Tag Archives: godpunk

Can’t-Wait Wednesday – 14th February, 2018

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Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted at Wishful Endings, to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released. It’s based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by the fabulous Jill at Breaking the Spine.

This week’s Can’t-Wait offering – Fire and Bone – Book 1 of the Otherborn series

#urban fantasy #YA #godpunk

“Gossip Girl meets Percy Jackson in the glitz and grit of L.A….”

In Hollywood’s underworld of demigods, druids, and ancient bonds, one girl has a dangerous future.

Sage is eighteen, down on her luck, and struggling to survive on the streets of Los Angeles. Everything changes the night she’s invited to a party—one that turns out to be a trap.

I liked the sound of this one – I don’t know much about Gossip Girl, but I really like what I’ve seen of the Percy Jackson series, since reading snippets of it to my granddaughter. Fire and Bone comes out later this month on 20th February, so I shan’t have too long to wait.

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*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of KINDLE Ebook Age of Heroes Book 8 of the Pantheon series

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The first thing to say is – like all the other books in this entertaining godpunk series – Age of Heroes is entirely standalone. The only thing linking these books is they feature gods or, in this case, demigods. So there is nothing to prevent you plucking this one off the shelves and diving straight in.

ageofheroesCHILDREN OF THE GODS!
Born of the Gods, created to be their champions, their names echo in eternity: Theseus, Perseus, Hippolyta, Heracles, Helen of Troy and all their half-mortal ilk. But the Age of Heroes is long past, and no more epics are told of their deeds. Blessed – and cursed – with eternal life, they have walked the Earth for millennia, doing their best to fit in among ordinary humans, taking new names and living new lives. And one by one, the demigods are meeting terrible, bloody ends. Now it’s up to Theseus, comfortably ensconced in New York and making his living as a crime fiction writer, to investigate the deaths. His search for the culprit draws him back into the lives of his dysfunctional extended family, and into a world of tragedy and long-held grudges that he thought, and hoped, he’d put behind him.

The blurb gives a flavour of this mystery whodunit with a divine spin on it. These ancient demigods and goddesses have, more or less, managed to fit in with modern society and scattered across the globe. I haven’t read every book in the series, but Age of Aztec – see my review here – is one of my most memorable and enjoyable reads and Lovegrove is a favourite author anyhow. So this was a must-have book and I was delighted when Netgalley approved my request. Did it fulfil my expectations? Oh yes.

Lovegrove has a knack of writing enjoyable protagonists I care about, even when they shouldn’t be all that likeable. One of the main characters is a hired killer, but I found myself rooting for him. In contrast, the antagonists are suitably nasty and formidable, particularly the vile Holger Badenhorst, who I loathed as a racist, sexist pig. As for the demigods, once more I am impressed how Lovegrove manages to depict ancient beings who aren’t quite human, yet keep them sympathetic – it’s harder to pull off than he makes it look. Plenty of humour in the exchanges between the characters leavens the inevitable violence, while the action drives forward at a brisk clip, making this one hard to put down.

As for the denouement – I didn’t guess who the perpetrators were until the reveal and enjoyed the full-on action and the subsequent poignancy of the demigods’ existence revealed as the dust settled. While this adventure hasn’t achieved the heights of Age of Aztec – not many books do – it is an accomplished, satisfying read that made me chuckle in places and had me reading late into the night to discover what happens next. And I surfaced from the adventure wishing I could do it all over again… a familiar feeling when reading a book written by Lovegrove.
8/10

London-based Spec Fic Tales – Part 1

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I have the great good fortune to live within easy travelling distance of London. Its landmarks are famous around the world and while it is every bit as vibrantly modern as other capital cities, it also reeks of history with odd corners where you can close your eyes and almost hear Londoners from another age, as they go about their daily lives.

