Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Book Reviews

Department 19
Will Hill
HarperCollins
Available from Thursday 31st March - £12.99 (Hardback)
Review by Rob Wade

In a secret supernatural battle that's been raging for over a century, the stakes have just been raised -- and they're not wooden anymore. When Jamie Carpenter's mother is kidnapped by strange creatures, he finds himself dragged into Department 19, the government's most secret agency. Fortunately for Jamie, Department 19 can provide the tools he needs to find his mother, and to kill the vampires who want him dead. But unfortunately for everyone, something much older is stirring, something even Department 19 can't stand up against!

The introduction to this book felt to me like the beginning of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or Van Helsing, in that the introduction of pretty much every name you’ve ever associated with vampires is done before the protagonist even makes a decision on whether to join Department 19. By the time he’s been shown round their base, you’ve already heard the names Van Helsing, Stoker, Godalming, Harker, Seward et al, as well as the fang-toothed D-Man himself.

The novel as a whole is action-packed in all the right places, with a well-written narrative throughout. You rarely find yourself getting lost in what’s going on, and on the rare occasion it does happen, you’ll find that it’s a piece of piss to jump back on. The plot is engaging, and very cinematic in its presentation. The way in which this is done is pretty subtle, really, in that it is simply a case of organising the chapters well and choosing the set pieces carefully. Budding authors would do well to take note of this book.

What’s also pretty effective is the use of surprise in the story. Now, with a narrative of this scale, inevitably there is always going to be a big storyline crescendo when you discover what it’s all been about until now. The way this process is handled in Department 19 is nothing short of spectacular, with just enough information teased to give you a reason to continue, and also to give you that point of reference for later, making you go “that was what he was talking about when he said ________.” It’s well-handled in this book, and as a result you’re drawn in much more effectively. What’s more, the last fifty pages or so have your heartstrings pulled taut on more than one occasion, and readers who enjoy surprise will be pleased with the outcome.

However, nothing is perfect, and the book does have the odd miss for what is otherwise a hit parade. The plot, although it’s done well, is at times predictable, and does get a little sappy and cheesy at times as well. Ultimately, when you read it you’ll feel like you’ve seen it in a lot of movies, and read it in a lot of novels and/or comics. However, what should be taken away from this is that this is most definitely an example of this type of novel that should be read at all costs, particularly as the ending leaves the whole series wide open as well as leaving some questions unanswered.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence: The book is about slaying vampires, so have a fucking guess. Stakes a-plenty, blood everywhere.
Sex/Nudity: Nothing. Allusions to sex and romance, but nothing more.
Swearing: A little bit, but nothing particularly explicit.
Summary: With elements of The Matrix, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the like, Department 19 is an enjoyable read, and the beginnings of what promises to be a very strong series. 8/10
Samurai: The Last Warrior
John Man
Bantam Press

Available Now – £20.00 (Hardback)
Review by Brad Harmer

The name 'Samurai' is synonymous with the ultimate warrior. With their elaborate armour, fierce swordsmanship and code of honour, the samurai have become iconic figures whose influence can still be felt today. From Kurosawa's epic Seven Samurai to the figure of Darth Vader in Star Wars, to Manga comics and video games, the figure of the fighting samurai still inspires us today. In John Man's new book, we discover the truth behind the legend.

From his birth in the shadow of the great volcano Sakurajima, to his glorious death by ritual suicide and disembowelment, Saigo Takamori was the ultimate Samurai leader. His fall brought about the end of hundreds of years of Samurai tradition and in many ways marks the birth of modern Japan. Saigo was a man trapped by paradox: a faithful servant to the emperor, and yet a leader of rebel troops; a mighty Samurai warrior, and also a master of Chinese poetry. His life, and ultimately his death, offer a window into the hundreds of years of culture and tradition that defined the samurai.

Samurai: The Last Warrior is a pretty bare presentation of fact, and lacks that real “hook” that can get the reader truly involved with and interesting in learning about the era. Man’s enthusiasm for his subject is apparent, but not infectious. There’s also a pretty terrible sense of jumping around in history, with no real consideration for the ready. It’s like a really boring uncle at a family gathering, re-edited by Quentin Tarantino. There are crashes from formal to colloquial language in the same paragraph...we suddenly find ourselves talking about someone else entirely...

There’s a lot of good stuff, here – but it is in dire need of a better editor.

The Emotionally Fourteen Rating
Violence:
Some detatched descriptions of mass battles, and some fairly gory up close and personal sections.
Sex/Nudity: None.
Swearing: None.
Summary: An okay-ish, slightly wishy-washy history of the dying days of the Samurai. If you’ve already an interest in the era, then there’s probably some points of interest here. If not, then this isn’t the one to get you hooked. 4/10

COMICS CORNER

2000AD #1727
Available from Wednesday 30th March


Judge Dredd’s little mini-story about talking vegetable parasites has some nice action scenes in it, and some pretty good artwork too...but it’s let down by the rather ham-fisted social-commentary gag at the end. Don’t ever do stuff like that, guys. If it’s a good joke/satire, then the reader has got it; if they haven’t, then it was a bad one and you’re doing yourself no favours by drawing attention to it.

Flesh – after a somewhat shaky start – seems to be getting better and better, though. The non-stop hyper-violent Saturday Morning Cartoon style action is tempered by a real, hard sci-fi core. It’s great, is what I’m trying to say. Still not impressed by the artwork, though. It still looks like badly photocopied Carlos Ezquerra.

Shakara finally disappears down the plug-hole (thankfully), but it still bangs on for far, far too long like some sort of terrible manga, full of pseudo sci-fi pretentious wankery. Hopefully this won’t be back for a while.

Dandridge is looking good. It’s picking up at a good pace, and there’s a sign of good, old-fashioned 2000 AD weird kicking up. That’s what we like to see.

A slightly above average issue...ruined by the fact that over half of it was given to Shakara. Things could be worse. 5/10

THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH GIVEAWAY

Crash landing on Earth from his dying planet, an alien humanoid traveling by the name of Thomas Jerome Newton (David Bowie) uses his superior intelligence to build a vast business empire. As he takes on, and beats, every major US corporation, people can only guess his true purpose – to save his dying world from drought.

Newton’s ageless fall from grace, as he becomes prey to lust, alcohol, business rivals and the US Government makes The Man Who Fell To Earth not only a bitingly caustic indictment of the modern world but also a poignant commentary on the loneliness of the outsider. Also starring Candy Clark, Rip Torn and Buck Henry, based on the cult novel by Walter Tevis and directed by Nic Roeg

Thanks to our friends at Optimum Home Entertainment, we've got three copies of The Man Who Fell to Earth on Blu-ray to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to emotionally14@hotmail.co.uk before midday on Tuesday 5th April, making sure to put "The Man Who Fell to Earth" as the subject. The first three names out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy!

Don't forget to put "The Man Who Fell to Earth" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

The Man Who Fell to Earth is available on Blu-ray from Monday 4th April, priced £19.99.

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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