Tag Archives: fantasy

Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

best-served-cold-us-pbBest Served Cold is the 4th book set in the world of the First Law. Books 1 to 3 were a trilogy and were brilliant. Best Served Cold is a standalone novel set in a part of the world called Styria and is also brilliant.

Here is the synopsis:

Monza Murcatto is mercenary who leads an army of mercenaries called the 1000 swords. There have been 19 years of warfare on the continent and Monza and her brother Benna are great at what they do. A little too great in fact, and their employer, Duke Orso, grows concerned that they might try and take over. So he has them both stabbed a lot and thrown off a balcony and down a cliff. Unfortunately for the seven people involved in this literal backstabbing party, Benna dies but Monza lives. So she sets out to get revenge. It is basically a fantasy version of Kill Bill.

Everything I like and slightly dislike about Abercrombie is present in Best Served Cold. What I like far outweighs what I don’t.

What I like: It is exciting, well written and violent, with superb characters. Some of these characters are from (or at least mentioned) in the First Law trilogy, some are new. It doesn’t really matter though. They all have pretty satisfying story arcs and are believable. The story is told in shifting third person POV and not one of them are dull. To alleviate the often brutal happenings in the book, there is quite a lot of Abercrombie’s dark humour. While each revenge is a bit episodic, there is a satisfying arc to the whole tale. Also each episode is great – like a series of incredibly violent capers.

What I didn’t like: It is all pretty bleak, which isn’t a bad thing I guess, but don’t read Game of Thrones then this or you might get a bit down. There is a lot humour though, so it is lifted somewhat. Most of the characters have a pretty shit time of it, which I suppose is to be expected, but I hoped for a slightly happier arc for some of them.

On the whole though, I bloody loved Best Served Cold. It is probably not quite as good as the First Law trilogy, but if you enjoyed that, you will like this.

In summary then – GREAT BOOK. I LOVED IT. BUY!

The Wonder by James Devo

The Wonder Blood Red-AdvertI just finished this book on a long train journey, which is a perfect place to read it. The Wonder by James Devo is the sort of book you should, and probably will, read in big chunks. A primary reason for this is that it is pretty damned exciting and it is therefore annoyingly hard to find a spot to pause and do things necessary sustain your existence. Another reason is that it has a pretty large cast, and there is a tiny risk you will become confused with some of them. I say ‘tiny’ because the characters are strong and memorable and if I can remember who is who then most people should. Also a train feels pretty steampunk (especially in Thailand where I live and trains are old), so barring a handy nearby steam fair it was a good setting to read uninterrupted. But before I get ahead of myself, I had better mention what the book is about.

The Wonder is set in a fantasy/steampunk kind of world and it is a very believable and well thought-out one. People travel using huge vessels that glide along artificial ice. Ancient technologies abide, alongside new adapted versions of old school tech. Warriors fight with swords and magically enhanced guns, while science types create strange and wonderful new ways of killing people en masse. There are elves fighting giant steam powered robot/mechanoids and mind-controlled soldiers that self immolate when cornered. There are… a ton of pretty cool things. I really enjoyed the world that was created and it never becomes too much info to take on. I’ve read fantasy and scifi books where you can be halfway into it and still aren’t quite sure what the balls is happening. Then there are others that info-dump at the start and prove tedious. That doesn’t happen here, you learn in mid-action.

The eponymous ‘Wonder’ is what underpins everything in Devo’s world. It is basically like magic, except that it is a substance. It can be used for weapons or making entire cities work. (A bit like Uranium but without all the cancer.) I’m being simplistic though, it is actually a quite well thought out magic system with different types of wonder doing different functions, which is quite a refreshing take on these sorts of things. Red wonder powers everyday stuff like lights, transport, and handheld weaponry. Green affects the mind and the flesh. Blue is powerful and rare and does all sort of powerful and mystical stuff.

