Thursday 29 July 2010

Book Reviews

Terra Incognita
Kevin J. Anderson
Little, Brown

Available Now - The Edge of the World (£7.99 (Paperback)) & The Map of All Things (£13.99 (Hardback))
Review by Kelly Prior

In The Edge of the World, we find ourselves smack bang in the middle of a religious war between two nations, Tierra and Uraba, the followers of Aiden and Urec, sons of the great “creator of all things” Ondun. When an honoured holy ground, Ishalem, is accidentally burnt to the ground, both nations believe the other to be the culprit. Amidst the chaos a ship is built to and chartered to travel further than any ship has ever sailed, beyond the horizon, to find the legendary Terra Incognita; the unknown lands, considered monster territory.

In the second instalment, The Map of All Things, the Uraban leader Soldan-Shah Omra and the Tierran Princess Anjine prepare strategies for war against each other. Meanwhile, Omra’s adopted son Saan sails to the uncharted Middlesea on a quest to find the Key to Creation, while Captain Criston Vora, a Tierran, builds a ship and undertakes a perilous mission to find the mysterious land of Terravitae. Criston lost his wife, Adrea, years ago, but what he doesn’t know is that his wife is still alive and well, and married to the enemy, raising their son under Uraban law...

The Edge of the World is difficult to get into, with a very slow and frustrating start. It is difficult to invest in characters singularly and it’s hard to grasp every detail of the complicated politics. The book has a remarkable amount of sub plots, which provides variety, but also causes frustration and confusion. Some of the plots are infectious and really tantalising, while others are slow and achingly dull. The cover art and the book’s title suggest that we are about to read a book full of exciting sea adventures and numerous encounters with conflict in the ocean. While there is the occasional sea serpent, and a great deal of time spent at sea, all the most memorable and important events seem to happen on land.

The Map of All Things begins with a really helpful summary of the first book, which is convenient if you have just read my review of the first book and decided to skip it. Do not fret, however, as The Map of All Things is a far more satisfying read. With a more exciting narrative and much faster plot development on offer, this book makes up for the disappointment of the first one. The Edge of the World is like The Fellowship of the Ring; it’s pretty much only there to establish the characters and setting. This book, as the second instalment, is where the real fun happens. The in-depth, complicated plot is much easier to grasp in this book, and much more entertaining. We are also given a great deal more sea-faring adventure in this novel, which includes under water cities and mer-people.

Anderson has an excellent way of making sure we feel impartial in the war at all times; we are bystanders, onlookers, not cheering either side, merely observing the war and revelling in the violence. The sieges and battles are very intense, and the war crimes and retaliations are truly harrowing. Anderson creates his cultures based on our real ones, for example the “Eye of Urec” and the quest to find the “Key to Creation”, allowing us to remain in familiar and comfortable territory and therefore empathise with the characters.

The commentary on religion is very poignant and can be easily related to any number of significant events in history, whether it’s warring nations or clashing religions. There is also a significant amount of romance in both novels, which helps readers to invest in the more emotional sub plots of the novels. Quite impressively, we are told in the Author’s Note that there are concept rock albums available online to accompany the stories, just in case reading in silence wasn’t epic enough! I checked out some of the songs, and, you know what? They are actually awesome!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Battles, fighting, some gruesome descriptions.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Download the music and read the books the way they are intended to be read. The first book is frustrating and unsatisfying, and you really can get away with not reading it, but the second book is actually so good that overall Terra Incognita gets 8/10

Solomon's Thieves: Book One
Jordan Mechner
First Second

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

Solomon’s Thieves is a swashbuckling adventure set in medieval France, based on the historical events of the fall of the Knights Templar. It’s the story of a group of outlawed knights who band together, Ocean’s Eleven-style, to pull off the greatest heist of the 14th century.

If Solomon’s Thieves was a movie, if would be directed by Stephen Sommers, and be really, really good. The story grabs you really early, thanks to a staggeringly cinematic introduction, detailing a massive battle during the crusades, only to rapidly move forward to our three main protagonists.

The combination of high paced action sequences, light-hearted and endearing comedy scenes and hard historical fiction leads to a very interesting feel. The political machinations in the background add a layer of depth that you don’t expect during the first third of the book mostly given over to farts and fights. The artwork is excellent, with all of the characters bursting with life, and reflecting the mood of the scene brilliantly.

If you can find a copy, pick it up. It’s a great, fun read – and it will leave you busting for part two.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of grappling, punching, shoving and sword waving. Some “off camera” torture. Sime huge battle scenes.
Sex/Nudity: Partial male nudity.
Swearing: Mild and infrequent.
Summary: An immensely fun, historical, pulp adventure, with artwork bursting with life and character. Hopefully we’ll see more of this. 8/10

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