Wednesday, September 28, 2011

New Arrivals

This week I received a great collection of books for review.

First up is Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F Hamilton. This is a collection of short stories by my favourite space opera author. The photo doesn't do the cover justice. Both the title and author name is embossed, which gives it a nice 3D look and works very well with the futuristic artwork.

The second book I received is Heirs of the Blade by Adrian Tchaikovsky. The cover is simply amazing. I love the covers Jon Sullivan did for Neal Asher's books and it seems he's just as adapt at creating stunning artwork for a fantasy series. Unfortunately I haven't read any of the other books in the Shadows of the Apt series so it's going to be quite some time before I can get to this one. I have a lot of catching up to do.

A huge thanks to Kelly from Pan Macmillan SA for sending these to me.

The second batch of books I got consists of a reissue edition of Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson, a very shiny hardcover edition of The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore and Hell Ship by Philip Palmer.
Thanks to Adeline from Penguin Books SA.

I'm in absolute book heaven right now. So if you guys don't hear from me for a couple of weeks you'll know the reason why!

Review: The A-Men

Title: The A-Men
Author: John Trevillian
Pages: 403
ISBN: 9781848763432
Series: The A-Men #1
Publisher: Matador
Published: March 2010
Genre: Science Fiction
Source: Review copy from author

Buy it from:
Amazon (Hardback)
Kindle (US)

Also available as free podcast

Jack is a man with no memory awakening in a dark and dangerous metropolis on the eve of its destruction. The only clue to his former life: a handwritten note in the pages of a book of faerie tales entitled Forevermore.

Marked for death in a peace-keeping force sent to quell the riots, he finds sanctuary and survival with other renegades on the streets of Dead City. Battling to survive they form the infamous A-Men, misfits who have a unifying dream: to be special. Yet that is until their paths cross with Dr Nathaniel Glass and his mysterious experiment locked deep beneath the Phoenix Tower.

Mixing dark future, noir and urban fantasy, join The Nowhereman, Sister Midnight, Pure, D’Alessandro and the 23rdxenturyboy as they fight for their lives on a non-stop ride into a nightmarish world of ultra-violence.

If the world’s going to end, pray it doesn’t end like this.

The A-Men is one of those novels that require perseverance. It took me more than 100 pages before I was actually drawn into the world crafted by John Trevillian. It’s difficult to pinpoint the cause, but I think it’s largely due to the fact that you are thrown into this strange world without any real preamble. As the story progresses you slowly start to get a handle and then the perspective changes and you are left questioning what you thought was true. This was quite confusing and often frustrating. The best way to describe the A-Men would be to think of Mad Max-style gangs in a metropolis with a few elements from the Matrix thrown in.

The story is told in the first perspective through the eyes of five characters, with each chapter devoted to a single character. The central character is Jack (The Nowhereman) who wakes on board a spaceship, the XSS Scheherazade, without any memory of who he is or how he came to be there. His only tie to his past is a tattered book of faerie tales called Forevermore. As he searches for his true identity he encounters the various other characters and they ultimately form a gang called the A-Men. Together they have to struggle to survive in a world left in chaos after the big corporations (who essentially run and own everything) decide to move their operations to space.

All the characters have a distinct voice and viewpoint. I found Jack, Esther (Sister Midnight), Benjamin (23RDXENTURYBOY) and Nathaniel Glass (D’Allesandro) the most interesting while the addition of Susannah (Pure) felt like an afterthought. The first half of the novel was quite exciting and action-packed. I really liked the nail-biting confrontation with the Grim Reapers and their six-armed leader, but unfortunately things went downhill from there.

The appearance of the gun-toting gang of cosmetically altered beauty queens, the Burger Queens, stretched my suspension of disbelief beyond breaking point and brought the novel into the territory of plain weirdness. When the Burger Queens save Susannah and her transvestite friend Lucille they get a cosmetic surgery makeover with “designer minds” thrown in too. People are struggling to survive, there’s barely any power left and still the Burger Queens have access to cosmetic surgeons and advanced technology. Really?!

After Jack reaches the one man who holds the key to his past he suddenly loses interest and wonders off to take a mini vacation with his newfound love, Susannah. It really brought the whole pacing of the story to a complete halt and made very little sense in the overall scheme of things.

The A-Men does redeem itself somewhat once it gets back on track with a gripping finale and a very emotional and touching parting between two of the characters.

