Monday, 20 October 2014

Goblin Moon (Mask and Dagger1) by Teresa Edgerton - a review

First things first, let me just say I was offered a copy of this book (by Tickety Boo Press) in exchange for a fair and honest review. The book is a re-issue (originally published in 1991) but has aged well and does not feel out of place in today's market. The actual writing style (and believe me, Ms. Edgerton has a very sumptuous prose style) means the story reads like one of the classics. Imagine, if you will, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett writing together (with possibly a hint of Stan Lee) and you will have an idea of what to expect. The setting is a 'Regency-esque' one with what I tend to think of as an Upstairs/Downstairs cast of characters. You have the upper classes (the sickly Elsie, her companion Sera, the foppish Lord Skelbrooke - who may be more than he seems), and the lower classes (represented by the likes of Caleb Braun and his grand-nephew Jedidiah). Add to this Dwarves, Gnomes, Goblins, Trolls etc. and you have a varied and colourful assembly. The story starts with Caleb and Jedidiah working as river scavengers (as the name implies they make their living scavaging what they can from the river). What they find when they open a coffin they have 'retrieved' as it floats downriver sets up one strand of the story. There is plenty going on though besides this, but not enough to make it over complicated. What keeps the story tied together nicely is that most of the main characters know each other, even though they move in different circles most of the time (Jenk, the antiquarian book dealer is Grandfather to Sera, Caleb ends up working for Jenk, Sera and Jedidiah have known each other for on and so forth) As a fantasy novel it is quite unlike most other stories in the genre - and that is a good thing. There are no sprawling quests or epic journeys here, just a dark brooding city that feels not unlike Pratchett's Ankh Morpork at times. A city with more than its' fair share of undesirables, a city with places you don't want to be after dark (to be honest, places you don't want to be in broad daylight!), a city in need of...........A HERO!! There were moments I found myself holding my breath as I read, and moments I felt like giving a rousing "Hurrah!" A thoroughly enjoyable read and a book I think will be just right now that the nights are drawing in. If I did find a downside, my only real gripe (and it is a tiny one really) was that there seemed to be a lot of clothing terms I didn't know and had to look up - but that's just me and will not stop me from giving a rating of 4.5 out of 5. I look forward to reading the next in the series when it comes out.

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Betrayal's Shadow (Mahaelian Chronicle, Book 1) by Dave-Brendon de Burgh (a review)

Just for perspective, I have been reading and loving epic fantasy novels ever since I picked up a copy of Pawn of Prophecy (Belgariad book 1)in 1983. That's 30 years ago, and since that fateful day I have read a lot...and I mean A LOT! Most new series that came out, I was there. With the dawn of the kindle/e-reader age the field got bigger, and, to be fair, the quality wasn't always there. The main problem, for me, was variety. Realistically there are only so many times you can join the farmboy/villager/baker/general low-born person destined to be king in a quest for the sword of destiny/magic ring/family hirloom that will save the world. What I want is someone to raise the bar a little, tell me a new story. There are authors out there who do - Sanderson, Rothfuss, Abercrombie and now Dave-Brendon de Burgh (DBdB). DBdB tells a story full of momentous WOW! moments. There is a cast of characters that walk that grey line between good people and bad. Not everything is clear, right up to the very last page you will be wondering at motives. I do not want to drop spoilers, so what I am going to do is tell you what made this stand out for me (you can get the story synopsis from the amazon kindle page) First off is the world - from our first meeting with High General Brice Serholm on an island populated by babarian tribesmen to the markets and on to the Palace where lives a king who has ruled for 500 years the whole world comes to life. You don't just read the story, you are left with a sense of actually being there as events unfold. Secondly, the characters. As I said earlier, many of the characters occupy the grey area between truly good and truly bad people, often doing what they have to whether they want to or not. These charaters do not have an easy time and, revelations (which I never saw coming) later in the book only continue to make things tougher for them - and books 2 and 3 are only going to make their problems grow. Finally, the magic systems. For me this is where DBdB really ups the stakes. Magic can be a very difficult thing to do differently but believe me when I say DBdB really does pull it off. There is a scene early on, at a place called Shorwin's Hold, where a battle takes place and the first real use of magic occurred. Suffice to say I was amazed, a brilliant and, clever way of using magic - beat that I thought. And he did....... In a later scene a man is taken for execution - reading the scene I thought "oh, probably get his head chopped off or something along those lines". I was wrong....very wrong. I can honestly say, hand on heart, I never expected the method. It was stunning, mind-numbing in a way and will live with me for a very long time. Bravo Sir. As for the story itself - I said earlier on that it was epic fantasy, and, while this is true, it is so much more than that as well. There is a hint of sci-fi in there also. And the monsters (and to be fair, there has to be monsters) are straight from horror fiction with more than a hint of the zombie apocalypse. In lesser hands this could be an awkward mix to get right but, like a master baker DBdB has got the ingredients just right. The ending, indeed the whole story, sets things up nicely for book 2, which I wait for with baited breath (until then, there is also a prequel novella - A Song of Sacrifice, also available on amazon). Fantasy fiction needs authors with new ideas, authors that will surprise you with revelations and bombshells you never saw coming, authors that can say "step into my world and prepare to be challenged". Dave-Brendon de Burgh does all of these things. As a first novel, this is probably the best I have read since Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series. Big boots to fill but this author, in my eyes will do it. The purchase links (Amazon USA and UK) are available in the comment under this post

