Blogger news

Book Review: Steelheart

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Reckoners #1

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

When it comes down to current fantasy writing I think that Brandon Sanderson is undoubtedly one of the biggest names. He took over the writing of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series while starting and following many of his own series. The biggest release of his so far was his own Epic Fantasy series The Stormlight Archive last year he released two new young adult series, the first being The Rithmatist and the second was Reckoners, of which Steelheart is the first book. All I can say upfront is that this is awesome stuff and Brandon Sanderson shows in this young adult series quite an interesting take on being a superhero, not everyone has the good of humankind in their view... As it is often mentioned: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, this is something to take into account while reading Steelheart.

The story picks up a bit as you might expect when you read a superhero novel. Something bad happens and you suppose the superhero rushes to the scene to set things right. Well if only. David witnessed something happen but the supposed superhero, Steelheart, didn't do anything at all he only made things worse. Let me go back a few steps though. One day David and his father visit a bank and while they are in it, the bank gets robbed by a minor Epic, one that doesn't have that strong a powers. Now the ruling Epic was Steelheart and he can't let this happen to his city well, so far so good right? You might believe that Steelheart will save everyone... think again as Steelheart, a very powerful and indestructible Epic isn't there to save the people but more let them work for him and he makes an offer for the minor Epic to join his forces... From this point onwards it all starts to escalate pretty heavily so, David's father tries to safe Steelheart from the other Epic who suddenly appears behind Steelheart and shoots with his gun. Which he shouldn't have done as the bullet scratches Steelheart and draws blood, now things escalate even more and Steelheart goes on a rampage and thereby killing a lot of innocents including David father, actually, David is the only survivor of the whole event. Now from this point onwards David has set his mind on getting his revenge on Steelheart.

You know Brandon Sanderson's Stormlight Archive? Steelheart isn't 1000pages but the background, what I explained above, is only the beginning. After these events the story is fast forwarded 10 years, David is grown up a bit more and hasn't gotten his revenge, so far that is, as one day he sees the "militia group" known as the Reckoners in action. And being skilled in the backgrounds of several Epic he sees their plan failing and jumps in to help out. Now this is just the start of David's story. He is just the asset that the Reckoners have been waiting to get, all of David's experience will help them out a lot. But only if it were just this simple. David, being a complete stranger to the Reckoners has to gain their trust and win them over for his insane goal that of getting revenge of Steelheart, perhaps the strongest Epic anyone has ever seen. This road isn't easy to walk as there are quite a few inner "struggles" amongst the Reckoners as well. No I will stop talking about the story, but let me reassure you that this one of the most eventful stories that I have read in young adult fiction. 

When I reviewed Lowball the other week I mentioned that I have become dienchanted with the whole Marvel universe of superheroes and that the Wild Card universe offered a nice change in scenery. Well the same goes for Steelheart, because Brandon Sanderson imposes a very interesting view on being a superhero and perhaps a bit more realistic taken all together. What would you do when you would be given superpowers? Would you really fight crime (which is totally idealistic) or would you have some fun and make people work for you? The quote I gave above falls in the lines of the latter one. The Epics are well to say it pretty bluntly bastards, they have power but let people work for them since most are so powerful they can hardly be touched. However there is a catch because just like superman, every epic has it's kryptonite, a weak point, for some they are easily though off but for an indestructible EPic like Steelheart, this is hard to come up with but David have seen blood on Steelheart's face so what could it be? I think you will be amazed by what his weakness is! It very well thought through.

The narration of Steelheart is really solid and for once you actually don't focus on a person with superpowers to take the lead as main protagonist in the story. David is a teenager - young adult who is forming a rebellion against the Epics . This is a very interesting point of view and David makes up for a terrific protagonist. David has an interesting and actually complicated past. though he says that he isn't a smart kid I do have to disagree, he is much smarter that he thinks himself to be. With all that he set up with tracking the Epic, discovering things about them and of course the part with the Reckoners took some skill and a whole lot of guts. A lot of youngsters will be able to fully live into the character of David with his can do attitude, no matter what your goal is there is always a way to achieve it. There are also plenty of different secondary character that make up for a very dynamic story. You have several other Reckoners that are in the same cause as David, though you learn about some more than others like the professor who David imagines to be a whole lot but when you learn his history it actually isn't that at all. Added to this you have the crush that David starts to develop on a certain Reckoner that is just very cute to read. 

Also Brandon Sanderson doesn't shy away to give the evil Epic also some face time where you learn a lot about their background making them more than just evil persona's in the story. Highlighting where they are good at, their powers but also their weaknesses and when the action takes place between the Reckoners and the Epics you are just waiting when the trap is being sprung. Great lively and dynamic character cast. 

This all combined make Steelheart just one awesome read. I read most of Brandon Sanderson earlier books and with Steelheart he continues his winning streak. Whether you are an adult of a teenager looking for a fast paced, action packed superhero story, shown from a new perspective, Steelheart is a must read for you. I really liked that Brandon Sanderson showed a different perspective with his story, normally you always have the good superheroes but what if they weren't so nice and forced the innocents into working for them? I recently got the copy of a short story in the Reckoners series, Mitosis, looking forward to reading it. Firefight the sequel to Steelheart will be out early January. 2015 is going to start of pretty heated I reckon!

Book Review: Dangerous Games

 Dangerous Games by Jonathan Oliver (ed.)

In a world ruled by chance, one rash decision could bring down the house, one roll of the dice could bring untold wealth, or the end of everything. 