The Verdict:
The A-Men has some very interesting concepts and themes. Unfortunately it loses the plot somewhat and goes off on a bizarre tangent which just leaves you frustrated and confused. I was left with more questions than answers and felt that some of the more interesting elements were left unexplored. The gratuitous use of swear words also detracted from the story and might offend more sensitive readers. I loved some parts and others simply didn't work for me. Ultimately this is one of those novels you will have to read for yourself to make up your mind.

The Rating: 5/10 (Average)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Review: The End Specialist

Title: The End Specialist / The Postmortal
Author: Drew Magary
Pages: 400
ISBN: 9780007429080
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2011
Genre: Science fiction
Source: ARC copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

"You got me. I don't want to die. I'm terrified of death. I fear there's nothing beyond it and that this existence is the only one I'll ever possess. That's why I'm here." 
(An excerpt from the digital journal of John Farrell, cure age 29)

2019. Humanity has witnessed its greatest scientific breakthrough yet: the cure for ageing. Three injections and you're immortal -- not bulletproof or disease-proof but you'll never have to fear death by old age.

For John Farrell, documenting the cataclysmic shifts to life after the cure becomes an obsession. Cure parties, cycle marriages, immortal livestock: the world is reveling in the miracles of eternal youth. But immortality has a sinister side, and when a pro-death terrorist explosion kills his newly-cured best friend, John soon realizes that even in a world without natural death, there is always something to fear.

Now, John must make a new choice: run and hide forever, or stay and fight those who try to make immortal life a living hell.

You’d think that finding a cure for ageing would be a cause to celebrate, but it turns out that immortality will kill us all. The End Specialist (also known as The Postmortal in the US) explores the devastating consequences such a cure would bring about in the best “what if” scenario I’ve read in a long time.

The story unfolds in the form of blog entries (or an online journal) written over the span of sixty years by a lawyer called John Ferrall. It chronicles his life in meticulous detail as he receives the cure at age 29 and the struggles he has to face as a Postmortal. In later life John becomes an End Specialist, a sanctioned killer for the US government tasked with assisting those people who choose to bring an end to their lives. As the situation worsens the End Specialists are forced to become sanctioned executioners of criminals, pro-death terrorists and those deemed too “old”. 

While the story follows the life of John Ferrall it is primarily about exploring the consequences the cure has on society. Marriages become rare and everyone wants to get a divorce. Nobody wants to be tied down to one person when “until death do us part” could mean thousands of years. The old generation never makes way for the new generation. Unemployment skyrockets, lifetime achievements become meaningless, resources become increasingly scarce and outrageously expensive as the worldwide population spirals out of control. Pro-death terrorists create havoc planting bombs and scaring or mutilating those who have received the cure.  Mothers even go so far as creating Peter Pan babies, curing their babies so they can stay cute and cuddly forever. It is clear things can’t end well…   

I really enjoyed how well-thought-out the far-reaching consequences of the cure was. Drew Magary has a talent for extrapolating a vast and believable world from a seemingly basic concept. There were lots of things I would never even have considered and some of them are quite disturbing.

The blog post format really works well and makes for a compelling read. The last chapter really stood out for me. It was very well-written and I really didn’t expect the dark, bittersweet ending.

The Verdict:
I really enjoyed The End Specialist. It was funny, tragic and surreal at times, but thought-provoking throughout. The ending is spectacular and took me by surprise. This is definitely worth a read!

The Rating: 7/10 (Good)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Review: Den of Thieves

Title: Den of Thieves
Author: David Chandler
Pages: 439
ISBN: 9780007384181
Series: Ancient Blades #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository
Born and raised in the squalid depths of the Free City of Ness, Malden became a thief by necessity. Now he must pay a fortune to join the criminal operation of Cutbill, lord of the underworld—and one does not refuse the master . . . and live.

The coronet of the Burgrave would fulfill Malden’s obligations, though it is guarded by hungry demons that would tear the soul from any interloper. But the desperate endeavor leads to a more terrible destiny, as Malden, an outlaw knight, and an ensorcelled lady must face the most terrifying evil in the land.
Den of Thieves is an exciting heist novel set in a fantastical world filled with magic, demons and a great cast of characters. If you imagine something like Ocean’s Eleven taking place in a fantasy world you’ll have a pretty good feel for what Den of Thieves is all about.

