Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review - The King's man (JS)

King's Man by Angus Donald

King's Man 

Review by Jacqui Slaney

As I mentioned in my review on Holy Warrior, I bought the sequels to ‘Outlaw’ very quickly. I had intended to read a few other books before I started on this one, but made the mistake of reading a little of the first chapter and that was it, I was hooked.

This is the description:

THE THIRD CRUSADE IS OVER Richard the Lionheart is bound for England. But with all the princes of Europe united against him . . . can the greatest warrior in Christendom make it safely home?
THE LION IS CHAINED Captured. Bound. Imprisoned. King Richard's slim hope of salvation rests on one man - a former outlaw, a vengeful earl, a man who scoffs at Holy Mother Church:
ROBIN HOOD For King and country Robin and his loyal lieutenant Alan Dale will risk all - from blood-soaked battlefields to deadly assassins - to see the Lionheart restored to his rightful throne.

Having found book two in this series a better and stronger story than Outlaw, I started this book with high hopes and was not disappointed.

The book starts with Robin and his soldiers returning home from the crusade and finding an army besieging Robins home. Robin although greatly outnumbered by the opposing forces uses a cunning plan to beat them and regain his home.

Robin soon runs into problems with the church and is accused of using the black arts to assist him; he is called to London to face these charges but refuses to take this seriously. He and his men then hear of Richards capture and agree to travel to see the Kings mother and see is they can assist in Richards’s release. The story moves to London where following his sons kidnapping, Robin is forced to face the inquisition regarding his actions, in between creating a plan to find Richard. The plot moves swiftly and I wont say one of the major incidents of Robins trial as I do not want to spoil anything. Alan and two clergy are dispatched to track down Richards’s whereabouts and eventual release. 

The story is still told by Alan, and it can be seen in this story how he has matured as a character. He started as a young boy looking at Robin as some kind of hero and though he has now seen the dark side of his Lord he has accepted him for what he is and supports him fully despite his faults.

There are some great characters in this, as villains you have Rix and his creepy partner in crime, Prince John and Murduc. On the other side, the reader now has Richard himself who is developed more as a complete character.

There are some great twists and turns in the plot and Nur- Alan’s lover from book 2 reappears which is well handled.

There are some criticism of the author’s writing in this series, saying it’s pretty basic, but then the review goes onto say that they have still read all the books which tells me that the writing cannot be all that bad.

I would recommend this book; if anything, it is a better story than the others are and does tie together threads from book 1 and 2. There is plenty of action to keep any reader entertained.

10 out of 10

Monday, October 29, 2012

Book Review - Eclipse

Eclipse – Stephanie Meyer


I found the first two books in the twilight sage excruciating slow to begin with and poorly written to the point where on both books I considered abandoning them. Thankfully, they both got better and strangely compelling to the point where I can honestly and unashamedly admit that I actually enjoyed them.

There are some books that just have a wintry/Christmassy feel to them. The Harry Potter books and the Twilight books fall into this category. With the temperature outside definitely plummeting I got the urge to revisit La Push. I was expecting much the same as the previous two incarnations.

The Blurb:

As Seattle is ravaged by a string of mysterious killings and a malicious vampire continues her quest for revenge, Bella once again finds herself surrounded by danger. In the midst of it all, she is forced to choose between her love for Edward and her friendship with Jacob--knowing that her decision has the potential to ignite the ageless struggle between vampire and werewolf. With her graduation quickly approaching, Bella has one more decision to make: life or death. But which is which?
Eclipse is without a doubt the strongest of the Twilight books by quite some margin. Unlike the first two books in the saga, Eclipse starts off strongly and doesn’t really falter.

Bella is transformed from the hopelessly in love girl, gushing over every movement Edward makes, to a girl with a backbone. Yes, she still has moments where she pauses to think how adorable Edward is but these are described in a more mature way and do not detract from the story.  She is also not afraid to push back when she disagrees with something Edward says and does and the relationship feels far more equal than before. For instance Bella realises that Edward is not just being protective in his behaviour towards her but overbearing and possessive.  This is well portrayed and Stephanie Meyer is keen to play on this dynamic by having Jacob feed off this conflict.

