Thursday 25 March 2010

Book Reviews

Star Wars: Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor
Matthew Stover
Arrow Books

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader are dead. The Empire has been toppled by the triumphant Rebel Alliance, and the New Republic is rising. But the struggle against the dark side is far from over. Before long, the heroes of the New Republic are called to defend the newly liberated galaxy from powerful remnants of the vanquished Empire – the most deadly of these being a legion of black-armoured stormtroopers sent by the newly risen warlord, Shadowspawn.

Mobilising the ace fighters of Rogue Squadron, Luke, Han and Leia set out to take the battle to the enemy. Little do they know, however, that the imminent attack on Mindor is a trap and they will be playing straight into the hands of their cunning new adversary.

Matthew Stover (Traitor, Shatterpoint) is so underused by the Expanded Universe that it’s not even funny. Like his other works for Star Wars, he manages to achieve a perfect mix of pulp-action-blasting and modern cultural satire. With lightsabers.

All of the characters are spot on interpretations. Han’s dry sense of humour is here. Threepio’s wittering, Lando’s gambling and Leia’s kickassery are all present and correct. Luke, as the principal character, is pretty damn good too. The way we see him here isn’t as the simple farmboy of A New Hope, or the Jedi Master of the far future – but a young man who’s still haunted by the truth of who his father was, and builds up excellently towards the character we see in Dark Empire.

For all that foreshadowing, if you’ve never read a Star Wars Expanded Universe novel before, then this one would make a really good jump on point. Chronologically it’s not that long after Return of the Jedi, so you won’t need to know about any of the major events since then – and it terms of quality...well, you’re in good hands there. If you want the blasty fun of the movies, combined with what the darker tones of the post-Chewie-Moon-Splat EU, then this is an excellent example.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some unarmed combat, blasting, space battles, explosions, lightsaber combat and more explosions.
Sex/Nudity: Chewie is naked for the entire book.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A pretty excellent blend of pulpy Star Wars fun, darker philosophy and a wry satire on the cult of celebrity. 9/10

The Price
Alexandra Sokoloff
Piatkus Books
Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Boston District Attorney Will Sullivan dreams of becoming the next governor of Massachusets. With his beautiful wife, Joanna, and adorable daughter, Sydney, Will seems destined for greatness, until Sydney becomes seriously ill. Now, both parents resolve to do anything they can to save their daughter’s life.

But in the twilight world of the Briarwood Medical Centre, nothing is as it seems. Patients on the brink of death are not only surviving but thriving, while others wither away – and the recoveries all revolve around the ministering of a mysterious counsellor, who takes an unsettling interest in Joanna. When Sydney’s health miraculously improves, Will suspects that Joanna made a terrible bargain to save their child. Now Will must face a powerful, unknown evil before he loses...everything.

The Price feels retro. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it reminded me of those books that were a penny a dozen in the eighties. Ah, the eighties. Best decade for horror literature, in terms of popularity at least. If, like me, you grew up reading James Herbert, Ramsey Campbell and Christopher Pike, then The Price is going to feel very much like coming home.

Be warned through, The Price is pretty slow going. That’s not to say that it drags – it moves at the speed required for the story – it’s just that the speed of the story is a slow one! Fortunately, it’s amazingly well written, with fully rounded, realistic and likable characters across the board. It’s a slow journey, but it’s a pretty awesome one.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some scuffling.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Realistic frequency and intensity.
Summary: Rather slow to get going, but riveting nonetheless. Well worth a read if you’re into horror. 8/10

The Mythic Warrior's Handbook
Chiron the Centaur
Adams Media

Available Now - £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Back when lightning-throwing gods and multi-headed monsters ruled a world in constant chaos, there was one man who stood on four hooves against it all. He was Chiron the Centaur, the wise (-cracking) teacher to amateur heroes. The Mr. Miyagi of ancient Greece, he turned these cowardly boys into powerful warriors, helping them achieve greatness and overcome their Daddy issues - seriously, how many kids back then were waiting for Zeus to come by and play catch?

Now, thousands of years later, Chiron's ancient textbook has been unearthed, his advice translated, and knowledge dropped for the modern audience. With the smarts of a mythic sage and wit of a jackass, this half-man/half-horse instructs readers on how to be the baddest mother in sandals since Perseus. From kicking Gorgon ass to appeasing Apollo to scoring the golden fleece, "Chiron" breaks down the game plan for getting in good with the gods.

The Mythic Warrior’s Handbook reminds me very much of the popular kids books Horrible Histories, probably the only example of one of those “educates and entertains!” deals that managed to do both in equal measure. The Mythic Warrior's Handbook skips along at a similar pace, with some nuggets and knowledge and dozy jokes along the way.

Unfortunately, The Mythic Warrior’s Handbook never really seems to find its own feet. It skims along its subjects way too quickly to provide any depth to them at all. All I found was happening was that I was being reminded of various Ray Harryhausen movies I’d seen. I didn’t find myself actually learning anything, although it would be unfair to say it’s devoid of any educational value. I just found myself thinking, “Oh, yeah. The Gorgon. I know what that is.”.

The main problem this title faces is that from the start it was never really sure of who its target audience was supposed to be. It contains virtually nothing of substance or deep educational merit to be of value to anyone who does know some Greek mythology, but it also contains far too many in-jokes and references to be of interest to a complete noob. It’s a shame, really, as it was a nice idea – it just needed a little more planning from the off.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Stabbing, decapitation, torture, curses, lightning bolts and battles.
Sex/Nudity: Some references to intercourse. Sometimes involving swans.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, light-hearted trip through Greek mythology. It’s entertaining enough for a quick read, but unfortunately too insubstantial to be truly satisfying. 6/10

We are snooped on, hectored and hounded by state nannies, in a state of interference from cradle to grave. We also have to put up with the unjustified and disproportionate use of fines and charges, bloody-minded parking restrictions and preposterous European directives.

Philip Johnston exposes the Bad Laws - those irritating regulations and Whitehall idiocies that have made life in Britain a day-to-day nightmare and threaten to change the nature of this country. So, what s so bad?

A snooper's charter that lets an army of council jobsworths look at your phone and email details. More CCTV cameras than anywhere in the world - yet they fail to deter criminals. The world's biggest DNS crime database that contains the profiles of over a million innocent people. The threat of a visit from the police for having politically incorrect opinions. A ban on smoking so inflexible that it threatens the future of a great British institution - the pub.

This is a great country with proud traditions - so why have we lost touch with the commonsense attitudes that once defined us?

Thanks to our friends at Constable and Robinson, we've got five copies of Philip Johnston's Bad Laws: From Dangerous Dogs to Horse Passports - How the British Lost Their Common Sense to give away! For your chance of winning one, send us an e-mail to with your name and postal address before midday on Thursday 1st April (UK time). The first five names drawn out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

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