pleasure.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie Do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

JLH: A mixture of the two. I need to know where roughly where the story is going, but I make up an awful lot of stuff on the way. I plot roughly using chapters as my milestones -- "In this chapter, this happens and that happens," "In this chapter, I need to illustrate this point" -- possibly scribble out some brief character profiles, and then off I go. The character profiles don't tend to stick, though. In the novel I'm currently working on, I went back to look at the profiles after finishing the first draft and was horrified to discover I'd forgotten to include a couple of characters. At first I was all of a panic about how to introduce them, but then I realised that I had't noticed that they were missing because the plot really didn't need them. In short, I've found it's fatal to be overly mechanistic. Organise, by all means, but when your instinct tells you to do something, even if it takes your story off the planned route, you should at least consider it seriously.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

JLH: I walk a lot, which is actually part of the writing process for me. It helps me think. I enjoy the cinema, and -- that secert sin again -- reading game rulesets. I also play a lot of computer games.

Recently I've read Russell T. Davies' A Writer's Tale, some assorted Edwardian ghost stories by different writers, Akunin's "The State Counsellor," and I'm currently on a collection of Philip K. Dick shorts fronted by "Minority Report."

FT: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

JLH: You'll forgive me, but I don't care to answer that question. There are certain things that must remain sacrosanct between a man and his defence barrister. Oh, you mean something legal? In that case (as opposed to the case of Regina vs Howard), I have a terrible urge to collect games. Board games, card games, dice games, roleplaying games. It drives my wife mad.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets. What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your novel in certain character attributes?)

JLH: I like dogs, but we've never lived anywhere that was suitable for one. Currently, we have hamsters, which aren't nearly so interactive. As for writing them into a novel, who on Earth would want to write a hamster into one? Well, as it happens, me. I've written most of a novel for my daughter that features a hamster, and hope to get it finished when I've got a bit of spare time.

FT: Which character within your latest book was the most fun to write and why?

JLH: Johannes Cabal himself, probably. He's an impressive individual in many ways, yet so deeply flawed. There's a lot to admire about him -- he's very capable, very self-contained, very knowledgeable, but on the other hand he's an unmitigated bastard. I think some of my favourite scenes with him are the ones where we see the swirling greyness within the armoured carapace; his uncertainties and doubts. Those were enjoyable scenes to write.

FT: How similar to your principal protagonist are you?

JLH: Not in the slightest. I don't know anything about any illegal exhumations. What are you suggesting?

In his positive respects, he embodies many talents I would love to have. He's a brilliant chemist and mathematician, two disciplines I have long admired yet at which I have proved dismal, although I do have a small talent for statistics. He has an excellent memory, is a talented linguist, and nothing scares him. Those are all rather wonderful attributes. Of course, they're more than offset by all the assorted ways that he is messed up, his prodigious list of mortal enemies, and his utter social incompetence.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

JLH: As I mentioned earlier, I'm a rabid gamer. I don't even play that often, but I enjoy reading rulesets, and seeing how they model their virtual realities. Sounds a bit eccentric when I put it that way. I've got a novel planned out that uses a lot of game theory although, like the novel with the hamster in it, it's on the backburner while Cabal is my main focus.

FT: Where do you get your ideas from?

JLH: Bless you! I have been wondering when I would be asked that question for the first time, and you win the coconut. Generally from "What if..?" thoughts suggested by reading or just thinking things through to the point of reductio ad absurdam, or any "Wouldn't it be cool if..?" thoughts that occur. The seed of Johannes Cabal the Necromancer for example was that, while I love Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, I've always wondered how Cooger & Dark came into possession of an evil carnival in the first place.

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

JLH: In my experience, it's not so much a block as a slough of despond, a terrible reluctance to move on. The creative spark has gone out and the muse isn't returning calls. It has never lasted long, and the trick just seems to be to put your head down and run at it. The chances are you'll bin what you write because it will not be worth preserving, but at least it get you back into the right state of mind, the pilot light is reignited, and the muse has taken you off voice mail.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many woudl call uncivilised times. When do you write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

JLH: I try to work a working day. When I was in the games industry, I was expected to be creative on schedule and in office hours, and that has given me a degree of discipline that I'm glad I have. Sometimes, you end up writing in the wee small hours because you have a burning need, but I try to work during office hours.

