Saturday 13 March 2010

Book Reviews

Doctor Who: Code of the Krillitanes
Justin Richards
BBC Books/Ebury Press

Available Now - £1.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Can eating a bag of crisps really make you more clever? The company that makes the crisps says so, and they seem to be right. But the Doctor is worried. Who would want to make people more brainy? And why? With just his sonic screwdriver and a supermarket trolley full of crisps, the Doctor sets out to find the truth.

The answer is scary - the Krillitanes are back on Earth, and everyone is at risk! Last time they took over a school. This time they have hijacked the internet. Whatever they are up to, it's big and it's nasty. Only the Doctor can stop them - if he isn't already too late...

Doctor Who: Code of the Krillitanes achieves exactly what is sets out to achieve. It’s a fun, kids’ sci-fi adventure that hits the ground running, and manages to capture the action, vibe and humour of the TV series.

Whilst some adults may find the plot to be rather lacking, and the climax to be rather clich├ęd, if you know a child who’s into all things Doctor Who, then you could do a lot worse than pick this up for them (hey, it’s only two quid). It’d probably entertain some adult Dr Who fans as well, if they’re willing to switch their brain off for an hour.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling, but nothing extreme. Oh, yeah, some corpses.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, action packed kids’ read. Well worth the price of admission for a Dr Who fan. 9/10

Vampires - From Dracula to Twilight: The Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology
Charlotte Montague

Available Now - £16.99 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

In the West the vampire myth is widely thought to have been based on the life of Vlad the Impaler, a 15th century warrior-prince whose devotion to cruelty and killing made the lives of his subjects miserable, bloody and short.

However, bloodsuckers of all shapes and sizes feature in many cultures. The most famous of these is the chupacabra, or “Goat Killer”, a creature that is rumoured to have attacked and mutilated as many as 2,000 animals in Puerto Rico and Latin America. Charlotte Montague’s discourse on the complete history of the vampire explores these diverse myths and legends, their impact on popular culture and the possible explanations behind such phenomena.

When this landed on my review pile with a rather resounding “thud”, I was worried. It looked garish and horrible – the kind of thing you’d buy as a birthday present for a thirteen year old girl who’s really into Robert Pattinson. It was with utter joy, then, that I discovered that within the rather garish and horribly unfitting packaging, that this is a really good non-fiction book.

Covering everything from the oldest folk legends from across the world, literary interpretations, and the current trend for paranormal romance – this is probably one of best, if not the best, non-fiction books on vampires that I have encountered. The biographical sections on Vlad the Impaler and Countess Bathory are nothing short of mesmerising.

The books garish presentation and teenage girl attention grabbing namechecking of Twilight on the front cover may put off people who would otherwise be genuinely interested in what this book has to say – including a rather impressive list of recommended books and movies (man, I really must read Carmilla again sometime soon). This then, is a reassurance that what lies within is pretty awesome.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
A lot of detail on vampiric serial killers.
Sex/Nudity: Some allusions.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Don’t be thrown by its coffee-table looks. This is a highly entertaining and informative book. Recommended to all vampire fans. 9/10

Black and White
Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge
Piatkus Books
Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Jet, the darling good girl of the city, uses her shadow-power to battle the forces of evil. But her shadows also mask the fierce demons that only she, her mentor, and her former best friend – and now her arch-nemesis – know about.

Iridium is that former best friend: able to wield the power of light, she trained as a hero only to become one of the most infamous villains in the city – for what she feels are truly heroic reasons.

Alternating between the present-day threat and their past exploits as friends, and later rivals, at the Superhero Academy, the novel brings these two women to vivid life, portraying the complexities of being a true hero in a world determined to categorise you in a neat box of good or evil – black or white.

As a superhero story, Black and White isn’t exactly original. The only slice of originality going for it is that it’s a novel not a comic. It’s a shame then, that the descriptive passages are so weak you can’t help but wish it had been illustrated. I could forgive it if it was just limited to vague gestures towards the scenery, but I spent the first two pages of Meteorite’s presence uncertain of her gender. Or his gender.

It’s fortunate then, that the characters are of such high calibre that you can forgive the novel its (rather numerous) flaws. Jet and Iridium are both easy to identify with, and root for – even when they’re getting ready to pound the bejesus out of each other. Black and White may not do much new – but it does a few things exceptionally well.

All through, however, there’s a sense that all this novel is doing is revving up for the rest of the series to follow. A lot of background has been laid down, and I can only hope that what happens next can deliver on the potential.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several scenes of superhero style combat, with some blood and serious injuries. Some weapon-based combat. Some deaths.
Sex/Nudity: Some implied.
Swearing: Some mild uses.
Summary: Not a great novel in its own right, but the stage it has set for the rest of the series has potential. I look forward to seeing more. 7/10


  1. Superheroes really don't work well in the novel format. Saying that, I'm re-reading an incredibly good superhero novel at the moment: 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie.

  2. My brother used to collect Doctor Who books back in the 70s, and I read and reread them avidly. Seeing the new books in the shops I'm very impressed. They're beautifully produced little hardbacks and I reckon any kid (not talking kids at heart here: their geekishness would speak for itself) would be proud to own such lovely books. ;)