It would be easy for Stephanie Meyer to have Jacob as the guy waiting in the wings as an alternate if Edward were to slip up, but she makes sure Jacob has more to him by making him rough around the edges. Jacob is far from perfect. He is dangerous, arrogant but also playful with it. Jacob and indeed all the werewolves are given more strength in this novel. They are now portrayed as equal with the vampires in regards to the threat they pose and more than a match for them if the two were to break the treaty they share.

Edward develops in this novel too. In the past, I can honestly say I hated him as a character finding him annoyingly bland and perfect. In Eclipse I did not mind him so much. Rather than try to control Bella he slowly learns to trust her judgement and acknowledge that she has other friends and he has to accept that.

The difference with Eclipse as opposed to the other novels in the series is that the plot is interesting for the outset. The threat to Bella is kept to the background to begin with but you are always aware of it. It keeps the story focussed and moves it away from Bella’s agonising over Edward.

One particular strength of the novel is that the history and back-story of the characters is explored. We get to discover the origin stories of Jasper for example, which is well written and actually pretty darn good. The best part of the novel though belongs to the history of the Werewolves. This is told by Sam and stands out as a superior bit of writing. I wouldn’t mind seeing Stephanie Meyer explore this area further in a future book.

Having said all that, the book is not perfect. There is an inevitability about the direction of the story that took a little too long to surface for my liking. I found it hard to believe that none of the characters had considered a certain plot element way before they did when it was so bleeding obvious.

I also wished Stephanie Meyer had been braver with some of the choices she made in the story. She did not make any bad decisions but again there was a certain amount of inevitability over how things turned out.

The climatic battle was excellent however. Stephanie Meyer uses a fantastic technique of describing part of the battle through someone recounting events as they see it through the eyes of those actually engaged in the battle. This is highly effective and really ratchets up the tension.

Overall, I can honestly say that for the first time with this series I began to see what the fuss is about. Don’t get me wrong, it is not up there with the top fantasy books in the genre but it is a really good read.

 My rating: 8.9

Friday, October 26, 2012

Book Review - Dragon Song (JS)

Dragon song by Anne McCaffrey

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Looking back over the reviews I have done, I have realised that one of the authors I used to read the most I have not mentioned at all, so decided I should rectify that omission.

Anne McCaffrey created a world called Pern; she filled it with dragons and their riders and gave them peoples to protect from an alien threat.

There are quite a few books in the series, this one is less about dragons and more about the people who live on the planet, this is the description:

Every two hundred years or so, shimmering Threads fall from space, raining death and black ruin on Pern. The great dragons of Pern hurl themselves through the beleaguered skies, flaming tongues of fire to destroy deadly Thread and save the Planet. However, it was not Threadfall that made young Menolly unhappy. It was her father who betrayed her ambition to be a Harper, who thwarted her love of music. Menolly had no choice but to run away. When, suddenly, she came upon a group of fire lizards, wild and smaller relatives of the fire-breathing dragons, she let her music swirl around them. She taught nine of them to sing. Suddenly Menolly was no longer alone -- she was Mistress of Music and Ward of the dazzling fire dragons.

This is a story about a girl’s love of music and her desire to be something different from that of her parents and to break away from what a girl’s role is seen to be.

Menolly is a skilled musician living in a distant sea hold, all she wants is to be a Harper – someone who can teach music, produce their own and has some standing in the community. Unfortunately, being a girl, her father does not see this as a suitable occupation for her. After she has an accident, it seems that he will have his way about Menolly’s future, but instead she runs away.

To live outside a holding is seen to be a death warrant on Pern, due to the regular falls from the sky of Thread, a life form that can destroy everything it touches.

Instead, Menolly’s thrives on her own and actually finds egg’s of prized fire lizards that are tiny versions of the dragons that patrol Perns skies. She saves the young hatchlings and they become bonded to her. Through a series of events, the music that she loves changes her life and the attitudes of the people of Pern.

This is not a complicated story but it is very readable, and is suitable for the young or adult reader. There are better books, but thanks to the well-written characters and the world that McCaffrey creates, I enjoyed it.

I found all the characters real and three dimensional  even the supporting cast, whereas in some novels, you often have only a handful that are fleshed out and  the  rest seem to be just used to bulk the story out.

Pern itself is well described and very believable, I really loved the descriptions of the different peoples and the land itself.

I think it was reading the books of Pern that gave me the idea that I wanted to write, to see if I could create something like this.

 So if you want to read something in the fantasy realm then definitely try Anne McCaffrey, think you might enjoy it.