FT: sometimes pieces of music seem to influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

JLH: Normally I don't listen to music while writing, but Johannes Cabal the Necromancer was an exception. I listened almost constantly to Salva Nos, the Mediæval Bæbes debut album, throughout the writing. No special reason -- I just liked it a lot -- but I do wonder if it had any impact on the book.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publsihing field when you were first getting started?

JLH: That getting an agent was easy. I've since found myself in conversation with people who fancy becoming an author, and who start their plan with, "Well, first I'll get an agent, and then..." At which point they're interrupted by my hollow laughter.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and please explain your answer?

JLH: If you can explain to me how Swedish death metal can be described as the food of love, I should be delighted to answer your question. As it is, I think the premise is flawed.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

JLH: It's a detective story. Cabal mentions in the first novel that he used to read the Sherlock Holmes stories because he liked the way that the scientific method could draw order from chaos. Well, he gets the chance to apply that method on his next outing, because his life depends on it.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

JLH: BBC News, The Escapist, Live Journal, Boingboing.net, Daily Illuminator.

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instructions to learn the craft? If so please let us know which ones.

JLH: Nothing really. I made up the numbers for a one day Robert McKee thing for thrillers that my employers at the time sent me to, which was more interesting than I anticipated. I don't think I learned anything about writing itself, but it did demonstrate the story beats in a good thriller movie. Whether that's planned or incidental upon good writing is another thing.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

JLH: Sheer bloodymindedness.

FT: In your opinion, what are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living?

JLH: As of this writing, my first novel hasn't yet come out, so my opinion may change after that. Currently the best thing is doing what I fondly believe I'm good at, and getting paid for it. The sheer novelty of having supportive professionals on my side whose every criticism is guaranteed constructive is a huge pleasure. The games industry is still immature in many ways; one has to develop strong impulse control to avoid thumping managers who feel empowered to demand swingeing narrative changes to finished scripts apparently on the grounds that they have an expense account and you don't. Not having to put up with that any longer is a vast relief. The worst thing I anticipate is some folk think that because they bought your book, they own a piece of you. I hope that doesn't happen.

URBAN FANTASY REVIEW: Johannes Cabal the Necromancer - Jonathan L Howard


Johannes Cabal has never pretended to be a hero of any kind.

There is, after all, little heroic about robbing graves, stealing occult volumes, and being on nodding terms with demons. His purpose, however, is noble. His researches are all directed to raising the dead. Not as monstrosities but as people, just as they were when they lived: physically, mentally, and spiritually. For such a prize, some sacrifices are necessary. One such sacrifice was his own soul, but he now sees that was a mistake – it’s not just that he needs it for his research to have validity, but now he realises he needs it to be himself. Unfortunately, his soul now rests within the festering bureaucracy of Hell. Satan may be cruel and capricious but, most dangerously, he is bored. It is Cabal’s unhappy lot to provide him with amusement.

In short, a wager: in return for his own soul, Cabal must gather one hundred others. Placed in control of a diabolical carnival – created to tempt to contentiousness, to blasphemy, argumentation and murder, but one may also win coconuts – and armed only with his intelligence, a very large handgun, and a total absence of whimsy, Cabal has one year.

One year to beat the Devil at his own game. And isn’t that perhaps just a little heroic?


A modern audience is always looking for something new to enjoy so when this offering (or perhaps sacrifice might be the better term) landed, the book blurb told me something special was going to happen. Part Necromantic adventure, part comedy and part Faustian challenge this tale takes the best that all have to offer and brings it together in such a way that the reader will easily be enchanted within Howard’s snare.

But will the baser aspects of Cabal overrule his higher senses or is everything fair game in his pursuit of knowledge, a novel that will keep you guessing to the last page and one that will have you at times loving the protagonist or even loathing him in equal measure. Definitely a novel that I’m recommending as it was a pure joy to read.

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Consorts of Heaven - Jaine Fenn


When a naked, amnesiac stranger is found outside a remote highland village, he is taken in by Kerin, a widow whose unconventional ways are tolerated because her son Damaru is 'skytouched' - he appears simple, but he is able to affect matter. All skytouched are tested by the Beloved Daughter, the living goddess who rules the world from the City of Light. If he's found worthy, Damaru will become a Consort of the skymothers, the Gods of this world. Kerin and the stranger, nicknamed Sais, accompany Damaru to the City, in the company of a priest who's helping Sais to get back his missing past - but as Sais recovers his memory, he realises that the world does not work the way he assumed - and everyone believes - it does. Worse still, the hierarchy which has kept society stable for thousands of years is rotten to the core. Then Kerin and Sais uncover the true nature of the world, and the unimaginable fate of the Consorts - a fate Kerin will do anything to stop her son sharing.


