Category Archives: anti-hero

Friday Faceoff – Without gambling, I would not exist…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is casinos and gambling, so I’ve chosen Player of Games – Book 2 of the Culture series by Iain M. Banks.

 

This is the offering produced by HarperPrism in February 1997. I really like the warm tones and the chequerboard effect with the detailed games. Unfortunately it is ruined by that block of black plonked right in the middle of the artwork that seems to have been the fashion for books of the time and now looks ugly and amateurish.

 

At least this doesn’t have the block of blugh, but that is all that can be said for this rather dreary generic offering produced in August 2008 by Orbit. The cold colours and blurry male figure does nothing to depict the vibrant Culture world crafted by Banks – and frankly this wonderful, genre-changing series deserves better.

 

This cover design produced in 1989 by Orbit is my favourite – perhaps influenced by the fact it is the cover of the book we owned and loved. I love the splashes of vivid pink, the clean font and the cool dude featured in amongst those intriguing playing pieces. This quirky cover manages to accurately reflect the tone of this wonderful book.

 

This offering is another intriguing effort, produced in August 1988 by Macmillan. I like the arresting image of the two players completely engrossed in the game – my gripe with it is the styling of the figures. This book is set in the far future and while post-humanity riffs with the past, using clothing and design we all equate with the distant past doesn’t reflect the flavour of this coolly futuristic story.

 

This Hungarian offering is another lacklustre affair, produced by Agave Könyvek in 2003, with a generic background and some blurred chess pieces in the foreground. All in all, I think poor Iain Banks was ill served by most of these efforts…

Which one is your favourite?

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Friday Faceoff – I know why the caged bird sings…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week the theme is bird covers, so I’ve chosen The Lies of Locke Lamora – Book 1 of the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch.

 

This is the offering produced by Bantam Spectra in July 2006 is an evocation of a setting like St Mark’s Square in Venice, complete with the pigeons. The clean two-tone design and spare use of colour really works well. I also really like the flourishes on the title font and author name, although I could do without George R.R. Martin’s recommendation crawling across the artwork – I prefer such chatter on the back cover.

 

This cover, also produced by Bantam Spectra in June 2007 is far more lush with a gorgeous use of colour and giving us a representation of our young thief and his imagining how he will scale the high tower as he sits surveying the skyline. This design has even managed to tidy up Martin’s blurb, while keeping the attractive title font.

 

This cover design produced in February 2007 by Gollancz is once more in a Venetian-type setting, though there are clear differences. The buildings are piled far higher and there is a more chaotic atmosphere. The dark green water gives a sense of danger and I think the title font works really well against the darker background. This is my favourite.

 

This effort was produced by Del Rey in June 2013 once more gives a sense of a crowded city where the buildings are all piled upon each other. The detailing in the artwork is far more masked by the title, author name and other blurb crashing through the image, which is a shame, as it is yet another beautiful and effective depiction of the book.

 

This is the audio CD edition produced by Tantor Media Inc in May 2009. While the building featured is rather crude and simplistic in comparison to some of the other covers, I do like the face superimposed in the sky and the placing of the title font and author name has been well thought out. Another effective, attractive effort.

Once again, I don’t think there is a wrong ‘un in amongst this selection, though the most successful is the third offering in my opinion. Which one is your favourite?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Very Important Corpses – Book 3 of the Ishmael Jones series by Simon R. Green

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I’ve read a couple of books by the author before – see my review of The Man With the Golden Torc – and know that I enjoy his writing, so when I saw this offering on Netgalley, I couldn’t resist.

veryimportantcorpsesThe Organisation has despatched Ishmael and his partner Penny to Coronach House on the shores of Loch Ness where the secretive but highly influential Baphamet Group are holding their annual meeting. The Organisation believes an imposter has infiltrated the Group and they have instructed Ishmael to root him or her out. It s not Ishmael s only mission. The first agent sent by the Organisation has been found dead in her room, murdered in a horribly gruesome manner. Ishmael must also discover who killed his fellow agent, Jennifer Rifkin and why. Dismissive of rumours that the legendary Coronach Creature is behind Jennifer s death, Ishmael sets out to expose the human killer in their midst. But he must act fast before any more Very Important People are killed.

