Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Book Reviews

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: Séance For A Vampire
Fred Saberhagen
Titan Books

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

After a pair of ‘psychics’ manage to successfully convince the wealthy Altamont family that their daughter Louisa is back from the recently deceased, Ambrose Altamont enlists the help of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in order to ascertain the legitimacy of the psychics’ claims that Louisa has indeed been contacting them from beyond the grave. During the séance, Louisa does indeed re-appear, but Holmes and Watson recognize her for what she is – a vampire! The ensuing fracas leaves the Altamonts crushed, Holmes missing and Watson confused. He is therefore forced to consult with Holmes’ distant cousin, Prince Dracula…

Sounds like absolute toss doesn’t it? Well, you’ll be pleased to know that this is not the absolute fucking disaster the description suggests. The story itself is intriguing enough to keep you reading, and the action is paced sufficiently well that you don’t feel overwhelmed.

However, the book hits a sour note for me in one key way. It doesn’t feel like a Sherlock Holmes novel in any way. The prologue is told from the point of view of Dracula, describing a relevant historical encounter that makes no sense until later on in the book. From then on the perspective shifts to Doctor Watson, and it feels like it should become a more traditional Sherlock Holmes adventure, but it doesn’t.

The book is set in 1903, Holmes knows very little all the way through, and doesn’t even appear in the book for a good chunk, and half the time the perspective isn’t even from any character at all, which is a definite no-no for a Sherlock Holmes novel of any kind. Ultimately the book isn’t bad per se, but it’s certainly not a Sherlock Holmes book.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: A few scuffles, but nothing to write home about.
Sex/Nudity: Talked about, not depicted in any way.
Swearing:: None.
Summary:: If this had been a standalone book with no franchise attachment, it would score a lot higher. As it stands, the book doesn’t feel right as a Sherlock Holmes book. 5/10
Transformers: Bumblebee
Zander Cannon, Chee
IDW Publishing

Available Now - £13.50 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

The Autobots have been severely divided by infighting. After a shakeup in Autobot leadership, Bumblebee finds himself leading a group that believes him to be unprepared for the job. When an opportunity to radically improve the Autobots’ reputation arises, he embarks on a clandestine mission for the human military to find and disable all remaining rogue robots. Conflict sets in when he figures out that the humans in charge of the project don’t always have the Autobots’ interests in mind…

This graphic novel comes in the timeline at a particularly turbulent juncture in the ranks of both Autobot and Decepticon, with the former fragmented and the latter banished from Earth save for a few well-hidden ones. Bumblebee spends the entire graphic novel doubting himself, all the while aware that a rogue Decepticon named Skywarp has ideas to bring the Decepticons back onto Earth to cause carnage and devastation.

This is, overall, a pretty good read. The artwork is nicely done, which is a particular sticking point for me, as a poor or confusing art style can completely ruin a graphic novel (I’m looking at you, Silent Hill). The story is entertaining enough, if not entirely original, and the pacing is good and plays out quite cinematically.

If I have one complaint about this graphic novel (and it’d be a weird way to start a sentence if I didn’t), it’s simply this: for a comic about giant robots who can turn into vehicles, there seems to be very little in the way of actual action or robots fucking each other up. A lot of the comic seems to be a group of giant robots arguing or sharing a few philosophical conversations, as well as faffing around playing with toddlers in a suburban neighbourhood. I wish I was kidding. It’s hard to see how the Autobots will cope without Optimus Prime, as they seem to be a bunch of nancies apart from him.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: Depressingly little.
Sex/Nudity: None of the robots are wearing pants.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An enjoyable enough read, without being anything astoundingly awesome. 7/10
Dark Peril
Christine Feehan
Little, Brown Book Group/Piatkus Books

Available from 9th September - £12.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Dominic of the Dragonseeker lineage - one of the most powerful lines the Carpathian people has - ingests vampire blood laced with parasites in order to infiltrate the heart of the enemy camp and learn their plans. This is a one-way mission. He plans to get in fast, relay the information to the leader of the Carpathians living in the area and go out fighting - an honourable way to end his life. Solange Sangria is one of the last of the jaguar people, a royal pure-blood. Her people, once many, are now nearly extinct. She has long been alone fighting to save the remaining women who are able to shift from the hands of Brodrick the Terrible, her own father who slaughtered everyone she loved.

Wounded, weary, she plans one last battle, hoping to stop the man who has made an alliance with the vampires, accepting she will not come out alive. They are two warriors who have lived their lives alone. Now, at the end of their time, they find each other - a complication neither sees coming.

I’m not one of paranormal romance’s automatic detractors, and I’d even go so far as to say that I’ve enjoyed some books in the genre. As a matter of fact, in the past I’ve enjoyed books from Christine Feehan herself. It’s a real shame, then, that this is such a formulaic disappointment. The opening chapters are intriguing, and contain some fascinating and striking imagery – especially as regards the werejaguars, but it isn’t too long before the bubble bursts, and the reader is left with a literary puddle of wank.

The romance is sub-Mill-&-Boon in quality. Isn’t it always annoying when the two main characters experience “love at first sight” or “an instant attraction”? Your own philosophies and opinions on the possibility of “love at first sight” in real life aside, when it happens in a book it’s lazy, and smacks of the author being unsure how to make the characters attracted to each other.

“Uh...they like each other...because they do!”