When Jaine burst onto the Sci-Fi scene last year, I jumped for joy at her refreshing new world look at how things in the future could possibily be. It’s definitely a tale that isn’t too hard on the old grey cells to understand the science side of things and also allows the readers to get to know the world through her protagonist. It became essential reading and after a reread before starting her latest offering I enjoyed the whole thing a lot more as I could spot subtle clues that I’d missed on the original reading. Here we also get to see Jaine’s talents as she allows us to see a backwards civilisation through the eyes of a stranger which not only proves that she has the clout to make a very difficult beginning work but also allows us to see perhaps how we ourselves must look to a civilisation far in advance of ourselves.

If you want a tale that takes the best of Science Fiction and blends it with a touch of fantasy then this is the book for you. With strong lead protagonists, Spartan style descriptiveness and a whole range of action sequences that take you from hand to hand to mind bending conflicts then you really can’t get better than this. Add to the mix that this tale is just as engaging as the original and you know that Jaine is going to be a name to watch.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

TV SERIES: True Blood UK Premiere

Don't worry Sookie fans. The UK has finally announced the Premiere of the TV series of Charlaine Harris' books. Its set for Friday 17th of July 2009 on FX (Sky 164) at 10PM.

So let your friends know and tune in for fangs and seduction where more than the area's temperature is rising...

SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW: Eternal Light - Paul McAuley


In the aftermath of an interstellar war an enigmatic star is discovered, travelling towards the Solar System from the galactic core. Its appearance adds a new and dangerous factor in the turbulent politics of the inhabited worlds as the rival factions - the power-holders of the ReUnited Nations, the rebels who secretly oppose their power, and the Religious Witnesses - all see advantages to be gained. But what awesome technology started the star on its journey half a million years ago - and why?


Personally speaking this is the book that brought Paul to my attention and its been a firm Sci-Fi favourite since as one of the tales that I judge all others by. Its got cracking civilisations shaped by their technologies, idealistic societies and above all a tale that will keep you gripped to the last page with the fully formed characters. It’s no wonder that this tale has been reprinted as a modern classic especially when you add to the mix time travel and classic space ship to ship battles that has become part of the staple fan diet. If you’re only going to pick up one of Paul’s books to try make it this one.



Pierson's puppeteers, strange, three-legged, two-headed aliens, have discovered an immense structure in a hitherto unexplored part of the universe. Frightened of meeting the builders of such a structure, the puppeteers set about assembling a team consisting of two humans, a puppeteer and a kzin, an alien not unlike an eight-foot-tall, red-furred cat, to explore it. The artefact is a vast circular ribbon of matter, some 180 million miles across, with a sun at its centre - the Ringworld. But the expedition goes disastrously wrong when the ship crashlands and its motley crew faces a trek across thousands of miles of the Ringworld's surface.


To be honest a book that is currently considered to be a classic in the modern sense but not a book I overly enjoyed. Don’t get me wrong, it is well written but the story is a bit on the thin side with the major problem that I had being the sheer unbelievability of the tale as some of the coincidences just seem to be too big for even a bookie to give odds on.

It’s a fun bit of escapism and as long as you’re prepared to not examine it too closely will be something you can enjoy for a bit of escapism, however is you want something a bit serious with a lot of science based plausibility, then this won’t be the book for you.

Monday 8 June 2009

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Secret Ministry of Frost - Nick Lake


A half-Inuit albino and heir to a huge Northern Irish manor, Light has never exactly blended in. Since her father's mysterious disappearance in the Arctic, she's felt more alone than ever. Yet as she mourns for the father who was her whole family, Light starts to notice unexpected presences all around...Suddenly the mysterious world in which her father moved invades young Light's life with a bang. The Inuit folklore she vaguely knows comes alive all around her; the inscrutable, violent and sometimes horrific beings of the North seem to believe she has a role to play and, along with her tattoed butler and their new shark-headed friend, Tupilak, Light is drawn into an age-old intrigue between Setna, the ruler of the sea and Frost, king of the cold. Soon Light is aboard an ice-breaker bound for Nunavut, having been promised help in searching for her father, now suspected of being stolen away by the cruel and heartless Frost. Yet she scarcely realises the power of those who have chosen her for their enemy - and a terrifying journey awaits her.