It is a fabulous backdrop for science fiction and fantasy tales – J.K. Rowling’s use of King’s Cross Station is just one of a long line of authors setting their stories in a familiar and much-loved public arena. Of course, not every setting then acknowledges that mention by putting up a sign for tourists pointing out where Platform 93/4 is positioned. Below, I have listed some of my favourite science fiction and fantasy reads that are set in London, drawing on the unique vibe of the place…

Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch
My name is Peter Grant. Until January I was just another probationary constable in that mighty army forriversoflondon justice known to all right-thinking people as the Metropolitan Police Service, and to everyone else as the Filth. Then one night, in pursuance of a murder inquiry, I tried to take a witness statement from a man who was dead, but disturbingly voluble, and that brought me to the attention of Chief Inspector Nightingale, the last wizard in England. Now I’m a Detective Constable and a trainee wizard, the first apprentice in fifty years, and my world has become somewhat more complicated.

This introduces the first book in this delightful series where London’s rich backdrop is used very effectively as an appropriate setting for Grant’s fantastic adventures. The first book, Rivers of London, starts the series – see my review here.

 

 

The Alex Verus series by Benedict Jacka
fatedAlex Verus is part of a world hidden in plain sight, running a magic shop in London. And while Alex’s own powers aren’t as showy as some mages, he does have the advantage of foreseeing the possible future–allowing him to pull off operations that have a million-to-one-chance of success…

This excellent series, which starts with Fated – see my review here – is set in a grim world where mages predate on each other with some really scary skills, goes on getting better with each book. It’s currently one of my favourites.

 

 

 

The Shadow Police series by Paul Cornell
Detective Inspector James Quill is about to complete the drugs bust of his career. Then his prize suspect Rob Toshack is murdered in custody. Furious, Quill pursues the investigation, co-opting intelligence londonfallinganalyst Lisa Ross and undercover cops Costain and Sefton. But nothing about Toshack’s murder is normal. Toshack had struck a bargain with a vindictive entity, whose occult powers kept Toshack one step ahead of the law – until his luck ran out.

Now, the team must find a suspect who can bend space and time and alter memory itself. And they will kill again. As the group starts to see London’s sinister magic for themselves, they have two choices: panic or use their new abilities. Then they must hunt a terrifying supernatural force the only way they know how: using police methods, equipment and tactics. But they must all learn the rules of this new game – and quickly. More than their lives will depend on it.

This is a dark fantasy offering, full of angst and tricky magic – the first book in the series is London Falling – see my review here.

 

The Matthew Swift series by Kate Griffin
amadnessTwo years after his untimely death, Matthew Swift finds himself breathing once again, lying in bed in his London home. Except that it’s no longer his bed, or his home. And the last time this sorcerer was seen alive, an unknown assailant had gouged a hole so deep in his chest that his death was irrefutable…despite his body never being found. He doesn’t have long to mull over his resurrection though, or the changes that have been wrought upon him. His only concern now is vengeance. Vengeance upon his monstrous killer and vengeance upon the one who brought him back.
This is an amazing series – I love Griffin’s writing and the extraordinary start to this great adventure is A Madness of Angels, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Magicals Anonymous series by Kate Griffin
This is spin-off series is set in the same world as the Matthew Swift books. I love this one – and my straysoulsabiding regret is that there are only two books in this series. I’m hoping that Griffin might want to take a break from writing as Claire North and revisit Sharon and her self help group.

London’s soul has gone missing. Lost? Kidnapped? Murdered? Nobody knows – but when Sharon Li unexpectedly discovers she’s a shaman, she is immediately called upon to use her newfound powers of oneness with the City to rescue it from a slow but inevitable demise.
The problem is, while everyone expects Sharon to have all the answers – from the Midnight Mayor to Sharon’s magically-challenged self-help group – she doesn’t have a clue where to start. But with London’s soul missing and the Gate open, there are creatures loose that won’t wait for her to catch up before they go hunting.

The first book is Stray Souls – and the special extra with this series is the laugh-aloud humour, see my review here.

 

The Onyx Court series by Marie Brennan
midnightnevercomeEngland flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs. But a great light casts a great shadow. In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few.

As you can see from the blurb, this is a historical paranormal series – the first book is called Midnight Never Come, see my review here.

 

 

 

The Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
This is the only book in this intriguing godpunk series that is set in London – and for my money, is my ageofaztecfavourite so far. I thoroughly enjoy Lovegrove’s smooth writing and this is one of my favourite books of 2012.