 The players have gathered around the table, each to tell their story—often dark, always compelling. Within you will find tales of the players and the played, lives governed by games deadly, weird, or downright bizarre.

 In this anthology of the weird and the macabre, multi-award-winning editor Jonathan Oliver brings together a diverse collection of voices from some of today’s finest writers, to create an original and fresh collection that’s unlike anything you’ve read before. 

1.     Big Man, Chuck Wendig   
2.     The Yellow Door, Silvia Moreno-Garcia  
3.     Die, Lavie Tidhar
4.     Chrysalises, Benjanun Sriduangkaew
5.     South Mountain, Paul Kearney
6.     The Game Changer, Libby McGugan
7.     Distinguishing Characteristics, Yoon Ha Lee
8.     Captain Zzapp!!! – Space Hero from 3000 AD, Gary Northfield
9.     Death Pool, Melanie Tem
10.  The Bone Man’s Bride, Hillary Monahan
11.  Honourable Mention, Tade Thompson
12.  Loser, Rebecca Levene
13.  Two Sit Down, One Stands Up, Ivo Stourton
14.  Ready or Not, Gary McMahon
15.  The Monogamy of Wild Beasts, Robert Shearman
16.  The Stranger Cards, Nik Vincent
17.  All Things Fall Apart and Are Built Again, Helen Marshall
18.    Lefty Plays Bridge, Pat Cadigan 

I have heard very good stories about the anthologies that come from Solaris books, both from Jonathan Strahan and from their lead Editor in chief Jonathan Oliver, could it be in the name? Dangerous Games is my first Solaris anthology, when I look for an anthology one thing that has to speak to me is the theme of it, I am a sucker for a solid epic fantasy anthology but one that really surprised me earlier this year was Dead Man's Hand a full focused western anthology. The name of Solaris latest anthology, Dangerous Games, should already say enough, and the promise of the weird and the macabre fully topped it off. Many games are dangerous to play; how far will you go to win? The stories that feature in this anthology aren't only based on card games or gambling they are diverse and mean games in the most broad sense also think of computer games and the virtual world associated with them down to "games" played in traffic.

As with all of the review of anthologies that I do I always highlight a couple of stories that I enjoyed the most. So lets begin!


1. Big Man by Chuck Wendig

Dangerous Games starts of just perfect with the story Big Man of Chuck Wendig. If you any sort of vehicle, be it car, truck or motorcycle everyone of us must have at one point or another encountered some jerk on the road or something along those lines that has managed to draw blood from underneath your fingers (it's a dutch saying), they must have frustrated you a lot. A clear warning: Never drive when you are angry. In this story you follow Richie, who just had a bad encounter with his wife which ended in a with a possible divorce and some thoughts of his wife wanting full custody over their child are already going trough his head, most importantly perhaps is the fact  that he might never see his girl again... At that moment, Richie get overtaken by a different car which just get on his nerves again and he shouts something but this driver doesn't take it kindly and dump a big can of soda on his windshield, and now the race is just getting started. Richie makes some horrific findings in the back of other drivers car, a girl fully tied up bound and gagged. This somehow does clear the rage from Richie heart and he tries to call the cops, yes tries because his cellphone fails him... Now Richie does everything to call this possible kidnapper to halt... ill stop here as in the end of the story there are some unexpected twists, something supernatural is going on, sort of like Christine of Stephen King but different. And remember never drive angry!

3. Die by Lavie Tidhar

I already mentioned in my Short Fiction Friday review of Selfies that I did two weeks back that I would review his short story, Die, in Dangerous Games as well. Lavie Tidhar is one of those author that doesn't mind to get you wholly uncomfortable while reading. Selfies had an interesting structure in story telling with the numbers of the photos telling the story. In Die, Lavie Tidhar does the same but this by the current number of the game, but not a harmless game as the name implies, after each round there is only one number. Every contestant is marked with a number and in Die we follow number 54, who first faces against number 12. In each of these games a die is being rolled, the one that throws the highest survives. You know the die part has two meaning throwing of and the actual fate of the loosing person. The winner each time gets to kill the opponent in a different way, be it by knife, gun or electrocution. The first few round of games that you see you only read what happens, who wins and how the person is killed but as the story progresses and No. 54 has started to live for many games and thus is building a name for himself you see more of a backstory and emotional current developing. Though he might seem like a merciless killer, No. 54 is forced to do it. In the ends it is another day another game for no. 54. Lavie Tidhar managed to get the thrills running through my body with this in the front it says that it was reminiscent to the Milgram Experiments, with this in the background Lavie Tidhar managed to give it his own eerie spin. 

5. South Mountain by Paul Kearney

I know Paul's writing the best from The Ten Thousand and Corvus. These are to marvelous book (also published by Solaris). These books focus heavily on Epic Fantasy, I haven't had the chance to pick up his UF series that he published via Solaris earlier this year so this is my first sort of modern story that I read of Paul Kearney. Yes that is correct sort of, as the by just a few words you will probably understand where I am hitting at. Battlefield re-enactment. In this story you follow a group of people who set out by car to drive to a spot to participate in an historical battlefield re-enactment at South Mountain a battle that took place during the American Civil War. Early on in the story it become quite clear that a few of the bunch are very into battlefield re-enactments, they are devoted to the cause and see it more than a hobby. Soon this does start something of a friction between the people but they eventually turn to go to bed. And this is where something spooky happens, as one person, Avery,  wakes up and sees someone unfamiliar sitting around their campfire... Now with having read the premise that mentioned "some fantasies hold a great deal of truth" I should have seen this one coming but I was so caught up in the moment and the world that Paul Kearney describes that I hadn't and this last plot twist gives a very nice ending to the story and the "are you a believer" part makes much more sense. Really cool and unexpected story. 