 9 out of 10



Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Book review - In the tall grass

In The Tall Grass – Stephen King and Joe Hill


Stephen King writes in a voice that can’t be beaten in my eyes. The way he writes prose just feels so comfortable and easy that I am instantly lost in whatever tale he weaves. As a result every time I think of what book I want to read next, I am automatically drawn to one of his stories.

My experience of Joe Hill is limited. I read and enjoyed the “Heart-Shaped Box” but did not feel the urge to lavish it with praise as many others have done. This short story then, was the perfect way to give me my King fix and explore Joe Hill’s work further.

 The Blurb:

 In the Tall Grass begins with a sister and brother who pull off to the side of the road after hearing a young boy crying for help from beyond the tall grass. Within minutes they are disoriented, in deeper than seems possible, and they've lost one another. The boy's cries are more and more desperate. What follows is a terrifying, entertaining, and masterfully told tale, as only Stephen King and Joe Hill can deliver.
At just over 62 pages it is difficult to review this short story without giving away spoilers. What I will say is that this is a classic example of how King comes up with his ideas for his stories I.e. what would happen if x happened to y.

In this instance the “x” is the tall grass that consumes whoever is lured into it and does not let them out and the “y” are the twin siblings Cal and Becky who have an almost disturbingly close relationship.

The concept is remarkably simple but the execution is superb. The plot is told from both siblings point of view which is brave considering the shortness of the story. It works however and King and Hill paint enough of a past for the characters to make them both interesting and for you to care about them.
There are many genuinely eerie moments in this story and a few of them are gross. One thing that King always succeeds with me, is to have me put the book down and reflect on what has happened. In “the Tall Grass” there were several moments where I actually thought, “What would I do in that situation?”

 The ending to the story is excellent. Enough of an explanation is given as to what is actually happening without having to go into any detail. As a short story the Tall Grass succeeds on every level. Highly recommended for £0.99.

My rating: 8.8

Monday, October 22, 2012

Book review - Holy Warrior (JS)

Holy Warrior by Angus Donald

Review by Jacqui Slaney 

Having enjoyed Outlaw, I took a chance and bought the next three books. I normally have quite a delay while reading a series, so thought this way would stop that delay.

This is the description:

Arrows will fly. Swords will swing. Heroes will fall. Legends will survive. And the Holy Land will never be the same.

1190 AD: Richard the Lionheart has launched his epic crusade to seize Jerusalem from the cruel Saracens. Marching with the vast royal army is Britain's most famous, most feared, most ferocious warrior: the Outlaw of Nottingham, the Earl of Locksley -- Robin Hood himself.

With his band of loyal men at his side, Robin cuts a bloody swathe on the brutal journey east. Daring and dangerous, he can outwit and outlast any foe -- but the crimson battlefields of the Holy Land are the ultimate proving ground. Moreover, within Robin's camp lurks a traitor -- a stealthy enemy determined to slay Christendom's greatest outlaw before the trumpets fade.

This story follows on from the events in Outlaw, and sees Robin and his warriors joining Richard the Lionheart on his crusade to the Holy land. Although Robin has no belief in God as such, he has been forced to make good on his promise to the Knights Templar’s after they saved him in battle. This is quite a violent tale, with the massacre of the Jews in York described in detail not too mention the sacking of the city of Messina by Richards army. There are various sub plots in the story, which are good and keep the story moving along at quite a fast pace, one of which is who is trying to kill Robin and why. Along side this, you have the story of the crusade and Richard himself, having read quite a few crusade books I found the detail accurate and interesting and added to the story.

As in the first book, you see events from the point of view of Alan Dale, the young thief who has become one of Robins most trusted men. Alan has changed in this tale; he has matured and has started to see Robin much more as he truly is. Ruthless, cruel and determined to do what ever is needed to gets what he wants, an example of this that haunts Alan, is Robin letting a young girl die, but saving her father  as he is more useful to him.

Alan is a great character and you feel for him through his journey with Robin and you also understand Robin’s actions though they do not make him a very palatable character, he is the man you would expect for the time he is living in.  

I enjoyed this book more than the first one, though as I said it is defiantly more violent, which will make the story not for everyone tastes, especially with the description of the execution of the prisoners of war.

It is a good story though with the violence part of the tale and not just for the sake of shock tactics. The characters are all well written and you have a good villain as well to dislike as you read along.

