Tuesday 5 January 2010

Book Reviews

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart
Jesse Bullington

Available Now - £7.99
Review by Brad Harmer

In the plague-wracked and devil-haunted darkness of Medieval Europe, an elite few enjoy opulent lives while the majority eke out a miserable existence in abject poverty. Hungry creatures stalk the deep woods and desolate mountains, and both sea and sky teem with unspeakable horrors. For those ill-fated masses not born into wealth, life is but a vicious trial to be endured before the end of days.

Hegel and Manfried Grossbart couldn’t give a toss. Being of low birth means little, after all, when the riches of the mighty wait just inside the next crypt. The grave-robbing twins know enough about crusading to realise that if one is to make a living from the dead, what better destination than the fabled tomb-cities of Egypt?

But the Brothers Grossbart are about to discover that all legends have their truths, and worse fates than death await those who would take the red road of villainy...

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is one of those novels that keeps you glued to it through pure disghust. Hegel and Manfried are murderers and thieves – and have no positive attributes save their strange devotion to one another – but you simply cannot tear your eyes away from the page as their descent into hell continues. Reading like part-Grimm Fairy Tale, part-Terry Gilliam fantasy, The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart is an engaging novel.

What’s more, it’s a bloody funny one too. The descriptive passages are a little clunky at times, but this is more than compensated for by the hilarity of the dialogue, and the violent (although, strangely affectionate) interactions between Hegel and Manfried.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scenes of murder, violence and battles – frequently involving weapons and gore.
Sex/Nudity: A rather vomit-inducing seduction scene.
Swearing: Very, very frequent.
Summary: Well worth checking out, although it probably won’t make your top ten books of the year, it will certainly be one that you remember long after you’ve finished it. 8/10

Hollywood Monster: A Walk Down Elm Street with the Man of Your Dreams
Robert Englund and Alan Goldsher
Aurum Press

Available Now - £16.99
Review by Brad Harmer

Made burned and disfigured by make-up, clad in a dirty red-and-green striped sweater, wielding a razor-fingered glove and topped off with a fedora, when Robert Englund first appeared as the ghoulish Fred Krueger in 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, he knew he’d created something special. Little did he suspect – with seven sequels and a TV series yet to come – that Freddy would become the horror icon of the 80s, and Robert Englund the cult star of one of the most successful franchises in history.

After all, things could have been so very different.

A classically trained thespian, schooled at the American branch of RADA, Englund’s first love was really the stage. However, a dispirited return to California instead brought surprise success as a screen actor, with Robert cast alongside actors such as Henry Fonda, Burt Reynolds, and Barbara Streisand – not to mention receiving a knuckle sandwich from Kris Kristofferson.

Despite stints in B Movie fare like Tobe Hooper’s Eaten Alive and Roger Corman’s Galaxy of Terror – where he encountered a young James Cameron – Englund never set out to become a cult actor. But then came his first major break – as Willie, the lovably innocent alien in V.

Englund’s autobiography makes for, perhaps unsurprisingly entertaining, reading. He is very open about his own flaws and short-comings, in a spectacularly good-natured way. There are some moments of name-dropping which come across as somewhat obtrusive, but the chatty style of the writing seems to call for this anyway.

Journeying from Englund’s humble beginnings, through the terrifying ordeal of having his trailer surrounded by screaming Freddy fans, to the gentle reflections on his career at the end, the book is remarkably complete. Some of the later Elm Street movies are glossed over, but that’s to be expected.

Did you know that Robert Englund auditioned for the part of Han Solo? Good luck getting that image out of your mind.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Little to none.
Sex/Nudity: Rob is rather a dirty old man, frequently passing comment on attractive ladies, but there is nothing explicit.
Swearing: Surprisingly frequent.
Summary: A very light read, but certainly manages to capture the tone and character. You’ll come out with a renewed fondness and respect for Robert Englund. 8/10

Gears of War Graphic Novel
Joshua Ortega and Liam Sharp
Titan Books

Available now: RRP £12.99
Review by Blake Harmer

Set in between the events of the Gears of War and Gears of War 2 video games, this graphic novel follows the events of Marcus Fenix and co including a couple of new gears as they investigate some seismic disturbances occurring in the ruined city of Montevado outside of Jacinto: the last human occupied city on the planet and which is in continuous assault from the Locust, an enemy which emerged from underground and has been at war with humankind since.