6. The Game Changer by Libby McGugan 

I only gotten to know of Libby McGugan's writing last year when I read The Eidolon which was quite a provocative story.I liked how she brought "every day" to the forefront in the wake of an thriller aspect so when I found out that she had written a story for this anthology I immediately jumped to the page to read it. And again it was a treat. It does mention up front that her background in medical and science helped in this story and I do sincerely second that opinion. In The Game Changer Libby McGugan creates a very realistic setting that some people must have encountered. Being faced with the news that your son or daughter is suffering from something incurable, like cancer, and that the only option left is to count down the days. Max is suffering from just this in The Game Changer, and his parents don't see any other option until they take it into their own hands and Adam, Max's father find something new. As a last resort, Max receives a new treatment called Nano2, and this is the game changer for sure. Now you might guess the direction, Nano here means nanoparticles. But while they make a scan of Max's body they see that the cancer has spread... but what they don't know and which is said in the end of the story “We’re dealing with quantum particles here. And in the quantum world, the observer is inextricably entangled with the outcome of the experiment. Max is the observer in his own game.” . Does this however also apply to our modern day medicine? How far we actually from this point? Libby McGugan has produced a very realistic and emotional story. Perfect. 

18. Lefty Plays Bridge by Pat Cadigan

I know that Pat Cadigan is a really established writer who has won multiple awards, though I do have to admit that this is my first story of her. Yes I know shame on me. Anyway on to Lefty Plays Bridge, just a note up front this will make you say WOW out loud in the end, my coworkers were looking at me pretty weird when I said this a bit too loud. One thing you normally associated with games are cards. This is exactly what Pat Cadigan involves in her story, however in the start of the story there is a mention that not all it actually what it seems in Lefty Plays Bridge. Read closely between the dealing of the cards. So naturally I proceeded with high caution. The story starts of rather innocent with a focus of introducing the characters and their respective backgrounds but it very soon starts to turn into a not so nice game as a rivalry becomes notable between the two twins of the story. Diana and Camille, one was always the favorite and the other was more like the third wheel to the wagon. Diana was and still is constantly bullied by her sister and you know when you read through the card moves it becomes obvious that Diana just want everything to stop and become just one happy family but her sister enjoys bullying her too much. Now I have to stop telling what happens next but there is very dark plot twist at the end, where Pat Cadigan leaves the follow-up pretty opens but in that very powerful last paragraph you as a reader damn (Oh no swear jar!) well knows what happened. Lefty Plays Bridge is just spot on. Psycological, emotional and very unpredictable, just how we humans are. 


Just to sum it all up. Unfortunately I cannot discuss every story in a review, but these five stories were my favourites, this doesn't mean that the other were bad at all. No Jonathan Oliver has selected a very nice set of stories that truly fit in the lines of what dangerous games could be. Now you have to take the term dangerous games in the broadest sense possible as not all games are solely based on playing cards (which with they are normally associated with). Added to this comes a very diverse set of different genres, from historical fiction, urban fantasy and a more contemporary horror-thriller setting. Dangerous Games is definitely an anthology that will get the hairs rising on your arms. Perfectly suited for those darker months ahead of you!

Book Review: Hawk

Hawk by Steven Brust, Vlad Taltos #14

Years ago, Vlad Taltos came to make his way as a human amidst the impossibly tall, fantastically long-lived natives of the Dragaeran Empire. He joined the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House (of which there are seventeen) that handles the Empire's vices: gambling, rackets, organized crime. He became a professional assassin. He was good at it.

But that was then, before Vlad and the Jhereg became mortal enemies.

For years, Vlad has run from one end of the Empire to the other, avoiding the Jhereg assassins who pursue him. Now, finally, he's back in the imperial capital where his family and friends are. He means to stay there this time. Whatever happens. And whatever it takes.

Hawk is the latest in Steven Brust's New York Times bestselling Vlad Taltos series. 

When I first looked up Hawk I saw that it was already the 14th book in the Vlad Taltos series so I was actually a bit hestistant to pick it up since this is my first Vlad Taltos book, but when I read the press release it stated that this would be a nice start to begin reading the series, so taking this into account I started reading and I have to be honest and say that this was a great start in the series as you got to learn some bits and pieces of the main protagonist Vlad and also some of the extensive background of the series so far. Hawk can be read a stand alone story but I think that in the bigger of it all, when you have read the whole series so far, you will understand it better than I did. 

The story of Hawk picks up with the focus on Vlad Taltos, the main protagonist of the series. It starts of pretty itneresting with the prologue where Vlad, in first person narration, relates something of his earlier life, "My name is Vlad Taltos. I used to be an assassin, until—", this already makes you wonder what happened or what might happen in a bit, Vlad also mentions that he broke certain rules that you shouldn't break and now he has the House of Jhereg working against him. Every moment he has to fear his life, assassins lurk around every corner to take a shot at him, to remove him from the picture. But Vlad woulnd't be Vlad if he didn't have a plan of his own to go against them. Added to this you also learn to Vlad has a young son, only 8 years old and that he would very much like to spend time with him. But the story basically boils down to Vlad trying to survive many assassination plots while he is planning to make sure he doesn't have to face any Jhereg no more. This might sound like an pretty plain plot line and well yes it is, but there is a big but coming, in setting up the story of Hawk, like I mentioned, Steven Brust does take into account a lot of possible new readers and here come the true aspect of the story, recapturing a lot of the history but still delivering a very action packed story for already existing readers. Vlad finds himself in a very thick plot and he does everything, sort of like urban fantasy MacGyver kind of style to get out of it all. One aspect that I liked of Vlad's character that he isn't an untouchable character, he is a former assassin and knows how to work a blade but he can still be touched and on more than one occasion Vlad has to call in his angel on his shoulder. 