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Betrayal's Shadow by Dave-Brendon de Burgh - some thoughts

As you may be aware, I read a lot and always have done for as long as I can remember. Although I read most genres my main area has always been fantasy, and more particularly Epic Fantasy. I guess it's the whole "new worlds, New creatures, new quests, journeys, magic etc". The downside to being a fantasy reader though is repetition, repetition, repetition. There are only so many tales of humble farm boys becoming the King you can realistically get through before tedium sets in. Over the last few years a few author's have stepped up the game with new magic systems, story ideas etc, the fore runners here being the likes of Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss and Joe Abercrombie. Well, to this list you can now add the name of Dave-Brendon de Burgh the South African author of Betrayal's Shadow (book 1 of the Mahaelian Chronicle). I am only about half way through this and a review will appear on here when I've finished it but I had to post so I could share his world with you. It is a world painted with a broad brush, where the buildings, the scenery, the knights, and other citizens step off the page and into your imagination fully formed and raring to go. Imagine a scene, set in a market, which is so vividly written you can smell the wares on the stalls - that's what you get here. What really got me itching to post though was the magic. A magic so potent and so powerful it actually left me stunned at what I had just read......and this is in the first half of a book that just keeps getting better and better. This is, I believe, the most exciting new fantasy novel /world for me since Tad Williams' Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. As I said, a review will be posted on here when I have finished but until then, if fantasy is your thing, do whatever you have to do to get your hands on a copy, you won't be sorry. And remember the name - Dave-Brendon de Burgh - you'll be hearing a lot of him in the future.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop (a review)

This story, as you would maybe expect in a fantasy novel, begins with a prophecy 'She is coming' The 'She' in question is Jaenelle, destined to be a Queen more powerful than any before her, the saviour of the land etc etc, not just a witch but Witch. After the prophecy 700 years pass. The realm is an even darker place now, ruled over by Dorotea...and by dark I mean REALLY dark. Males break witches before they come into their power, through rape and torture. Those witches who escape the 'breaking' torment the males out of vengeance (don't even get me started on the psychic controlled cock rings!!!!!) When we meet Jaenelle, she is only a young child, with childish questioning which helps set the scene, and draws a good picture of the realms. She is destined, as the prophecy stated, to become the leader of a Brave New World but will need the help of her 'defenders' Lucivar, Saetan and Daemon Sadi - the names kind of give things away a little. This is not an 'elves, unicorns and fluffy bunnies' type of fantasy - this is dark and at times quite disturbing book but if you stick with it you may well find yourself enjoying it more than you would expect. One thing I did find a bit troublesome is the jewel based magic system, consisting of 13 different jewels ranging from white (least powerful) to Black (the most powerful). There is a guide at the front thankfully, I did find it useful, I must say. At times I did find this a bit disturbing and unsettling but once into the story I found myself quite looking forward to the next in the series. For a dark and, at times slightly disturbing novel there is a story here that makes the occassional squirming worth while 3.5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Electric by Andrew David Barker - (a review)