Again would definitely recommend this series and am looking forward to the next.

10 out of 10

Friday, October 19, 2012

Book Review - The Wayfarer King

The Wayfarer King – K.C. May

The Wayfarer King (The Kinshield Saga)

I thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the Kinshield series. As a relatively unknown author I was surprised at how accomplished the Kinshield legacy was. Not only that but it was also fun. It also ended with on a few cliff-hangers. Needless to say I was looking forward to book two.

The Blurb:

Beyonders, evil beings that materialize without warning from the realm of chaos, continue to invade the world of men, destroying everything -- and everyone -- in their path. The most powerful of them all, Ritol, has been confined for two hundred years inside the palace in Thendylath, trapped by King Arek's magic.

Having newly claimed the right to rule Thendylath as king, Gavin Kinshield has no money or army, but he's determined to protect his people from the beyonder attacks. With his new power of Wayfarer, Gavin has the ability to journey to all seven realms. To end the invasion, he must travel to the realm of chaos and summon Ritol. But can he escape before the beyonder champion kills him, devours his soul and takes his place as Wayfarer?

If wizard Brodas Ravenkind has his way, Gavin will never make it that far. Not only does Ravenkind want the throne for himself, he wants revenge for his cousin's murder too. After all, he made a promise the first time Gavin crossed him…

The Wayfarer King started slow for me. The characters seemed to meander all over the place and took along time for them to find their feet again. Gavin who was a lovely rogue in the first book lost some of his edge in the first third of the story. In the first book Gavin was reluctant to fulfil his destiny but accepted it was his duty. He was unsure he was cut-out to take on the mantle as King given his rough background and lack of manners. Whilst this was amusing and effortless in Kinshield legacy, in the Wayfarer King this feels forced. Every inappropriate belch in front of a lady feels contrived, his reluctance to be King comes across as almost annoying.

The same can be said for the plot as well. The Wayfarer King never really gets going for a long time. The characters seem to wander aimlessly for a portion of the novel and the events that happen to them feel like they have been set up purely to give them something to do rather than serve the plot. Dare I say, the first third felt like K.C.May was told to flesh the novel out to increase the word count (the page count is only 292 pages). I’m sure this was not the case it just felt that way.

After the first third book I was beginning to doubt why I rated the first book so highly. Thankfully, this all changed. There was no particular event, the writing just seemed to click, Gavin became more like the character I remembered and the plot started to get a bit more direction.

The supporting cast are solid: Daia is fleshed out and her complicated relationship with Gavin is quite refreshing in that it is not based on anything sexual. The introduction of Feanna is the novel’s strongest point, although some of the dialogue between her and Gavin is clumsy.

The demon Ritol is well written. He suitably oozes menace and unlike most books feels like a legitimate threat to the protagonist. However, Brodas seems to be far more like a caricature in this novel.

In truth though the book feels like it is always building toward the conclusion which I am happy to say is excellent. The climatic battle the journey Gavin has to go through and the fact that all the other cast have significant parts to play too add to grandiose battle.

Overall then, although slightly flawed this is a good conclusion to a series that deserves more exposure.

My rating: 7.3

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Book Review - Bridge of Birds (JS)

Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was by Barry Hughart
 The Bridge of Birds
I first read this book years ago after find a copy in an old bookshop, I remember enjoying it but somehow over the years had completely forgotten all about it until I was sorting out some books and came across it again. I glanced through and was soon hooked again by the story.
This is the description: 
When the children of his village were struck with a mysterious illness, Number Ten Ox found Master Li Kao. Together they set out to find the Great Root of Power, the only possible cure, and together they discover adventure and legend, and the power of belief....
I can hear the sighs of boredom now; I promise you that the description does not do the book justice.
Our heroes are number ten Ox and Li Kao. Ox who was called that quite simply as he was very strong and the tenth of his family. When a strange poison strikes down the young of his village, Ox is sent in search of a Sage. The only one he can afford is an ancient old man who looks like an alcoholic, but despite his looks is one of the cleverest people alive and calls himself a sage with a slight flaw to his character. The search for the cure for the children drags Ox and Li Kao backwards and forwards across China, and they soon find that the cure they seek is caught up in an ancient mystery, which they have to solve before the children can be saved.
It is an entertaining story; and it is full of excellent characters, Ma the Grub, Henpecked Ho and Doctor Death just to name a few. There are monsters and magic, gods and ghosts and a real evil villain who is trying to live forever. It is also a love story though, but a not a mushy one, but one that everyone will enjoy.
There is quite a lot of violence involved in the story, with people being killed but the writing is so full of humour and very much tongue in cheek that  it keeps the story light and moving along at a fast pace as our heroes race against time to save the day.
This is not a long story but has a real feel good feeling about it, although the puzzle itself is not hard to work out before the end of the book, the writing will still keep you turning the pages.
I am pleased I found this book again, and made sure, now that it is sitting safely with all my other books.
 10 out of 10 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review - Fool Moon

