Saturday 13 February 2010

Book Reviews

Warhammer 40,000 - Blood Angels: Black Tide
James Swallow
Black Library

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

Having prevented the ferocious Bloodfiends from brining disaster to their homeworld of Baal, the Blood Angels go in search of the renegade who almost destroyed them – Fabius Bile. Tracking the Chaos traitor down to his secret base on Dynikas V, a world beset by alien Tyranids, the Blood Angels find horrors more terrible than even they can imagine. The Blood Angels must retrieve the stolen sample of their primarch’s blood before Fabius Bile can bring his evil schemes to fruition.

Despite this being the fourth instalment in a series, it’s very easy for a new reader to follow, if they have even some knowledge of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I personally haven’t played the main game for about ten years, but I remembered the universe and its details easy enough whilst reading this. It helped, of course, that Fabius Bile was my favourite character in my Chaos army when I was a kid. In fact, with his focus on genetic engineering, it’s a wonder he’s not used more often in WH40K fiction, as he’s a fantastic philosophical counterpoint to the Imperium’s focus on keeping their genes pure.

But you don’t want to hear me talking about “philosophical counterpoints”. You want to know what’s happening in the grim darkness of the far future, right? Well, it involves a load of awesome action and some pretty good dialogue. The violence comes as heavy and fast as a Carnifex listening to Bolt Thrower, and some of the set-pieces (especially the underwater battle against a Lictor) are fantastic.

There are only two points that may hamper your enjoyment. Firstly, whilst the book doesn’t require much knowledge of the story that has gone before, some of the descriptive writing is a little vague, and this could prove to be a major hurdle for some people. Also, the middle-segment of the book seems to drag its feet a bit, as though it was struggling to meet a word count, when it would just have been better to run a little shorter.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of gunfighting, melee (armed and unarmed) combat, strong blood, gore and mutilations.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None
Summary: A fun, sci-fi actioner that is relatively brainless, but delivers what it promises. Recommended for Warhammer 40,000 fans. 8/10

Shades of Midnight
Lara Adrian

Available From 18th February - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The Alaskan tundra is not an easy place for life to thrive, but lately, something extraordinarily sinister and wholly inhuman has let itself loose on the territory, leaving a wake of unspeakable carnage. For bush pilot, Alexandra MacGuire, the wreckage is especially chilling – Alaska is the place she retreated in order to gain safety after her mother and brother were brutally murdered in the Everglades. Now Alex’s sanctuary has become her darkest nightmare.

When the Midnight Breed is alerted to the slaughter in Alaska, they send Kade to quell the danger, and ensure that Alex does not learn the truth behind the attacks. Alex is, at first, assuaged by the strength of Kade’s presence, but she will soon be tested by the mount threat of otherworldly evil, and by her unexpected desire for a man she should fear, but has become her seductive guide into a realm of blood and darkness.

I’m not really sure where I stand on “paranormal romance” as a genre. Every time I try and cut it some slack, it disappoints me greatly. There must be some great stuff behind it all, right?

Shades of Midnight is a hard one to call. Unlike a lot of these “Nosferatu & Boon” style books, it’s actually written very well. The descriptive passages really conjure up the Alaskan atmosphere, and the dialogue is – for the most part – pretty good. Its horror elements are excellent. The prologue is straight out of a good 80s horror movie, and I mean that it a good way. The plot actually throws the reader a few surprises along the way, too, which I was most impressed with.

It’s unfortunate then, that the romance side is so clumsy. The sudden, unstoppable attraction that Alexandra feels towards Kade is ridiculous to the point of self-parody. Also, the main story seems to end about thirty pages before the rest of the novel does, resulting in a rather strange and empty coda.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Several grisly and gory murders, some combat (armed and unarmed)
Sex/Nudity: Two detailed sex scenes, albeit described in a hilariously over-the-top manner.
Swearing: Kade says “fuck” as virtually every other word.
Summary: A pretty entertaining horror/fantasy that will, no doubt, please teenage Goths. Would have scored better if it hadn’t have been so heavy-handed with the school-girl friendly romance. 6/10

Seeds of Earth
Michael Cobley
Available now - RRP £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

The first intelligent species to encounter mankind attacked without warning. With little hope of halting the invasion, Earth's last roll of the dice was to dispatch three colony ships, seeds of Earth, to different parts of the galaxy. The human race would live on...somewhere.

Over a century later, the planet Darien hosts a thriving human settlement. But mankind's new home harbours secrets dating back to the dawn of history. Secrets that could yet see a devastating war erupt across the entire galaxy...

As the first novel in a new series, certain pressures undoubtedly fall upon you: You have to establish the characters, as well as enough back-story to keep them engaging. You have to establish the world in which the story is set, a task that becomes increasingly difficult the bigger the story's universe becomes. Then there's the plot itself, which has to keep you engaged from the beginning as well as set events in motion for future volumes in the case of a series.

It is therefore so refreshing to read a book like Seeds of Earth where everything in that list is done well.

