Tag Archives: anti-hero

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?

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

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Titanborn by Rhett C. Bruno

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I’m a sucker for a good sci fi adventure and when I saw the cover for this one, I was on my way to requesting this one from NetGalley before I got halfway through the rather chatty blurb…

titanbornMalcolm Graves lives by two rules: finish the job, and get paid. After thirty years as a collector, chasing bounties and extinguishing rebellions throughout the solar system, Malcolm does what he’s told, takes what he’s earned, and leaves the questions to someone else—especially when it comes to the affairs of offworlders. Heading into hostile territory, Malcolm will have to use everything he’s learned to stay alive. But he soon realizes that the situation on the ground is much more complex than he anticipated . . . and much more personal.

For starters, don’t pay too much attention to the Prologue – written in omniscient pov, it is a dry-as-dust info dump that gives no indication of Bruno’s writing ability and as all the world-building is perfectly adequately explained within the story, I’m not even sure why it’s there. Feel free to skip it. Because once we get to the beginning of the story in Malcolm’s viewpoint, his character pings off the page.

Basically, he’s a bounty hunter that is paid to tidy up the flotsam that runaway capitalism produces and he’s been on the job for the past thirty years. He’s arrogant, greedy, judgemental and selfish – oh and sexist. And I really cared about him. Bruno has written a blinding anti-hero, here. It takes a degree of skill to successfully depict someone with quite so many flaws as a credible protagonist, but Bruno has triumphantly succeeded in this gritty, thought-provoking critique on where our subjection to mega-corporations could lead. Especially if we choose that path to fund our way into space.

Which manages to make this book sound like some long-winded treatise on society’s flaws – and it’s nothing of the sort. It’s a full-on adventure-driven tale, where Malcolm and his new, very unwelcome partner are trying to stop a gang of desperate terrorists from attacking Earth and oust his employers from Titan. There are shoot-outs, chases with plenty of death and mayhem, all filtered through Malcolm’s dry, slightly cynical viewpoint.

I loved it and found I was reading faaar into the early morning to discover what happened at the end – although I reckoned I had a pretty good idea where it was headed… Until I didn’t. Until something else entirely different occurred, leaving me winded and a little shaken. Did it work? Oh yes, it did. I’m not going to forget this one in a hurry. It comes very highly recommended and reminded me all over again why THIS is my favourite genre of all.

I received a NetGalley arc of Titanborn from the publishers in return for an honest review.
10/10

Review of Golden Son Book 2 of the Red Rising trilogy by Pierce Brown

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I was very impressed with the first book in this series, Red Rising – see my review here – which charts Darrow’s struggles to establish himself after tragedy strikes and he is left for dead. Would I enjoy this second book that takes the story further?

golden sonDarrow is a rebel forged by tragedy. For years he and his fellow Reds worked the mines, toiling to make the surface of Mars habitable. They were, they believed, mankind’s last hope. Until Darrow discovered that it was all a lie…

That is as much of the rather chatty blurb that I’m willing to share, given that you may be inspired to track down the first book. All I will add is that Brown writes with great intensity and pace, so that Darrow and his followers pack an awful lot into this engrossing dystopian, coming-of-age science fiction thriller. I very much like the way the society is structured – after civilisation crashes on Earth, the survivors aspire to rebuild humanity using the precepts of the ancients. So there is slavery with the Reds right down at the bottom of the heap – both literally and metaphorically, and the Golds are the ruling elite with all the genetic gifts, being waited on hand, foot and finger as all the advantages or wealth and power accrue to them.

There is a catch, however. In order to survive as a Gold, you have to fight among your peers to the death, as there is a savage winnowing to ensure the most dangerous and amoral survive. These ruthless killers are the future leaders of this dystopian society, where everyone is rigidly confined within their colour to serve in the capacity preordained by their birth. Moreover it matters little if they are not suited to that task, because if they aren’t, they simply will not live all that long… And if you’re thinking that this setup will inevitably mean this book will contain a degree of violence – you’re absolutely right. This offering is not for the faint-hearted. Limbs are lopped off and people are cut down in a range of savage fights and battles.

This is foot-to-the-floor, full-on adrenaline fuelled action more or less from the first page, right to the startling denouement at the end… Brown is an accomplished storyteller who navigates the twists and turns within this story with deftness and confidence.

Darrow experiences a roller-coaster ride in his fortunes among the Golds, with the tight-knit team he has acquired from his adventures in Red Rising. However, he is also horribly isolated and that loneliness is increasingly weighing heavily on him as he wonders about the point of his mission. I really enjoyed the way Darrow’s character continues to develop throughout this book – he is all the more human and sympathetic for it. And we also need these interludes, in amongst the killing and the mayhem, to allow the reader to rebond with this main protagonist.

For if we don’t care what happens to him, then the whole structure of the book is immediately undermined, as it is the classic embittered hero striving to bring the structure down on the heads of all those around him, while hoping to rebuild something better from the ashes. Brown doesn’t have him slavishly following this path, however. And it is his questioning and doubts that open up the story to a far more interesting set of questions about what he has turned into and whether unleashing this amount of violence upon a lot of innocents, including servants and children, can ever be justified.