I’ve done my usual trick of dropping into the middle of a series, but while I was aware there was something of a backstory that I didn’t know, most of the action and focus was on the current situation so it wasn’t an issue. Ishamael is certainly an intriguing figure. Endowed with superhuman powers, he is used to dealing with the nasties coming from other dimensions. Neither is he wholly on the side of the angels – he’s been involved in plenty of dirty operations in the past, although he’s doing his best to clean up his act, these days. So he isn’t an operative who would usually be in evidence for this kind of assignment, where he is dealing with VIPs who require some finesse when dealing with them. But a colleague has been brutally murdered, so he has been sent, along with his pretty young colleague Penny, to sort it out.

This story is the equivalent of the locked room puzzle, except it is a locked house tucked away on the shores of Loch Ness, with a shadowy creature roaming around in the grounds – and a savage killer in their midst. Ishmael stomps around thoroughly upsetting everyone, while Penny smooths them over. Meanwhile, the bodycount is rising and so are the stakes… This is an enjoyable, fast-paced whodunit with plenty of plot twists and turns. No, I didn’t guess who the villain was as I just tucked in and went along for the ride. If you enjoy your whodunits with a paranormal twist, then have a go at this one – it’s fun.

While I obtained the arc of Very Important Corpses from the publisher via NetGalley, this has in no way influenced my unbiased review.
8/10

Review of Escapology by Ren Warom

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My mate, Mhairi Simpson, strongly recommended this offering so now that I’ve managed to get through my backlog of Netgalley arcs for the time being, I turned to this one.

escapologyShock Pao is the best. In the virtual world the Slip there’s nothing he can’t steal for the right price. Outside the Slip, though, he’s a Fail – no degree, no job. So when his ex offers him a job, breaking into a corporate databank, he accepts—it’s either that, or find himself a nice bench to sleep under. Amiga works for psychotic crime lord Twist Calhoun so when Shock’s war comes to her, it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive.

This is classic cyberpunk in many ways – a dystopian far future, where far too many people are crammed onto the remaining landmass in a megacity. The majority live in ghettos, crime is rampant and the brightest few are cherry-picked to be educated and work for the corporations, with a secure financial future ahead of them. Shock was once one of these chosen few, but couldn’t face the prospect of a lifetime of boring dead-end work ahead of him, so dropped out. Trouble is, he has dropped a lot further down than he’d intended.

While Warom’s writing has the gritty lyric quality of the best cyberpunk when it comes to the world-building, she also excels at characterisation, which isn’t always the case with this genre. Shock is edgy, damaged and vastly prefers spending jacking into the virtual world, the Slip, to spending time with people. It didn’t help when he tangled with the wrong girl, who now has her hooks into him – dragging him into performing a series of tasks on the wrong side of the law. Until he finds himself in a mess of trouble. I don’t generally do lost causes and I’m not a huge fan of criminal underworld adventures, either – so by rights this one shouldn’t have really hooked me. And it did.

The quality of the writing made it a pleasure, but I thoroughly enjoyed Warom’s cast of damaged outcast characters, even the assassin, Amiga. It doesn’t hurt that there is a fair amount of humour within the writing, albeit on the dark side. The story takes it time to fully gather pace, but I’ve no problem with that.

The world is so richly detailed with all sorts of enjoyable flourishes, like the landships who contain floating populations from areas devastated by the quakes, that the fact Warom takes the trouble to also establish her cast of misfits was just fine with me. It meant that when the action started kicking off, I was fully invested in the world and the people involved, as well as being slightly on the edge of my seat. Warom has no qualms in causing unspeakable suffering to her main characters – and I didn’t know if they would all make it out in one piece…

This is one of the most enjoyable cyberpunk offerings I’ve read and a mightily impressive debut novel from a very talented author – and the good news is there is another book in the series due out next year. Yay!
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 4th October, 2016

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Teaser

Teaser Tuesday is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Books and a Beat.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

This is my choice of the day:
Escapology by Ren Waromescapology
p. 220: Heng heaves forward, staring.
“Hive? You’re going in to Hive?” He seems genuinely concerned, which is a thing. Heng doesn’t much care for Shock. No one of sense does.
Shock shrugs. “For my health.”
“Flim? Or breathing?”
“Make a wild guess.”
Heng pulls a face. “Ouch. My condolences.”