As I said earlier, the characters are great and varied. From gentleman adventurers to psychopaths – and those are the heroes – I found the people in the story great fun and occasionally slightly disturbing. Often at the same time. There were moments when there almost started to be a couple too many but it is handled well, the characters are great, and they all have a function and satisfying story arc. And I love a good arc. Also, Devo isn’t averse to killing a couple off every now and then, so you never feel too overwhelmed. Backstories, and most information, are told as the story goes on and they are normally a welcome pause in the action – although quite a few get pretty exciting themselves.

I feel I should stop here as I have gone on a bit. I tend to stick to straight fantasy or straight science fiction and rarely veer off into cyber/steam/diesel/bio/spunk- punk genres. (Ok, I made the last one up, but it sounds like a fun sub-genre.) I get sent a lot of things to review and normally stick to what I know. But I’m glad I gave The Wonder a go as it was truly great read. A rip-roaring one, even. To summarise all the above – I liked The Wonder a lot and you probably will too. Give it a go.

The Wonder: Book 1 – Blood Red by James Devo will be out on the 21st November, swiftly followed by Book 2 – Deep Blue. Keep an eye out.

Here is the trailer:

 

 

2015 British Fantasy Awards Shortlists

This may not be of interest to everyone but I have found that Scifi fans are frequently fantasy fans. I know I am. So if you are looking for something new read, then what better way than a shortlist of the best British Fantasy? (Apart from perhaps a world shortlist.) Without further ado:

Best Anthology

  • The Alchemy Press Book of Urban Mythic 2, ed. Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber (The Alchemy Press)
  • Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease, ed. by Joel Lane and Tom Johnstone (Gray Friar Press)
  • Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction Special Issue, ed. Christie Yant (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, ed. Mark Morris (Spectral Press)
  • Terror Tales of Wales, ed. Paul Finch (Gray Friar Press)

Best Artist

  • Ben Baldwin
  • Vincent Chong
  • Les Edwards
  • Sarah Anne Langton
  • Karla Ortiz
  • Daniele Serra

Best Collection

  • Black Gods Kiss, Lavie Tidhar (PS Publishing)
  • The Bright Day Is Done, Carole Johnstone (Gray Friar Press)
  • Gifts for the One Who Comes After, Helen Marshall (ChiZine Publications)
  • Nick Nightmare Investigates, Adrian Cole (The Alchemy Press and Airgedlámh Publications)
  • Scruffians! Stories of Better Sodomites, Hal Duncan (Lethe Press)

Best Comic/Graphic Novel

  • Cemetery Girl, Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden and Don Kramer (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Grandville Noël, Bryan Talbot (Jonathan Cape)
  • Saga, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics)
  • Seconds, Bryan Lee O’Malley (SelfMadeHero)
  • Through the Woods, Emily Carroll (Margaret K. McElderry Books)
  • The Wicked + The Divine, Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie (Image Comics)

The Robert Holdstock Award for Best Fantasy Novel

  • Breed, KT Davies (Fox Spirit Books)
  • City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books)
  • Cuckoo Song, Frances Hardinge (Macmillan Children’s Books)
  • A Man Lies Dreaming, Lavie Tidhar (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • The Moon King, Neil Williamson (NewCon Press)
  • The Relic Guild, Edward Cox (Gollancz)

Best Film/Television Episode

  • Birdman: Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
  • Black Mirror: White Christmas, Charlie Brooker (Channel 4)
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn and Nicole Perlman (Marvel Studios)
  • Interstellar, Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan (Paramount Pictures)
  • Under the Skin, Walter Campbell and Jonathan Glazer (Film4 et al)

The August Derleth Award for Best Horror Novel

  • The End, Gary McMahon (NewCon Press)
  • The Girl With All the Gifts, M.R. Carey (Orbit)
  • The Last Plague, Rich Hawkins (Crowded Quarantine Publications)
  • No One Gets Out Alive, Adam Nevill (Macmillan)
  • Station Eleven, Emily St John Mandel (Knopf)
  • The Unquiet House, Alison Littlewood (Jo Fletcher Books)

Best Independent Press

  • The Alchemy Press (Peter Coleborn)
  • Fox Spirit Books (Adele Wearing)
  • NewCon Press (Ian Whates)
  • Spectral Press (Simon Marshall-Jones)

