Sunday, June 21, 2009

New releases for the week of June 23rd


Spotlight:


Synopsis:
In the reign of President Deklan Comstock, a reborn United States is struggling back to prosperity. Over a century after the Efflorescence of Oil, after the Fall of the Cities, after the Plague of Infertility, after the False Tribulation, after the days of the Pious Presidents, the sixty stars and thirteen stripes wave from the plains of Athabaska to the national capital in New York City. In Colorado Springs, the Dominion sees to the nation’s spiritual needs. In Labrador, the Army wages war on the Dutch. America, unified, is rising once again.

Then out of Labrador come tales of a new Ajax—Captain Commongold, the Youthful Hero of the Saguenay. The ordinary people follow his adventures in the popular press. The Army adores him. The President is…troubled. Especially when the dashing Captain turns out to be his nephew Julian, son of the falsely accused and executed Bryce.

Treachery and intrigue dog Julian’s footsteps. Hairsbreadth escapes and daring rescues fill his days. Stern resolve and tender sentiment dice for Julian’s soul, while his admiration for the works of the Secular Ancients, and his adherence to the evolutionary doctrines of the heretical Darwin, set him at fatal odds with the hierarchy of the Dominion. Plague and fire swirl around the Presidential palace when at last he arrives with the acclamation of the mob.

Hardcover:
> Naamah’s Kiss, Jacqueline Carey
> Everything Matters!, Ron Currie
> The Year’s Best Science Fiction, Gardner Dozois (Anthology)
> Star Wars: Fate of the Jedi: Omen, Christie Golden
> After the Downfall, Harry Turtledove
Paperback:
> G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, Max Allan Collins
> Timeline, Michael Crichton (Reprint)
> The Demon Redcoat, C.C. Finlay
> The Sorcerer of the North, John Flanagan
> Death’s Head: Maximum Offense, David Gunn

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Review: The City and the City


I recently reviewed The City and the City by China Mieville for BSC Review. It's a fascinating book that blends several genres into a murder mystery in a fantastical setting. I think it will appeal to many readers of speculative fiction. You can read the review here.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

New releases for the week of June 16th


Spotlight:


Synopsis:
Frey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn't just a nuisance anymore - he's public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don't. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he's going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It's going to take all his criminal talents to prove he's not the criminal they think he is...

Hardcover:
> Fragment, Warren Fahy
> The Angel’s Game, Carlos Luis Zafon
Europe:
> Jasmyn, Alex Bell

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Review: Best Served Cold


Best Served Cold
by Joe Abercrombie


Format: Hardback, 536 pages
Publisher: Gollancz
Cover Design: Dave Senior, Didier Graffet/Bragelonne
Release Date: June 1, 2009 (UK)
ISBN-10: 0-575082453
ISBN-13: 978-0575082458


Monzcarro Murcatto, general of the mercenary army The Thousand Swords, and her brother and right-hand man, Benna, arrive at Talins to report the fall of another city to their employer, Duke Osco. The Duke, whose daughter is married to the King of the Union, has his own ambitions to become King of Styria and The Thousand Swords have already cut a swath through a portion of the continent. However, the mercenary army’s victories have made Monza extremely popular with the common people, far too popular for Osco’s taste. In a preemptive strike, Benna is murdered and Monza is thrown off a mountain to be left for dead.

Monza survives the fall, but is broken and scarred, swearing revenge against the seven who betrayed her. She recruits a varied band including her old mercenary general, a poisoner and his apprentice, a child-like killer, a former Union assassin, and a Northman trying to do good to aid her in her mission, which takes her across the breadth of Styria. As Monza’s revenge takes its toll on her and her comrades, her quest becomes subsumed by various factions, both within and without, intent on using the apex of Styria’s Years of Blood to their advantage.

The plot is a pretty straightforward revenge scenario and it plays that way for most of the book. About three-fourths of the way in, Monza’s revenge gets tied into a larger, overall struggle for control of Styria. The fate of the island continent swings back and forth between the various factions and it’s never clear how things will things end. Monza’s revenge is really a microcosm of a civilization caught in a never-ending struggle of power and blood. One thing I was surprised by was the number of characters first seen in The First Law who pop up in this book. Luckily, Abercrombie limits most of them to only supporting roles so that they don’t get in the way of the story.