The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monkey 1 House – November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning – and the Aztec Empire rules the world. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. He is recruited to spearhead an uprising, and discovers a terrible truth about the Aztec and thier gods, but a Detective, Mal Vaughan, has been put on his trail and the clock is ticking. The clock is ticking. Apocalypse looms, unless the Conquistador can help assassinate the mysterious, immortal Aztec emperor, the Great Speaker. But his mission is complicated by Mal Vaughn, a police detective who is on his trail, determined to bring him to justice. See my review here.

 

This is the first selection of my favourite London-based speculative fiction – have you read any of the books in these series? What did you think of them?

Favourite Alternate History Worlds

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This interesting sub-genre that intersects with both science fiction and fantasy, is a real favourite of mine. I’m a sucker for a well-constructed alternate history that posits some of the more fascinating ‘what ifs’. And these are the best ones I’ve encountered so far. Again, in no particular order…

Ghosts of Columbia by L.E. Modesitt Jr
This nifty omnibus edition contains the first two books in the series – Of Tangible Ghosts and The Ghost ghostsofcolumbiaof the Revelator. This is a world where people who are killed violently or accidentally with sufficient time to realise that they are about to die, become ghosts. So large battles become undesirable – battlefields overrun with hordes of ghosts make an area uninhabitable until they fade. The point at which history has also diverged is when the colonists from the Mayflower landing in the New World succumb to the plague, denying England any foothold on the American continent. Which means a chunk of Canada and North America is settled by the Dutch, in a nation called Columbia with New France down in the south and the Mormon state of Deseret jostling in an uneasy truce. For the time being…

Drop into this interestingly original world, ex-espionage agent and political minister Johan Eschbach, now living quietly in New Bruges and working as a lecturer on Environmental Studies at the Vanderaak Centre who tells his story in first person POV.
The story and espionage are well constructed – but what sticks in my memory is this wonderful world Modesitt has created. I love the details he produces about the weather, Johan’s shopping habits and what he has for breakfast – so that when it does all kick off, the violence is all the more shocking. Read my full review here.

 

Farthing – Book 1 of the Small Change series by Jo Walton
In a world where England has agreed a peace with Nazi Germany, one small change can carry a huge cost… Eight years after they overthrew Churchill and led Britain into a separate peace with Hitler, the farthingupper-crust families of the ‘Farthing set’ gather for a weekend retreat. But idyll becomes nightmare when Sir James Thirkie is found murdered, a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest. Suspicion falls, inevitably on David Kahn, who is a Jew and recently married to Lucy, the daughter of Lord and Lady Eversley of Castle Farthing, but when Inspector Peter Carmichael of Scotland Yard starts investigating the case, he soon realises that all is not what it seems…

As ever, Walton braids the apparently cosy into something different and when you’re lulled into a false sense of security, she pulls the rug from under you. The familiar backdrop here is the classic country house murder. Guests are staying over – mostly the ‘Farthing set’, with the inevitable alliances and enmities, both political and personal. Inspector Carmichael and his loyal sidekick, Royston, set about the task of unpicking the various secrets of all the likely suspects. The investigation in alternate chapters is described in third person viewpoint, harking back to those Agatha Christie whodunits we all know and love.

But that sense of order being re-established is entirely false – as we get to discover in the two ensuing books… This is a storming start to an excellent trilogy by one of the most versatile, interesting speculative fiction writers around today. Read my full review here.

 

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
I picked up this copy of the book as an SF Masterworks because as a solid fan of many women fantasy doomsdayand science fiction writers, I had never read her work and I discovered it was a Hugo Award winner. I’m so glad I did…

When Kivrin Engle travels back through time to complete her doctoral thesis, due to an accident she lands in the middle of a major crisis her Faculty were struggling to avoid. Meanwhile the Oxford she left behind is laid low by a mysterious strain of influenza and, with no one willing to risk arranging her rescue, time is running out. Mr Dunsworthy – who opposed the whole hare-brained notion of Kivrin going back to this particular time, yet somehow found himself caught up in helping her – is an outstanding character. The book is largely in his and Kivrin’s viewpoint and as the situation in both timelines slides away into chaos, it is these two main characters on whom the whole story arc rests.

