Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Book Reviews

Hero of Rome
Douglas Jackson
Bantam Press

Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback) & £13.00 (Digital Download)
Review by Kelly Prior

Britain is beginning to fight back against the Roman Empire under Emperor Nero, having had enough of the brutality and cruelty of the Roman soldiers. A group of Celtic druids are angered and encouraging a rebellion. Roman Commander Valerius is given the task of gathering a defense force of army veterans to fight back against Boudicca and Britain. Valerius does not fear death, but fears failure. He yearns for glory and a place in Roman history as a great Hero of Rome.

This novel centers mostly on battle strategy, politics and the military life of Roman soldiers. It’s pretty long-winded, even as historical epics go, and doesn’t hold the attention of the reader very well. The constant discussions about war and strategies get pretty boring and tedious, to the point where the prospect of reading the battle scenes is not exciting at all. Making a solid decision about this book is a tough call, because I’m not a massive fan of historical fiction. However, I began this book with an open mind and the hope that it might change my opinion of this genre. If anything, it reinforced my disliking. I mean, it was just boring.

Now, for fans of historical fiction, I’m sure this book will be okay, but I can’t imagine anyone thinking it’s perfect in any meaning of the word. No matter what your genre preference; if you are a hardcore history fan, or a history virgin, this book just doesn’t cut it. Jackson simply does not write with any type of charisma, and the plot has no sense of immediacy.

The tagline of this novel reads “One man will stand against Boudicca’s armies”. And they really meant “one man”. The story revolves around the character of Valerius, but not in a “here’s a cool protagonist” kind of way. None of the other characters manage to achieve much dialogue time. If a fictional character in a book can be self-indulgent, Valerius does it wonderfully. Jackson is being billed as the best new historical fiction author on the scene, but in my opinion history novels don’t need to be boring and pedantic to be good, but this seems to be what Jackson and his admirers think.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of fighting and swords.
Sex/Nudity: Rape and paedophilia.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Not one for the shelf, but maybe get it from the library if you’re curious. It will at least be nice to know you can give it back. 2/10
Warhammer: Aenarion
Gav Thorpe
Black Library/Games Workshop

Available Now - £10.00 (CD)
Review by Blake Harmer

Following the death of his family at the hands of the foul daemons of the chaos gods, Aenarion, the Phoenix King of the Elves, swears vengeance and all out war on the chaos gods and goes on a quest to find the Sword of Khaine, the God Slayer. This sword resides on the Blighted Isle and is guarded by forces of both the living of the dead. But with elements and spirits against him, will Aenarion, astride his faithful Dragon Indraugnir, make it there to retrieve the blade? And is there more to this weapon than meets the eye?

These questions are answered in this tale, but as this is a short story, with the audiobook lasting only seventy-two minutes, it instead leaves the story on a massive cliff hangar and leaves it open for more to be told in another tale. This is pretty disappointing considering that the entire plot is pretty much told on the blurb of the CD. The story is also pretty basic, with very little character development for any of the characters aside from Aenarion at the very beginning of the story.

This audiobook does have it’s plus points though, the voice acting and production values of the whole package is impeccable, with great sound effects to heighten your involvement with the story. Also, Beth Chalmers does narrate the story well, even though I would have preferred to be a little more epic sounding as she read it, it is a fantasy novel, after all.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
There is a large battle with lots of violence at the beginning of the story, but after that, there is very little action.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An uninspired and pretty basic fantasy adventure set in the Warhammer Fantasy universe, this story does leave it open for future stories to deliver more potential, but as far as beginnings go, Aenarion is a rather muted affair. 5/10
No Such Thing As Dragons
Philip Reeve
Scholastic

Available Now - £5.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Ansel’s new master slays dragons for a living. He says he’s hunted the monstrous worms all over Christendom and has the scars to prove it. But is Brock just a clever trickster in shining armour? Ansel is sure there are no such things as dragons. So what is the man-eating creature that makes its lair in the crags of Dragon Mountain? Ansel and Brock must climb the ice-face to discover the terrifying truth.

No Such Thing As Dragons is a fun, cinematic feeling fantasy adventure that kicks off with a bang and never lets up until the end. The characters – although mostly a bunch of swindlers, cowards, braggarts and con-artists – still all manage to be likable, and you want all of them make it through their adventures.