And of course, the centerpieces of the novel are Abercrombie’s characters. Monza, in particular, is realistic as a woman who achieves a measure of power in a male-dominated culture. The tale is not just about her, but the entire cast as they cope with some of the darkest aspects of human nature. Some find a measure of redemption or even infamy while others descend into a dark spiral from which they may never recover. The title of the book uses part of the well-known quote for a good reason. Vengeance has a marked effect, on both those that seek it and those that are affected by it, and that it’s near impossible to do so and remain untouched.

Best Served Cold is a worthy stand-alone companion to The First Law trilogy. Abercrombie is definitely one of the best new writers of fantasy. Strongly recommended.

Rating: 9.5/10


Sunday, June 7, 2009

New releases for the week of June 9th


Along with the new releases for this week, I've also added a new sub to the sidebar titled "Eye on New Releases". As the title states, this will be a list of new books that I'll watching out for. I'm just trying this out for now.


Spotlight:





Synopsis:
She was born in poverty, in a dusty village under the equatorial sun. She does not remember her mother, she does not remember her own name—her earliest clear memory is of the day her father sold her to the tall pale man. In the Court of the Pomegranate Tree, where she was taught the ways of a courtesan…and the skills of an assassin…she was named Emerald, the precious jewel of the Undying Duke’s collection of beauties.

She calls herself Green.

The world she inhabits is one of political power and magic, where Gods meddle in the affairs of mortals. At the center of it is the immortal Duke’s city of Copper Downs, which controls all the trade on the Storm Sea. Green has made many enemies, and some secret friends, and she has become a very dangerous woman indeed.




Synopsis:
Warbreaker is the story of two sisters, who happen to be princesses, the God King one of them has to marry, the lesser god who doesn’t like his job, and the immortal who’s still trying to undo the mistakes he made hundreds of years ago.

Their world is one in which those who die in glory return as gods to live confined to a pantheon in Hallandren’s capital city and where a power known as BioChromatic magic is based on an essence known as breath that can only be collected one unit at a time from individual people.

By using breath and drawing upon the color in everyday objects, all manner of miracles and mischief can be accomplished. It will take considerable quantities of each to resolve all the challenges facing Vivenna and Siri, princesses of Idris; Susebron the God King; Lightsong, reluctant god of bravery, and mysterious Vasher, the Warbreaker.

Hardcover:
> Relentless, Dean Koontz

> Of Berserkers, Swords, and Vampires, Fred Saberhagen

> Overthrowing Heaven, Mark L. Van Name

Paperback:
> The Edge of the World, Kevin J. Anderson

> The Rise of the Terran Empire, Poul Anderson

> In Ashes Lie, Marie Brennan

> The Ghosts of Blood and Innocence, Storm Constantine

> The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist

Europe:
> Consorts of Heaven, Jaime Fenn

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Review: Santa Olivia


Santa Olivia
by Jacqueline Carey


Format: Paperback, 341 pages
Publisher: Grand Central
Cover Design: Alan Ayers
Release Date: May 29, 2009
ISBN-10: 0-44619817X
ISBN-13: 978-0446198172


In the near future, a flu pandemic races around the world. The United States decides to close off its borders and the town of Santa Olivia, near the Texas/Mexico border, is placed in a buffer zone and occupied by the military. The inhabitants are no longer citizens. They are cutoff from the rest of the country with the army being the only link to the outside world. After the buffer zone is in place, the only way to leave is to win a boxing match sponsored by the general of the garrison. However, no one has ever won.

One day an unlikely heroine is born. Her father was a deserter who had been genetically engineered with superhuman abilities and Loup Garron has inherited many of his gifts. As Loup grows into a young woman, she takes on the persona of the town’s patron saint to correct the injustices committed by the military occupiers. She soon comes to embody Santa Olivia’s hopes and dreams.

Santa Olivia is a very character-driven story. It first focuses on Loup’s mother and older brother before following the main character as she grows up. As can be expected from being cut off from the world, life in the town is not easy. Life is also hard for Loup as she loses her mother at a young age. Before she dies, her mother arranges for her to be raised with the orphans cared for by the church and they become her new family.

