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8/10
Review: Dogs of War by Adrian Tchaikovsky
Reviews / November 15, 2017

Dogs of War is one of those books that turned into a very happy surprise for me.  I requested a copy of this because I’ve read this author before and liked his style of writing and so whilst the theme worried me a little, because I imagined it was going to maybe be a bit more military style than I would normally attempt, I had faith that Tchaikovsky would win me over.  I wasn’t wrong.  Dogs of War is so much more than I expected, in fact after the first few chapters of action and warfare it turns into a different style of drama completely.  This is a thought provoking story that really packs a punch. Rex is a bioform. I’m not going to try and describe all the mechanics of this but basically he’s a genetically modified dog, part human and with heavy duty warfare installed for good measure.  He’s the controlling unit for a Multi-form Assault Pack, an incredible fighting team that includes the characters Dragon, Honey and Bees.  Each of these have their own unique abilities that I won’t dwell on here but take it from me, this is a deadly team of bioforms that you don’t…

Book cover: Tarnished City - Vic James (a chained hand points down, a Scottish castle in the background)
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8/10
Review: Tarnished City by Vic James
Reviews / November 8, 2017

Tarnished City picks up from the point Gilded Cage left off with barely a backward glance – this isn’t a sequel that makes for a good entry point to Vic James dystopian alternative Britain (or one that can be discussed without raging spoilers for the first book). Luke is in the hands of the sadistic Lord Crovan – and finds that the games the Equal plays with his prisoners are subtler than mere torture in the dungeons of Eilean Dòchais. Greeted by Coira, the untouchable mistress of below-stairs, he finds himself assigned rooms that would do an Equal proud and a smart if ill-fitting suit for dinner. It soon becomes apparent that house guests and servants alike are fellow Condemned, with Crovan running a sort of Stanford prison experiment: the golden collars around each prisoner’s throat prevent servants harming house guests and anyone harming Crovan himself, but the servants are fair game. Luke’s illusions about his fellow humans are quickly dashed, although he persists in a youthful naïveté about just what crimes they previously committed. As with any prison drama, the inmates have alternative facts about how they ended up there, which Luke largely accepts – in spite of the evidence…

Review: Shadowblack by Sebastien de Castell
Reviews / October 18, 2017

Kellen of the House of Ke isn’t just a disappointment to his parents and an outcast to his people: he’s a spellslinger on the run with a price on his head. You’d think he’d keep a low profile. Maybe it’s his nature. Maybe it’s the company he keeps. But he just can’t keep himself out of trouble… Shadowblack is the sequel to the riotous joy that was Spellslinger, an unapologetically brash coming-of-age romp – so this review will inevitably be chock-full of spoilers for the first book. While you can pick up the gist by diving straight into Shadowblack, don’t do it – the context will make the second book more rewarding, and Spellslinger is a joy from start to finish. Still here? Right then. Where Spellslinger was set in the ‘most civilised’ city/culture in the world (at least according to its Jan’Tep inhabitants), Shadowblack is in the world’s equivalent of the Wild West: the Seven Sands (some of which are blue. Neat). Ferius – with her smoking reeds and drawling slang – fits right in. Kellen – well-born, well-bred and very, very wet behind the ears – really doesn’t. We rejoin Kellen and his light-fingered, short-tempered familiar Reichis trying to steal something from…

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6/10
Review: Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence by Michael Marshall Smith
Reviews / September 4, 2017

Hannah’s world is turned upside down when her parents split up. But when the Devil wakens from a long nap to discover someone is stealing the evil deeds of humanity, Hannah and her family will be central to putting this right. For various shades of right. He is the Devil, after all. I’ve been a big fan of Michael Marshall Smith for years, and his books are few and far enough between that a new one is always a celebration (yes, there are Michael Marshall books between times, but they’re not usually quite the same). I like his narrative tone of voice, and his way of twisting aspects of the real world; I like his ability to provoke melancholy and capture heartache. So Hannah Green and her Unfeasibly Mundane Existence had a burden of expectation to live up to – and sets its stall out from the start as being somewhat different to the rest of MMS’s body of (long-form) work. The prologue is mischievous and knowing, breaking the fourth wall and playing with expectations (if anything, it reminds me of the voice-over at the start of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang). And for the first time, we get a heroine – and…

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8/10
Review: Raid by K. S. Merbeth
Reviews / August 8, 2017

In Raid, Merbeth takes us back to the wastes where we can see all the violence and messiness that comes with it. If you haven’t read Bite, I can sum it up as a post-apocalyptic type, mad max type of world. With cannibals (or sharks as they are called in the books). It can be an isolating world, and the perspective of Clementine really highlights this. She hunts raiders, who destroy and endanger towns, but it also actually feeds her isolation. People may be happy for her work killing raiders, but her ability to do so is alarming. Clementine is not exactly a person anyone would like to be the “girl next door”. She came in to violence at a very young age, and discovered she had quite a knack for it. While it earned respect and admiration of her fellow townsfolk, once on her own, she never could find quite where she fit in. She takes to violence and killing almost too easily, her ability to take another’s life can be quite disarming to normal folk, but it is also how she survives and how she knows to make her world at least a little bit better (by taking…