BLURB: Shock Pao is the best. In the virtual world the Slip there’s nothing he can’t steal for the right price. Outside the Slip, though, he’s a Fail – no degree, no job. So when his ex offers him a job, breaking into a corporate databank, he accepts—it’s either that, or find himself a nice bench to sleep under. Amiga works for psychotic crime lord Twist Calhoun so when Shock’s war comes to her, it’s her job to bring him to Twist, dead or alive.

I’m really enjoying this sharp-edged cyberpunk adventure. Warom has woven a vivid, detailed far future where the stakes are high. Shock, who has slid from the fast-track, glowing corporate future that was mapped out for him, is trapped by his brilliance in Slip and by tangling with the wrong girl. This complicated anti-hero nevertheless has me rooting for him, along with the other damaged characters Shock intersects with. The writing is gritty and lyrical – an impressive debut novel.

Friday Faceoff – Hell is Empty and all the Devils Are Here…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we are looking at covers featuring demons. I have chosen The Amulet of Samarkand – Book 1 of the Bartimaeus Sequence by Jonathan Stroud. Though strictly speaking Bartimaeus is a djinni, not a demon…

 

theamuletofsamarkandThis offering was published by Disney-Hyperion in 2003. You get a sense of the creature’s age (he is 5,000 years old) and his sharp, sly humour that pings off the page. I love the fact he is sideways on and evidently taunting us with the precious amulet. Pity about the lettering.

 

theamuletofsamarkand1This version was produced by Corgi Children’s in 2004. Again, Bartimaeus dominates, this time looking very much like a gargoyle. I’m not sure I like the sepia look, but I do love the lettering on this cover.

 

theamuletofsamarkand2This edition was published in 2004 by cbj Verlag. The overall design is the same as the previous version, but I far prefer the dark colour palette, which I think gives the cover more eye appeal, though this time around I think the font is disappointing.

 

theamuletofsamarkand3This edition was published in 2007 by Le Livre de Poche. This is the runner-up for me. I love the drama of the backlighting and the backdrop of the library as Bartimaus appears in Nathaniel’s circle for the first time. My favourite is the first cover – it’s the wicked grin that sells this one for me. A suitably memorable cover for a wonderfully memorable series. Do you agree?

Review of KINDLE Ebook The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin

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I generally have the memory of a goldfish regarding books I’ve read, though it has dramatically improved since I started reviewing/logging every book on completion. But there are a handful I recall with pinsharp detail years later. One of those is the first time I encountered Jemisin’s writing. I was sitting in Victoria Station, having just bought the book at Waterstones and waiting for the train home. Himself was seated next to me, also engrossed in a book, so Life was pretty much perfect. Especially as the opening passage of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms hit me with the force of a sledgehammer – see my review here.

thefifthseasonSo I’m still scratching my head as to why it took me quite so long to get around to reading The Fifth Season which has been patiently waiting on my Kindle. Thanks to Sara Letourneau’s nagging, I bumped it up my TBR queue and I’m very glad I did…

Three terrible things happen in a single day. Essun, a woman living an ordinary life in a small town, comes home to find that her husband has brutally murdered their son and kidnapped their daughter. Meanwhile, mighty Sanze — the world-spanning empire whose innovations have been civilization’s bedrock for a thousand years — collapses as most of its citizens are murdered to serve a madman’s vengeance. And worst of all, across the heart of the vast continent known as the Stillness, a great red rift has been torn into the heart of the earth, spewing ash enough to darken the sky for years. Or centuries. Now Essun must pursue the wreckage of her family through a deadly, dying land. Without sunlight, clean water, or arable land, and with limited stockpiles of supplies, there will be war all across the Stillness: a battle royale of nations not for power or territory, but simply for the basic resources necessary to get through the long dark night. Essun does not care if the world falls apart around her. She’ll break it herself, if she must, to save her daughter.

