Thursday, 19 November 2009

Book Reviews

The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks
Max Brooks
Gerald Duckworth & Co Ltd

Available from 26th November - £12.99
Review by Blake Harmer

Zombies seem to have become very popular in the land of horror fiction over the last few years. From comics such as Marvel Zombies and The Walking Dead through to collections of zombie themed short stories and Max Brooks’s previous works (The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z) it seems as though everyone is going zombie mad. So it is with no surprise that Max Brooks has released a new addition to his zombie franchise, but this time it’s a graphic novel.

The graphic novel has a narrator detailing zombie uprisings that have occurred throughout history and shows how each of the uprisings were dealt with and covered up. It also shows that certain historical events, which we have taken as fact could have been humanity’s attempts to stop any future zombie outbreaks.

Because of the way that the stories have been told, especially those that are set further back in time, a lot of the comic is without any dialogue and is just showing what is happening. Normally involving lots of zombies eating people. The standout stories in the book are the ones that change history to fit in with Brooks’s universe. For example, the Egyptians removed the brain during mummification to stop bodies reanimating rather than just for ceremonial purposes, and also that Hadrian’s wall was built to protect from further zombie attacks rather than to keep barbarians out.

However, it is this method of storytelling that leads to the book’s biggest downfall. Because of the way the narrator is summarising events from the past whilst the artwork shows what is happening, the lack of any heavy dialogue means that each story relies heavily on the artwork to convey the story. Whilst this does work for most of the book, I found that there were a couple of sections where the artwork didn’t clearly show what was happening which made the story a little confusing until the narrator stepped in to clear it up a few panels later. Another downside is that a lot of the stories (if not all of them) appear to be taken from World War Z, and I think it would have been nice to have a few more original stories in the book rather than just a collection of World War Z in pictures.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence:
Lots of zombie killing and flesh biting, as you would expect from a comic about zombies.
Sex/Nudity: a couple of boob shots but nothing sexual happens in the book.
Swearing: None.
Summary: All in all, this is a nicely presented package and a worthy addition to your collection of all things zombie related, especially if you are already a fan of Max Brooks’s works, despite the lack of new material. People who haven’t read the books will enjoy the little zombie related stories even though the comic doesn’t compare to the sheer awesomeness of The Walking Dead series. Definitely worth having a look at if horror is your bag though. 7/10

Zombies: A Record Of The Year Of Infection
Chris Lane Don Roff
Simon and Schuster Ltd
Available now: RRP £14.99
Review by Rob Wade

Zombies: A Record Of The Year Of Infection chronicles a fictional character's survival through a year of zombie infection. The diary is also illustrated throughout, as the protagonist serves to make this diary worth something to society in the event of its discovery. The concept of an illustrated diary is an interesting one, particularly as The Pop-Up Anne Frank didn't catch on.

This book is an interesting concept, with the illustrations of a high quality. Think somewhere along the lines of The Walking Dead, and you're along the right lines. It's got a good style, quite visceral and only uses reds against a pale background for added effect. The look is quite a good one, and does feel a bit like a diary illustrated by an amateur artist (although are you honestly telling me that this guy had access to this sort of stationery the whole way through the year?)

July 13th: Got another red biro. Just in time it seems.

I have to say though, this book seems to try very hard to become a seminal work in zombie fiction, but falls short. Ultimately, the problem is that it just underwhelms and is a little bit of a cop-out when it tries to define itself among the true greats. For example, the author has a chance to settle the question of whether or not zombies are able to run, and COPS OUT of the question. Tragic. By the way, they can't, ok? Don't kid yourself.

The problem I've got with this book is not that it's a bad book by any means. It's an interesting read, and a perfectly decent zombie book. It's just that it's simply that. A perfectly decent zombie book. Not a fantastic zombie book, not a superb zombie book. A decent one.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Plenty of violence, but nothing particularly gruesome save the ending.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Very little.
Summary: What could be an essential purchase falls short by just not pushing the boundaries sufficiently to define any new territory, and by not going into sufficient depth in the established territory of zombie literature to really establish itself as a work of really noticeable quality. 6/10
An ancient, supernatural, sentient weapon of unparalleled destructive force that also holds a seemingly limitless potential for protecting its bearer, the Witchblade has been coveted and sought throughout history by countless men eager to control it. But for reasons unknown, this fearsome artefact can only be bestowed upon a woman, chosen by the blade itself and one whose fate will forever be scarred by the burden of its power.

After being found barely conscious at the epicentre of a devastating earthquake that almost wiped Japan from the face of the earth, single mother Masane Amaha has existed on the fringes of society, constantly on the run from the agents of the Child Welfare Ministry who are concerned for the safety of Masane's young daughter, Rihoko. But Masane's true destiny was written long ago…

Finally tracked down by the Agency, Masane finds herself behind bars as Rihoko is taken into protective custody. Concerned only with retrieving her daughter, Masane is overwhelmed by a force beyond comprehension as the Witchblade reveals itself to its new host. But getting Rihoko back proves to be the least of Masane's worries. The eyes of a giant corporation known as the Doji Group have been watching and waiting for the mythical weapon to reappear and now they believe they have found what they were looking for.

One of the most beautifully produced and impressive looking anime series in recent memory, Witchblade also boasts an unusually emotive and involving storyline that posits a moving mother-daughter relationship saga against the backdrop of an explosive supernatural action-adventure.