With a quirky character and a blend of Western mythos along with Inuit tales this takes the best of both worlds and thrusts the principle protagonista, Light, into a story that will both thrill and exhilarate the reader.

Light, half Inuit and half Irish, sets out to find her father lost in the Artic as her life takes a turn for the strange using her bravery, her intelligence and above all her tenacity to see things through to the end. It’s a book of many pleasures and a book of great delight however its one that you will either love or hate, like the story, it’s a book of no half measures and one that will stay with the reader long after the final page is turned.

YOUNG ADULT REVIEW: The Indigo King - James Owen


On a September evening in 1931, John and Jack, two of the Caretakers of the Imaginarium Geographica, discover a plea for help on an ancient medieval parchment. It seems to have been written by their friend, Hugo Dyson! But when they rush to warn him, they find that Hugo has already been abducted by fierce creatures called the Un-Men, who have mistaken him for the third Caretaker, Charles. And in that moment, the world begins to change...The Frontier which separates our world from the Archipelago of Dreams has fallen. Dark and terrible beasts roam throughout England. No one can be summoned from the Archipelago. And worse, their mentor and ally Bert seems to have forgotten them entirely! The only hope of restoring order from the chaos lies on a forgotten island - where a time travel device left by Jules Verne must be used to race through history itself - from the Bronze Age, to the fall of Troy and the founding of the Silver Throne. And in that single night, John and Jack discover that the only way to save their friend and stop the chaos destroying the world is to solve a two-thousand year-old mystery: Who is the Cartographer?


I’ve absolutely loved this series by James Owen since its original release so when a new offering lands, you can be pretty damn sure that it flies to the top of my TBR pile. Here the characters seek to put right what’s gone wrong and whilst favourite characters from children’s tales abound, it’s the novel way that James blends them, along with authors of our own time that makes this series so compelling. Never one to miss a trick this really is a series for the YA reader with twists and turns and powerful characters that will speak to the YA psyche.

Friday 5 June 2009

FANTASY REVIEW: Nights of Villjamur - Mark Charan Newton


An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra. When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda. When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.


If you love fantasy that not only makes you think but presents a tale that will stay with you long after the final page is turned then you really won’t do better than Mark’s Nights of Villjamur. Its got Erikson’s attention to world building, Martin’s politicking and finished off with Gemmell’s combat. Ideal fantasy fodder and from a guy who works in the industry is the type of novel that will perhaps take the genre into a new direction in much the same way that Rothfuss and Lynch have done in more recent years. Cracking fantasy and an excellent start to Mark’s series that left me begging for more, I really can’t wait for his next offering.

FANTASY REVIEW: The Dog of the North - Tim Stretton


It is winter on the lawless plains of the Emmenrule. En route to her wedding in the fortified city of Croad, the beautiful Lady Isola is kidnapped. What is worse, her captor is the infamous Beauceron. But, ruthless as he may be, Beauceron is no ordinary brigand: it is his life's ambition to capture Croad itself - and he will stop at nothing to achieve it. Mondia, though, is a continent of many stories, and in Croad, a young man named Arren has been taken under the wing of the city's ruler, Lord Thaume. Although of low birth, Arren is destined to become a knight of valour and renown. But as his fortunes rise, so those of his childhood friend Eilla fall. Beauceron has returned with his human plunder to his home - the exquisite frozen city of Mettingloom. There, the imperious Isola finds herself reassessing her former loyalties as she struggles to adapt to her new life. Beauceron, meanwhile, is manoeuvring to raise an army. He is determined to defeat his enemies, both inside and outside Mettingloom - and to capture the city he loathes. But what is the source of Beauceron's obsession with Croad? Can Arren reconcile his youthful ambitions with his growing feelings for Eilla? And just who is the Dog of the North? Tim Stretton's debut novel is a spellbinding tale of loyalty and betrayal, homeland and exile, set in a brilliantly imagined world of political intrigue, sorcery, and warfare on an epic scale.


