Thursday, 27 May 2010

Book Reviews

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter
Seth Grahame-Smith
Constable

Available Now - £12.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Indiana, 1818. Moonlight falls through the dense woods that surround a one-room cabin, where a nine-year-old Abraham Lincoln kneels at his suffering mother s bedside. She has been stricken with something the old-timers call 'Milk Sickness'. 'My baby boy...' she whispers before dying. Only later will the grieving Abe learn that his mother's fatal affliction was actually the work of a vampire. When the truth becomes known to young Lincoln, he writes in his journal, 'henceforth my life shall be one of rigorous study and devotion. I shall become a master of mind and body. And this mastery shall have but one purpose...'

Gifted with his legendary height, strength, and skill with an axe, Abe sets out on a path of vengeance that will lead him all the way to the White House. While Abraham Lincoln is widely lauded for saving a Union and freeing millions of slaves, his valiant fight against the forces of the undead has remained in the shadows for hundreds of years.

This is one of those books that turns up, and the gut reaction is “Oh, Christ...really?”. Seth Grahame-Smith’s previous, rather hit-and-miss novel Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was humour of the lowest “LOL! ZOMBEEZ!” variety, so I wasn’t exactly holding out high hopes for this. I shouldn’t have worried. This is actually really very enjoyable. It’s not played for laughs at all, and is rather more along the lines of “Blade in the Nineteeth Century”.

The romantic sidelines are surprisingly moving, the vampires genuinely monstrous and the action very well detailed. It’s a fun light read that should please those of us who miss the days when vampires were...y’know...monsters.

There are a few things that hamper it from being truly great. The “cameos” by other notable historical figures are hardly integral to the plot, and sometimes to unnecessary as to be distracting. Also the artwork is pretty appalling, consisting of old photographs that have been Photoshopped to change a minor detail, such as giving fangs or dark glasses to someone who is supposed to be a vampire. It’s a nice idea and, when done well, looks great. Unfortunately here, the Photoshopping is pretty heavy handed, and it would have been better for them not to bother.

Lincoln’s rise to political power is pretty rushed, but to be honest, this is probably welcome. A break from the action for some political campaigning would have been pretty dull.

These minor problems aside, what’s left is a thoroughly enjoyable read. If you want some summer reading that’s a little different from the norm, you could do a lot worse than this.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several murders, stakings, axe based mutilations, stabbings, shootings, scuffles, detailed injuries, blood and gore.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A thoroughly enjoyable, vampired-up historical fiction. Recommend for those looking for some light, but hyper-violent, entertainment. 8/10

The Owl Killers
Karen Maitland
Penguin

Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

In the heart of the countryside lies an isolated village, where pagan Owl Masters rule through fear, superstition and murder. When a group of religious women ill-advisedly settles outside the village, they awaken dangerous jealousies. Why do their crops succeed? How do their cattle survive the plague? Are they concealing a holy relic which protects them from harm?

Maitland’s previous novel, Company of Liars, was always going to be a very hard act to follow. Here, in The Owl Killers, she displays several of the motifs and hallmarks that made Company of Liars so awesome. There’s the oppressive, dingy and drizzly atmosphere that permeates every single sentence. There’s the sense of mystery that lies behind every character. And, there’s that strange “half magic”, whereby the unknown is soon through the eyes of the characters, and you come out of it still not a hundred per cent sure whether or not what you have experienced is the supernatural or not.

Unfortunately, The Owl Killers has a couple of flaws that hinder it somewhat. Firstly, its slow. Nothing really happens of note until a third of the way in, and this could easily put off a lot of readers. Secondly, the book is narrated in the first person by several different characters. A nice idea, but when most of them are women, and three of them have the assumed name “Martha”, it can get pretty confusing trying to keep track of who you’re dealing with.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Several beatings, and some murders/executions.
Sex/Nudity: Some mild sex scenes.
Swearing: Some minor uses.
Summary: A good historial thriller with a nice, supernatural edge to it. Recommended for fans of historical fiction. 8/10

Star Trek - Alien Spotlight: Volume 2
Elena Casagrande, Keith R.A. DeCandido, Ian Edgington, Mark Hawthorne, Stuart Moore, Agustin Padilla, Wagner Reis, Andy Schmidt, Arne Schmidt, David Tipton, Scott Tipton, J.K. Woodward
Idea & Design Works

Available Now - £14.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Cardassians, Klingons, Q, Romulans and...um...Tribbles. Five different and distinct alien races, all part of the Star Trek universe. Star Trek – Alien Spotlight: Volume 2 contains five stand-alone stories, each focusing on alien species that has come into contact – and often conflict – with the Federation of Planets.

This is rather a mixed bag of short stories. Cardassians and Romulans are both dodgy, Trek by numbers stories, with heavy references to their races culture and some rather vague artwork not exactly helping matters. Fortunately, both Klingons and Tribbles are pretty satisfactory reads. Tribbles is played slightly more for laughs, which is probably the only way of doing it, given the subject matter. It’s also nice to see “thought bubbles” for Tribbles. Pretty cute stuff.

Klingons is a nice chunk of Space Opera filled, as you would no doubt expect, with violence, weaponry and more “Qa’pla”s than you can shake a Bat’leth at. The artwork is fantastic, featuring a lot of pencil heavy work, which you don’t see so much anymore these days.

Q, however, is a great story. It manages to capture spot on mannerisms and dialogue for the Next Generation crew and the artwork is nice, too. It adds a nice dimension to Q, too, offering a touch of both motivation and humility to a character who is all too often used nothing more than an intergalactic Loki.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some bladed combat, and phaser firing. Some explosions.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A mixed bag of short stories raging from “dull” to “awesome”. Worth picking up if you’re a Trekkie, but more casual fans should pass on this one. 7/10

Aliens: More Than Human
John Arcudi, Zach Howard and Gabriel Andrade
Dark Horse

Available Now - £11.99 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

A group of planetary propectors plant their flag on a distant new world, rich in land, resources and mystery. Within this seemingly uninhabited planet lies the greatest archaeological discovery in history, an ancient, abandoned complex of impossible proportions carved deep within the living rock, a mind-numbing labyrinth of passages, ramps, bridges, and galleries that seems to extend limitlessly. But as the exploration of the dead city proceeds deeper and deeper, the members of the team slowly begin to lose their grip on reality. But madness gives way to fear as the explorers being to disappear. Something else lives within the necropolis, a faceless horror as deadly and merciless as space itself, a lethal terror that has waited centuries to awake and destroy.

I have been waiting for Dark Horse to start showing the Aliens franchise some love for so long now that I had almost given up hope of it ever happening. Hence, I was overjoyed when this came out. On reading, though, if this is the best we can expect from the franchise in future, I half wish they hadn’t bothered.

This is another Aliens story featuring a strange supposedly barren planet with one notable feature on it. The Aliens are there without explanation. There’s a vague attempt to fit it in with previously established comic continuity (does anyone care about that?). There are colonists looking for land rights, with mention of a shady corporation...Androids...People get burned by acid spatter. Jesus, is this really the best anyone can do with the Aliens franchise? Shamelessly remake the same story again and again?

Come on guys. You, the fans – and the Aliens themselves – deserve better than this.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of gore, chemical burns, gunfire, explosions, biting, evisceration and...more gunfire.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: A couple of uses, all #@~!’d out.
Summary: A pretty disappointing return for the Aliens franchise. A lacklustre, poorly explained story and average artwork. Still, it’s nice that Dark Horse are at least giving their Aliens licence some attention again. 4/10

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