From the outset, it is clear that there is a lot to this book in terms of depth of story, the prologue detailing the last act of Earth's forces in sending out colony ships while against the onslaught of the Swarm, an unknown alien invader. We pick up in the first chapter on planet Darien, where one of the colony ships has settled. At the point we join the story, they have just received transmission from a ship claiming to be from Earth, which understandably fills the colonists with both optimism and fear. Before long, though, humanity and all its history and future are put at risk.

Let's first get to the good stuff. Cobley is clearly aware of the depth and complexity of the story, and the pace of the plot is top-notch, even going so far as to divide the chapters with the names of each chapter's focal character. A nice touch, I thought, as the division of characters allows the deep story to really proceed at a solid pace. The conclusion to this first volume is as frantic to read as it proceeds in the story, and the plot shifts in a way that makes you HAVE to read on to the intriguing conclusion which through the epilogue sows the seeds for future volumes.

The characters are broad and interesting, with well-developed personalities and defects. There isn't a character in this book that is difficult to read, unless it's for storyline purposes.

Nothing is truly perfect, however, and initially the depth of new information can be a little overwhelming. My advice: persevere. It's worth it.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Plenty of gunfights and assassinations; even tattoos kill in this novel.
Sex/Nudity : None.
Swearing : None that I could notice, although they have an equivalent word "jelking" which I suppose counts.
Summary: A tremendously well-written, imaginative, engaging science fiction masterpiece. 10/10

One Scream Away
Kate Brady
Piatkus Books
Available now - RRP £7.99
Review by Rob Wade

Beth Denison is a single mother trying her best to make her daughter's life as easy as possible. All that begins to come into question, however, when she begins to receive troubling phone calls. Chevy Bankes, the man she thought she was rid of forever, is out of prison, and he'd do anything to see her. Even kill...

The novel One Scream Away deals with the theme of a serial killer who uses antique dolls to depict what he does to his victims, all for the ultimate goal of silencing a voice inside his crazed head that taunts him with song. While this may sound contrived, generally I found this novel to have some original elements.

Firstly, let's get to the good stuff. The novel's pacing is very cinematic, in the sense that it allows you to really take in what's happening at all times and doesn't really dwell amazingly heavily on description. Instead, the novel focuses on the plot elements. The characters are sufficiently engaging to keep you reading all the way through, which is the sign of a good crime novel.

However, the plot itself while engaging enough is at times nauseatingly predictable. As soon as I realised the killer was after her again, I had three theories as to why, two of which turned out to be correct. At times, I admit I was slightly surprised by a couple of things, but generally I knew what I could expect from the next section of the book.

Ultimately, my failing with this novel is that it doesn't anything for me. It didn't thrill me, it didn't appall me, it really was just a throwaway experience. I can't see myself reading it again, even though I enjoyed it and felt it was a good book. Ideally, this sort of book would be ideal holiday reading, in that it's light and accessible and doesn't require too much in the way of deep thought.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Lots of murder and the occasional fracas.
Sex/Nudity : Plenty of allusions, but no detail. Spoilsports...
Swearing : A few uses, mostly the word "cunt".
Summary: An enjoyable, if predictable, thriller. Kept me engaged from beginning to end, but didn't really do much more than that. 7/10

John Dies @ The End
David Wong
Thomas Dune Books
Available now - RRP £17.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

It's a drug that promises an out-of-body experience with each hit. On the street they call it Soy Sauce, and users drift across time and dimensions. But some who come back are no longer human. Suddenly, a silent otherworldly invasion is underway, and mankind needs a hero. What it gets instead is John and David, a pair of college dropouts who can barely hold down jobs. Can these two stop the oncoming horror in time to save humanity? No. No, they can't.

Written by one of the creative geniuses behind Internet sensation Cracked.Com, John Dies @ The End is part Jay & Silent Bob, part Ghostbusters and part Lovecraft. What do you get if you add all those ingredients together, mathematicians? That's right. Awesome.

I had immense amounts of trouble putting this book down from the moment I started reading it. I can't think of the last time I read such an original idea, and definitely struggle to think of a book that has done both comedy and genuine unease so well. Like all good comedy, it's the subtle dialogue points that made me laugh out loud (and I did). I challenge anyone to read the words "murder burrito" in context in this book without at least chuckling.

At times, the dialogue can be a little childish, relying on dick references and stuff like that, but this is probably one of the most E14 books ever written at times. From the two dropout protagonists playing too much videogame hockey, to the over-embellished fight scene described by John that David suspects actually just involved all the combatants looking at him strangely until he drove away, several good comedy moments are found here.

This book also does the horror elements really well, creating scenes of genuine tension, to the point where I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up a little reading some scenes. All in all, this book is just superb, doing everything it sets out to do and more.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating :
Violence : Proverbial bucket-loads. People (and dogs) exploding, gunfights, exorcisms and possessions. Lovely.
Sex/Nudity : None relayed in the book, only talked about.
Swearing : What did you honestly expect from a book like this? If the answer is "lots", well done!
Summary: A thoroughly enjoyable and original story from a clearly gifted comedy writer. I can't wait to see what's coming next... 10/10

1 comment:

  1. Great reviews as always! I would really look forward to reading Seeds of Earth! I do like a 'human-race-trying-to-survive' kinda yarn :) I'll keep a look out for it!