The question of whether or not there really are dragons is kept up for well over the first half, and it’s this “is there or isn’t there” aspect that really adds to the cleverness of the piece. The movie like pacing and action makes it really fun to read for both children and adults. At the price, this would be an excellent stocking filler for any lover of fantasy this Christmas.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Some scuffling, sword combat, immolation and consumption.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: A fun, cute and endearing kids’ fantasy novel. Forgettable, but fun while it lasts. 9/10
Night of the Living Trekkies
Kevin D Anderson, Sam Stall
Quirk Books
Available Now - RRP £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

Jim Pike was the world's biggest Star Trek fan—until two tours of duty in Afghanistan destroyed his faith in the human race. Now he sleepwalks through life as the assistant manager of a small hotel in downtown Houston. But when hundreds of Trekkies arrive in his lobby for a science-fiction convention, Jim finds himself surrounded by costumed Klingons, Vulcans, and Ferengi—plus a strange virus that transforms its carriers into savage, flesh-eating zombies! As bloody corpses stumble to life, Jim must deliver a ragtag crew of fanboys and fangirls to safety. Dressed in homemade uniforms and armed with prop phasers, their prime directive is survival. But how long can they last in the ultimate no-win scenario?

Despite all appearances (because let’s be fair, this book does look and sound like it’s going to blow), this book is bloody entertaining to read. Let’s get to the good bits first.

At 250 or so pages, the book is short and sweet and does exactly what it says on the tin: delivers a fast-paced zombie story set at a Star Trek convention. The plot background is given little or no time, and instead the basics are established: the protagonist’s name is Jim, he’s an ex-soldier who works in the hotel where the events take place. Considering the length of the book, the success of the story telling in setting the scene in a short time is definitely marked. On the other hand, the price for the book is an RRP of £9.99, which is quite high when you factor in the length of the book.

The book itself, however, is written really well. Of course, with a book like this, humour is important to the story. Pleasingly, the balance between humour and the more horrific action of the book is really well done. Most refreshing of all is the dialogue, with many conversations as funny as if the dialogue had been written by somebody like Kevin Smith. With nods to traditional Star Trek rules, such as a character in a red shirt who refuses to go anywhere dangerous, to a female love interest who unwittingly quotes Star Wars films when she’s talking (or so it seems…) while dressed in a Slave Leia gold bikini, the novel is certainly self-aware.

As I say, however, the price does prove to be somewhat of a stumbling block in this case. Also, while the book does make a good job of the references and dialogue for the most part, occasionally there will be some ropey parts. Also, most likely a symptom of the novel type and length, some characters go woefully under-developed. I’d have killed to hear just a little more on the “Klingon Weapons Merchant” from Atlanta, GA. Killed, I tell you!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Quite a fair bit, but considering it’s a zombie novel, not as much as you might think.
Sex/Nudity : None.
Swearing : A few dotted around.
Summary: All in all though, the book does exactly what it sets out to do, and proves to be an absolutely engaging fun read. Maybe worth waiting for the sales, though. 8/10
Tank Girl: Royal Escape
Rufus Dayglo and Alan Martin
IDW
Available Now - £13.50 (Trade Paperback)
Review by Blake Harmer

With her tank team at Death's door, her tank out of action and an army closing in on them after their blood, Tank Girl must find a way to save them, and defeat the army. Following artist and Co-Creator Jamie Hewlett departing the team and going on to work on the virtual band Gorillaz, we haven’t seen Tank Girl for awhile so it’s good to see that Alan Martin has teamed up with a new artist (Rufus Dayglo) to bring her back to us and deliver more violence, explosions, swear words, and weirdness by the bucket load.

Fans of the old Tank Girl can rejoice, as despite the new art look, Tank Girl is as violent as ever, with literally hundred of soldiers being shot, stabbed, blown up and generally eviscerated, and that’s just in the first few pages. Also, Tank Girl’s trademark humour and swearing is back in, with more f words, b words and c words than you can shake a turd covered stick at.

The comic does have its flaws, the storyline is paper thin, and those who aren’t already used to Tank Girl's surrealism may find what remains of the story to be completely stupid and pointless, especially as every single plot twist and revelation in The Royal Escape is likely to make the reader shout “What The F**k???” in confusion. But at the end of the day, most fans will be reading this for the swearing, explosions and twisted comedy. In fact I can safely say that Tank Girl is back, she just looks a little different is all.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence:
Lots of bloody over the top violence with plenty of stabbing, shooting and other over the top death to keep fans of Tank Girl happy.
Sex/Nudity: A shot of breasts but nothing else.
Swearing: A stupid quantity of swearing, sure it’s not clever, but you probably wouldn’t want to mess with Tank Girl either way.
Summary: Tank Girl is back, and is as violent, sweary and surreal as she was before she left. Fans of the series may need some adjusting to get used to the new art style, and if you weren’t a huge fan of Tank Girl, you won’t really find much here to sway you over, but as comebacks go, Tank Girl is definitely back. 8/10
Ninja Attack!: True Tales of Assassins, Samurai and Outlaws
Hiroko Yoda & Matt Alt
Kodansha International Ltd
Available now, RRP £9.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

