Tuesday 15 March 2011

Book Reviews

The Gallows Curse
Karen Maitland
Penguin Books

Available Now - £12.99 (Paperback)
Review by Brad Harmer

Get this in the E14 Store for £7.99

It's 1210 and a black force is sweeping England. A vengeful King John has seized control of the Church, leaving corpses to lie in unconsecrated ground, babies unbaptized in their cradles and the people terrified of dying in sin. And in the village of Gastmere, the consequences grow darker still when Elena, a servant girl, is dragged into a conspiracy to absolve the sins of the lord of the manor.

As the terrors that soon begin to plague Elena's sleep grow darker, in desperation she visits the cunning woman, who has been waiting for just such an opportunity to fulfil an ancient curse conjured at the gallows. Elena, haunted by this curse and threatened with death for a crime she didn't commit, flees the village ...only to find her nightmare has barely begun. For treachery lurks in every shadow as King John's brutal reign makes enemies of brothers, murderers of virgins and sinners of us all.

Karen Maitland returns with another amazing novel. The characters are all fully rounded, easily identifiable – and a mixture of the honest and good, and the downright filthy bastards...and a few that fall inbetween, to be fair. The story unfolds at a great pace, and – unlike a fair amount of historical fiction – at no point does the author’s enthusiasm for the era get in the way of what is most important: telling a good story.

Maitland continues to build off the is-it-or-isn’t-it “magic”, first seen in Company of Liars, in which what we would now think of as “superstition” or “coincidence” is made to feel very real when sees through the eyes of the characters. The ending will keep you guessing right up to the end and – if you haven’t tried her novels before – now is as good a time as any.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Frequent bloody, realistic and violent murder – including some flashbacks to the Crusades.
Sex/Nudity: Several scenes take place in a whorehouse, but most of the nookie is unseen.
Swearing: Some fucks, and a couple of bastards. That’s a good name for a band, actually.
Summary: Maitland has done it again. Head and shoulders above The Owl Killers, and on a level pegging with Company of Liars. Well worth a look for lovers of both historical fiction, and fantasy. 10/10
Star Wars - Clone Wars Gambit: Stealth
Karen Miller
Arrow Books
Available Now - £7.99 (Paperback)
Review by Rob Wade

Get this in the E14 Store for £5.49

A pastoral planet, Lanteeb wants only to be left alone to survive - but it is the source of what could be one of the most devastatingly destructive weapons ever. If this potential weapon were to fall into the hands of the Separatists, uncounted worlds would fall. But should the Republic succeed in destroying it first, one world that needs it to survive will be annihilated. A frightening dilemma that Obi-Wan and Anakin will have to untangle, if they can get in and out of the occupied planet alive...

The first part of a two-book series, Stealth deals heavily with the arrival of Obi-Wan and Anakin on Lanteeb, after a considerable amount of the book spent dealing with the backstory behind why they’re going in the first place. The book opens with a fast-paced space and land battle at Kothlis, a vital Republic planet that they are reluctant to part with for strategic purposes. It’s a good introduction to the book, and gets you hooked effectively.

However, once you’re in, you do have to put up with a fair bit of build-up, as the first half of the book deals with the Kothlis battle followed by Bail Organa roping Obi-Wan into checking out what starts off as a hunch but then becomes less than a hunch when evidence is provided. Pretty standard detective fare, but in this case with The Force. I found myself particularly enjoying the detective stuff on Lanteeb when they first arrive.

What this book does really well is develop some of the relationships between characters such as Palpatine and Anakin, as well as further including Bail Organa deep in the storyline. However, the symptom of this is that the book seems almost too aware of future events which may affect the storyline in the future. Obi-Wan seems to have a suspicion that Anakin will turn to the dark side, which sort of goes against the feeling of the third movie which has him completely in disbelief and shock. It’s almost like the book suffers from knowing what’s coming next, and it has a strangely detrimental effect on the continuity.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: The standard Star Wars fare, but it’s against robots, so it’s cool.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: The usual Star Wars fare.
Summary: Ultimately, the book is well worth checking out. It’s a well-done novel that sets itself up well and leaves the events of the second book in the mind of the reader, leaving them eager for more. 7/10
Warhammer 40,000: Helion Rain
George Mann
Black Library/Games Workshop

Available Now - £8.50 (MP3) & £10.00 (CD)
Review by Blake Harmer

Get this in the E14 Store for £6.11

Helion Rain follows the story of the Raven Guard, a Space Marine chapter tasked with defending the planet Idos from being consumed by a huge Tyranid force. The main story focuses on a Scout squad led by Veteran Sergeant Grayvus, who has been ordered by his Captain to take out a power station by any means necessary to halt the Tyranid advance. But will the scouts be able to battle through the Tyranid onslaught of Termagants, Lictors and Genestealers in time before the bulk of the Raven Guard forces are destroyed by the never-ending Tyranid forces?

As far as short stories go, this is quite an entertaining one that gives action, suspense and thrills by the bucketload, and could work as a pretty good Warhammer 40,000 film if done correctly. As for the production value of the audio book, it is truly superb, as with a lot of the Black Library audio books. With machine gun fire, alien noises and big explosions as the story is being told, these sound effects really add immersion as you listen to the story unfold.

There are a couple of flaws that stop Helion Rain being an absolutely essential buy. This is mainly for fans of the WH40K franchise only, as it does little to explain the monsters or characters and takes it that you are familiar with the WH40K universe. There are a couple of times where the description of the story could have been a little clearer, especially when the action gets more frenetic. However, these are minor issues and the overall story and how it is told is done very well.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Lots of death, explosions with both Tyranid aliens and Space Marines getting torn apart for most of the story.
Sex/Nudity: None
Swearing: None to my recollection, if there were any they were fairly light though.
Summary: A thoroughly enjoyable Warhammer 40K adventure from start to finish. Sure, you do need to have some knowledge of the Warhammer 40K universe to truly enjoy this, and it may not be the most engaging experience. But if it’s a story with lots of action you want, you could do worse than this well presented short story. 8/10


2000AD #1725
Review by Brad Harmer

A nicely drawn cover kicks open this week’s 2000AD, but the colour scheme leaves something to be desired. It’s way too drab to be eye-catching, and is hardly going to be responsible for brining more readers in.

The current Judge Dredd arc wraps up nicely. There’s some callbacks to Dredd’s past, which is always nice to see, and there’s a satisfactory – yet open – ending.

Shakara’s artwork is a mixed bag. When we’re looking at wide panels of spaceships drifting by each other, they look great. When we’re looking at characters, it always looks claustrophobic and cramped. Whilst this is possibly intentional on the part of the artist, that doesn’t make it easy to read.

Pat Mills’ return to Flesh is continuing at a good pace with plenty of gory dinosaur action, but I’m not a fan of McKay’s artwork. A reliance on too much hatching makes it look like a sloppy Carlos Ezquerra work from the early nineties. Time to catch up with the present day a little, I think.

There’s then a woefully lame Future Shock, which seems to be there purely to fill out pages. Future Shocks are supposed to be short stories with an unexpected twist, right? Well, this doesn’t have a twist – it just has a really stupid ending. Very, very poor.

Kingdom also wraps up this week with a very emotional and well-drawn finish. Then there’s some nice artwork of The ABC Warriors’ Zippo. All in all, a solid issue, but nothing stellar anywhere. 6/10

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