Fool Moon – Jim Butcher
I have heard a lot of about Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files and how great it is. Earlier this year I decided to see what all the fuss was about and read the first in the series (Storm Front), I was happy the hype wasn’t exaggerated. “Storm Front” was also considered to be the weakest book in the series and so it was with much anticipation that I plunged into “Fool Moon.”
The Blurb
Business has been slow for professional wizard Harry Dresden, who hasn't been able to dredge up any kind of work, magical or mundane. But just when it looks like he can't afford his next meal, a murder comes along that requires his particular brand of supernatural expertise.
“Fool Moon” starts shortly after the events of the “Storm Front,” Harry is in a bar and discussing the dangerous outcomes of conducting magic that you do not know enough about to a sort of apprentice of his. This served a great way to recap what Harry is all about, his limitations and the general rules of the world Jim Butcher has created.
Harry Dresden is every bit as cool as the first book. He stumbles from scrape to scrape barely surviving each encounter with the supernatural and law enforcement. All of this is accompanied by his razor sharp sarcasm and wit.
The plot is frantic and Jim Butcher introduces enough characters and elements to make it complex enough to be satisfying. He is always careful to recap what has gone on so far at well timed intervals, so as a reader you never feel lost with the direction of the story. One clever device he uses for this is for Harry to have a conversation with his subconscious when he is unconscious. It sounds rubbish but it works well within the confines of the story.
The narrative often breaks the fourth wall as well. Harry will talk to the reader every now and then and this adds to the whole charm of the novel rather than detract from it.
The main supernatural element of “Fool Moon” is werewolves. Jim Butcher does a good job of portraying how threatening they are. So despite being a wizard of Harry’s considerably ability, you always feel that he is in danger. Jim Butcher does not hold back on his description of some of the violence either. There were a couple of scenes that were deliciously gruesome. If there was a small criticism it would be that I never got a sense of whether the werewolves were on two legs or four. Sometimes they would be described as being waist height and other times they were distinctly human in their behaviour. Although only a minor issue that I may have missed, it did leave me guessing and distracted me from the story.
As with all good stories, Jim Butcher does not pander to the stereotypical view of the werewolves. Jim’s werewolves transform instantaneously for example. It is nice to see and stops the supernatural element from becoming stale.
The other characters are solid without being brilliant. Harry’s interaction with the cop Murphy is probably the highlight although Tera and of course Susan are also worth a mention. They all serve their purpose, but in truth the Dresden Files are all about Harry Dresden. The books are supernatural versions of Robert Crais’ Elvis Costello series: fast, witty and just dam enjoyable.
The ending is great and moves away from the classic good guy overcoming all the odds blandness. You really get the sense that Jim Butcher enjoys writing this series. Bring on book 3.
My rating: 8.2

Friday, October 12, 2012

Book Review - The Mongoliad (JS)

The Mongoliad: Book One (The Foreworld Saga) by Greg Bear, Neal Stephenson, Mark Teppo and Erik Bear
Found this one while browsing for something to read on the Kindle, I was put off initially by the amount of authors involved, but thought the idea sounded interesting, this is the description:
The first novel to be released in The Foreworld Saga, the Mongoliad: Book One, is an epic-within-an-epic, taking place in 13th century. In it, a small band of warriors and mystics raise their swords to save Europe from a bloodthirsty Mongol invasion. Inspired by their leader (an elder of an order of warrior monks), they embark on a perilous journey and uncover the history of hidden knowledge and conflict among powerful secret societies that had been shaping world events for millennia.