Earlier this year I met up with Alex Davis, the publisher and editor of Boo Books, at a comic fair in Sheffield. During our chat he mentioned a book that was going to be published by his press in the near future, which was about a cinema showing films for ghosts made by ghosts. I must say I was intrigued by the premise and looked forward to the day I could get my hands on a copy. That day came last Saturday, and believe me when I say it was worth the wait. The story plays out over the last week/weekend of the school summer holidays in 1985, and starts with the lead character Sam Crowhurst cycling by the river after saying goodbye to his friends David and Emma. Sam is still getting over the death of his father, as is his mother, which is why he is in no rush to get home. While meandering by the river Sam comes across an old shack with a bit of an old movie poster in it. The shack leads to a path which leads inevitably, to The Electric, an abandoned cinema. Though it is deserted and nigh on derelict Sam feels drawn to it and sets off to explore. What he, and his friends when he fetches them to see it the next day, will find at The Electric will change them all. I can't say too much about the plot as it may well spoil the reading experience of this quite wonderful book, but the general gist is that there are ghosts in The Electric and they are watching films that were never made, starring actors from different eras of cinema. There is a magic on the screen but also, there is a magic here in the printed word. The Electric is, at heart, a ghost story, but more chilling than horror in style. It is also, though, a coming of age tale. The three lead characters are all fifteen years old, approaching the last year of school and on the threshold between childhood and adulthood. Two of them have lost a parent so their is grief and sorrow thrown into the mix of teenage emotions. I thought I had the general idea of where the story was going to end up but I'm not ashamed to say I was only partly right. There were two scenes at the end that. I honestly believe will stay with me for a very long time, and one sentence that actually brought tears to my eyes. On this showing, Andrew David Barker is one to watch for the future, an author with a writing style that draws you into the book and into the story knowing you are in safe hands but not sure what will be round the next corner. The book reviewed is a limited edition hardback (98/150) but is also available as a kindle edition. I bought the copy myself so feel justified in giving it 10/10 for both the story and the physical book itself. Andrew David Barker and Boo Books (Alex Davis) - remember those names, you'll be hearing more from both of them in the future.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

The Godless by Ben Peek (a review)

The Godless is the first in a new epic fantasy series by Australian author Ben Peek. It is a big, big book that promises lots and, I'm happy to say, delivers on those promises. The story is set in a world that was once populated by Gods, but they fought a terrible war and are now all dead or dying (hence the title of the book). These dead or dying Gods are, in effect, leaking their 'Godly Power'(for want of a better word) and these 'leakages' give some people 'powers'. Contrary to what you may expect though, these 'powers'are seen as a curse, not a gift by most people. The action of the story takes place in the City of Mireea which is built atop the buried body of the God Ger. There are three chief protagonists, the first being Ayae, a trainee cartographer. She is an orphan who came to the City as a child and is happy in her life. This all changes when she is caught in a fire at her place of work. It is a horrific blaze but she is untouched by the flames. She is then called as 'cursed' and people turn away from her, even those she loves. The second main character is the mystic Zaifyr, a man thousands of years old, who may be able to help Ayae learn how to use/cope with her gift/curse. Due to the many years he has lived this character is used as a kind of 'infodump' at times as his part of the story contains a lot of history. This is not a bad thing though as there is a lot of it and following it as part of his life story makes it interesting. The city of Mireea, at the time of the story, is on the verge of attack by a neighbouring army who want the body of Her and the associated 'Godly Power'. This brings us to the third and final arc of the story, concerning Buerlain, the leader of the mercenary group Dark. They are charged with infiltrating the approaching army to find their plans and any possible weaknesses. This section of the story is very much in the 'Grimdark' vein and is another refreshing aspect to the story as a whole. With a large cast of minor characters this is a book that you need to give time to, but that time is well rewarded with a good piece of fantasy fiction that is possibly like nothing you have read before. Good world building, good characterisation and some great ideas. This is certainly a series I will be following eagerly and I recommend you do the same. 4/5 stars

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Legend Of The Chained Oak - Movie Review

When a local writer begins to investigate Oakamoors mysterious chained Oak, the chance find of a seventeenth century journal detailing the reasons for the Oaks chaining throws a new and terrifying light on the popular legend. Accounts of human sacrifice, witchcraft and warnings of a curse placed on the village by a woman named Mabel Othan litter the tattered pages. An enthusiastic and experienced team is hastily formed and begin to investigate the journals outlandish claims. However, as they begin to dig deeper into the myth and folklore that surrounds the Oak, a series of chilling events lead the team to believe that maybe the horrifying claims of witchcraft and human sacrifice made by the journal hold an element of truth after all… (taken from the accompanying film description) I've just had the privilege of watching this little gem of a short film and must say I am really impressed with it. I read the story (same title) a while back and was interested in seeing the finished results of the film so, thankfully, Dan Weatherer, the author, agreed to send me a copy. As is right I will give my honest opinion of it. This is a low budget film (£500 to make) but it comes over a lot better than a lot of films with budgets that would dwarf this amount. The acting by all involved is believable, especially the leading ladies, Amy and Faye Ormston who do "hysterically terrified" really well. As well as the cast, the local scenery adds to the 'fear effect', especially when the investigators attempt to contact Mabel at the site of the titular Chained Oak. Most of the story is done in a 'filmed documentary' but the bits that really unsettle are when there are just the cameras left on at night. I really don't want to drop any spoilers here,so all I'll say is, if you get a spare half hour and the opportunity to see this film, take it. Do whatever you need to do to see it, but don't, whatever else you do, disturb Mabel!!! 4.5/5 stars - Well done to all involved