Tag Archives: James Lovegrove

Review of KINDLE Ebook World of Fire – Book 1 of the Dev Harmer Mission series by James Lovegrove

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I had already read the enjoyable World of Water which happens to be the second in the series – and spotted that I actually had the first book in my TBR pile…

Dev Harmer wakes in a new body with every mission, and he has woken this time on Alighieri, a planet perpetually in flames, where the world’s wealth lies below the elemental surface, and humanity is not the only race after it. Dev Harmer, reluctant agent of Interstellar Security Solutions, wakes up in a newly cloned host body on the planet Alighieri, ready for action. It’s an infernal world, so close to its sun that it surface is regularly baked to 1,000°C, hot enough to turn rock to lava. But deep underground there are networks of tunnels connecting colonies of miners who dig for the precious helium-3 regolith deposits in Alighieri’s crust. Polis+, the AI race who are humankind’s great galactic rivals, want to claim the fiery planet’s mineral wealth for their own. All that stands between them and this goal is Dev. But as well as Polis+’s agents, there are giant moleworms to contend with, and a spate of mysterious earthquakes, and the perils of the surface where a man can be burned to cinders if he gets caught unprotected on the day side…

Dev is such an enjoyable character. As ever, this book starts with a bang when poor old Dev, barely able to stand as he is still getting to grips with his new body, which is very nicely described, suddenly finds himself in the middle of an earthquake. And from that moment, Dev is playing catchup on a hostile planet with some heavily vested interests in a body that isn’t his own.

This is just what I needed to keep the misery of flu in the background as I was swept up into this action thriller. Lovegrove’s sense of pacing is always good and as Dev finds himself struggling against an alien race determined to see humanity founder and fail, the pages flipped past where other books I had thought I wanted to read got abandoned. It didn’t hurt that there were also some nice touches of humour in amongst the action and danger. But I simply relaxed and became swept up in Dev’s problems. For me, the highlight was the action in the tunnel when confronting those moleworms.

Lovegrove satisfactorily brings this tale of danger to a suitably exciting close – but I did enjoy the poignancy of poor Dev, doomed to continue on these ridiculously dangerous missions in a series of disposable bodies, until he has earned the right to have his own body back. Checking this out on Goodreads, I note there are only the two books so far – I do hope there are more to come and recommend these for anyone who enjoys a well-written far future action thriller.
8/10

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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?

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Kindle EBOOK World of Water – Book 2 of the Dev Harmer Mission by James Lovegrove

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I was delighted to get my hands on the arc of this new release, as James Lovegrove is one of my favourite authors – see my review of Age of Aztec here. He writes with wit and a wry humour that suffuses his work – and assumes his reader will get the joke…

worldofwaterDev Harmer has landed in a new body on a new planet. He has gills and fins and a chronic malfunction in his genes. With only 72 hours to bring the settlers and natives of a colonised world to peace before his temporary body expires, murder and corruption are the least of his worries. With the indigenous ‘mer-folk’ on the seabed and the human settlers in floating cities on the ocean surface cannibalising the mer-tech in an attempt to force their way into the eco-system, Harmer is in a race against the clock to ensure his mission doesn’t end in abject disaster, a Polis+ coup or genocide.

Yes, this is mostly a straightforward military science fiction sea adventure with special agent Dev Harmer battling to cope against ridiculous odds. And the reason why he’s even bothering? As an ex-soldier who was grievously injured, he has agreed to act as an agent for ISS to earn sufficient points to have his real body repaired to full functionality, as the procedure is extremely expensive. So his personality is ported into a serious of temporary vat-grown hosts specifically designed for each planet where he is sent to discover if humanity’s arch-rivals, the Polis+, are at the bottom of the heightening tensions between the Tritonion mer-folk.

Dev’s sardonic voice gives this story an enjoyable edge as he has to cope with his body’s increasingly unpleasant side effects as it starts to fail. But one of the touches I really enjoyed, is that the Marine corp of soldiers accompanying Dev are all women, including the kickass commander. This is military sci fic at its action-packed best as the adventure hits the ground running and doesn’t let up for an instant, so that I read way later into the night than I’d intended to find out what happens next. There are plenty of satisfying twists in amongst the mayhem, as Dev finds himself ranged against an insanely fierce storm and all sorts of unpleasant marine wildlife keen to sample his new body. While he is coming to some disturbing conclusions as to who is exactly behind the mayhem on Triton…

Yes. There’s a solid reason why well-written sci fi is my all-time favourite genre and when I encounter it, I remember that reason all over again. Forget Easter eggs and all that chocolate nonsense – I’m buying myself the first book in the Dev Harmer series as an Easter pressie just from me to me…
10/10

Teaser Tuesday – 15th March 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:

World of Water – Book 2 of the Dev Harmer Mission by James Lovegroveworldofwater

83%: The Ice King had sunk out of sight. Dev hoped it had slouched off somewhere to tend to its wound, but he doubted it. The bastard thing wasn’t going to give up that easily.

