Tuesday 28 September 2010

Book Reviews

The Saga of Larten Crepsley: Birth of a Killer
Darren Shan

Available from Thursday 30th September - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Kelly Prior

Birth of a Killer is the highly anticipated new novel from Darren Shan. The first novel in The Saga of Larten Crepsley, and the prequel to The Saga of Darren Shan, it chronicles a young and na├»ve Larten’s first steps towards Vampirism. Having seen enough brutality and death in his young life already, an incident in the silk factory where he works forces Larten to flee, literally for his life. Taking refuge in a dark and murky crypt, Larten meets Seba, a vampire, a “bloodsucker”, looking for a new recruit to be his assistant. Knowing that he can never return to his old life, Larten joins Seba and begins his vampire training, much in the same way as we saw a young Darren Shan become Mr. Crepsley’s assistant in Cirque Du Freak, the first book in The Saga of Darren Shan.

Birth of a Killer really does stand as an example of how far Darren Shan has come as a novelist. It’s gripping and intense in all the right places, while still managing to be intelligent, emotional and sensitive where it’s needed. Shan set himself the difficult task of recreating the steps that his character Darren took in The Saga of Darren Shan, without making this book seem like a carbon copy. It’s unique in many ways, while still allowing us to revisit so many fond memories like Darren’s stay at the Cirque du Freak, his encounter with the Vampaneze Murlaugh, and the endurance-testing visit to Vampire Mountain.

Mr. Crepsley has always been one of Shan’s most interesting and entertaining creations and Birth of a Killer provides avid fans a chance to see the real story behind his past. For passers-by, just looking for a good read, it will not disappoint, but you would be better off reading The Saga of Darren Shan first, to avoid any confusion. This book moves fast. Larten grows from a young boy to a thirty year old man during the course of this first book and has many different adventures and experiences. It’s very dark and gloomy in places; something to be said about a lot of Shan’s books, but it is also a work of comical genius and is almost impossible to put down.

A writer for both children and adults, Shan succeeds yet again in creating a novel that appeals to all age groups and neglects no one. Shan’s imagination is remarkable and he boasts a great command of dialogue and character development.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Lots of fighting, some graphic deaths.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: Some made-up vampire swearing.
Summary: This book will not disappoint any fan of Vampire fiction or general fantasy. For fans of Shan’s work, it is the Holy Grail, answering many questions. 10/10
The Dead
Charlie Higson
Penguin Books

Available Now - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

A terrible disease is striking everyone over the age of fourteen. Death walks the streets. Nowhere is safe. Maxie, Blue and the rest of the Holloway crew aren't the only kids trying to escape the ferocious adults who prey on them. Jack and Ed are best friends, but their battle to stay alive tests their friendship to the limit as they go on the run with a mismatched group of other kids - nerds, fighters, misfits. And one adult. Greg, a butcher, who claims he's immune to the disease. They must work together if they want to make it in this terrifying new world. But as a fresh disaster threatens to overwhelm London, they realize they won't all survive...

This book is a prequel of sorts to the events of The Enemy, the first book in the franchise, and deals with a different group of kids. This time, the events centre around a group of posh schoolboys who escape the confines of their academy and traipse around London looking for a safe haven. Along the way, they run into the coach load of kids driven around by Greg the butcher (not to be confused with Gregg’s the Butcher, as this Greg has actually handled something resembling food in his time). Of course, in true horror movie fashion, it doesn’t pan out quite how they are expecting, and before long they find themselves in some strange places.

One of the things I have always liked about the first book, The Enemy, is the feeling that nobody who appears in the book can be guaranteed to be in a good state by the end of the series. Up until Vector Prime saw Chewbacca try and catch a moon in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, it was prevalent in most popular series, but the best books don’t have that mechanic. Pleasingly, The Dead continues this trend, with a large percentage of the characters along the way finding themselves mutilated, eaten or otherwise fucked up by all sorts of weird and wonderful enemies and circumstances.

Also of positive note is the “fresh disaster” mentioned in the book’s blurb. Without going into too much detail for reasons of spoilers, it’s a masterstroke of a final set piece, with a sense of urgency usually reserved for Left 4 Dead matches right when you set off the final alarm. It’s probably a good comparison, then, that they deal with similar subject matter, as this book does the urgency just right in the right places. The book is also written very realistically, with all the characters from different backgrounds actually sounding like the kind of kids you’d sit behind on the bus, causing you to curse about how far society had gone to shit.

No book is perfect, of course, and the novel does suffer from the occasional drawn-out sequence where it’s maybe a little long-winded, but make no mistake: this is every bit as good as the first book, if not better. Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s next!

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Violence: Tons of violence, guns and gore. What more can you ask for, eh?
Sex/Nudity: None. You sickos.
Swearing: Plenty of swears, all it takes is for the adults to all die, eh? Kids today...
Summary: Another stonking read and yet more evidence that Higson is on to a winner! 9/10
The Small Hand
Susan Hill
Profile Books

Available Now - £9.99 (Hardback & Digital Download)
Review by Brad Harmer

Returning home from a visit to a client late one summer's evening, antiquarian bookseller Adam Snow takes a wrong turning and stumbles across the derelict old White House. Compelled by curiosity, he approaches the door, and, standing before the entrance feels the unmistakeable sensation of a small hand creeping into his own, 'as if a child had taken hold of it'. Intrigued by the encounter, he determines to learn more, and discovers that the owner's grandson had drowned tragically many years before. At first unperturbed by the odd experience, Snow begins to be plagued by haunting dreams, panic attacks, and more frequent visits from the small hand which become increasingly threatening and sinister...

When this first arrived, my gut reaction was “is that it?”. At 167 pages long and just over 2cm thick, it’s hard to believe that this really warrants a hardback release. Of course, I realised that I was literally judging a book by its cover, and resolved to discover the good things in this small package. Which didn’t take long.