Best Magazine/Periodical

  • Black Static, ed. Andy Cox (TTA Press)
  • Holdfast Magazine, ed. Laurel Sills and Lucy Smee (Laurel Sills and Lucy Smee)
  • Interzone, ed. by Andy Cox (TTA Press)
  • Lightspeed, ed. John Joseph Adams (Lightspeed Magazine)
  • Sein und Werden, ed. Rachel Kendall (ISMs Press)

The Sydney J. Bounds Award for Best Newcomer

  • Edward Cox, for The Relic Guild (Gollancz)
  • Sarah Lotz, for The Three (Hodder & Stoughton)
  • Laura Mauro, for “Ptichka” (Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease)
  • Den Patrick, for The Boy with the Porcelain Blade (Gollancz)
  • Jen Williams, for The Copper Promise (Headline)

Best Non-Fiction

  • D.F. Lewis Dreamcatcher Real-Time Reviews, D.F. Lewis (D.F. Lewis)
  • Ginger Nuts of Horror, ed. Jim McLeod (Jim McLeod)
  • Letters to Arkham: The Letters of Ramsey Campbell and August Derleth, 1961–1971, ed. S.T. Joshi (PS Publishing)
  • Rhapsody: Notes on Strange Fictions, Hal Duncan (Lethe Press)
  • Sibilant Fricative: Essays & Reviews, Adam Roberts (Steel Quill Books )
  • Touchstones: Essays on the Fantastic, John Howard (The Alchemy Press)
  • You Are the Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, Jonathan Green (Snowbooks)

Best Novella

  • Cold Turkey, Carole Johnstone (TTA Press)
  • Drive, Mark West (Pendragon Press)
  • Newspaper Heart, Stephen Volk (The Spectral Book of Horror Stories)
  • Water For Drowning, Ray Cluley (This Is Horror)

Best Short Story

  • “A Change of Heart”, Gaie Sebold (Wicked Women)
  • “The Girl on the Suicide Bridge”, J.A. Mains (Beside the Seaside)
  • “Ptichka”, Laura Mauro (Horror Uncut: Tales of Social Insecurity and Economic Unease)
  • “A Woman’s Place”, Emma Newman (Two Hundred and Twenty-One Baker Streets)

Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow by Anthony Ryan


I’ve been reading a lot of fantasy recently as I am, like thousands of others, writing a fantasy novel. Fantasy was one of my favourite genres throughout my teens (science fiction predictably being another). It was all sparked by a mixture of reading Conan the Barbarian books and comics and also by the fact that I grew up in the 80s and played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. My childhood was awesome.

Apart from A Game of Thrones and Joe Abercrombie I haven’t really read many new fantasy authors as I have been reading a lot more scifi and historical fiction. So after perusing Amazon (sorry bookshops but your fantasy sections are usually lacking), I came across a new author that seemed to have ridiculously good reviews. His name is Anthony Ryan and the book was his debut novel Blood Song: Book 1 of Raven’s Shadow.

Blood Song revolves around a character called Vaelin al Sorna. The book begins with his dad dropping him off at a school that turns out to be the military wing of the Order. These guys are more than just soldiers though – they are the SAS of their particular Kingdom and Vaelin is the best of them.

The first half of Blood Song is basically just Vaelin and his mates at school. Kind of like a violent Harry Potter. It well enough written that you want to keep going with it and by the second half it really starts to pay off. There are a lot of hints that there is more going on. Politically, the King might not be so great and his daughter might also be up to something (as she is hot and therefore suspicious). The Order itself might not be so great ethically and keeps its fair share of secrets. The element of magic is also slowly weaved into the narrative and there are hints of destiny and things going on that I can’t explain without giving too much away.

These added elements make what was feeling a bit of a ‘been there seen that before’ fantasy tale into something a bit deeper. I’m not necessarily saying deep, but by the end I was sufficiently satisfied that interesting things are afoot.

The characters are great and believable with a variety of individual needs and character arcs. The story is well told and written. The fact that the Faith of the Order is one that worships the spirits of the dead and believes that they are being guided and supported by them is an interesting twist because this allows them to justify killing infidels who believe in a deity.