If you are a fan of the Gears of War franchise then this will not disappoint you. The comic is filled to the brim with high action set pieces, explosions, guns, violence and blood, with added swearing to boot. Everything that made Gears of War great is recreated down to a tee. Also, the artwork, whilst not groundbreaking, is good and captures the look and feel of the games well, especially during the action pieces.

However, where the Gears of War graphic novel falls down is its lack of originality when compared to other sci-fi comics and war stories. The majority of the story is told from the perspective of new recruit Jace Stratton and there are a lot of moments when he talks about the horrors of the war and of his past where he lost his family as a child. A lot of times this felt like it was lifted from one of the Aliens books and placed into a Gears of War setting (especially at the beginning of the book where Jace mentions that the locust were like nightmarish monsters that didn’t exist but were in fact real after all, felt like something Newt or Ripley would say), and I felt I could predict a lot of the plot twists.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Lots of firefights and explosions and locust being chopped into nice bloody chunks using chainsaw guns. So the comic captures the feel of the games perfectly.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A few harder swear words but the emphasis is more on the killing and story telling than having lots of marine style swearing that you’d find in the games or novels.
Summary: A fun Sci-Fi blast fest of a comic compilation with a story that fits well into the Gears of War universe and captures the essence of the games exactly. Whilst not bursting with originality as far as sci-fi plots go, this is still an essential purchase for fans of Gears of War or a great gift idea if you know someone who is. 8/10

Assassin's Creed: Renaissance
Oliver Bowden
Penguin Books

Available now, RRP £6.99
Review by Rob Wade

Assassin's Creed: Renaissance is an adaptation of the video game Assassin's Creed 2 in novel form, and so in the same way follows the adventures of young Ezio Auditore in his quest for revenge on those who have betrayed his family. And it's set in Italy, hence the whole "Renaissance" thing.

This novel was already up against it from the moment ink was put to paper, as generally the feeling on video game adaptation novels is that they're...well, not very good, with only a handful of releases of any decent quality to be found among the reams of books in the relevant section.

Thankfully, Oliver Bowden's novelisation of Assassin's Creed 2 falls into the latter camp, and actually turns out to be a reasonably engaging read.

Let's start with the good points. This novel is generally well-written, and the pacing is really good. You don't feel like you've missed a tremendous amount during the time that Ezio stops to train for a couple of weeks between missions, and most of the time if something is worth mentioning in the context of the plot, it gets mentioned accordingly in order to advance the plot along sufficiently. The characters are well developed, but it's difficult to know how much to attribute to Bowden's writing style, and how much of it can be attributed to Ubisoft, the game's developers.

That's not to say that the book is perfect, however. For instance, the characters in the novel speak like British people, using words like "wanker" which are typically British phrases. Now, if you're reading a book about Renaissance Italy, you don't really expect to find words like that mentioned. What's interesting is that the author does insert words in Italian, but they feel more like an afterthought than anything else. On the plus side, they do include a key that explains the words, but at the end of the book.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Unsurprisingly, a considerable amount - then, the game is about an assassin; what do you expect?
Sex/Nudity : No directly mentioned, but a few implied pieces.
Swearing : A considerable amount really, but then obviously the game was aimed at the more adult player, so it sort of makes sense.
Summary: A solid entry in the video game adaptation series, which serves to explain the story's rough workings to those who may not have played the game. 7/10

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty
Raymond Benson

Available Now - £7.99
Review by Brad Harmer

In a torrential downpour, former FOXHOUND agent Solid Snake stands on the George Washington Bridge – ready to launch himself to the deck of the USS Discovery as it passes below. Inside Discovery is a new generation of Metal Gear. But in the next hour, Snake’s world explodes.

Two years later, a young, unproven agent codenamed Raiden must penetrate the mystery of what went so insanely wrong that night. In a labyrinthine superstructure in New York harbour known as the Big Shell, enemies, allies, secret agents, and double dealers converge. Russian commandos, a cyber Vamp, a long-legged, leather-clad, rifle-bearing beauty named Fortune, a deformed, finely manicured bomber called Fatman, and a mysterious Mister X.

Somewhere in the maze, as well, is the President himself – his biometrics coded to a bomb that can take out Manhattan, his loyalties unknown. Now, the rookie Raiden is fighting his way to one discovery after another, including the rebirth of Solid Snake himself and a nightmare organisation with a history, a plan, and a terrifying superweapon hidden in plain sight.