In this tale, the Mongols are attacking the whole of Europe. Their hordes are wiping out towns and villages and slaughtering the peoples. The Mongol Khan though has sent out an offer, if the Christian knights will part in a tourney with the Mongols and win, then Europe will be freed. This offer is carried by Cnan, who is a 'Binder', one of a group of mysterious female spies who tracks down a group of Christian Knights, with the Khans message. The knights and Cyan discover that the offer is false and decide that the only way to get rid of the Mongol threat is to send a small force to assassinate the Khan. However, to keep up the impression that they believe that the Mongol offer is genuine, the rest of the knights agree to take part in the tournament. You see the knight’s actions through Cnan eyes, as an outsider herself; you see all the knights’ faults and imperfections, however due to the atrocities committed by the Mongols the reader is definitely on the side of the Christians. The reader is also given another point of view, this time from a Mongol warrior being tutored in the ways of the Khans palace by a Chinese slave. Through this POV, you do end up feeling some sympathy for the warrior and his teacher.
The book is quite slow to start, and I did struggle at first, as I felt a bit overwhelmed by the mass of descriptions and the details about the different characters. The different fight scenes though are very detailed with some quite gruesome descriptions, but they are well done and expertly handled.
The book did eventually win me over, many reviews say the book is too flat and muddled. It is slow as I said, but I found that as you read on, it is worth persevering with, as it does get better. I was not particularly happy with the ending, but I am hoping that this will be improved on in book two, which I will definitely read.
8 out of 10

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

On Writing - Update

On Writing – Update
No review today, mainly because I have fallen behind on them and I think it is unfair to delve into Jacqui’s exhaustive stock. Normal service will resume on Friday.
You may have noticed that I have not posted an update on my writing for a few weeks. That has been because progress has been painfully slow to non-existent.
Three weeks ago, I had a reasonable week. I started the week with a bang by knocking out a productive 1,128 words a day. Tuesday I found myself with a spare hour and raring to go but horror of all horrors I could not find my previous days effort.
As all writers know when this happens you go through a range of emotions: disbelief, anger, demoralisation and then sulking. I refused to believe I had lost the work especially as I was so pleased with the writing I had produced and also that it was an extremely complex part of a chapter. So for an hour and a half, I searched and I searched for the work. I knew I had saved it repeatedly the day before but man could I find the dam thing? The good news was that I could. The relief was palpable but I left myself with no time to do any new writing that day. The only other writing I managed to do that week was on Thursday where I rattled off another 1,019 words.
So all was going o.k. but then I came down with a virus. Unfortunately it was a sickness and diarrhoea bug that lasted 8 days. By the end of it I was half a stone lighter and exhausted. I was also behind on my work which was a disaster in itself as we are currently in our busiest period.
I then spent most of last week catching up and working ridiculous hours in order to do so. That is not to say I did not do anything. Voyager had opened their doors to unsolicited submissions and I put all my spare time into polishing book 1 and writing an additional scene 1,200 words that I have wanted to include for ages (more on that in a future post)
So now I back on track, I haven’t managed to do any new writing so far this week but I am determined to do something and then get back into my usual pattern by next week.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Review - Wolfsangel (JS)

Wolfsangel by M. D. Lachlan

I have mentioned before how I often pick books just on their covers, and the description that you find on the cover. This book was no exception; I have a fondness for wolves, do not ask me why, but if I go to a wild animal park, it has to have two things, big cats and wolves. Therefore, when I saw this book, that not only had a picture of a wolf on the cover, had wolf in its title but also had a mention of werewolves in the story, well I just had to buy it. This is the description:
The Viking King Authun leads his men on a raid against an Anglo-Saxon village. Men and women are killed indiscriminately but Authun demands that no child be touched. He is acting on prophecy. A prophecy that tells him that the Saxons have stolen a child from the Gods. If Authun, in turn, takes the child and raises him as an heir, the child will lead his people to glory. But Authun discovers not one child, but twin baby boys. Ensuring that his faithful warriors, witnesses to what has happened, die during the raid Authun takes the children and their mother home, back to the witches who live on the troll wall. And he places his destiny in their hands. And so begins a stunning multi-volume fantasy epic that will take a werewolf from his beginnings as the heir to a brutal Viking king, down through the ages. It is a journey that will see him hunt for his lost love through centuries and lives, and see the endless battle between the wolf, Odin and Loki - the eternal trickster - spill over into countless bloody conflicts from our history, and over into our lives.