Thanks to our friends at MVM, we've got two copies of the complete series box set to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to witchbladegiveaway@rocketmail.com with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 26th November (UK time). The first two names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy of this awesome series!
The Twilight Saga: New Moon
Stephenie Meyer
Atom

Available Now - £9.99
Review by Brad Harmer

For Bella Swan, there is one thing more important than life itself: Edward Cullen. But being in love with a vampire is more dangerous than Bella ever could have imagined. Edward has already rescued Bella from the clutches of an evil vampire but now, as their daring relationship threatens all that is near and dear to them, they realise their troubles may just be beginning...

To say that Meyer’s prose is “heavy-handed” would be an understatement. I think this the only time in life that foreshadowing has given me a concussion. As if the “hint” about werewolves in the first book wasn’t bad enough, she starts hamming it up within thirty pages, they don’t actually make an appearance until about two-thirds in, where, surprise-surprise, Bella is totally unfazed by them. Sure she’s been making out with a vampire for six months, but I’m fairly sure that another supernatural creature turning up would at least make her pause a little.

“Huh. Cthulhu is our new lecturer? And he has a crush on me? That is a little odd.”

Things progress in a relatively similar manner to the first instalment. Bella has to make a choice as to who she wants to go out with – the pale, arrogant cockpouch who spent pretty much the entire first book being a complete dick, and who then dumps her in the first fifty pages of this one; or the motor-cycle riding Native American werewolf. See if you can guess who she goes for.

Whilst the prose and characters are a significant improvement over the first instalment, the whole story just feels unnecessary. Nothing really changes between the beginning and the end of the story. Fans will no doubt love and adore it, like fans of other franchises adore their shitty/pointless instalments (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Attack of the Clones, etc.).

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence:
Some vampire scuffling, but most violence is by second-hand description.
Sex/Nudity: Some snogging. Not much. I will, however, say that any relationship between a human and a vampire is technically bestiality. Think about it.
Swearing: None.
Summary: More interesting and believable than the first book, although much is merely set dressing for the books that follow. Werewolves FTW. 8/10

The Penguin Complete Sherlock Holmes
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Penguin/Viking Royal

Available Now - £30.00 (Hardback) and £18.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Sherlock Holmes is not only the most famous character in crime fiction, but arguably the most famous character in all fiction. In sixty adventures that pit his wit and courage against foreign spies, blackmailers, cultists, petty thieves, murderers, swindlers, policemen (both stupid and clever), and his arch-nemesis Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes, together with his faithful sidekick Dr. John H. Watson, proves himself to be not only the quintessential detective but also the most engaging and entertaining company any reader could ask for.

I first read Sherlock Holmes when I was eleven, re-read all of them when I was twenty-two, and have now just re-read them, aged twenty-seven for this review. It seems that no matter how old I was, or what other interests I had, I have always loved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Sherlock Holmes. Which is not really that surprising, because now, as always, they’re excellent.

Whilst never really “whodunits” in the traditional sense, as it’s all but (and sometimes, completely) impossible for the reader to make any attempt at solving the case before Holmes does; they are excellent adventure stories. It never seems to matter that they aren’t “fair”, but rather you’re blown away by exactly how awesome Holmes is. And Watson has his moments, to be fair.

The majority of the work is out of copyright, of course, so online versions are easy enough to find, but having it all in one chunky volume like this is a real pleasure. This would make an excellent Christmas present for at least one person you know.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some murderising, scuffling, shooting and boxing.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An outstanding compilation of one of the greatest characters the world has ever seen. If you don’t already own a copy, this is well worth investing in. 10/10

Legend: 25th Anniversary Edition
David Gemmell
Orbit
Available Now - RRP £7.99
Review by Rob Wade

Legend is a fantasy story somewhere in between Lord of the Rings and Conan in terms of storyline. The kingdom of the Drenai is under threat from a brilliant tactician, and the city of Dros Delnoch is his target. In order to successfully defend the city, the Earl must do all he can to muster his forces. From all corners of the kingdom he has armies on their way, but will their arrival be too late? Also, will the re-appearance of the man named Druss the Legend allow the defenders one last glorious battle against insurmountable odds?

I initially thought I wasn't going to enjoy this book. I found the prologue overly long-winded and it seemed to be trying to throw too many names into the mix too quickly. Thankfully, the book is sufficiently well written to allow for a decent amount of narrative flow and the characters really feel like they've jumped off the page into your mind. They are THAT easy to imagine. Within the first few chapters of the book, I had an image of the main characters in my head without any problems (it's always nice when a book is sufficiently well written to allow this to happen without too much trouble). Casting the book as a Hollywood blockbuster was trickier, but only because I would have cast Sean Connery as Druss, and although that character is getting on a bit, there are different levels of that aren't there?

The novel is extremely exciting from start to finish, coming along at a decent pace. The action sections are quick yet clear, which is something fairly difficult to do in fantasy. Everything transitions really easily from section to section (otherwise the psychic characters would just get fucking confusing). The story is extremely solid, taking all the best elements from the classic fantasy authors without feeling at any point like it's a shameless rip-off.

What's nice about it though is that the story, despite being a fantasy novel, has a serious sense of believability to it. The characters are human beings in that they are flawed, imperfect specimens, a testament to Gemmell's skill as a writer. Even Druss the Legend has his flaws, despite being the main focus of the novel for half the book.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: It's...a book about a war.
Sex/Nudity: A few inferrences, but of a PG variety.
Swearing: A few instances of "bastard" and "son of a bitch", also a nice amount of usage of the word "Whoreson", which seems to be punctuation during one particular section.
Summary: This book is awesomeness incarnate. It's not hard to see why Gemmell is held in such high esteem as a fantasy writer. Absolutely exquisite to read, a true pleasure. 10/10

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