As I was new to the whole Vlad Taltos series I can only say that I was nightly impressed by what Steven Brust managed to show in this unfortunately too short of a story. I have to admit that I didn't get the full grasp of the universe or kingdom or several places that were mentioned, their descriptions were very nicely done but I couldn't compare them with earlier. This aside, the world that Steven Brust show in Hawk is something to think about, it feels like there are endless possibilities, it is full of magic and weird creatures and defintiely inspires something in the lines of a mashup between Epic Fantasy and Urban Fantasy, there aren't that concrete a line present but they seem to blur into each other creating a very cool effect on the world itself. 

Now one thing I always like in fantasy are magical things; weapons and the likes. This is preceisely what Steven Brust brings to the forefront in Hawk, the objects that Vlad requires to set his masterplan into motion are all of magical origins. It's just plain cool stuff. Magic weapons or items have a tendency for me to really liven up the storyline, but what normally happens is that there are actually not that many restraints on said items, like take for example magical swords they just slice and dice everything up, in the story of Hawk, there are definite restraints on these items. Vlad carries with him a powerful sword, but it comes with a cost. Adding this part in the equation does inspire a much more darker sense to the story that even Vlad isn't completely untouchable.

Vlad makes up for a interesting character, I do think this is mainly owed to the fact that you read this story in his first person narration, as this helps to make several experiences resonate that much stronger. From the first sentence in the book you just know, even without the prior knowledge of the 13 other books, that Vlad is a character with a definite past, a complicated past. Soon after this you learn that he wasn't always a nice guy or someone to get along easily, he has a mindset of his own but besides being only a real hardass he does have a bit of a soft side when it comes down to his family as I already explained. Added to this comes that he is a very smart and resourceful guy. Two other characters that I really enjoyed reading about where Vlad's familiars: Loiosh and Rocza, they help to liven up the story of Hawk, some of their commentary given to Vlad put a big grin on my face. Oftentimes you see that a main protagonist has something in the lines of a sidekick, but with these familiars you are once again led into your own thoughts and let you imagination play in how it all should look like, very cool and gave a very nice extra engagement to the story. 

Hawk is a fast pace and highly entertaining read, the plot of the story might not involve a very deep storyline but this is skillfully masked by involving a lot of extra's in setting up the story of it. Vlad makes up for an interesting protagonist to say the least and Steven Brust's world of the Vlad Taltos series so far gets a nice re-introduction. The world itself is something that really drew me in and of which I am eager to learn a lot more from. Even though Hawk is already the 14th book in the series, it features as a solid standalone. If you ever want to read something that is hard to place within a single category, pick up this series it will be more than worth your time!

Graphic Novel: Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff, Delilah Dirk #1

Lovable ne'er-do-well Delilah Dirk has travelled to Japan, Indonesia, France, and even the New World. Using the skills she's picked up on the way, Delilah's adventures continue as she plots to rob a rich and corrupt Sultan in Constantinople. With the aid of her flying boat and her newfound friend, Selim, she evades the Sultan's guards, leaves angry pirates in the dust, and fights her way through the countryside. For Delilah, one adventure leads to the next in this thrilling and funny installment in her exciting life.

A little bit Tintin, a little bit Indiana Jones, Delilah Dirk is a great pick for any reader looking for a smart and foolhardy heroine...and globetrotting adventures.

I have been reading some very solid young adult graphic novels and children's books from First Second and I recently came across their Delilah Dirk series and found this directly to my liking. What better subject to write a graphic novel about, intended for a younger audiance, than with a swashbuckling, adventurous young women who once she sets her mind an a goal, she will never loose it out of her sight? I really enjoyed this first introduction to Delilah Dirk, her witty and smart remarks are funny to read about and well she has a flying boat, yes a flying boat, how cool is that!

The story of Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant takes place somewhere in the 1800s  in the Middle East and focuses of course on the adventurous heroine Delilah Dirk. One day Delilah finds herself locked up in a Turkish prison, even though with all her skills she wasn't able to escape capture or was she? During her imprisonment a Turkish Lieutenant Selim brings her refreshments but well they don't really get off on the right foot. Delilah wouldn't be Delilah if she wasn't planning everything in advance and her getting caught was all part of the plan. Also Delilah doesn't shy away from not using other for her gain and she uses Selim in her advantage to escape, this does quite turn the table on everything and Selim is now accused of being Delilah's accomplice in procuring a set of rare scrolls from the Sultan's collection... Now you might figure where this might be going, Delilah and Selim rush out of the Sultan's palace luckily with their health still up to par but they do have to fear for the Sultan's troops as he is determined to get his belongings back. This is all the start of a hectic, full-tilt adventure! 