Think you know ninjas? Think again! Ninja Attack takes the subject of fascination in literature, TV drama and cinema and covers in depth the stories of those who inspired the legends of spies and assassins. Covering ninjas such as Hattori Hanzo, Kosaka Jinnai and Fuma no Kotaro, the book gives a biography of each character, as well as detailing popular ninja weapons and even illustrating the typical ninja stronghold!

Ninja Attack! is an ambitious book in the vein of the Horrible Histories series, seeking to inform kids of the true events of history using more accessible language and illustration. In this case, the authors seek to iron out some of the popular misconceptions created and circulated by movie makers, video game developers and authors. In fact, their prologue goes as far as to name some of the guilty culprits by name, though they’re not particularly bitchy about it when they do. Moreover, they explain their intentions with the kind of enthusiasm that gears you up for what follows.

Prepare, therefore, to be assaulted by hardcore historical fact! This book is clearly heavily researched, with a hefty amount of detail considering it’s targeted at the younger reader. Each section deals with a ninja recognised through history, with their most notable achievement or act along with how they met their end if the end is even known. Reading through this book is incredibly enlightening when it comes to correcting popular misconception, and most of the misconceptions seem completely inane when you think about it. Does it make sense, for instance, that a ninja would actually wear a black suit that makes them stand out in a crowd? Of course not, they wear whatever helps them blend in! It seems so obvious when you think about it, but strangely, reading this book is the first time that it’s occurred to me personally.

In addition to the biographies of the more famous ninja, the book also details quite a bit on ninja culture, from the female “ku-no-ichi” techniques, heavily dependent on sexual conquest, all the way to the typical ninja weaponry as well as detailing a ninja’s dwelling (which, incidentally, I found myself instantly wanting for myself). With such features as a double-wall to allow stealthy passage behind, as well as hinged flaps to things like balconies to allow ninja to slide underneath, any ninja abode would be sought after by any self-respecting E14 reader.

Despite the volume of information, it can at times be completely overwhelming. As I said, this book is more geared at the younger reader in the same way as Horrible Histories, as the same series has a book on surviving an attack on a city by Japanese monsters such as Godzilla. That being said, the information contained within this book is at times to the level of information overload. At a price of £9.99, the book is a little on the hefty side price-wise, although one could hardly argue that the information contained within is not value for money!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Descriptions of some quite violent acts.
Sex/Nudity : Talk of some Japanese hooker-ninjas, but otherwise null and void.
Swearing : None.
Summary: A heartily recommended book for those who want the authentic ninja learning experience, but a little too heavy for a casual enthusiast. 7/10

SMALLVILLE SEASON NINE GIVEAWAY!

Soaring into its ninth season, this modern retelling of the Superman legend and its classic characters continues to blend realism, action and emotional depth to reveal a new interpretation of the enduring mythology. This season, as Metropolis's clock tower tolls our characters' darkest hour, we find Clark Kent (series star Tom Welling) finally making his first attempts to embrace his calling as a superhero.

In the season premiere, Clark tells Jor-El he's ready to start his training, but Jor-El sends him back to Metropolis to cut ties with Lois before he can begin. Chloe (series star Allison Mack) is shocked when Lois (series star Erica Durance) suddenly reappears after having been missing for weeks -- but Lois has no recollection of vanishing into thin air with the Legion ring. While investigating a monorail crash, Lois meets John Corben (guest star Brian Austin Green - Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), a new reporter at The Daily Planet, with a negative attitude toward the "Red-Blue Blur." Chloe begs Clark to use the Legion ring to go back in time to save Jimmy, but he refuses, driving a wedge into their friendship. Meanwhile, Oliver (series star Justin Hartley) continues down a dark road, and Zod (new series star Callum Blue) arrives at the Luthor mansion.

Thanks to our friends at Warner Home Video, we've got a copy of Smallville: Season Nine on DVD to giveaway! For your chance of winning, send in your name and full postal address to smallvillegiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 12th October. The first name out of the electronic hat will win a free copy!

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