Whilst this all sounds very exciting, it’s hampered by one thing – it reads like watching someone play the video game. You can see where the cut-scenes are, you can tell what the levels look like, and you can tell where the End Of Level Bosses are.

The characters themselves are ridiculous, to the point where they’d look stupid in the Marvel Universe. The vague gesture towards Andy McNab/Tom Clancy/Clive Cussler style bollocks is pathetic.

The main problem is that apart from “writing down what’s happening”, Benson has made no attempt to actually turn it into a novel. All of the stupid things makes sense in a video game – but not in a novel. If you’re going to adapt something, try and make it make sense in the medium you’re transposing it too.

Oh, and one of the covert organisations is called “Lalelulelo”. Yeah. You thought “SHIELD” was a dumb name, huh?

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of explosions, kung-fu and swordplay.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A lazy adaptation that will probably entertain fans of the game, but is going to leave everyone else cold. 2/10

Druids: The Ogham Sacrifice
Jean-Luc Istin and Jacques Lamontagne
Dalen Books

Available Now - £9.99
Review by Brad Harmer

There is turmoil in the 5th century Celtic periphery of Europe - an age of change at the end of the Roman Empire and an age of conflict between peoples and religions. Oppressed by Saxons to the east, many of the Celts of Britain have colonised Armorica in Gaul. Gwynlan, the last of the Druids, is caught in a mysterious battle for survival against the monks of the church. Accusations of depravity, murder, sacrifice and sorcery are rife, but the old gods are at hand to assist the righteous.

Right off the bat, this is an interesting way to tell a whodunit. Celtic magic and murder? Doodle me interested, right?

The Ogham Sacrifice is a well paced and well crafted mystery/thriller, with just enough of the fantastic to create a little world all of its own. Some of the attempts to shoehorn in archaic sounding dialogue are a little jarring, but this isn’t a big problem. The artwork is good – not outstanding, but it tells the story, and has a few nice flourishes to boot.

The violence is notable, not because it is gory and over the top, but because it seems almost understated and, well, functional. Considering the setting, this works – a violent time, we can only assume.

There are occasional moments of “convenience” in the plot (Gwynlan, in particular, seems rather more Sherlock Holmes than a man of his time has any right to be), but it’s an enjoyable ride whilst it lasts. Hopefully there are more instalments to follow.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Frequent and bloody.
Sex/Nudity: Some female nudity.
Swearing: Occasional mild curse words.
Summary: A fun, but forgettable Dark Ages whodunit. 7/10
Stewie Lights Up The Dark Side

Top UK scientist Dr Mark Garlik (New Scientist, Scientific American, Astronomy Now, Sky & Telescope and Cambridge University Press) has found a new constellation in the shape of everyone’s favourite evil baby, Stewie Griffin from Family Guy.

The discovery of the Family Guy character came after 2 months of research by Dr Mark Garlik, who was commissioned by Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment to celebrate the DVD & Blu-ray release of the Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back parody; Family Guy: Something, Something, Something, Darkside, on December 28. Dr Mark Garlik has named the new constellation Stewius Griffinus.

Dr Mark Garlik states; "He (Stewius Griffinus) is made up of stars from several neighbouring constellations, including Ursa Major (the Big Dog), Camelopardalis (the Camel) and Draco (the Dragon)."

Stewie’s constellation (Stewius Griffinus) is best viewed earlier on in the evening whilst looking north, where he will appear to be rotated on his side. Dr Mark Garlik added; “The brightest stars in Stewie's constellation are Alioth and Mizar, which are in the handle of the Plough. They form part of the top of his head. His nose and mouth are made up from stars that belong to Ursa Minor (the Small Dog).”The key to seeing the constellation is by looking for the brightest stars in the arrangement and then the rest of the Stewius Griffinus takes its natural form.


  1. I would just like to offer a correction to the review of The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart--the characters Hegel and Manfried Grossbart are not rapists; in fact, there is no rape whatsoever in the novel. Otherwise, thanks a lot for the review!

  2. Hi Jesse,

    Sorry for the confusion. I must have been confusing it with another book I was reading (I have to have more than one on the go at a time with this gig). I've amended the original review for you.


  3. No worries, Brad, and thanks! I usually read a few books at a time so I know it goes. Cheers!