I really enjoyed the story of Delilah Dirk, I normally read full length books and reading this graphic story which, come to think of it is just like a full story, but a bit more interactive and a lot light hearter than just plain text really helps to reset everything. The boisterous Delilah and the bit shy Selim make up for a great duo, this might not be that original but they are somewhat opposite poles of each other, which in turn makes up for a very nice interplay with each other. And in the end they do have to rely on each other and even with all the skill that Delilah has she is very much helped by the presence of Selim. The narration of the story is solid and one thing that really helps to set the mood of the story just right were the illustrations, I have taken the liberty of adding a few to the review so that you can get a glimpse of just what type of illustrations feature in the graphic novel. 

I have to say that the illustrations are really on par with the sense that Tony Cliff wants to show in the story. As I mentioned earlier the story takes place in the 1800's. The illustrations are a bit "rough" they aren't perfectly round, they are drawn in a very pacey kind of way, the faces if you look at that of Delilah and Selim have something rustic to them, it hard to clearly describe but this isn't Disney children drawing but better for me by far. One thing that is also nicely done is the using of colors, again this helps to inspire the Middle East feeling, there are some bright colors in the illustrations but the overall tone is more shaded pastel kind of colors. One page that I really like was the one shown above in the cellar, look at just how that ray of sunshine shown. Perfect stuff really! 

Delilah Dirk in itself makes up for an interesting protagonist. Having grown up while traveling and doing as a girl everything that boy wants to led her to become the female embodiement of Indiana Jones and a bit of Aladdin on the side. In the first instance she does come over as a bit of an arrogant know it all but that is truly part of her character. You might even start to dislike her in this part but when you continue reading you learn that some of it is part of the act and that she is a person who isn't really that selfish. Selim is also a very interesting character, he is a lieutenant but isn't really that much into fighting he prefers to 'make the perfect cup of tea instead. When the battles gets intense or even before it, you will most likely find Selim hiding under a table or in a closet. Together though, Selim and Delilah make up for a great team. 

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is a pacey graphic novel full of boisterous adventure that youngsters and adults will love to read. We are all used to male leads being the most self confident adventures but Tony Cliff shows that female can make the perfect lead as well. Now that I think of it, Delilah some how reminds me of Lara Croft! Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant introduced a great promise, of which I am eager to see the follow up from. Just looking at what I have seen in this first volume I know there must be more adventures waiting to happen!

Book Review: Retribution

Retribution by Mark Charan Newton, Lucan Drakenfeld #2 

WHEN JUSTICE FAILS, REVENGE FOLLOWS... Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found - or at least parts of him have.

But investigating the unusual death isn't a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there's a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous.

Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich fa├žades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised.

When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there's a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he's running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed . . .

Last year I read the amazing first installment in Mark Charan Newton's latest series, Lucan Drakenfeld, the book Drakenfeld. Every once in a while you come across a book that just has everything, a new concept that is worked out in the smallest details giving a terrific reading experience and this is precisely what Mark Charan Newton brought to show in Drakenfeld. The quasi Roman setting with a detective, crime-thriller story was something new, I couldn't compare it with his earlier books but a lot of reviewers really praised it that it was better than what he has written before. These types of stories, stories that feature detectives can make for a solid ongoing series with case files, one thing that Mark Charan Newton definitely proves in Retribution

Small note: Prior to reading Retribution I read Mark Charan Newton's short story The Messenger, this is a high recommendation as it will definitely get you in the proper reading mode!

Lets move on to the story of Retribution. Once again you follow the adventures of the Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his assistance Leana. They have just arrived in their home town and are immediately called back into the saddle to investigate a weird murder case. An importan priest has been murdered in the city of Kuvash and several parts of him have been found, some are still missing. However letting foreigners into your kingdom to let them investigate your business is not something that is often seen in Kuvash and therefore the Sun Chamber had received a second message saying that their assistance is no longer required but this makes the case just more weirder so Lucan and Leana do make their journey to Kuvash. All to soon after arriving there they are forced into protocols and learn just how different their culture is from theirs and how it definitely complicates things. But as officers of The Sun Chamber, Lucan and Leana do have an advantage and though the beginning of their investigation does yield that much, they do start to go their own way and when more murders occur with similar motives, the situation only becomes more desperate to be solved. I have to refrain myself from telling too much of the plot, when it comes down to mysteries you don't want to have the plot spoiled. All I can say is that the victims did have something in common though not something that is easily thought off! But that was something you could have guessed!

It was really cool to see how the story unfolded and Mark Charan Newton had set up his story in a great manner, building up tension from the first crime scene all throughout the new mounting evidence. It is impossible to not get lost in the story. The evidence remains largely unexplainable for Lucan and for Leana which only leaves you further in the dark as well, but in a definite good way. You immediately start to picture who the murdered is in your own mind but it is hard to pick a winner though. I was reading this book in when it was getting dark outside so I didn't have that much reading light and I hit a particular scene in the book I think it was page 150. This scene gave me the chills all over, a very close horror element thrown in the mix that will throw your own conclusions completely off game. Nice way of fully exploiting your build premise and thereby taking your story further. 