And once more – the ending is a doozy. I certainly didn’t see that coming… This is a cracking addition to the trilogy – no middle book slump here. And if you are looking for a new science fiction adventure with plenty of action and excitement, then track down Red Rising.
9/10

Review of She Who Waits – Low Town Novel #3 by Daniel Polansky

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After being gripped by the first two book in this classy series, see my review of The Straight Razor Cure here, and my review of Tomorrow the Killing here – would I enjoy the next slice of the Warden’s adventure as much?

shewhowaitsThe Warden, long ago a respected agent in the formidable Black House, is now the most depraved Law Town Denizen of them all. As a younger man, Warden carried out more than his fair share of terrible deeds. But Warden’s growing older, and the vultures are circling. Low Town is changing, fast than even he can control, and Warden knows that if he doesn’t get out soon, he may never get out at all.

But Warden must finally reckon with his terrible past if he can ever hope to escape it. A host of lunatics and murderers stand between him and his slim hope for the future. And behind them all waits the one person whose betrayal Warden expected. The one person who left him, broken and bitter, to become the man he is today. The one woman he ever loved. She who waits behind all things.

And there you have the blurb. This is every bit as engrossing the other two books – but the action builds up more slowly and my strong advice is that to get the best out of this book you do really need to read the first two. While Polansky hasn’t committed the newbie error of leaving you floundering if you do read these books out of order (a regular bad habit of mine that I managed to avoid this time around), Warden is such a layered, complex character, in order to appreciate some more of his finer points you need to have read at least one of the other books. The tone of this one is darker and more savage – not a surprise, given that Warden is fighting for his life and is more scaldingly aware that he is growing older in an unforgiving environment.

I love his character. While I’d probably go out of my way not to meet him in real life, the humorous asides that pepper his first person narrative, often directed against himself as well as everyone else around him, pulled me right into the story. Despite his ability to murder in cold blood, despite his drug dealing, despite his nastiness to those who care about him – I fiercely wanted him to prevail throughout the story. And, like the previous book, this one explores more of his past – this time shedding light on his downfall in the Black House. How it came about and who, exactly, he still holds accountable for the disaster. Because that is the other part of Warden’s character – he holds a grudge. And is prepared to wait a long, long time before taking his revenge… But that seems to be a common trait in Low Town – and when events take a turn for the worse, he needs all his skill to stay one step ahead of the chaos breaking out around him.

So does the final climax and denouement satisfactorily bring this particular narrative arc to a fitting conclusion? Oh yes. Once more, I ended one of Polansky’s books feeling as if I’ve been through an emotional wringer. They won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you really enjoy character-led stories set in a vibrant, grubbily corrupt backdrop with the inevitable violence leavened by dark humour, then go looking for this series. It’s right up there with the best this sub-genre has to offer.
10/10

Review of Breed by K.T. Davies

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Well this is fun! I encountered the author at Fantasycon. She is cool, charming and funny – I had a hunch she was a good writer. And I was right.

After being chased by a dragon, tricked by a demon, almost killed by a psychopathic gang boss and hunted by a ferocious arrachid assassin, Breed’s life really takes a turn for the worst…

breedI’m not going to continue with the rather chatty back cover blurb, and in case you think I’ve already given away too much of the story with the above sentence, know that all that happens in the opening section… Yep. Davies writes with the brakes off. This is an OTT protagonist who has been brought up on the wrong side of – well, everything, really. Breed, unsurprisingly, has Mother issues as his isn’t exactly brimming over with fond maternal feelings for her part-human son.

Here’s a thing – my enthusiasm for anti-heroes has somewhat waned. So how did I get on with Breed? Initially I thought I might have a problem, but Davies is far too canny to ringfence Breed as a mere grotesque with no moral compass. We learn of his vulnerabilities as he is pitchforked in the middle of his full-on adventure – not that he wears his heart on his sleeve. In fact, I’m not even sure he has a heart… But the humour certainly lightens things up and there isn’t an ounce of self-pity in his characterisation. Additionally, he doesn’t undertake his quest alone – along the way he picks up several companions.

The first is a scholarly priest, Tobias. I don’t think I’m revealing too much if I let on that they don’t meld all that well as a team. The tension between the pair of them creates all sorts of enjoyable tension and comedy, as well as pulling the story forward. The second companion is a revolting vagrant who is happy to answer to Breed’s name for him – Tosspot. Surprisingly, this mismatched trio, with another character also thrown into the mix, manage to more or less muddle their way through most of the plot, before events overtake them.

While the storyline follows the classic epic Fantasy narrative – a quest to find a particular artefact with great power for good or evil, Davies’ choice of protagonist and his happy band puts quite a different spin on this setup. Most other books featuring anti-heroes and starting with an epic fantasy scenario soon deviate into something else. However, Breed holds true to the classic epic fantasy trope, which gives the story an interesting twist right at the very end, which I absolutely loved.