Raven Stratagem - Yoon Ha Lee (space ships in battle)
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9/10
Review: Raven Stratagem by Yoon Ha Lee
Reviews / July 13, 2017

Kel Cheris, half-possessed by the ghost of notorious General Shuos Jedao, survived an assassination attempt that wiped out her entire fleet. Or did she? Physical appearances aside, it appears to be Jedao who usurps command aboard the Hierarchy of Feasts. Formation instinct compels the Kel to follow Jedao – but will he really defend the Hexarchate from the Hafn? Or will he betray them to their deaths? Ninefox Gambit was one of my favourite books last year, although not all reviewers shared my enthusiasm for its unapologetically oblique world-building and its obsession with the ethics of war. In Raven Stratagem, the core dilemma is much the same – can the ghost of the mass-murdering general be trusted? – but this time we see the action strictly through outside eyes. Enter General Kel Khiruev, tormented by her enforced loyalties to both the Hexarchate and – unwillingly – to Jedao as her superior officer. Haunted by childhood memories of her mother executing her father for heresy, it’s only Kel formation instinct that suppresses her doubts about the Hexarchate. When Jedao arrives, she can’t resist the urge to obey him even knowing Kel Command wants him dead. By contrast, Lieutenant Colonel Kel Brezan has weak…

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9/10
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
Reviews / July 10, 2017

Before even starting to review Borne just let me ask you to take a look at the cover I’ve chosen.  It’s strangely hypnotic isn’t it, you want to look at it, to make sense of it, just turn it around slightly or turn it upside down even. I suppose there’s something in us all that makes us want to find the sense of something, figure out the puzzle and give it a name we understand.  Frankly, I couldn’t make sense of the image on the cover and having read the book I’m still not entirely sure what is being depicted, but, in spite of that, I love the cover, it drew me in and held my attention and more than that is a great representation for this book because I don’t think there is any one fixed image – for me, the point is the image could be anything that your mind comes up with whilst reading this. I was compelled by this read.  I was partly scared to pick it up because I always make the assumption that I’m not going to fully grasp what’s actually going on, but, as I was reading I began to appreciate that it…

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9/10
Review: Spoonbenders by Daryl Gregory
Reviews / June 26, 2017

What do you get when you mix clairvoyance and psychokinesis with Cold War secret agents, the Chicago mob, shady con artists, and a dysfunctional family undergoing a crisis of zany proportions? You get Spoonbenders, a wildly original, humorous, and unexpectedly heartwarming tale of paranormal drama. This book had everything in it—and I do mean EVERYTHING—but I’ve seen Daryl Gregory pull off some pretty amazing things with an even stranger mishmash of ideas, so I never doubted for a second that he would be able to pull this off. Spoonbenders introduces us to the Telemachus family, whose members made brief waves in the 70s by dazzling late-night talk show audiences with their amazing psychic abilities. At the head of this act is Teddy Telemachus, who ironically is the only one with no real power of his own, though he does make up for it by being a smooth and charismatic master swindler. The true talent was his wife Maureen, who is said to be the most powerful psychic in the world. And in their individual ways, each of their children inherited a bit of their mother’s gifts: Irene is a human lie detector, able to fox out the smallest insincerities or…

The Space Between The Stars - Anne Corlett
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9/10
Review: The Space Between The Stars by Anne Corlett
Reviews / June 14, 2017

The virus had a long incubation period. By the time it started killing, it had already spread across the stars. Those who survived the second day lived. The rest burnt up, 99.9999% of the human race reduced to piles of dust. Now the few survivors – scattered across planets – must try to reconnect, regroup and choose their future. Should Jamie try to rebuild what she’s lost or choose a fresh start? The Space Between The Stars is – for me, at least – this year’s Station Eleven. I have seen more critical reviews, but it spoke straight to my heart and unstrung it, leaving me crying quietly on an aeroplane (whether that’s one better than crying on public transport I leave to you). Like Station Eleven, this is a story that uses a SF conceit to explore human nature rather than a story that is interested in its SF trappings. As such, some SF readers may feel sold short. But not this SF reader. This reader is in resonant bits. We meet Jamie on Soltaire, a remote farming planet where she has fled from her long-term partner Daniel to seek the space to heal after a devastating loss. Her flight…

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6/10
Review: Damnation by Peter McLean
Reviews / June 7, 2017

Damnation is the third instalment in the Burned Man series and picks up about six months after the conclusion of events in Dominion where the main protagonist found himself employed by a Goddess with vengeance on her mind.  For the record this being the third in series the review below will undoubtedly contain spoilers so please bear this in mind before reading further. I will start out by saying that Damnation is not my favourite of the series so far, but, that being said I am invested in the story and will definitely continue.  For me, this book had two main issues that prevented me from loving it – firstly, it did nothing to endear me further to the main character, Drake, and secondly, it felt very much like a ‘filler’ or set up book for the next in series. As mentioned, we start 6 months after Dominion where we learn of Don’s rapid decline since he departed London to try and track his former girlfriend Debbie. Unfortunately the search goes very poorly and nobody is inclined to help Don.  Why would they after all?  Debbie is a very talented alchemist who doesn’t want to be found by her cheating former boyfriend s0 there’s no reason for…