26 March 2013

Blood & Sawdust by Jason Ridler

Tough and smart at thirteen-years-old, Malcolm knew the illegal fight game like a pro, making bets and staying alive one day at a time. But nothing prepared him for Milkwood: a fat, ugly bastard who could take a beating like a government mule, but never, ever won. So when Malcolm risks his life to discover Milkwood's secret, he convinces the fighter to stop being a punching bag and to go for broke in the local tournament. Only problem? A beautiful woman called Lash who needs Milkwood for her own purposes, and a fouler creature on her heels known only as Dizzy Colt. But for Malcolm and Milkwood? Hell, it’s just another day of Blood and Sawdust.

Blood & Sawdust is an original take on the tried and tested vampire fiction. We're not dealing with forbidden love between humans and vampires here or a lone hunter dealing with a vampire coven but instead it's a coming of age story about two young men overcoming the trauma of their troubled pasts.

The story focuses on Malcom, a streetwise kid and Milkwood, a fat, ugly underground fighter who is beaten to a pulp every night. After Milkwood saves Malcom's life from vicious assailants, Malcom learns that that there are in fact more to Milkwood than everyone realise. From this point on Malcom makes it his mission to turn Milkwood around and make him the sort of fighter Malcom knows Milkwood can be. However before Milkwood can become the champion in Malcom's eyes, Lash, a mysterious lady from Milkwood's past shows up with a monster in her wake.

19 March 2013

Blood of the Zombies by Ian Livingstone

Terrible things are happening in Goraya castle…

Insane megalomaniac Gingrich Yurr is preparing to unleash an army of monstrous zombies upon the world. He must be stopped and his undead horde defeated. In this life-or-death adventure the decisions YOU make will decide the fate of the world. Can YOU survive or will YOU become a zombie too?

I've been taking a break from writing book reviews. Before I get back into the swing of things, I'll post a brief review of one of my favourite type of books, the "Choose your own adventures". For those who don't know, one of the most popular series of choose your own adventures is Fighting Fantasy by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, the same people who are responsible for Games Workshop and Tomb Raider. Blood of the Zombies was created to celebrate the 30th anniversary since the publication of the first Fighting Fantasy novel, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

In Blood of the Zombies, you've been kidnapped and sold to a megalomaniac who wants to build an army of zombies to exact revenge of those who mocked him. Now you must find a way to escape from the castle before you too are turned into one of the undeads. The story itself is nothing special, I've read better Fighting Fantasy stories to be honest but it has a certain old school charm about it.

20 February 2013

The Rook by Daniel O'Malley

"The body you are wearing used to be mine." So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

The Rook is yet another ambitious urban fantasy set in the sunny shores of Britain. It has secret government organisations, conspiracies, surprising twists and quirky characters that by all accounts should have been something that I would have loved. However the thing that bothered me most is the tongue-in-cheek attitude that the author employs in most situations. It would have been brilliant if used sparingly but right now it feels like the author is just showing off how clever he is. I mean if you are a high ranking official in a secret US government agency, would you really act like as if you’re a character in Legally Blonde or Clueless? The answer is no, it just doesn’t fit.

If you overlook that fault, the book is actually pretty fun. The concept of the story and the strength of its characters are both top notch. The mysterious circumstances surrounding Myfanwy Thomas and the gradual revelation of this secret world with its secret government agencies really gets you hooked on the story. It was a delight to read about the inner workings of the Checquy, the department responsible for overseeing the supernatural events both within Britain and abroad.

10 February 2013

Brothers of the Snake by Dan Abnett

The war-torn far-future is laid bare as Brothers of the Snake follows the exploits of the Iron Snakes Space Marines as they battle against the enemies of mankind. First appearing in the pages of Inferno!, the Iron Snakes Space Marines quickly gathered a loyal following and now they make their debut in a full-blown adventure!

What better way to start The Year of Snake then a review of Dan Abnett's Brothers of the Snake? The first thing you should know is that unlike other Space Marine novels, Brothers of the Snake is a collection of short stories following the Damocles squad of the Iron Snakes Chapter. The format is a little unusual and I had doubts at first but on the whole I thought it turned out pretty great. It's essentially a series condensed into one book.

The thing I found fascinating is the culture and traditions of the Chapter and how much they have diverged from their progenitors. Since Iron Snakes is such a little known chapter, this book allows Abnett full rein on making this Chapter truly his own. Just like how different the Mortifators are from the Ultramarines, the Iron Snakes too have their quirks. The Chapter's homeworld is covered by vast oceans and water from the planet is considered sacred. Before each mission, the marines would hold ceremonies to share and anoint themselves with the sacred water. Also instead of working as a company, each 10 men squad operate independently of each other. Usually a few squads are enough to take care of most situations and only in times of crisis will you find the might of the Chapter brought together.

23 January 2013

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

The Great Reawakening did not come quietly. Across the country and in every nation, people began to develop terrifying powers—summoning storms, raising the dead, and setting everything they touch ablaze. Overnight the rules changed…but not for everyone.

Colonel Alan Bookbinder is an army bureaucrat whose worst war wound is a paper-cut. But after he develops magical powers, he is torn from everything he knows and thrown onto the front-lines.

Drafted into the Supernatural Operations Corps in a new and dangerous world, Bookbinder finds himself in command of Forward Operating Base Frontier—cut off, surrounded by monsters, and on the brink of being overrun.

Now, he must find the will to lead the people of FOB Frontier out of hell, even if the one hope of salvation lies in teaming up with the man whose own magical powers put the base in such grave danger in the first place—Oscar Britton, public enemy number one...

Myke Cole's Control Point was one of my favourite debuts last year. It had action, a sophisticated magic system and most importantly characters that you care about. Now with the sequel Fortress Frontier, Cole has done the impossible and produced an even better novel. Not only are we introduced to a new lead character Colonel Alan Bookbinder, which I'm sorry to say has overtaken my love for Oscar Britton, but Cole has also greatly expanded the world as well as enhanced the magic system.

The thing that annoyed me the most in Control Point was Oscar Britton's indecisiveness. One moment he would root for the US government and next he would condemn them for their actions. For a soldier, he sure doesn't like to follow orders. However with Bookbinder, you have a true war hero. Cole does a marvellous job painting Bookbinder as a reluctant leader, an unlikely hero that brings people together in times of need. Colonel Bookbinder has never seen any action as he's been pushing paper his entire career and when the Colonel suddenly finds himself in charge, he does the only thing he can which was to fake it until he made it. In the end the base was saved because of Bookbinder's decisive actions.