I tweeted when I was a few pages into Retribution that it was impossible to to like the main characters: Lucan an Leana. They are well fleshed characters that feel really humane. They act normally and think rationally. Yes they are smart, by education and aren't masterminds. They try to relevate everything with prior experience and interpret everything as logical as possible. In The Messenger and Drakenfeld you already got a nice view of them but in Retribution Mark Charan Newton doesn't shy away to boost their development as characters a bit more and further build and explore them. If you read the first book you know that Lucan has a past, a complicated past and that many things still trouble him. In Retribution these things all come to light again and makes him much more complex, especially when you see his inner struggles with finding out what is right and what is wrong and what is best to do. Even when a cure is so close by, what is the ethical way to do? Leana's character does come a bit less in the spotlight but doesn't take away that her character doesn't develop. Leana is best described as a feisty women who knows her way around with her sword. It was very fun to read the interplay between Lucan and Leana, they don't always see eye to eye but they don;t have shout matches to get their rights but instead know how to talk as adults to each other. This interplay does also have as a results some funny moments. All in all I can only say that I am very pleased with the characterization, they are well developed and one of the finest characters I have read about in a while. 

One thing where Retribution and the Lucan Drakenfeld series really have a plus working in their advantage is the world building. When you look at the front cover alone and the promise of the synopsis it already has a lot of hints of something Epic Fantasy but when you get immersed into the story you really get to see the beauty of the world that Mark Charan Newton creates. In the first book it was already a solid introduction and with Retribution he further builds on the foundation that was put in the right position. In describing the world and surroundings of Kuvash there are some similarities with what you read in Drakenfeld but there are enough distinctions and one aspect that definitely helps here is laying a high emphasis on the intricacy of the Kuvash politics and everything that comes out of it. Really a great combination of building and exploring a world.

Retribution is a terrific continuation of the ground work that Mark Charan Newton put into place in Drakenfeld. There isn't much to do besides loving this series. The whole world that is envisioned in these books is one-of-a-kind and has a lot of great elements working in it's favor. The elements that make up this world are all gathered from different directions of fantasy, which Mark Charan Newton skillfully combines. Added to this comes a set of protagonists that are just as rich and interesting as the world itself. They aren't your standard boastful all powerful all knowing kind invulnerable kind of characters, but they have flaws. Flaws that they have come to understand and use and live with, both Lucan and Leana are very well portrayed, perhaps one of the best humanlike characters I have read so far. So all in all, yes Retribution is a awesome read and will definitely be placed in my top of 2014 list. I kindly urge you to pick it up as well, asap.

Guest Post: Personal Experiences Behind the Dangerous Games Anthology

Guest Blog: Personal Experiences Behind the Dangerous Games Anthology by Jonathan Oliver

I came relatively late to gaming. I’d tinkered with Warhammer back in my youth and gobbled up Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy novels, but I didn’t really become a ‘proper’ gaming geek until my early twenties. It happened when I went to the University of Reading to do my MA in Science Fiction. I’m  a big horror nerd, and my friend had told me that there was a roleplaying game based on H.P. Lovecraft’s works. I knew I just had to play such a thing, and so I joined the university’s gaming society. It took a few months before I finally got to play Chaosium’s absolute classic Call of Cthulhu. Before then I was in a Werewolf group for a while and we also played a lot of 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons. However, it was Call of Cthulhu with its loose and easy system and its emphasis on story-telling and characterisation that recently cemented my love of the hobby.

The folk I met back then are amongst my oldest friends, and my current regular gaming group started life at that society back in 1999. Gaming has been a hugely important part of my imaginative play and my two novels in the Twilight of Kerberos series – The Call of Kerberos and The Wrath of Kerberos – were massively influenced by gaming as well as the fantasy stories of Fritz Leiber. My gaming group actually appear as city guards in the first novel, each meeting their demise in a fittingly gruesome way. There is this image in the popular imagination of gamers (and players of roleplaying games in particular) as being friendless, single nerds.  But the fact is that tabletop gaming is one of the most social hobbies there is. You gather together to tell stories and interact with each other’s narrative in imaginative ways.

Video games, likewise, became more a part of my life after my youth had largely passed me by. Oh, I had a Spectrum computer like many of my fellow geeks of the time, and then moved onto an Atari ST. But I don’t have a huge fondness for games from my youth – though a few do stick in my mind – Midwinter, Lemmings  and some of the Mario games on the Gameboy being some examples. But games weren’t as immersive back then, in my opinion. Now they are much much more complex, both in terms of gameplay and narratively. Some of the recent crop of games have just been mind-blowing in terms of the experience they present. I’m a huge fan of Fallout 3 (who could forget stepping out of the Vault and into the wastelands for the first time?) and the Bioshock games have both scarred the shit out of me and left me emotionally wrenched in equal measure; I adore the end of Bioshock: Infinite in particular. I wish I had more time for videogames, but as hugely enjoyable as they are, they are also a massive time-sink.

To have an anthology on the theme of games felt like a natural progression; the anthologies that I do for Solaris had already become more playful in themselves – subverting themes, stretching the definitions of the horror story, including as big a variety and range of voices as possible. It’s also a theme that gives the authors the possibility of writing broadly. As ever, I’ve gone for a mix of established and newer voices, and I couldn’t be more proud with the stories our contributors have produced. Basically, I put together the sort of anthologies I would like to read as a fan, and I hope, I trust, that other readers will get as much enjoyment as I did from editing this volume.


Jonathan Oliver is the multi-award winning editor of The End of The Line, Magic, House of Fear, End of the Road and Dangerous Games. He’s also written a couple of novels and a bunch of short stories. He lives in Abingdon with his family and their cat.