The story starts with King Authun leading a small group of his warriors on a raid. As they get closer to their destination, the King tells his men that none of them will survive the raid, but that they will go down in history amongst their people. He tells them they are going to this village to steal a child who has been foreseen by the mountain witches, this child will become his heir as he has been unable to father any sons and will lead all their people to greatness.

 However when they eventually find the child instead of one baby Authun finds twins, as he unable to decide which one to take, he steals both and their mother.  The twins are separated early so are completely oblivious to the others existence and are raised in very different ways. Vali is brought up as the spoilt son of Authun; Feileg has a much harsher existence being raised by wolves and berserkers. You follow their lives through the years as they are drawn back to each other and Feileg finds himself caught up in Valis quest to save his sweetheart.

There is much more to the story, to be honest this only really scratches the surface of the book. There is magic though out with the gods and the witches who are definitely sinister and very good characters. There is a lot of Norse mythology, though this has clearly been researched well by the author and. There is plenty of action with a lot of blood and violence, this keeps the story moving and keeps the readers interest alive.

If you do not like a dark story though then this is probably not the book for you, there is many dark tales out there, but this one is different with not a lot to lighten its atmosphere.
I admit that I did struggle with this one, not through any fault of the writing skills, which are excellent, but for quite a while, I did not actually like any of the characters, and felt therefore detached about what was happening to them. The book kept pulling me back though, after a while the plot quickened, and I really started to enjoy it.  This is the first in a series, so will definitely be reading more.

8 out of 10 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Book Review - Daughter of the Empire (JS)

Daughter of the Empire by Raymond E Feist and Janny Wurts
 Daughter of the Empire
As I have mentioned in earlier reviews, I have read many of Feist’s books, so when I saw this one although it was collaboration between Feist and an author that I did not know, I did not hesitate.
This is the description:
Enter the mysterious world of Kelewan, where Mara of the Acoma must protect her honour and her people in the ruthless Game of the Council. From the imagination of two of fantasy’s greatest names comes a magnificent epic of heroic adventure and dynastic struggle.
Yes I know the description does not sound much, but let me expand on it a little. The story starts with Mara who is about to take religious orders. Her family is old and respected which on Kelewan is very important for status, but as she is not the heir to the family name, she has decided to reject worldly matters. However before she takes her vows, her family’s warriors arrive to tell her that her father and brother have been killed and that she is now the head of the Acoma. Mara realises that she must play the Game of Council, which is a deadly form of political intrigue and win, otherwise the Acoma will be destroyed and the family name will be lost forever.
For anyone who has enjoyed the Riftwar books this is an intriguing look at the people on the other side of the rift, you see the war through their eyes and get a different point of view. The description of Kelewan and its Empire is excellent and has a real oriental feel to it, with the descriptions of the way the peoples live and their beliefs and customs. There is also some magic in the tale, but it is only mentioned briefly and used very subtlety, although at one time it does save Maras life.
 This is a story of friendships, family and honour; there is brutality but also humour in the writing along with sadness. Mara is excellent, do not be put off by the fact that the main character is a female as I have read in some reviews; she is as strong a character as any that I have read and her struggle in being forced into an unfamiliar role is very believable. All the other characters are well developed and not just there for background decoration. To name a few you have Keyoke the head of the Acoma warriors and Arakasi, who Mara saves breaking Kelewan tradition, who becomes the head of her spy network. Then you also have Nacoya, who was Maras nurse when she was a child who is then promoted to first advisor  and Lujan who started as a ‘grey warrior’ which is a soldier linked to a family who have been obliterated and ends up one of Maras most trusted men.
I found the story grips you, thanks to the writing skills of the authors and is one of those books that you do not want to end. It is the first book of a trilogy but stands well by itself with a very good conclusion to the story, which the reader will enjoy.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to any one who has read the Riftwar books or even if this is their first venture into such a story, anyone will find something to enjoy in this book.
10 out of 10

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Book Review - Empire in black and Gold