Willis lays bare the internecine struggles within the famous University with a sense of gentleness that is refreshing in a genre which often exposes human frailty with ruthless savagery. There are a couple of characters who resort to petty rule-hugging in order to protect themselves, but most of the people depicted step up and do their best in increasingly awful circumstances. Read my full review here.

 

Age of Aztec – Book 4 of the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove
The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec ageofaztecreign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador. Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable. Read my full review here.

 

Dominion by C.J. Sansom
Twelve years have passed since Churchill lost to the appeasers and Britain surrendered to Nazi Germany dominionafter Dunkirk. As the long German war against Russia rages in the east, the British people find themselves under dark authoritarian rule: the press, radio and television are controlled; the streets patrolled by violent Auxiliary Police and British Jews face ever greater constraints. There are terrible rumours about what is happening in the basement of the Germany Embassy at Senate House. Defiance, though, is growing. In Britain, Winston Churchill’s Resistance organisation is increasingly a thorn in the government’s side.

What must be jumping out at anyone interested in reading the book, is that the event where Sansom’s version of history diverges takes place twelve years previously. So he has to construct a completely different world that emerges after Britain’s surrender. As Sansom is an accomplished historian, his version of this world makes fascinating reading. In this Britain there has been a prolonged period of financial stagnation, leading to widespread poverty without any Welfare State. This is a world where the BBC is strictly censored with newspapers, television and radio staying silent when violent protest spills into death – and morris dancing is upheld as a national dance… But perhaps the most startling demonstration of the difference is when young Queen Elizabeth – still unmarried – is commemorating Remembrance Sunday, with Rommel stepping forward and propping on the cenotaph a large poppy wreath, complete with a swastika.

This is a strong read for anyone interested in exploring alternative historical landscapes and Sansom has beautifully conveyed the fog-shrouded desperation of a country slowly grinding to a halt under a punitive rule. Read my review here.

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* KINDLE Ebook of Staked – Book 8 of The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

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It seems far too long since I was in the middle of this entertaining world of druids, food-obsessed hounds and a head-swivelling range of infuriated gods and fae, in Shattered. Would this latest slice of the adventure manage to sustain the fun and excitement?

stakedWhen a druid has lived for two thousand years like Atticus, he’s bound to run afoul of a few vampires. Make that legions of them. Even his former friend and legal counsel turned out to be a bloodsucking backstabber. Now the toothy troublemakers – led by power-mad Theophilus – have become a huge problem requiring a solution. It’s time to make a stand. As always, Atticus wouldn’t mind a little backup. But his allies have problems of their own. Ill-tempered archdruid Owen Kennedy is having a wee bit of troll trouble: turns out when you stiff a troll, it’s not water under the bridge. Meanwhile, Granuaile is desperate to free herself of the Norse god Loki’s mark and elude his powers of divination – a quest that will bring her face to face with several Slavic nightmares.

This particular tale features Atticus, Owen and Granuaile, who each feature in their own chapters, so the story unfolds in multiple first person viewpoint. Hearne has also broken with modern trends and provided a Story So Far roundup of each book. I was very thankful to get a quick, well-told reminder of what had gone on before – and those who haven’t yet had the pleasure also have the option not to read it. I’d like to see authors of other long-running series, where the story progression relies on the books being read in order, also adopting this tactic. It certainly contributed to this reader’s enjoyment.

Those of you who have read any of The Iron Druid Chronicles will know there are slices of humour running through the adventures, so now that the stakes (no pun intended…) have inevitably been cranked up, has that sense of fun dissipated, as happened in both the Harry Dresden and Sookie Stackhouse series? No, it hasn’t. I’m delighted to report that Oberon, Atticus’ trusty hound, still brings most life and death topics back to sausages whenever he can, and archdruid Owen, who has only recently been reawakened after being in stasis for a looong time, also provides plenty of humour in his delightfully sour asides on modern life and customs.