Book Review: Lowball by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass

Lowball by George R.R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass (ed.), Wild Cards #22

Decades after an alien virus changed the course of history, the surviving population of Manhattan still struggles to understand the new world left in its wake. Natural humans share the rough city with those given extraordinary—and sometimes terrifying—traits. While most manage to coexist in an uneasy peace, not everyone is willing to adapt. Down in the seedy underbelly of Jokertown, residents are going missing. The authorities are unwilling to investigate, except for a fresh lieutenant looking to prove himself and a collection of unlikely jokers forced to take matters into their own hands—or tentacles. The deeper into the kidnapping case these misfits and miscreants get, the higher the stakes are raised.

Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin and acclaimed author Melinda M. Snodgrass, Lowball is the latest mosaic novel in the acclaimed Wild Cards universe, featuring original fiction by Carrie Vaughn, Ian Tregillis, David Anthony Durham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Mary Anne Mohanraj, David D. Levine, Michael Cassutt, and Walter John Williams.

Perfect for old fans and new readers alike, Lowball delves deeper into the world of aces, jokers, and the hard-boiled men and women of the Fort Freak police precinct in a pulpy, page-turning novel of superheroics and mystery.

If you have been following this blog you know that I am a very big fan of the Wild Card series, I have reviewed already several books and short stories for the blog.  When I read the story Joker's Wild  I learned that later this year, November to be exact, a new addition would be released, Lowball. I have been counting down the days until it's release and it was well worth the wait. Wild Cards is such a cool universe to read and it has been strongly going on for 22 books already. And as I always say when I review a Wild Cards story, forget Marvel's superheroes, instead embrace those of Wild Cards, they have much more depth and development going on in their characters. These kind of story should be made into a movie, I know Michael Bay must be able to make this into a blockbuster. 

In the Wild Cards series it must be noted that every three books there is a new sort of series. ALl the books are in relation to each other but every trilogy has a different storyline. Lowball is the second book in such a trilogy, a trilogy that started with Fort Freak. Now this story arc brought something new to the Wild Cards scene as before there was a heavy focus on the Aces and Jokers were described as horribale beings, with Fort Freak a light was cast on Jokertown, a safehaven for Jokers, though it wasn't all roses and sunshine as it is quite a dire setting in Jokertown. Again we follow several events in the manhattan jokertown precinct. 

Even though Lowball is the second book in the series you can read this story very well without having read Fort Freak. Ok so what is the sory about? Several weird things have been happening in and around jokertown, most notable have been of yet unexplainable disappearances of several very jokers, and not just any jokers, but jokers with an impact. Since this is a case of high importance and the police isn't really doing much about it, Father Squid recruits the help of IBT, Infamous Black Tongue, also called by his real name Marcus, who is like a centaur except has a snake body, pretty awesome.But with weird and unexplainable evidence piling up it becomes more and more of a pressing matters and there is only one organization in the Wild Cards universe that is very well suited to help out with this. SCARE, which is an acronym for Special Committee for Ace Resources and Endeavors, think in the lines of the FBI or CIA but then all aces. Now there is one important player here whom, if you read the reboot series has made quite an impact, Jamal Norwood, who also goes by the handle of Stuntman. Jamal has the gift of a virtually indestructible body, able to "bounceback" after getting hit, he can survive everything. As the investigation furthers all parties involved start to make some startling conclusion that really turn around the storyline. It soon comes to show that there is something and someone big behind the disappearances that has a specific goal in mind. One great aspect of the books is that the story doesn't cave with being a second book in the series, the story is brought forward in the hands of some new and old characters, jokers and aces alike, creating a very cliffhanger moment in the end. When you finish Lowball you can only part with a feeling that everything that happened was being used to set something big in motion. 

I already mentioned that there are new and old characters; jokers and aces that you meet along the way. Yes I have a few favorites so far in the series and to my surprise I found them back in the storyline, some Aces that featured in the first reboot trilogy and in the series American Hero make a nice entrance here. The premise of the story was solely based on Jokers but reading about Drummerboy, Stuntman, Earth Witch and Curveball. These I have gotten to know through and through in the earlier stories but they definitely left an impact and was great to see their involvement once over. Now there were also some characters I was less familiar with, like Father Squid, the Infamous Black Tongue, Marcus, and Eddie. From these all I really enjoyed reading Eddie's part, he is a weird guy, has deformities and is thereby limited in his movements. The only thing he does on a regular basis is use his powers to draw images on a sketch pad that he is able to call to life and be his ears and eyes, the latter being the most important part as it allows him to snoop around. Well there have been sightings of a peeping tom in Jokertown, so who could this be? As a kind of duality, Eddie is sometimes employed by the Jokertown Precintct as a sketch artist... now these things seem to start to interfere with each other. The other characters those of Father Squid and Marcus help to bring more insights into what is actually happening and this is far from pretty at all... ALl in all awesome characters, but come to think of it I wouldn't have thought otherwise. 

Now one thing where I always give high praise is the connections of these Wild Cards books, it must be hard writing a book by yourself but having nine authors writing one story in a book, that must be a hard task but once again the stories really flow very nicely into each other making it feel like that just one author wrote them. Of course you can read that some author write differently but on the whole it's very good. I have been a big fan of David Anthony Durham's Acacia Trilogy and his story Those About to Die definitely left his marks, very glad to see that he joined the Wild Card Trust!

So far I have read a lot of action in the Wild Card series but this trilogy, which started in Fort Freak and continues in this book, Lowball shows a completely different side of the glamour that is accompanied with being an ace. This does coincide with the different stories, but I was impressed with the overall setting of the story that each author managed to bring to the forefront. Jokertown isn't a pretty place to live in and this become very obvious. Though the setting is very grim and bleak there is something strange, alluring and mysterious to Jokertown, must also be partially owed to the inhabitants. 