All in all, this outrageous, riotous blast of adventure delivers in all the ways that matter and I am eager to read the sequel – soon as you like, please!
9/10

Review of Lex Trent Fighting With Fire – Book 2 of the Lex Trent series by Alex Bell

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Lex Trent is reigning champion of The Games contested between fickle Gods using human playing pieces. He has it all. Fame. Glory. Wealth. An enormous ego. But The Games are about to begin again and the Goddess of Luck wants Lex to defend their title. A challenge he can’t resist, despite the risk of death, because the final round will take place in the Wild West, giving Lex the chance to claim the legendary Sword of Life (who wouldn’t want that?). With Lex’s mix of skill, quick-wittedness and no small amount of outright cheating, he can’t lose! Can he? Luck may usually be a lady to Lex… but in the Wild West they play by their own rules… and Lex has never been good with rules.

lex trentAnd that’s the back cover blurb. As you can see, this Godpunk offering is distinctly tongue- in-cheek and when I skimmed the first couple of pages, it was the humour that drew me in. And the fact that Lex was in a very tricky spot… Although that seems to be his speciality – getting into impossible positions and then having to blag/cheat/improvise himself out of them.

This is an amusing Fantasy mash-up that shamelessly borrows from all sorts of other genres and then subverts them. In addition to Lex, there is a cast of interesting and vividly drawn characters – a couple of them are nearly as slippery as Lex, who is very much the classic anti-hero. His tendency to break or bend rules according to his whim or particular needs creates a fair amount of the narrative tension. The classic Quest, where the chosen champions are set tasks and have to at least stay alive and at best win the round, is the backdrop where Lex can demonstrate his sleight of hand and greedy acquisitiveness.

The risk with an amoral anti-hero, of course, is that not only does he thoroughly annoy his fellow characters, but also ticks off the reader. I’m not a great fan of anti-heroes – but whether it was the humour, or the occasional shafts of kindness that occasionally surface – or maybe the sheer madcap exuberance of Bell’s writing – but I was alternately amused and entertained all though Lex’s adventures. And the dragon had me laughing aloud…

If you enjoy your Fantasy when it doesn’t take itself too seriously, then track down this series. As for me, I’m off to find out what else Bell has written – anyone capable of such deft writing is worth reading again.
9/10

Review of Cyrus Darian and the Technomircron by Raven Dane

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The Technomicron: ancient, deadly, powerful. In the 1860’s London every seeker of power – natural or supernatural – wants to wield it; and will stop at nothing to get it. Enter Cyrus Darian: hedonist, philanderer, alchemist and necromancer; hired by wealthy American Zachariah P. Dedman to find it. Dedman’s life, the honour of his beautiful haughty daughter Athena and the future of the world; all depend on Cyrus Darian. What could possibly go wrong?

I’ll come clean – steampunk isn’t my all-time favourite Fantasy genre. However, Dane doesn’t depict this particular slice of English history as any rose-tinted version of the burgeoning brutality of the Industrial Revolution – it is all shown in grubby detail with a reasonably clear-sighted view of just what was true the cost of all those steam gismos. Air pollution, dying vegetation and dirt, with a plummeting life expectancy for the poor souls trapped in English cities. Dane even describes a gloriously grandiose scheme to blow the toxic smog engulfing London out to sea.

cyrusdarianBut Dane gives herself an even greater challenge – Cyrus Darian is an anti-hero. Greedy, selfish and ambitious, his most constant companion is a fallen angel. This is tricky to really pull off successfully. Joe Abercrombie’s crippled torturer, Inquisitor Glokta, in his First Law series is the most convincing anti-hero I’ve encountered to date. But he is just one amongst a cast of strong, if flawed protagonists. Dane has chosen to construct the whole novel around Darian – so if we are too disgusted with his antics, there is nowhere else to go. We drop the book and find something else to read. Being the shallow, old fashioned sort of reader who enjoys rooting for the main protagonist, I was initially concerned that I wouldn’t want to bond with Darian – particularly as Dane chooses to dot around Darian’s timeline in the opening scenes. Personally, for me, this is the least successful part of the book. If I hadn’t already met and liked the author at Bristolcon, I may have abandoned the book right at the beginning and for those who are a bit underwhelmed at this patchy beginning, my advice is – persevere. It gets better. A lot better.

Because Dane manages to depict Darian as a thorough-going villain with a charismatic streak. And at no point did I feel that she flinched or side-stepped the harder or trickier aspects of this. So we are confronted with a main character who consistently doesn’t behave all that well… It could have all been a rather grim read, if the overall tone wasn’t briskly breezy with some nicely humorous touches – which isn’t to say that there aren’t also some genuinely shocking moments. What befalls Athena had my jaw dropping somewhat and I’m still slightly uncomfortable at that particular plotline – especially as we didn’t ever get to the bottom of who was exactly responsible for drugging her. However, it further establishes that Dane isn’t afraid to take risks as an author – while being capable of pulling them off.

Overall, this is a thoroughly accomplished, riveting read that certainly stands out from the crowd. If it is the start of a series, I’ll be looking out for the next instalment – and Dane’s other work. If it is as good as this, it’ll be worth it.
8/10