I’m conscious this sounds like yet another gritted struggle for survival in a land where civilisation has suddenly broken – an abiding staple of science fiction that has reached new heights of popularity, recently – but as with most really successful books, Jemisin has scooped up the basic concept and turned it into something uniquely her own. For starters, there’s the viewpoint. As a Creative Writing tutor, I spend a great deal of time telling new writers that addressing the reader in a magnificently detached authorial voice might have worked for Charles Dickens, but modern tastes dictate that it’s now a no-no. Unless you’re Jemisin, of course… She then launches her main protagonist at us in second person viewpoint, so we are experiencing Essun’s trauma as ‘you’. Frankly, my jaw was grazing the ground at this point and I did wonder if I’d manage to put this character voice on the backburner sufficiently to become engrossed enough that it simply didn’t matter, or better still – added to my enjoyment of the story.

And, along with almost everyone I’ve met, I can report that by the time I was a quarter of the way into the story, it simply didn’t matter. I was so caught up in the story and the unfolding situation, I would have persevered if Jemisin had taken it into her head to omit every sixth word. Furthermore, there is a solidly good technical reason why Essun’s story is relayed in second person pov which I’m not going to elaborate further, as it would also be a thumping great big Spoiler. Suffice to say, it isn’t just some idle whim but matters to the narrative structure of the book.

Along with Essun, there are a raft of vivid characters I really cared about – my favourite being the prickly, tormented Alabaster. The narrative arc of this story isn’t straightforward. There are regular flashbacks, that initially appear to be random interruptions to the ongoing storyline, as well as those omniscient intervals. It all comes together at the end in the shocking twist that still has me humming with pleasure at the symmetry of it all. And desperate to get my hands on The Obelisk Gate – which definitely won’t be hanging around for months on my TBR pile.
10/10

Friday Faceoff – The Heavenly Host…

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This week we are looking at covers featuring angels. I have gone for the first book in Kate Griffin’s fabulous Matthew Swift – A Madness of Angels. Though these blue, electric angels aren’t anything like the ones we are used to…

 

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This offering was published by Orbit in 2009. I love it. I’ve always thought the covers produced for this fantastic series were beautiful and effectively capture the dark splendour of Griffin’s extraordinary prose. There is so much going on in the etched detail running through the lightning effect behind Matthew’s head, it is subtle as well as very eye-catching.

 

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This is the paperback version produced by Orbit, also in 2009. It is an effective cover, using the same themes, but without the central figure and coruscating light surrounding him.

 

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This edition was published in 2011 by Editions Eclipse – and as you can see the French have gone for a really hardcore version of Matthew. As it happens, I think it nicely captures his mood when he’s resurrected and he isn’t ever known for his soft fluffy nature…

My favourite is the first offering – partly because it adorns the book I acquired at the first Fantasycon I attended – and partly because it is an awesomely good cover. Do you agree?

Sunday Post – 31st July

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Sunday Post

This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Book Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Me and my mouth… I should have kept quiet about the sudden appearance of sunshine, because during this week it has become steadily cooler, more overcast, windy and rainy. Of course it has – the schools have broken up and we have the grandchildren for an extended visit.

I’m still timelining The Sunblinded trilogy and am now three-quarters of the way through Breathing Space though inevitably progress is slower as I am in granny mode. And grannies get black marks for spending extended spells on their computers when those precious children want their attention.

This week I’ve managed to read:
An Accident of Stars – Book 1 of The Manifold Worlds series by Foz Meadows
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical anaccidentofstarsrealm on the brink of civil war. There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Once more NetGalley came through – I requested this intriguing book and I’m very glad I did – it’s a cracking adventure that manages to take some of the main tropes in portal world stories and thoroughly shake them up. I’ll be reviewing it at the beginning of August.

 

 

The Fifth Season – Book 1 of The Broken Earth series by N.K. Jemisin
thefifthseasonTHIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.
A season of endings has begun. It starts with the great red rift across the heart of the world’s sole continent, spewing ash that blots out the sun. It starts with death, with a murdered son and a missing daughter. It starts with betrayal, and long dormant wounds rising up to fester.
This is the Stillness, a land long familiar with catastrophe, where the power of the earth is wielded as a weapon. And where there is no mercy.