Originally released as a self publication this novel has been re-released by Tor UK. As such it's an interesting tale with similar prose as the writing of David Gemmell in certain scenes. A tale of revenge with well written combat sequences along with politicking that will leave you wondering if our modern day equivalent has been dumbed down. Ideal characterisations along with a world of intrigue that tie's up a tale that whilst formulaic to a certain degree is entertaining with the hack and slash of battlefield combat there is also the refinement of a duelling epee's.

Thursday 4 June 2009

INTERVIEW: Mark Charan Newton

Falling in love with books for Mark Newton was probably inevitable. From an early age he was hooked and when he got his first hit of Mieville’s The Scar, he knew that something in the world had changed. He sought out other books in a similar vein and then decided to write his own. Now working within the publishing industry, Mark has now released his first novel, Nights of Villjamur and after being blown away with not only the writing style but with the book as a whole we decided we just had to interview him…

Falcata Times: Writing is said to be something that people are afflicted with rather than gifted and that it's something you have to do rather than want. What is you opinion of this statement and how true is it to you?

Mark Charan Newton: I’d say there’s a truth there. Many people assume that writing is this bed of roses, a dream job. But it can be stressful and causes masses of anxiety, and you never leave a project alone because you carry it around in your head constantly. But it’s also one of the most fun and rewarding things I’ve done, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

FT: When did you realise that you wanted to be a writer?

MCN: I never made a conscious decision as such. I remember reading China Miéville’s The Scar, and being totally in awe of what was going on. It was like nothing else on the shelf, and I couldn’t find that hit again – so I thought I’d give this writing lark a go myself… and here I am, at the same publisher. It crept up on me.

FT: Its often said that if you can write a short story you can write anything. How true do you think this is and what have you written that either proves or disproves your POV?

MCN: They’re different art forms – the same difference between running a sprint race and a marathon. Some writers work better just writing a novel, some work best in short form and never stray from that. It’s whatever works for the individual. I’ve had a couple of short pieces published, but I’ve found them a little harder than a novel to be honest.

FT: If someone were to enter a bookshop, how would you persuade them to try your novel over someone else’s and how would you define it?

MCN: I don’t like to be all competitive about this sort of thing – but if someone wanted a fantasy that mixes genres, doesn’t shy away from deeper issues at times, has properly messed-up characters, no prophecies, no wish-fulfillment, no heroes – then this might just be your thing. In terms of defining it… it’s a weird fantasy. That’s as good as I can manage!

FT: How would you "sell" your book in 20 words or less?

MCN: I don’t think I could. I’ve tried in my head to summarize it, but I think it’s too mad and sprawling to contain in a sales pitch. (And hopefully that’s my crafty way of trying to lure folk into buying it…)

FT: Who is a must have on your bookshelf and who's latest release will find you on the bookshops doorstep waiting for it to open?

MCN: China Miéville and M John Harrison are pretty much the main two genre writers. Out of genre, Don DeLillo.

FT: When you sit down and write do you know how the story will end or do you just let the pen take you? ie do you develop character profiles and outlines for your novels before writing them or do you let your idea's develop as you write?

MCN: There’s a loose outline – more like scaffolding holding the plot up, but I prefer to fill in many of the gaps as I go along. Characters seem more organic that way for me – they do odd things, act in different ways. They surprise. And when I’m at certain points during the novel, I’ll recap the plot to see if it’s okay in terms of pacing and direction, and sticking to the master plan. Characters seem to grow as I write them, and more so after the first draft. Once the bones are there, I can layer on the things that make them a bit more real-world.

FT: What do you do to relax and what have you read recently?

MCN: Reading, running, playing the guitar, going out (although writing puts a massive hold on the social life!), going to gigs, heading out in the car to random places. Vegetating in coffee shops with a book. Recently, I’ve finished a proof copy of China Miéville’s The City and The City (one of the perks of being at Tor / Pan Macmillan is blagging free proofs!).

FT: What's your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

MCN: Hmm… good one. I’m not sure I have time for guilty pleasures these days… is that a cop-out? Or rather, I tend not to be guilty of any of my pleasures – I just enjoy them all, and try not to worry what people think.

FT: Lots of writers tend to have pets (mainly cats.) What do you have and what are their key traits (and do they appear in your nov
el in certain character attributes?)

MCN: I’m afraid I don’t have any pets. I would get a cat – low maintenance, huge character – but there are too many on my street, and you can hear them getting into scraps late at night…

FT: Which character within the book is the most fun to write and why?