The story takes place in the Free City of Ness, a place where money and status is everything. While inside the city the citizens are free men, but if they should venture outside the city walls they would become villeins – nothing more than slaves to whichever lord manages to capture them first. Only the rich land owners possess true freedom, the ability to travel wherever they like without the threat of slavery hanging over their heads.

Malden, the main character, became a thief out of necessity. He was born the son of a whore, the lowest status of them all, and his only dream is to one day own land of his own and so doing break free from the shackles of his lowly birth. That costs money – lots of it, but before he can even start working towards this goal he has to pay an absurd ransom to the master of thieves, Cutbill, in order to become a member of the thieves’ guild (and to keep himself from dying a gruesome death!). So when he’s hired to steal the Burgrave’s crown he jumps at the opportunity to earn some gold on the side. The only problem is that the crown is far more than it seems and his actions have some dire consequences…

Throughout the story Malden gets to meet some very interesting characters, many of whom later form part of his rag-tag crew for the second, more daring heist. There’s Croy, a knight of the Ancient Blades, who is righteous to the extreme and to whom honor comes before all else; Kemper, the card sharp, a living ghost (it’s a long story); Gurrh, an ogre, and finally Cythera, a beautiful tattooed woman who acts as a shield against magic for the evil sorcerer Hazoth.

The varied characters are all very well-written and engaging. I quickly grew attached to Malden, but also to Croy. His over-the-top righteous view of the world was an interesting counterpoint to Malden’s more pragmatic viewpoint. Chandler is an artist with words and his detailed descriptions really brought the world to life. Some might argue that this adds unnecessary length to the novel, but for me it was a welcome addition which only added to my enjoyment.

As a book lover there was one scene that stood out.
“The book was crawling across the table. It arched its back - its spine - and pushed itself along the scarred wood with its pages like a slug. It was headed for a sausage on a plate and left a trail of drool or slime behind it as it moved...

He watched the book move for a moment, fascinated by its silent slithering. Then he drew his bodkin and brought the point down hard through the cover of the book. The thing flapped and shook for a moment, then a trickle of black ink ran out from underneath its dead pages.”
Who doesn’t love a killer book!

The plot twists kept me on my toes and the pacing made for an engrossing read. There is a slight lull in the middle, but the last half of the book really picks up the pace. While this is the first novel in the Ancient Blades trilogy the ending is gratifying and the novel can stand very well on its own. Luckily the UK editions of the rest of the trilogy are already available so there’s no lengthy wait. I want to see more of this world, especially more about the Ancient Blades!

The Verdict:
I know it’s a cliché but Den of Thieves really has it all. There are great characters, hilarious moments, nerve-racking pursuits, heroic battles, magical artifacts, a damsel in distress and even a tale of love triumphing over grim circumstances. While Chandler uses many of the well-known fantasy tropes there’s enough of a twist to them to keep things fresh and interesting.

I really loved Den of Thieves and I can’t wait to get my hands on A Thief in the Night and Honour Among Thieves. I’m sure the larger story arc will have some stunning surprises. This is definitely well worth a read!

The Rating: 7.5/10 (Very good)

Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New Arrivals

I've been lucky this week with a whole batch of books arriving at once. All these arrived on Monday after undergoing long and lengthy journeys while traversing the perils of the international postal system.

First up is an order from Better World Books. I love to order from them when I'm looking for stuff that's out of print or when I want to get some hardbacks on the cheap. I got:

Lord of the Silent Kingdom by Glen Cook
Thirteen by Richard K. Morgan
The January Dancer and Up Jim River by Micheal Flynn
Haze by L.E Modesitt Jr.
The Secret of Life by Paul McAuley (Ex-library)
Beyond the Veil of Stars by Robert Reed

The copy of The January Dancer has some sort of stain on the first couple of pages which I wasn't very happy with. The Secret of Life is also an ex-library copy (I ordered a normal used copy). Luckily Better World Books stand by their 100% satisfaction guarantee and refunded me for these two. I'll have to keep my eyes open for replacement copies. The rest are all in great condition for used books.

I also got two books from The Book Depository. Necropath by Eric Brown and The Mandel Files by Peter F. Hamilton. I pre-order The Mandel Files way back in January and Necropath was part of a previous order that got delayed in customs.