I’ve had several people busy recommending this book for a while (yes, Sara Letourneau – I’m talking about you…) and now I know why. Though it sounds like it, this isn’t an account of some grim dismantling of the world after the style of The Passage or a bleak examination of what happens once the apocalypse has descended, as in The Road. It’s something else. With passages in omniscient viewpoint and one main character presented in second person pov, it’s a remarkable read. It has been nominated for a Hugo Award, Nebula Award and Locus Award, which should give you an idea of the quality of this book. It’s certainly one of my outstanding reads of the year, so far.

My posts last week:
Sunday Post – 24th July

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Machinations – Book 1 of the Machinations series by Hayley Stone

Teaser Tuesday – featuring The Fifth Season – Book 1 of the Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

London-based Spec-Fic Tales – Part 1

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Shift by Em Bailey

Friday Faceoff – The Hooded One Featuring The Summoner – Book 1 of the Chronicles of the Necromancer by Gail Z. Martin

Review of Vowed – Book 2 of The Blackhart Legacy by Liz de Jager

Other interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

How To Annoy a Reader https://livinginthepagesz.wordpress.com/2016/07/28/how-to-annoy-a-reader/ This hilarious rant from an avid reader on some of the things her non-reader friends sometimes say made me grin.

Fantasy: The (Not So) Easy Genre http://melfka.com/archives/1875 An excellent article debunking this myth by Joanne Maciejewska

I really enjoyed this intriguing photo… https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/untitled-78/ by Photolicioux

Book Blogger Blind Date Presents: UK vs US Slangdown https://thetattooedbookgeek.wordpress.com/2016/07/26/book-blogger-blind-date-presents-uk-v-us-slangdown/ This is fun – and highlights why the Yanks and Brits so often get their wires crossed.

This coming week I’ll be entertaining my young grandson on his own, so we plan to do some swimming, crazy golf, lots of playing games and colouring. If it’s fine we’ll go to the beach, so the reading and blogging will be taking more of a back seat. Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook The Ghoul King – Book 2 of the Dreaming Cities series by Guy Haley

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When I requested this one from NetGalley, I wasn’t aware that it was a novella or part of a series. However I’m glad about that, because I probably wouldn’t have chosen it otherwise, which would have been a shame.

theghoulkingThe Knight, Quinn, is down on his luck, and he travels to the very edge of the civilized world – whatever that means, any more – to restock his small but essential inventory. After fighting a series of gladiatorial bouts against the dead, he finds himself in the employ of a woman on a quest to find the secret to repairing her semi-functional robot. But the technological secret it guards may be one truth too many…

I’ve recently read The City of Mirrors, Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic tale of a ruined America struggling to cope after a plague of cannibalistic creatures that were once human – see my review here. This adventure has many similarities – set in a post-apocalypse America where nests of vampire-like ghouls lodge in derelict buildings. The difference in The Ghoul King is that surviving humanity is ruled by fearsome angelic beings, who decree that no technology is allowable for any reason – and back up that edict with terrible punishments.

The fact I hadn’t read the first slice of this adventure didn’t matter – I was quickly swept up into the action, following Quinn as he was plunged in the middle of an action-packed quest. Haley writes with pace and economy, managing to pack a great deal in a short amount of time. I didn’t particularly bond with Quinn, but then I don’t think we’re supposed to. However, I really liked Jaxon, the healer driven to rebel as he finds himself treating patients who are dying of illnesses entirely preventable – if only he had access to some of the old, forbidden knowledge. The story is told in first person viewpoint as Jaxon is interrogated by the authorities.

There are some interesting twists along the way  and the ending satisfactorily tied up the story arc, while leaving a couple of dangling ends in readiness for the next instalment in this desperate, ruined world. I have found myself thinking about it at times, while supposedly working on something else, which is always a sure sign that a book has ticked all the boxes. If you are a Justin Cronin fan, then consider tracking down this bite-sized post-apocalyptic world – it is worth it. I received an arc copy of this novella from the publishers via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
9/10