BLURB – Dev Harmer has landed in a new body on a new planet. He has gills and fins and a chronic malfunction in his genes. With only 72 hours to bring the settlers and natives of a colonised world to peace before his temporary body expires, murder and corruption are the least of his worries.
With the indigenous ‘mer-folk’ on the seabed and the human settlers in floating cities on the ocean surface cannibalising the mer-tech in an attempt to force their way into the eco-system, Harmer is in a race against the clock to ensure his mission doesn’t end in abject disaster, a Polis+ coup or genocide.

I’m really enjoying this one – military sci fi, but being James Lovegrove, with a tongue-in-cheek twist. I somehow missed the start of this series, but after I’ve completed this NetGalley arc, I’m going to be tracking it down as a priority…

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.

Review of Sherlock Holmes: Gods of War by James Lovegrove

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Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I really enjoy Lovegrove’s writing – see my review of The Age of Odin here – so I was intrigued when I came across this offering on the shelves. I also happen to be a fan of Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories, though it was a while ago when I read them. I love the way his bluff, good hearted doctor is the mouthpiece for the complicated, haunted genius of Holmes. So – does Lovegrove’s addition to the Holmes’ canon pay due respect to the original, while adding fresh exciting stories?

godsofwarIt is 1913 and Dr Watson is visiting Sherlock Holmes at his retirement cottage near Eastbourne when tragedy strikes: the body of a young man, Patrick Mallinson, is found under the cliffs of Beachy Head. The dead man’s father, a wealthy businessman, engages Holmes to prove that his son committed suicide, the result of a failed love affair with an older woman. However, Holmes quickly discovers that certain aspects of the case simply don’t add up – not helped by the hostile attitude of the local constabulary. But when someone attempts to murder Dr Watson, the stakes are raised to a shocking and unexpected climax…

I’ve fiddled around a bit with the blurb, but that sums up more or less the gist of it. Lovegrove’s rendition of his main protagonist, Dr Watson, is pretty much pitch perfect. There is more than a nod to the language and phrasing of the time while keeping it suitably streamlined for modern tastes, which takes a degree of skill to pull off. I also liked Watson’s occasional gusts of annoyance at Holmes’ erratic behaviour, and his fond reminiscences of some of their earlier adventures.

Though both men are now in their twilight years, this is a full-blooded adventure involving desperate clifftop chases in thick fog, kidnapping, murder and attempted murder – several times. So does Lovegrove pull this off? What we don’t want is the Frost scenario where poor old David Jason, overweight and clearly unfit, once more is seen to be running down young men more than half his age and in their physical prime. Fortunately Lovegrove is far too canny to fall into such an obvious hole. In fact, Dr Watson spends a great deal of time grumbling about how he really isn’t up to all this excitement – and is made quite ill by his adventuring. I also liked the notion that Holmes’ housekeeper, Mrs Tuppen, feeds him quantities of a homemade concoction that sounds suspiciously like slippery elm, amongst other things, which has him on his feet again in next to no time.

Some of their exploits strain plausibility – but then, so did some of the original stories. What I love about this tale is that it starts quite slowly, steadily accelerates and doesn’t let up until the end. Which I didn’t see coming. I’d worked out who had done it, but not exactly why or all the ramifications. As ever, Lovecraft’s clever, nuanced plots has extra layers that resonate and I’ve found myself thinking a lot about this story, despite having now read a couple of other books in the meantime.

I shall be looking out other books published by Titan Books in this series – George Mann and Guy Adams are other contributors, also strong, skilful writers whose work I admire and enjoy. And treat upon treat – I’ve also discovered that James Lovegrove has written another Sherlock Holmes book – The Stuff of Nightmares. How can I resist?
9/10

Review of The Age of Odin by James Lovegrove

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I’ve been promising myself this treat for a while – though what with one thing and another, I simply didn’t get around to it. But based on the other offerings in this intriguing godpunk series – see my review of the Age of Aztec here, and my review of The Age of Ra here – I was in for a thoroughly enjoyable read. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, this isn’t a series where you need to read these books in any particular order. The only common theme is that they are about a pantheon of gods – each story is set in a completely different world with unrelated, disparate protagonists.

ageofodinGideon Coxall was a good soldier but bad at everything else, until a roadside explosive device leaves him with one deaf ear and a British Army half-pension. So when he hears about the Valhalla Project, it’s like a dream come true. They’re recruiting former service personnel for excellent pay, no questions asked, to take part in unspecified combat operations. The last thing Gid expects is to find himself fighting alongside ancient Viking gods. The world is in the grip of one of the worst winters it has ever known, and Ragnarők – the fabled final conflict of the Sagas – is looming.