If you like fantasy books you will very probably enjoy Blood Song. Anthony Ryan spins a good yarn which, although at first feels pretty similar and unoriginal slowly evolves into a pretty damn good story. It certainly had me hooked and I have preordered the sequel. Recommended.
Anthony Ryan’s Amazon US page
Anthony Ryan’s Amazon UK link
 

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

The Dancers at the End of Time by Michael Moorcock

Where to begin? The unique, bizarre, satirical novel, The Dancers at the End of Time is an experience that is hard to categorise or even explain.

Set millions of years in the future, the book opens with the protagonist, Jherek Carnelian, and his mother, The Iron Orchid, discussing the word “virtuous” on a beach of bleached bones on the shore of a crimson sea after just having had sex. So it is immediately established that the world has changed a fair amount. The characters inhabiting the End of Time are a decadent and dissolute bunch who are immortal and possess almost unlimited power. They amuse themselves by holding ever more elaborate parties in incredible settings. At one such party an alien lands and warns them all that the Earth is about to end along with the entire universe. This is pretty tedious news to the denizens of the distant future as the ‘End of it All’ has been prophesied for so long that it, along with space travel generally, is seen as passé and dull. The alien is consequently ignored.

Into this bizarre immoral society comes Mrs Amelia Underwood – a highly moralistic housewife from the 19th century Brockley. Jherek is fascinated by her and decides to fall in love with and limit himself to just having sex with one person. This is a novel and exciting idea to those from the future and, as it turns out, is quite a challenge.

The Dancers at the End of Time has aliens, time travel, robots, godlike beings, parallel universes and more. It is a tale of the last lovers in the universe and an insane discussion on morality. It is also a bit bonkers in a charming and erudite way with a host of characters and situations that seem almost normal when you are reading it, but sound insane when you are trying explain it to others.

It is actually an omnibus of three novels – An Alien Heat, The Hollow Lands, and The End of All Songs. Consequently, it is a tad long. In my humble opinion, however, that is a good thing. The Dancers at the End of Time is essentially a satirical look at the contrast of Victorian morality clashing with the utterly decadent world at the end of time. It is both funny and inventive. Humanity can now do anything, has done everything, and is just struggling to stay entertained. This results in a stagnant amoral species, that is strangely naive and pointless. By the end of the book you no longer see the opening scene as shocking, it is just the way things are.

I really enjoyed The Dancers at the End of Time but it probably isn’t for everyone. Which is a shame. It’s inventive and fun with some great characters. Recommended.

The Legend of Conan

King Conan

It seems increasingly likely that Conan will be hitting our screens once more in The Legend of Conan. With Arnold Schwarzenegger back in the head-lopping eponymous hero’s blood caked pants! How bloody exciting is that for a life long fan of the Cimmerian adventurer?

I’ll tell you: it’s fairly exciting. Nothing more.

Apparently the new movie is going to be set 30 years after the original John Milius’ Conan the Barbarian film and will skip the events of both Conan the Destroyer and the more recent re-imagining by Jason Mamoa. So surely I should be excited. The thing is, the original movie was by far the best and it didn’t really do it for me.

I should point out here, that I have been a massive fan of Conan since the age of 10. There are few people on the planet who were more of an expert on Conan that I was by the age of 13. By that point I had read every Conan novel that existed. My Savage Sword of Conan collection still takes up a small corner of the spare room at my parent’s house.

If Milius’s movie had been a straight Barbarian fantasy movie then I would have loved it. But this was Conan and I didn’t think they had got it right. Arnie was wrong for the role. Conan was quick witted – a survivor. He wasn’t just big, he was also quick and savagely well coordinated. He could be sullen with a fierce violent anger one minute then a joyful ‘let’s have a pint and wench’ kind of guy the next. He lived life to the absolute max and oozed lady-impressing barbarian charm while doing it. Arnie just came across as big, dumb, and fairly violent. Physically, Mamoa was a much better Conan and he was better with a sword and could speak and stuff.