The characters, even our protagonist, is paper thin, and he takes on the standard role of “Ghost Story Protagonist”. Crucially for a ghost story, the scary bits are woefully unscary, and this reads like something M.R. James would have thrown in the waste-paper basket. In fact, it reads so much like an M.R. James story that I kept forgetting that it was supposed to be set in the present day. The scary bits aren’t scary and the whole thing is rather a tragic damp squib.

If The Small Hand was a short story, then it would probably have been quite a good one. The fact that it is being marketed (and priced) as a novel, however, means there are certain expectations...none of which this succeeds in meeting.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An average ghost story with no real surprises in it. It’s a well written enough short story, but there’s just not enough length or substance here to justify the ten pound price tag. 4/10
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn
Stephenie Meyer

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

So, this is the “end” of The Twilight Saga.


That’s all the enthusiasm I can sum up, I’m afraid. I’ll do it again, for the sake of showing a little effort.


Meyer’s prose sucks and her writing is as clumsy as her protagonist, but let’s be honest, if you’ve gotten this far, that doesn’t bother you.

The pacing is a bit weird, either spending pages gazing mushily at an object of affection, of hurtling at lightning speed from location to location.

Having Jacob narrate half the book doesn’t really work, as he talks like a twelve year old.

Meyer has a terrible problem with making things too fucking convenient for her characters. Anything that would be a scene, character flaw or even major plot development in any other writer’s work is dismissed with a matter of words. Like when Carlisle "just happens" to have an X-ray machine upstairs in his house. For shits and giggles presumably.

To be honest, Meyer isn’t really writing for cynical bastards at this point. She was writing this for the Twi-Hards out there, and if you’ve liked the series so far, then you’re going to like this – it’s more of all the things you love (with some plot conveniences). If you haven’t, then don’t bother carrying on, because you’re really going to hate it.

To be honest, even if you do like it, the ending’s a bit of a damp squib, and there are many ways the series can continue, should The Host not pan out as intended.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating:
Some vampire on werewolf slugging.
Sex/Nudity: Some shagging of the “curtains blowing in the wind” variety.
Swearing: None.
Summary: Generally quite an unsatisfying end to the series. Too many stupid ideas, too many conveniences and too much clunky prose. 4/10
Terminator Salvation: Trial By Fire
Timothy Zahn
Titan Books
Available Now - £6.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

Following the dramatic events of Terminator Salvation, a recovering John Connor grants Barnes permission to return to the destroyed VLA lab and bury his brother, killed in the explosive opening of the movie. At the ruins Barnes and Blair Williams hunt through the debris for the remains of their comrade but instead uncover a mysterious cable leading up into the mountains. The two Resistance fighters head into the wilderness to investigate.

What the pair discovers is an entire village that appears largely untouched by Judgment Day and its aftermath. Suspicious of the villagers, Barnes and Blair decide to dig deeper...

For those who aren’t familiar with Timothy Zahn, he is the legend responsible for bringing Grand Admiral Thrawn, Pellaeon, Talon Karrde and Mara Jade into the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and is thus deserving of eternal gratitude by all who dare to call themselves Emotionally Fourteen. Got that out of your system? Fantastic, let’s move on.

Trial By Fire deals heavily with some of the periphery characters of the franchise (and Kyle Reese), seeing two of John Connor’s team dealing with their tense interpersonal relationship through a trip to a nearby lab and the subsequent events that follow, and seeing Reese deal with a brand new and terrifying threat to the Resistance.

One of the best things about this book is what we at E14 call the “Arkham Horror Effect” in full force. Essentially, this effect makes an inanimate object, or in the case of the game the deck of cards, display such cleverness and strategy that it makes you feel like you’re up against a really smart human player. This, refreshingly, was how I felt all the way through about Skynet. The book is so well written that you get the feeling that Skynet is a tactical genius, but a human being prepared to learn and adapt. A bit like...Grand Admiral Thrawn...Damn you, Zahn: You’ve done it again!

Anyway, the two sub-plots are done really well, with a decent amount of revelation as you go along and the characters become wise to what’s going on. One of the downsides to this is that in one case, the Blair/Barnes storyline in particular, you can see where the plot is ultimately going to end up a mile off. On the plus side, the events of their storyline don’t quite pan out exactly how you might expect, though the ultimate ending is predictable.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating: :
Violence: Understandably, plenty of gunfights and fistfights. They’re called Terminators, not Poncebots.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None, which genuinely surprised me.
Summary: Although you can see the way the storyline goes from a mile off, the book is still very well written and keeps the story in motion nicely. 8/10


The Sith are gone - all except Darth Bane, creator of the 'Rule of Two', which states that the new Sith Order will consist of only two: a Master and an apprentice. But how does one train an apprentice whose ultimate goal - and proof of success - must be to kill the Master?

Darth Bane is beginning to suffer the effects of drawing heavily on the dark side of the Force for so many years. At the same time, he's beginning to doubt his apprentice, Zannah, because she hasn't yet tried to kill him and take his power. Is she weak? Unworthy of being his apprentice? When he learns of an ancient Sith holocron that holds the secret to immortal life, he sends Zannah off on a mission and heads out to search for the holocron on his own. But Zannah is anything but weak, and now that she guesses his doubts, she decides the time is right to take him on.

The Forces of evil will clash in spectacular battle, with the future of the Sith hanging in the balance!

Thanks to our friends at Arrow Books, we've got six copies of Star Wars - Darth Bane: Dynasty of Evil to give away! For your chance of winning, send in your name and full postal address to darthbanegiveaway@yahoo.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 5th October. The first six names out of the electronic hat will win a copy each.

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