Loup’s family of orphans becomes the catalyst for the creation of her alter ego as Santa Olivia. The children band together to mete correct injustice and create miracles. I liked how every one of the orphan’s contributed to Loup’s role as Santa Olivia without any of them overshadowing the others. When Loup’s brother dies in the ring, she becomes determined to win not only for him and for the town, but to find her place in the world.

The only real negative thing that jumped out at me is that since the majority of the characters are teenagers, the emotions and relationships are at the same level. I just couldn’t help rolling my eyes at some of the teenage romance stuff. It’s only a minor complaint as it’s a small part of the story. And though I would have preferred a little more plot, I did enjoyed Carey’s focus the characters. This was my first novel by Carey and now I'm planning to check out the rest of her books.

Santa Olivia is a good character-driven superhero story, one that can be enjoyed by fans of both the author and the genre. Recommended.

Rating: 8/10


Sunday, May 31, 2009

New releases for the week of June 2nd


Spotlight:


(Amazon.co.uk, Book Depository)

Synopsis:
An ice age strikes a chain of islands, and thousands come to seek sanctuary at the gates of Villjamur: a city of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased, cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain and where, further out, the dead have been seen walking across the tundra. When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life, and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda. When reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire, members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.

Hardcover:
> The Infinity Gate, Sara Douglass
(B&N)

> Faery Moon, P.R. Frost
> The Spy Who Haunted Me, Simon R. Green
> Skin Trade, Laurell K. Hamilton
> The Story Sisters, Alice Hoffman
> The Enchantment Emporium, Tanya Huff
> House of Suns, Alastair Reynolds
Paperback:
> Ink and Steel, Elizabeth Bear
> Eve of Destruction, S.J. Day
> The Immortal Prince, Jennifer Fallon
> Demon Mistress, Yasmine Galenorn
> Daemons Are Forever, Simon R. Green
> Valor’s Trial, Tanya Huff
> Juggler of Worlds, Larry Niven, Edward M. Lerner
> Swordplay, Denise Little (Anthology)
> The Dark Ferryman, Jenna Rhodes
> Greywalker, Kat Richardson
> Genesis, Ken Shuffeldt
> The Edge of Reason, Melinda Snodgrass
> Scarlet, Jordan Summers
> By Schism Rent Asunder, David Weber
> Null-A Continuum, Jon C. Wright
> The Ships of Merior, Janny Wurts

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NYT bestsellers for May 29th


Hardcover:
Charlaine Harris’ Dead and Gone slips a single point to number 4 in its third week. (Amazon, B&N)

Stephanie Meyer’s The Host maintains its previous position at number 7 two weeks after a full year on the list. (Amazon, B&N)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun finishes its third week down nine to number 28. (Amazon, B&N)

Jim Butcher’s Turn Coat hangs on at the very bottom of the list after falling thirteen positions and a respectable seven weeks on the list. (Amazon, B&N)

Paperback:
Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is steady at number 4 for the second week in a row and eight weeks overall. (Amazon, B&N)

Dean Koontz’s Odd Hours is down four points to number 8 at the end of its fourth week. (Amazon, B&N)

Charlaine Harris’ From Dead to Worse climbs a single rank in its seventh week to number 10. (Amazon, B&N)

David Benioff’s City of Thieves falls five spots in week eight to number 11. (Amazon, B&N)

Alan Dean Foster’s Star Trek stumbles seven steps to number 22 in its second week. (Amazon, B&N)

Karen Traviss’ Star Wars: Order 66 makes its debut on the paperback list at number 31. (Amazon, B&N)

Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series books 1-3, & 5 are at places 7, 11, 24, and 35 respectively.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Review: Twelve


Twelve
by Jasper Kent


Format: Paperback, 480 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Cover Design: Paul Young
Release Date: January 1, 2009
ISBN-10: 0- 593060644
ISBN-13: 978-0593060643


Captain Aleksei Ivanovich Danilov is a Russian soldier in the year 1812. Most of Europe is under the French boot and now Napoleon has invaded Russia. The Tsar has ordered the Russian army to fall back rather than meet Napoleon in a decisive battle. Aleksei’s squad, which functions as scouts and spies by seeking intelligence and often working behind the lines, decides to hire a group of twelve foreign mercenaries to help slow the French advance.