Avoid. This is for Feehan’s hardcore fans only. Let’s hope that this is an off day, and her next project sees her back on form.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Frequent, bloody and ultra-violent combact.
Sex/Nudity: Several scenes of nudity, some sex, with slightly creepy bestiality and BDSM overtones.
Swearing: Some, but none particularly noteworthy.
Summary: What could have been an interesting idea boils down to wishy-washy softcore porn. There’s precious little story, and any romance is lost among the sea of Mary Sue-ism. This reads like something a sexually frustrated, anime obsessed, teenage girl would write after watching Avatar. 2/10
Dog Blood
David Moody
Gollancz/Orion Publishing

Available Now - £12.99 (Paperback), £13.99 (Kindle), £18.00 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The world has suffered a catastrophe of unknown cause, dividing humankind into two: the Haters and the Unchanged. Each group believes the other to be the enemy; each group is fighting for survival. Only by working together can the enemy - whoever that enemy is - be defeated. There are no other choices.

Danny McCoyne has managed to break free, and after days of indiscriminate fighting and killing, he is determined to make his way home, to recalim the only thing of any value to him in this strange new world: his daughter Ellis. Unlike his wife and son, Ellis is like him, and he knows, in his heart of hearts, that she is not dead. His dearest wish is for Ellis to be fighting for the world at his side - but Danny soon discovers his daughter is worth far more than just another fighting body. Others like him have discovered that children are absolutely vital to the cause. They are strong, small, fast, and they have no inhibitions. They are pure Haters ...

Opening up in a brutal world, post “zombie” apocalypse, the tone for Dog Blood is set: grim, dirty and scarily realistic. With the majority of the story presented from the point of view of the “zombie”, it’s a very interesting take on the genre, and makes it difficult to decide who you’re rooting for in the long run.

The pacing is excellent, and never lets up, without feeling rushed.

The only real downside is that for every original take on the genre, there’s a moment where it stumbles blindly into some that has been done before. Did we really need to see an attempt to revisit the “Bub the Zombie” experiments from Day of the Dead? Also, I appreciate that there was a desire to leave it open for a follow-up...but there could have been a slightly more conclusive ending that this. This isn’t The Empire Strikes Back, you know.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Brutal melee combat, gunfire, explosions, murder, battery.
Sex/Nudity: Some male nudity.
Swearing: Frequent, but not especially strong.
Summary: An enjoyable zombie novel, with an interesting twist. The lack of resolution in the ending is annoying, but expected (to a certain degree). 8/10
Olympians - Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess
George O'Connor
First Second

Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Kelly Prior

Olympians - Athena: Grey-Eyed Goddess is a compilation of mini-adventures told to us by the Moirae, otherwise known as the Fates of Greek legend. All the stories are somehow linked to Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and craft. We first witness her traumatic birth from deep inside her father’s head and we learn how and why she took on the name Pallas Athena. We join her in the Battle of the Gigantes, and learn how she helped Perseus, the first of the heroes, to succeed in his quest. All the while we are reading Athena is developing into a strong, proud and impressive female warrior.

Just like Olympians - Zeus: King of the Gods, this second comic in the Olympians series boasts some really spectacular artwork, and some great depictions of fight scenes. Even the smaller drawings have enough detail to render them impressive pieces of art, and it is easy to get lost in these images as if you were watching a film or a cartoon.

The general narration, however, lacks the initial brilliance of Olympians - Zeus: King of the Gods. Instead of an epic story, we are given short snippets of Athena’s life, with no particular chronology. Athena is not even the main focal point in some of them. In fact, the story of Perseus and Medusa seems almost shoehorned in because the comic was too short without it. There are also some stories, like the one about Arachne’s parody of the gods, which paint Athena in a very negative light. We get the idea that O’Connor’s version of Athena is just a bitch, and not even the awesome kind.

The section on G(r)eek Notes is an insightful read, filled with interesting facts about the Greek Gods and their timeless legends. This series also has character profiles and author’s notes at the back, as well as some interactive questions in the “For Discussion” section. There is also an Olympian Family Tree, which chronicles the birth of the Olympians and their children. All these additions to the text really do remind the reader that, actually, these comics are aimed at children, but when you are “emotionally fourteen”, it really doesn’t matter, does it? It’s a lot of fun to read and really adds to our experience of the comics.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Cartoon/fantasy violence.
Sex/Nudity: None, Athena is even born wearing clothes! WTF?
Swearing: None.
Summary: Not as good as the first installment of the series Nothing memorable, but a nice easy read. 5/10


POSTCARD KILLERS GIVEAWAY

James Patterson teams up with number one bestselling author Liza Marklund to create the most terrifying holiday thriller ever written.

NYPD detective Jacob Kanon is on a tour of Europe's most gorgeous cities. But the sights aren't what draw him - he sees each museum, each cathedral, and each café through the eyes of his daughter's killer.

Kanon's daughter, Kimmy, and her fiancé were murdered while on holiday in Rome. Since then, young couples in Madrid, Salburg, Amsterdam, Berlin, Athens and Paris have been found dead. Little connects the murders, other than a postcard sent to the local newspaper prior to each attack.

Now Kanon teams up with the Swedish reporter, Dessie Larsson, who has just received a postcard in Stockholm - and they think they know where the next victims will be.

Thanks to our friends at Century/Cornerstone we're got five copies of Postcard Killers to give away to our readers. For your chance of winning, send in your name and address to postcardkillersgiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 14th September. The first five entries pulled out of the electronic hat will win a free copy each!

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