Having said all that, Arnie may now be almost perfect as the Barbarian King in The Legend of Conan. Few people can match his physique at his age and he still seems pretty limber for a 65 year old. He also has considerably more charisma and leadership skills thanks to Californian election charisma wizards. So I’m actually ok with him now.

The problem I have is with how the movie is likely to go. Hollywood is bollocks at moral ambiguity most of the time. Conan is a decent guy at heart but he actually really enjoys a healthy bit of violence and is very quick to stab someone in the face if they’re annoying. He’s a bit like a Barbarian James Bond but he isn’t doing it to save the World, he just does it because it’s who he is and it’s a laugh. I just don’t think they will pull that off.

But most damning of all is this from the Dark Horizons website:

“Chris Morgan (“Fast Five,” “Wanted”) has created the story and nicknames it “Conan’s Unforgiven.” He could be writing the script depending upon his scheduling as he also has to shortly pen a script for a possible seventh “Fast and Furious” film to follow the currently shooting sixth one. Morgan will also produce.” (http://www.darkhorizons.com/news/25359/arnie-returns-for-legend-of-conan)

So that’s the story and the calibre of writing they are going for. Also worrying is that it may not even be R rated.

I have waffled on a lot longer than the paragraph I intended to write. I just care that’s all. Read a Robert E. Howard Conan story and think how brilliant a Conan film could be. (They were written 80 years ago and are therefore “classics”.) I’m trying not to be excited as I know I will probably be disappointed.

Here’s a gratuitous picture for no reason except that Frank Frazetta painted a good Conan.

Conan at the end of the weekend.

 

 

 

 

New Hobbit trailer

Well, the new trailer is here and rather predictably it looks astounding. I’m still not sure how they are going to split the Hobbit into three films given that the original book was shorter than any of the individual Lord of the Rings books. But what do I know?

Without further ado, here is the trailer:
http://youtu.be/yYz0JWJioOM
 

Fantastical Literature Travel Posters

Science Fiction Destinations

This is, indeed, fantastic. If you are a Science Fiction fan, (and given where you are that’s likely,) you will recognize a lot of these. The Fantastical Literature Travel Agency Poster Project has recreated Science Fiction locales as travel destinations and quite frankly they look superb. Here’s the blurb from the esteemed head of the project, Autun Purser:

H. P. Lovecraft...

“I love those old travel posters from the 1950s etc… They used to make travel seemexciting and adventurous. Now most of us get on a cheap airline and fly off to a rubbish hotel in Spain for a week for our holidays…

…Science Fiction and Fantasy books also used to be a pinnacle of excitement and adventure.Today however, the lure of DVDs, computer games and comics has dragged attention away from some outstanding stories…

…With this project I will try and put together a set of 30 posters advertising the fantastical destinations featured in fiction books… As was commonly the case in the 1950s, I will limit the travel posters I produce to a set of defined colours (a limited palette) and use only typefaces used on historical posters… This will ideally give the posters a striking look and a unified feel…”

 

In addition to these posters there will be further input from some guest artists. There will also be a book featuring all this awesome art with reviews and thoughts from some writers.

This project looks great. I really need a bigger house as I want these on my walls.
For more information, here is the website:

Snow White and the Huntsman trailer

Snow White and the Huntsman

I know what you’re thinking: has Scifiward gone a bit lame? Kristen Stewart, the pretty vampire lover from the teen girl friendly Twilight films in a Snow White movie? Not a zombie or stomach bursting alien in sight? What’s going on?

Every month or so, I scour the apple trailer site to see the latest flicks. I used to use youtube but there are too many sad pricks doing fan made trailers and after a while I start to simmer in frustration and eventually want to kill. That’s best avoided. I saw this trailer advertised but didn’t bother looking at it because of the above reasons (see sentences two and three above.)

I was then browsing the Scifi Now website and Snow White and the Huntsmen was mentioned as being a bit dark. Dark is good. I then discovered it has Thor in it – the actor that is or it would be a weird weird and incongruous. He seems alright. The big plus though is Charlize Theron who plays the uber vain evil Queen. She always good to ogle, I mean watch. Mmmmmm.