However, the mercenaries, dubbed the Oprichniki by Aleksei’s squad, are not normal men. This is quite clear from the very beginning as they kill with a brutal, ruthless, and scary efficiency. In fact, they are voordalak – the ancient Russian word for vampire. When Aleksei discovers the Oprichniki’s true nature, the battle shifts from fighting the French to eradicating an ancient nightmare now fighting in their midst.

One cool thing about the book is that the vampires are pretty realistic. They have advantages over humans, but they have weaknesses to even the balance. Another thing is that the vampires don’t actively seek to increase their numbers. Instead, they rely on those that approach them and share a willingness to give up their humanity. Hence, vampirism is as much a state of mind as a disease or even existence as a separate species.

Twelve certainly sounds like an interesting book and it’s the main reason I bought it. Unfortunately, I had a few problems with it. My main complaint is that the book did not feel like a historical novel. Other than political details, there is nothing that made me feel like I was in 19th Century Russia fighting Napoleon. Frankly, the tale could be have been set during Caesar’s conquest of Gaul or the Boxer Rebellion in China for all the importance of the setting. Truly, the book is not about the Napoleonic Wars at all but rather against the vampires and I think the story suffers for it. To put it another way: if the setting is secondary, why have a vampire story in this time period at all?

Part of the problem with this may be Kent’s prose style. The novel is written in first person narrative yet I had quite a bit of difficulty believing in Aleksei’s motivations and actions. For instance, as an officer, Aleksei has a wife and son in St. Petersburg. He also has a mistress in Moscow, yet his love for her is never convincing. Neither did I believe his “instinctive” hatred for the vampires when all his knowledge of them is from fairy tales told by his grandmother. Aleksei even goes so far as to turn against his fellow comrades. Characterization on the whole was better for the supporting cast then it ever was for the voice of the narrative. The last third of the book, exclusively about Aleksei against the vampires, was nearly a slog to read.

Twelve has a very interesting premise, unfortunately I felt the author didn’t quite pull it off. Perhaps I was expecting too much from a book with a historical setting, or maybe I was not in the right frame of mind when I read it. In any case, the book might still appeal to other readers of vampire/horror or historical fiction.

Rating: 6.5/10


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Review: The Warded Man


The Warded Man
by Peter V. Brett


Format: Hardback, 416 pages
Publisher: Del Ray
Cover Design: Albert Stark, Lauren K. Cannon
Release Date: March 10, 2009
ISBN-10: 0-345503805
ISBN-13: 978-0345503800


For as long as anyone can remember, night has been the dominion of the corelings - demons that rise like steam from the core of the earth to take on terrible forms. For hundreds of years, the demons have terrorized the night, slowly culling the human herd that shelters behind magical wards. Ages ago, mankind battled the corelings are equal ground, but the fighting wards have long been lost and fear is the only thing most people know.

However, three survivors are determined to change their world. Rojer was crippled by the demons that killed his parents and seeks solace in music only to find that music can also be a weapon. Leesha, harmed by both men and demons, becomes a master healer and a gatherer of knowledge. Arlen, the main focus of the narrative, will pay any price to battle the corelings. His path will lead him beyond the boundary of what it means to be human.

The Warded Man was published as The Painted Man in the United Kingdom late last year, yet the American title seems more appropriate as it is the term used in the book. The book is really a pretty standard fantasy with dark forces that prey on humankind and a farm boy who will rise to greatness. Indeed, Arlen is a bit of a “Mary Sue”, doing and thinking of things that apparently nobody else ever has before. Another problem was that the initial family dynamics for each of the characters seemed a little contrived to produce the characters that would be necessary later on.

Luckily, the novel’s early problems are lessened and resolved a bit as the plot advances. I admire the fact that the author cut across months and even years to keep the plot and pace going steadily. He also did a good job making me care about the characters. Although the three main characters aren’t especially complex, they do evolve a fair deal with Arlen experiencing the most development. Overall, the book was a good, fun read and I liked the world that Peter Brett created.

The Warded Man is a standard fantasy story yet it’s also an entertaining one and I look forward to the next book. Recommended.

Rating: 7.5/10