Monday, January 26, 2015

Review: The Forever Watch

Title: The Forever Watch
Author: David Ramirez
Pages: 326
ISBN: 9781444787894
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2014
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from publisher


Buy it from:
The Book Depository

The Noah: a city-sized ship, four hundred years into an epic voyage to another planet. In a world where deeds, and even thoughts, cannot be kept secret, a man is murdered; his body so ruined that his identity must be established from DNA evidence.

Within hours, all trace of the crime is swept away, hidden as though it never happened. Hana Dempsey, a mid-level bureaucrat genetically modified to use the Noah's telepathic internet, begins to investigate. Her search for the truth will uncover the impossible: a serial killer who has been operating on board for a lifetime...if not longer.

And behind the killer lies a conspiracy centuries in the making.

David Ramirez’s debut novel is filled with a smorgasbord of science fiction ideas - a generation ship, a simulated world, psionics, aliens, nanobots and even an emerging artificial intelligence. Cramming all of these concepts into a single novel could be overwhelming and confusing, but The Forever Watch manages to pull it off with a flourish.

Initially it reads as a murder mystery set in a science fictional world, but as the story progresses and the elements start to fall into place it grows in complexity. Nothing is as it seems. In their hunt for a killer the main protagonists, Hana and Leon, discover that the utopian society on board the Noah is only a husk of normalcy build upon secrets and lies.

“Our perfect little world maintained by secrets and a willing acceptance that those above us know better.” (p 161)

Going into detail about the secrets they uncover would spoil the entire experience. Suffice it to say that The Forever Watch is unpredictable, filled with stunning twists and revelations that take the story into unexpected directions. The character’s allegiances and convictions are mutable, they shift and change as they react to the information they uncover. Their choices are complex with terrifying consequences.

All the different elements at play in the story are brought together in a brilliant finale that’s heartbreaking and yet retains a sense of hope. You couldn’t ask for a better conclusion and it makes persevering through the rough spots well worth the effort.

The Forever Watch isn’t without its faults. I found the pacing somewhat uneven, but once the action picked up I was completely drawn into the world. There are some sex scenes that felt overdone and unnecessary and for some reason Hana referring to “her man” on multiple occasions didn’t feel quite true to her strong, independent character.

The Verdict:
The Forever Watch is a complex, unpredictable read overflowing with ideas and new twists on familiar tropes. The characters are well-fleshed out, the world-building is top notch, there’s enough science for hard SF fans, but it’s the stunning finale that will blow you away. It turns out some secrets are worth protecting... Recommended!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Chabi from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Guest Post: Comedy in fantasy

I truly believe that a little comic relief is one of the key ingredients of fantasy, especially epic fantasy. And no, that's not the start of some joke, either.

Would the Lord Of The Rings movies have been as entertaining without a little comedic byplay between Gimli and Legolas? Could we have sat through three movies of The Hobbit without joking between the dwarves and Bombur's physical comedy? Would Game Of Thrones been such a massive hit without Tyrion Lannister's quips?

Epic fantasy requires darkness, but too much darkness can leave your reader depressed. You need a little light to both balance out the darkness and highlight it as well. Chapter after chapter of powerful, emotional writing will eventually leave the reader numb. Give them some light and shade and they appreciate the "serious" scenes even more.

Now I'm certainly not suggesting you need to go all Terry "Discworld" Pratchett and make it an out-and-out comedy. For starters, trying to be the next Terry Pratchett will get you only into one place - the reject pile or, if you're lucky, the bargain bin. Nor should you think you need to come up with lightning one-liners that would be worthy of some Ben Stiller comedy.

Instead, you need to focus on characters. Gimli and Legolas are the classic example. Individually they are serious characters but, put them together and add a little dwarf-elf rivalry and you have plenty of opportunity for comedic action.

As an example, two of my favourite shows as a teenager were Fawlty Towers and Blankety Blanks. The latter was a panel show with a group of comedians competing to come up with the best double entendre. Or, often, single entendre! Every episode was hilarious - but I couldn't repeat one of those jokes if my life depended on it. Fawlty Towers, on the other hand, had such rich characters that innocuous, silly quotes like "Don't mention the war" are enough to get people chuckling.

The key to being memorable wasn't the joke, it was the character.

So I love to create characters that offer that light relief. All of my books have them and in The Last Quarrel, this part is taken by Fallon's friends Gallagher, Devlin and Brendan and by Bridgit's father Padraig. Not only does it allow me to break up some of the darkness that the characters face but it also allows me to play with the readers.

For when you have a comedic character that, all of a sudden, is thrust into a life-or-death situation, the impact on the reader is that much greater. You expect the main characters to be put through the wringer. When the comedic characters are also thrust into the fire, it can create a powerful reaction. I want to make my readers feel a full range of emotions, so if I'm going to make them cry, of course I want to make them laugh as well. Ultimately I want the reader to be thoroughly entertained. And there's no better way than to give them a few laughs in with all the drama and excitement.

More about the author:
Duncan Lay is the author of two best-selling Australian fantasy series, the Dragon Sword Histories and the Empire Of Bones. He writes on the train, to and from his job as production editor of The Sunday Telegraph, Australia’s biggest-selling newspaper.

His latest novel, The Last Quarrel, will be released by Momentum in episodic form with the first installment out on 22 January 2015. To find out more you can visit www.momentumbooks.com.au

Friday, January 9, 2015

2015 is go!

Despite my best intentions the blog has been deathly quiet over the last couple of months. I've had the worst reading slump ever - even worse than the great blight of 2012. I barely managed to read 24 books last year. The worst thing is that there are so many stunning books I REALLY wanted to read. I have review copies I just couldn't get to. And that terrifies me. It feels as if  I've failed miserably.

This year I'm going to try to put less pressure on myself. Blogging has started to feel like work and I need to rediscover the fun and excitement I had when I first started out.  Reading should be fun right?

I'm slowly clawing my way back from the abyss one page at a time. The stack of review copies lurking on my top shelf seem slightly less terrifying now. I'll conquer them yet!
 
Here's hoping that 2015 will be a year devoid of reading slumps, filled with amazing books and the time to read them all.


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