Anyway, here’s the trailer. It looks intriguing and, as promised, quite dark. There’s even a glimpse of some dwarves. The only problem I can foresee is that Charlize Theron will always be hotter than Kristen Stewart. The latter is pretty but Ms Theron really need not worry. See what you think:

 
http://youtu.be/55Dq2psogSw

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

A Game of Thrones

Literally several people have noticed that I haven’t reviewed a book for a while and were wondering what the hell I’ve been doing. Well, I have an excuse as I have just read the first two books of the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. I was going to read the whole series and then review it but given the length of the books and the slow rate at which Martin is writing them, I probably won’t finish them until I’m old and will be too busy ruling the world from my moon palace.

I haven’t read any fantasy books for about 15 years and was finally tempted back by constantly seeing this series at the top of bestseller lists. I was further tempted when HBO decided to make a TV series of it with my neighbour Sean Bean. (He drinks in my local and it was highly embarrassing when he saw me reading the book.)

This review is of the first book. Which is epic, huge, massive, grandiose in all ways possible. The story is set on a magical fantasy world, and primarily centers on a continent known as Westeros. Which is coincidentally like medieval England. In the West are hills and mines – Wales. The North is quite stern and fierce with hard people who lack humour – the north of England. Above them is a massive wall (think Hadrian) that was build to keep out the savage, uncivilised ‘widlings’ and pale ghostlike ‘Others’ who inhabit the cold lands up there – think Scotland. The capital, largest city, and place where all the good looking people hang out is in the warm and pleasant lands in the southeast. On a river. It’s pretty blatant.

The story primarily revolves around the nobles, lords and royalty in the land as they try to outwit each other with usually incredibly violent rewards for the loser. I say primarily because while the ‘Game of Thrones’ is the core, there are two other plot threads going on. One is what is happening up near the wall in the North, and the other is the story of what happens to an exiled Prince and Princess who have fled East.

The book has magic, but not much. Most of it is hinted at or referred to as things that happened in days of yore. There are hints of more magical things afoot and this feeling grows throughout the novel but don’t expect any lame-arsed elves or swarthy dwarves or electricity firing wizards. It’s mostly just dudes in armor twatting each other with swords.

The Game of Thrones is told from the perpectives of various characters. Essentially, a character’s name is the title of a chapter and everything is told from their point of view. This is actually pretty effective as it allows for some great characterisation and advances a story whose strands take place all over the world Martin has created. Most of the characters are superb and believable and you care what happens to them (some of them anyway, others are plain evil). There is the odd character that feels a bit one dimensional or cliched but they are in the minority.

The negative side of this technique is that occasionally major events happen and the character you are currently reading about just gets told about it. This sometimes feels like a bit of con, almost as if Martin couldn’t be bothered to write the actual scene. For example, at one point you are seeing things from the point of view of a woman who is hiding in a forest near a battle. The men go off and fight a battle which you don’t even see, then they get back and inform her that woohoo they won and the fight was awesome. Which is rubbish as I wanted to read about the battle.

I feel a word of warning is needed here. This book is not meant to be read as a one off. It is very much part of an ongoing tale which is epic. I have also been informed that books four and five were a bit slow plotwise and a long time coming publishing-wise. The series is supposed to be seven books long and Martin is getting old. Just saying…

The series: A Song of Ice and Fire is pretty violent at times (which is great and has some superbly exciting set pieces). It can also however, be a bit long winded with unnecessarily long lists of knights and nobles and their flags and sigils (which is a a bit dull but adds to the feeling of an epic world and only happens occasionally). Also, Martin has a mild obsession with incest – one family featured only breeds heirs through brother and sister marriages. A big chunk of the plot revolves about a different incestuous couple but I won’t tell you who (although you find out pretty early on) as it might ruin things.

To summarise though: I loved A Game of Thrones. It drags you in and you will desperately want to know what happens next. The plot has shitloads of twists and some pretty shocking deaths of people you really didn’t expect to pop it. This creates even more tension as anything could happen. The most telling point is that after finishing this 800 page book I immediately read the second, even longer novel in the series.

Which is high praise indeed. Recommended.