Lowball for me is a winner through and through, I have been counting down the days until there would be another full length book released and I devoured it in one sitting. The characters are memorable and the setting of the story is continuing to give a certain uniqueness. Even though the series has been going on for twentytwo books so far, there is never a dull moment to be found. As I already said I am a bit tired of the Marvel adaptations but I just cannot get enough of the Wild Cards universe. High quality and should be on everyones reading list. Lowball does leave the series on a cliffhanger, and with everything that happened in this second book just somehow feels like there will an big conclusion waiting to unfold. Bring on the next please!

(p)review forecast November part 2

(p)review forecast November part 2

1. Retribution by Mark Charan Newton, Tor

THEY'LL KILL TO HIDE THE TRUTH. HE'LL KILL TO FIND IT. Having just solved a difficult case in his home city of Tryum, Sun Chamber Officer Lucan Drakenfeld and his associate Leana are ordered to journey to the exotic city of Kuvash in Koton, where a revered priest has gone missing. When they arrive, they discover the priest has already been found - or at least parts of him have. But investigating the unusual death isn't a priority for the legislature of Kuvash; there's a kingdom to run, a census to create and a dictatorial Queen to placate. Soon Drakenfeld finds that he is suddenly in charge of an investigation in a strange city, whose customs and politics are as complex as they are dangerous. Kuvash is a city of contradictions; wealth and poverty exist uneasily side-by-side and behind the rich facades of gilded streets and buildings, all levels of depravity and decadence are practised. When several more bodies are discovered mutilated and dumped in a public place, Drakenfeld realizes there's a killer at work who seems to delight in torture and pain. With no motive, no leads and no suspects, he feels like he's running out of options. And in a city where nothing is as it seems, seeking the truth is likely to get him killed ...Retribution is the second Lucan Drakenfeld novel, following Drakenfeld.

2. Hawk by Steven Brust, Tor

Years ago, Vlad Taltos came to make his way as a human amidst the impossibly tall, fantastically long-lived natives of the Dragaeran Empire. He joined the Jhereg, the Dragaeran House (of which there are seventeen) that handles the Empire's vices: gambling, rackets, organized crime. He became a professional assassin. He was good at it.

But that was then, before Vlad and the Jhereg became mortal enemies.

For years, Vlad has run from one end of the Empire to the other, avoiding the Jhereg assassins who pursue him. Now, finally, he's back in the imperial capital where his family and friends are. He means to stay there this time. Whatever happens. And whatever it takes.

3. Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson, Gollancz 

Ten years ago, Calamity came. It was a burst in the sky that gave ordinary men and women extraordinary powers. The awed public started calling them Epics. But Epics are no friend of man. With incredible gifts came the desire to rule. And to rule man you must crush his wills.

Nobody fights the Epics...nobody but the Reckoners. A shadowy group of ordinary humans, they spend their lives studying Epics, finding their weaknesses, and then assassinating them.

And David wants in. He wants Steelheart - the Epic who is said to be invincible. The Epic who killed David's father. For years, like the Reckoners, David's been studying, and planning - and he has something they need. Not an object, but an experience.

He's seen Steelheart bleed. And he wants revenge.

4. Revival by Stephen King, Hodder and Stoughton

In a small New England town, over half a century ago, a shadow falls over a small boy playing with his toy soldiers. Jamie Morton looks up to see a striking man, the new minister. Charles Jacobs, along with his beautiful wife, will transform the local church. The men and boys are all a bit in love with Mrs Jacobs; the women and girls feel the same about Reverend Jacobs - including Jamie's mother and beloved sister, Claire. With Jamie, the Reverend shares a deeper bond based on a secret obsession. When tragedy strikes the Jacobs family, this charismatic preacher curses God, mocks all religious belief, and is banished from the shocked town.

Jamie has demons of his own. Wed to his guitar from the age of 13, he plays in bands across the country, living the nomadic lifestyle of bar-band rock and roll while fleeing from his family's horrific loss. In his mid-thirties - an addict, stranded, desperate - Jamie meets Charles Jacobs again, with profound consequences for both men. Their bond becomes a pact beyond even the 
 Devil's devising, and Jamie discovers that revival has many meanings.

This rich and disturbing novel spans five decades on its way to the most terrifying conclusion Stephen King has ever written. It's a masterpiece from King, in the great American tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edgar Allan Poe.

5. Engines of War by George Mann, BBC Books

"The death of billions is as nothing to us Doctor, if it helps defeat the Daleks."

The Great Time War has raged for centuries, ravaging the universe. Scores of human colony planets are now overrun by Dalek occupation forces. A weary, angry Doctor leads a flotilla of Battle TARDISes against the Dalek stronghold but in the midst of the carnage, the Doctor's TARDIS crashes to a planet below: Moldox.

As the Doctor is trapped in an apocalyptic landscape, Dalek patrols roam amongst the wreckage, rounding up the remaining civilians. But why haven't the Daleks simply killed the humans?

Searching for answers the Doctor meets 'Cinder', a young Dalek hunter. Their struggles to discover the Dalek plan take them from the ruins of Moldox to the halls of Gallifrey, and set in motion a chain of events that will change everything. And everyone.

An epic novel of the Great Time War featuring the War Doctor as played by John Hurt.