For review I received The A-Men by John Trevillian for review (submitted by author) and an ARC copy of The End Specialist by Drew Magary (not pictured).

After a book haul like this I'm an extremely happy book geek!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Review: Prince of Thorns

Title: The Prince of Thorns
Author: Mark Lawrence
Pages: 373
ISBN: 9780007423316
Series: The Broken Empire #1
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Published: 2011
Genre: Fantasy / Epic
Source: Review copy from publisher

Buy it from:
The Book Depository

Once a privileged royal child, raised by a loving mother, Jorg Ancrath has become the Prince of Thorns, a charming, immoral boy leading a grim band of outlaws in a series of raids and atrocities.

The world is in chaos: violence is rife, nightmares everywhere. Jorg's bleak past has set him beyond fear of any man, living or dead, but there is still one thing that puts a chill in him. Returning to his father's castle Jorg must confront horrors from his childhood and carve himself a future with all hands turned against him.
When a novel starts with the protagonist gloating over a village he and his companions have just destroyed and he casually complains about how thirsty killing makes him, you know that you are in for something very different than your run-of-the-mill fantasy. Prince of Thorns is very dark, very gruesome and completely different from most other fantasy stories. It’s precisely this difference that sets it apart and makes it such a great read.

The main character, Jorg Ancrath, is an absolutely ruthless psychopath and he takes far too much pleasure in killing. At fourteen he has fashioned himself the leader of a bloodthirsty band of outlaws, wreaking destruction wherever they go. Two questions immediately popped into my head: What could possibly have happened to this boy to make him such a broken human being and why on earth would a band of criminals follow a mere boy? The answers, when they were revealed, were compelling, and took me utterly by surprise.

The story is set in what initially appears to be an ordinary medieval world, but through various hints and references throughout the story it becomes apparent that this is actually a post-apocalyptic Earth where humanity has reverted back to the dark ages. The fact that some technology still exists plays an important role in the plot, which I thought made for an excellent twist and has lots of potential. As the story progresses the world also becomes ever more fantastical. Ghosts roam the roads, sorcerers and necromancers work their nefarious magic and there are monsters (in both human and humanoid form).  What more could any fantasy fan want?

The writing style is very easy to read and I finished this in one day (just about). Since it’s written in the first person you get a much better feel for Jorg’s dark thoughts, his cold considerations and his motivations, which works very well. Ultimately this is a story about personal revenge, but there are also larger forces at play which opens a world of possibilities to explore in the sequels. While this is the first book in the Broken Empire trilogy it stands very well on its own and you aren’t left with one of those nail-biting cliffhanger endings. 

One word of warning – women aren’t treated very well in the story. When you take into account that most of the characters are ruthless killers this attitude towards women makes complete sense. Luckily it’s limited to a few occasions where rape is mentioned, so nothing graphic.

The Verdict:
Prince of Thorns brings something refreshingly different to the fantasy genre. I was hooked from the very first page and engrossed until the very ending. There are plot twists and political maneuvering to make George R.R Martin proud. You never quite know what to expect and I definitely can’t wait for the rest of the trilogy. Highly recommended!

The second novel, King of Thorns, will be released in August 2012.

The Rating: 8/10 (Great)

Thanks to Claire and Andrea from Jonathan Ball Publishers for the review copy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Neal Asher Cover Awesomeness

Tor UK is releasing some of Neal Asher's backlist today with some awesome new covers by Jon Sullivan. As many of you know I'm a huge Neal Asher fan and these new covers are simply amazing and fits perfectly with the makeover the rest of his backlist has already received.

It's a pity I already own the older editions of these otherwise I would have jumped at the chance to get my hands on them. Feast your eyes on pure awesomeness:

Line War

ISBN 9780330528450 (Buy from The Book Depository)

Prador Moon

ISBN 9780330528467 (Buy from The Book Depository)


ISBN 9780330528474 (Buy from The Book Depository)

The Gabble and Other Stories

ISBN 9780330528481 (Buy from The Book Depository)

And Finally.... The Departure

You'll have to wait a bit longer for this one, but on Monday it's the day you've all been waiting for - the release of The Departure, the first book in the new Owner series which is an absolute must-have for any Neal Asher fan.

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC and I can tell you that Neal doesn't disappoint. If you haven't done so, be sure to read my review of The Departure.

ISBN 9780230708730 (Buy from The Book Depository)