However, there has to be a balance – this is a godpunk fantasy adventure, so do the characters convince? Is the supernatural aspect of the world suitably depicted with plenty of complexity and depth? Is the action exciting? This three-stranded approach worked really well – I like all three characters and Hearne has each one nailed, though these days, I suppose my favourite has to be Owen, who bounces off the page with his grumpy, individual take on the world. I also enjoyed watching Granuaile gain more confidence as she is off on a quest of her own – and making decisions she is aware won’t necessarily please Atticus. As for the Iron Druid himself – his talent for upsetting the wrong people is still getting him into more trouble than he knows what to do with. And I really liked watching him genuinely flail and agonise over some of the decisions he has to make.

In amongst the mayhem and humour, were also some darker moments and once more we lost a major character who has regularly helped Atticus out in the past , which was a shock. Although, it shouldn’t have been – Hearne has never been afraid to kill off a steady stream of major players throughout the series. It’s a trick that certainly keeps me paying attention during the battle scenes.

As for the climax of the book – a set piece battle in the heart of a European city that worked really well and provided plenty of thrills and spills. Oh yes, I really enjoyed this offering – all the more because it is the penultimate book in the series and I’m aware that this blast of pleasure will continue only once more. But if you haven’t yet followed Atticus through his various scrapes with other supernatural beings, then whatever you do – don’t go looking for Staked – instead, get hold of Hounded.
10/10

Review of The Shadow Pavilion – Book 4 of The Inspector Chen series by Liz Williams

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I first published this review back when a very select few were visiting my blog, so thought I’d recycle it as it has only been seen by a handful of visitors…

shadowpavilionA bit fed up with your urban fantasy detectives? Well, if you do fancy a change from the plethora of vampires and/or werewolves that frequent city streets righting wrongs – then look no further than the Inspector Chen books by Liz Williams.

Set in a near-futuristic city, Singapore Three, Inspector Chen is a Chinese police officer whose remit takes him into Heaven and Hell to investigate crimes. Having said that, the vivid characters surrounding him easily eclipse our self-effacing hero. Chen’s wife is a half-demon on the run from Hell and her pet protector is a badger whose lethal persistence are matched only by his bite and ability to turn himself into a teakettle. Williams even manages to make the Celestial Emperor, Mhara, an intriguing personality – which is a feat. Ineffable goodness, while very pleasant, is often rather boring, except in Williams’ hands…

Singapore Three, Heaven and Hell are described with panache in Williams’ vivid prose. This particular story follows the adventures of a Bollywood director who summons up a Tiger demoness to star in one of his films. However, when he tries to send her back, a trail of destruction is unleashed that pulls in Chen’s partner and the badger. And if that wasn’t enough, the fabled Shadow Pavilion houses a formidable assassin, Lord Lady Seijin, contracted to kill an extremely important personage. If Seijin succeeds, the fragile stability of Heaven, Hell and Earth will dissolve into chaos…

Williams’ lush prose whips this story along at a cracking pace. Now that I’ve read previous Inspector Chen novels, know the characters and fully appreciate the world she has created, I was able to relax and thoroughly enjoy the ride. But – and it’s a major But – I didn’t start this series with the first book and I nearly didn’t bother finishing it. This world is so very different with its richly textured Eastern origins, that I was frankly floundering until I read the first novel, Snake Agent. So do, please, read these books in order, or you won’t get the best out of Williams’ entertaining, sophisticated writing.
8/10

Review of Shattered – Book 7 of the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne

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This long-running and established godpunk series is still going strong, with a number of short stories and novellas also adding to the main novels, which is why this sixth novel is regarded as the seventh addition to the series. So has Hearne managed to sustain the quality and chirpy energy that characterised the earlier books? Though if you haven’t yet read any of these books, please don’t start with Shattered as this series is simply too good to dive in and try to pick up the complicated and action-packed backstory – go and track down the first book, Hounded, see my review here. I’ve also reviewed the third book, Hammered here.

For nearly two thousand years, there was only one Druid left walking the earth – Atticus O’Sullivan, whose sharp wit and sharp swordshattered kept him alive when pursued by a pantheon of hostil deities. Now he’s got company. Atticus’s apprentice, Granuaile, is finally a full Druid herself. What’s more, Atticus has defrosted an archdruid long ago frozen in time, a father figure (of sorts) who goes by the name Owen Kennedy. Between busting Atticus’s chops and trying to fathom a cell phone, Owen has some catching up to do. For Atticus, the jury’s still out on whether he’ll be an asset in the battle with Norse god Loki – or merely a pain in the arse. As the trio deals with pestilence-spreading demons and frenzied Fae, they’re hoping that this time… three’s a charm.