Gideon bounces off the page right the start. His sarcastic commentary on the ashes of his life after his terrible accident pulled me in and had me fiercely on his side – which is just as well, because as the story progresses he does some unpleasant things. Of course he does – this is war. And Lovegrove isn’t going to provide us with all the military excitement through some prism that sanitises the bloody brutality of it all. Be warned – Lovegrove also isn’t afraid of killing off main characters.

However, I learnt several books ago, if you relax into the journey and trust this author, he doesn’t disappoint or let you down. And once more, he majorly delivered. This world of the Norse gods has Odin, haunted by past mistakes and grittedly determined not to let the forces ranged against this diminished version of Valhalla get the better of them. I loved that Odin’s pragmatic attitude means they now use mechanical means instead of some of the dire beasts of the past. So the Valkyries swoop across the snowscape on souped-up snowmobiles, and the fabled eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, is replaced by a huge helicopter. It doesn’t mean that all magical creatures are gone, though. The Jotun, the ice giants, are all too evident in this world, as are trolls and packs of ravenous wolves.

Lovegrove weaves a tale of desperate odds and savage encounters – not dissimilar to the flavour of the old Norse legends, themselves. And it is this echo of the original myths that makes Lovegrove’s godpunk such a joy. His style allows readers to easily access his stories on the level of joyous adventure – but there are also tongue-in-cheek allusions and humorous extras for those who know the gods and their stories well enough. As you may have gathered, I’m something of a fan – and this book has only increased my  appreciation of this author. In my opinion, he’s one of the sharpest, best writers in speculative fiction we have. Don’t take my word for it – go and track down one of his books and see for yourself…

10/10

Talking About the Weather…

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I tend to do it a lot on Twitter. During the last few years I’ve whimpered – online and at home – about the long, miserably gloomy winters we’ve endured and whined about the disappointing dank summers. I was always aware the weather affected my mood – but didn’t really realise just how much until this heatwave started.

summer photoI wake up with the sunshine blazing through the curtains and a grin crawling across my face before I’m properly awake. Things that would normally have me cursing under my breath and bad temperedly slamming kitchen cupboards now get a mere shrug in response. I’m ridiculously happy. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, I’m sweaty. But the light levels flooding the house and the luxury of having the back door open ALL DAY is just marvellous. I skip around the kitchen singing…

So when I read books where the weather hardly gets a mention, I’m aware there is a thinness in the scene setting – even if I don’t immediately realise why. And when books do a particularly good job of weaving the weather into the plot, it just feels… right.

In science fiction and fantasy there are a number of stories that hinge around major weather events, so they become the engine of the plot. Rachel Caine’s Weather Warden series, where Joanne Baldwin is part of an elite secret force fighting to save millions from catastrophic meteorological events, is a classic example. Caine’s entertaining, snappy writing and high octane action makes this an enjoyable read, although like many long-running series, it does get steadily darker as it progresses.

Tim Lebbon’s The Island is an interesting offering – the cataclysmic storm that creates havoc brings another threat theislandalong in its wake and only one person in the devastated fishing community is aware of just how dangerous the newcomers may be. The storm is an agent of change and misery – and makes the community a whole lot more vulnerable to any kind of danger. Lebbon fully exploits that sense of nationshock and chaos – and rising sense of wrongness. Terry Pratchett’s Nation takes a similar event – a devastating tsunami – to reshape the lives of two young people who are literally flung together in a survival situation. It is supposedly a YA novel – though I think it should be required reading for every politician on the planet, but the vivid description of the killing wave was heart-wrenching and immediately ensured that readers felt sympathetic and protective of both young protagonists.

James Lovegrove’s Age of Aztec uses the stifling humid conditions to emphasise his unusual setting of a jungle-strewn London, dotted with ziggurats, and to also enhance the sense of pervading wrongness and menaceageofaztec. Britain, the last bastion of freedom against the Aztec Empire, has at last been conquered. The weather doesn’t present the kind of drama the other books I’ve mentioned have offered – but the oppressive heat effectively mirrors doomsdaythe subjugation of the population. And Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book gives the same energy to the action, by providing a strong feeling of rising tension in the bad weather that accompanies Kilvrin, a young Oxford-based historian who in 2054 travels back in time to explore medieval life. However, due to a number of factors, she ends up in the wrong time and place, entirely at the mercy of a tiny community in deep mid-Winter, who are suddenly afflicted by a terrible illness. Without any modern comforts, the bitter weather becomes a constant challenge.

What all these books have in common, is that they provide us with readable, convincing settings – including the weather. And if I ever need a reminder as to just how vital that ingredient is, I’ll just recall my sunny response to this year’s heatwave.

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