MCN: Anyone with a streak of evil is usually fun, but I enjoyed most the investigator, who’s based on Detective Wallander from the Henning Mankell crime novels. He’s wonderfully morose, and cynical, and hopefully charming with it. A reluctant sort of hero, but not in an anti-hero kind of way. Just world-weary.

FT: How similar to your principle protagonist(s) are you?

MCN: There are several leads in the book, and to an extent, I think I can see bits of my psyche in all of them in what they say or how they act. Perhaps it’s something that’s unavoidable, even when you’re writing someone who is detestable, you’ll leak some of your personality – or a side of it – in to him or her.

FT: What hobbies do you have and how do they influence your work?

MCN: Probably reading is the only thing that influences my work consciously. I’m always looking for a challenging read, and trying to find an author that’s doing something different.

Subconsciously, I’m sure so many things will have an effect to a lesser degree.

FT: Where do you get your idea's from?

MCN: Everywhere really. The real world is pretty good – it has rich cultures, odd characters, and represents the human condition in a
ll its forms. Everything you need is out there. As for the weird stuff, that’s from a dark corner in my mind… J

FT: Do you ever encounter writers block and if so how do you overcome it?

MCN: Not really – I don’t have time to. My problem is containing the ideas rather than coming up with them. That, and my short attention span.

FT: Certain authors are renowned for writing at what many would call uncivilised times? When do you do write and how do the others in your household feel about it?

By uncivilized times, I take it you mean the hour of the day, not the epoch we’re in! Well, when I get back from the day job, that’s when I write. That way, it might leave me some of the evening free. And I live alone, which is lucky really – since I don’t get disturbed, I can just concentrate on the writing. I find it easy to have a routine, since it helps with my discipline.

FT: Sometimes pieces of music seem to madly influence certain scenes within novels, do you have a soundtrack for your tale or is it a case of writing in silence with perhaps the odd musical break in-between scenes?

MCN: I’ve got a massive playlist of songs that I’ve used when writing, mainly full of indie bands, some electronic stuff, the odd piece of hip-hop or folk or jazz… I’ve massively eclectic tastes. And soundtracks are good, too; they seem to inspire a sense of mood without being too obstructive to the processes.

FT: What misconceptions, if any, did you have about the writing and publishing field when you were first getting started?

MCN: That things happened quickly… Aside from that, I was in bookselling early on in my working life, so had a pretty well-informed idea of how things happened. But I never realised just how much work and effort went into things – and I think many people don’t know how many hours go into a book, let alone the editorial input etc.

FT: If music be the food of love, what do you think writing is and explain your answer?

MCN: Hmm… I like the Lawrence Durrell quote “Music is only love looking for words”. So moving on from that, writing is merely something that gets in the way of explaining the world. You have to be careful about saying too much, and sometimes merely guide someone to think about something.

FT: What can you tell us about the next novel?

MCN: It carries on the main story arcs, although I like for each novel to stand alone as well as possible. But I don’t like to talk too much about the content, because so much can change really… Especially with the mad crap I put down on paper.

FT: What are the last five internet sites that you've visited?

MCN: Okay, honestly: Facebook (I know, I know…); my own blog – how solipsistic! Although, a quick plug: blog.markcnewton.com; sffworld.com; nme.com; and socialistunity.com

FT: Did you ever take any writing classes or specific instruction to learn the craft of writing a novel?

MCN: None whatsoever. Although I have had the guidance and advice from my agent, John Jarrold, who has been immensely helpful in pointing out errors, and steering the craft.

FT: How did you get past the initial barriers of criticism and rejection?

MCN: It’s not easy, but
you can do nothing else but dust yourself down and get right back at it. You will get rejected as a writer – just accept it, and don’t take it to heart. Get used to it, and try once again. Publishing is a very subjective world, and can be a matter of timing as much as talent.

FT: What are the best and worst aspects of writing for a living, in your opinion?

MCN: Well, it’s not a full time job for me, so it’s not exactly my living. But the best thing about writing in general is… well, I can point people towards things I’m thinking about. If I have an idea or a concern, I can share that, and it really appeals.

The worst thing… probably the angst. Without running the risk of becoming some bohemian cliché, I can’t help but worry about everything word put to paper, and think too hard about it all. Relaxing seems more and more difficult.