There are relatively few series that I follow longer than Book 4, because they all tend to get steadily grimmer with each book – for the very good reason that in order to keep readers entertained, the stakes have to continue to be raised. However Hearne has managed to pull off a really clever trick – despite the fact that the Big Bad is definitely closing in, the sparky humour that characterised the earlier books is still very much in evidence. Partly this is because of Atticus’s relationship with his hound, Oberon, who has a thing for sausages and poodles, and partly because Owen’s voice in this particular book just bounces off the page. After being defrosted after two thousand years, he is the ultimate grumpy old git and the friction with his former pupil, who he clearly ruled with the ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ method of training provides an entertaining extra twist of conflict. It was interesting to see his interaction with characters who treat Atticus with caution, or outright hostility and gave us another take on some of the characters who we have only ever regarded previously as potential enemies.

I really enjoyed the three-way first person narrative by the main protagonists. It certainly keeps the plot humming while we swing between them as they face different challenges and dangers. It takes real skill to be able to give each character a different voice, but Hearne pulls it off. As ever, the world is vividly depicted with a host of intriguing, dangerous and capricious gods, goddesses and other supernatural beings – even Jesus makes an appearance.

The other main character is Atticus’s apprentice and in this book, when she is off adventuring in her own right, we also get a slice of her backstory. I really enjoyed her character progression – the fact that she is very environmentally aware and worries about killing in a way that simply doesn’t affect either Atticus or Owen marks her out as more modern. Her story that is the one which has stayed with me – and the dangling plotpoint that leaves her dealing with a major problem means I shall be eagerly waiting for the next book, Staked. Not to mention getting to sample more of fecking Owen Kennedy… This is a series that just goes on getting better.
10/10

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 Age of Aztec – Book 4 in the Pantheon series by James Lovegrove

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The date is 4 Jaguar 1 Monday 1 House; November 25th 2012 by the old reckoning. The Aztec Empire rules the world, in the name of Quetzalcoatl – the Feathered Serpent – and her brother gods. The Aztec reign is one of cruel and ruthless oppression, fuelled by regular human sacrifice. In the jungle-infested city of London, one man defies them: the masked vigilante known as the Conquistador.  Mal Vaughan, one of the Jaguar Warriors, who police affairs in London, is determined to track down and put a stop to the Conquistador – a determination honed by the knowledge that if she doesn’t deliver, her life will be forfeit…

ageofaztecThis is the fourth offering in Lovegrove’s wonderful series that has humans locked in a struggle with various unreasonable deities from different periods in history. As one review commented, Lovegrove is vigorously carving out a godpunk subgenre. So, the question has to be, does Age of Aztec live up to the high standard set by previous offerings in the series?

We follow the exploits of the Conquistador as he rebels against the might of the Aztec Empire for his own reasons – a personal tragedy that sums up, for him, all that is wrong with the current regime. Britain had been one of the last countries on the planet to fall under Aztec domination and as a patriot, the Conquistador – or Stuart Reston, to use his everyday identity – yearns for the country’s lost freedom. But as the chase between Stuart and Mal intensifies, the unique twists that Lovegrove has made his own in this series transform this book into something far cleverer and more memorable.

Readable and engrossing, this page-turner has its own share of dark humour as well as well-rounded protagonists that we care about. Lovegrove’s smart intellect shines through his prose and shows in the pin-sharp perfection of his pacing and plot structure. The startling backdrop – London simmers in equatorial heat as monkeys and creepers infest the streets with ziggurats littering the landscape – is well described without holding up the action. Which is just as well, because this book starts with a bang and doesn’t let up till the final, shocking climax.

As you may have gathered, I really enjoyed this book – it’s one of my outstanding reads of the year, so far. But don’t take my word for it – grab a copy and allow yourself to be whisked up by the adventure. You’ll be thanking me if you do…
10/10