Empire in Black and Gold - Adrian Tchiakovsky

I was unsure whether or not to read this series. Generally, I am very much a traditional fantasy book lover. I like my stories gritty, with the magic kept to a minimum. I usually abhor any modern technology in the fantasy setting but the concept behind Tchiakovsky’s series seemed quite cool and so when Amazon offered the first book at a ridiculously low price, I relented and bought it.
The Blurb:
Seventeen years ago Stenwold witnessed the Wasp Empire storming the city of Myna in a brutal war of conquest. Since then he has preached vainly against this threat in his home city of Collegium, but now the Empire is on the march, with its spies and its armies everywhere, and the Lowlands lie directly in its path. All the while, Stenwold has been training youthful agents to fight the Wasp advance, and the latest recruits include his niece, Che, and his mysterious ward, Tynisa. When his home is violently attacked, he is forced to send them ahead of him and, hotly pursued, they fly by airship to Helleron, the first city in line for the latest Wasp invasion.Stenwold and Che are Beetle-kinden, one of many human races that take their powers and inspiration each from a totem insect, but he also has allies of many breeds: Mantis, Spider, Ant, with their own particular skills. Foremost is the deadly Mantis-kinden warrior, Tisamon, but other very unlikely allies also join the cause.

As things go from bad to worse amid escalating dangers, Stenwold learns that the Wasps intend to use the newly completed railroad between Helleron and Collegium to launch a lightning strike into the heart of the Lowlands. Then he gathers all of his agents to force a final showdown in the engine yard ...
I am unsure how much I liked this book and I can’t put my finger on why. All of the ingredients are there for a really good novel, but somehow it did not resonate with me like it should have done.
The concept behind the story that every character belongs to an insect type is very good. For example, Mantis kinden are fierce warriors, whilst Ants are good communicators and builders Tchiakovsky introduces the idea well, whilst also taking care to ensure that not all “Wasps” and “Beetles” are generic despite displaying similar traits.
I think the main issue I had was the lack of main characters. Tchiakovsky adopts multiple point of views in his narrative but does not really focus on any. The plot focuses around Stenwold, a man considered eccentric because of his strong belief that Collegium and its neighbouring regions will soon be invaded by the wasp people. Tchiakovsky tries to portray Stenwold as a man content to let others believe he is more useless then he is, but never convinces to demonstrate otherswise. Instead, for someone who is supposed to be leading a resistance, he is remarkably passive and events seem to happen in spite of him rather than any influence he has. I also lost count how many times he asked his friends to follow him and was surprised when none of them backed out.
His students make up the majority of the other POV characters. Some of these are stronger than others: Che for example, grows from a whiney, insolent little girl into a hardened survivor. She is swept along with events and lives up to the reputation of her beetle-kinden; Whilst Totho comes across as love sick puppy who has an interest in being an Artificer.
The strongest of the characters is Tynisa who actually has a well planned and fleshed out back story that is slowly uncovered. As she learns of this past she begins to develop her natural abilities that she is not always comfortable with. As a result Tynisa’s story therefore, is compelling and definitely one of the plus points in the novel.
There is one attempt to tell the story from the “enemies” point of view in the form of Captain Thalric. Thalric is a conflicted member of the empire torn between his love for the empire and his disillusionment at the corruption within.  I would have liked more time spent with Thalric as he is definitely an interesting character and was a means for exploring the desperately under seen “Wasp” point of view.
The other characters that have POV’s are not so three dimensional. In fact they seem to exist only to progress the plot. Which leads me nicely on to another reason the book might not work as well as it should - The plot does not really exist.  Rather than have a series of POV characters each with their own motivations and goals, Tchiakovsky decides to just let things happen to people. The story is driven by set piece after set piece and the character with the POV seems by default to be the one where the action is. All of the other POV characters then seem to fall into place as a result. Whilst this sounds as if I am being negative, it is not meant to be. The story works fine, it just seems to be lacking a character driven plot.
The concluding battle is satisfactory but is nothing different from the skirmishes we have already experienced in the novel. There was a distinct lack of build up to the final battle which harmed its impact. Overall then, Tchiakovsky’s debut novel is successful is lacking in a few areas. I enjoyed the story for the most part and will definitely continue with the series.
My Rating: 8.1

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review - Angus Donald

Outlaw by Angus Donald
Review by Jacqui Slaney

I have always had a soft spot for Robin Hood stories, I still remember as a child watching the old Errol Flynn version, loving every minute, especially the sword fight between him and the evil Basil Rathbone! In fact if I am honest I still do. So when I found this book, I could not resist. This is the description:
When he’s caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. However, Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could just as easily become his murderer....
From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.
Alan Dale who is the main character in the book is now an old man, and the book starts with him deciding to write about the exploits of his youth. He tells the story of his change from a petty thief who nearly loses his hand, to a trusted member of Robin’s band. All the expected characters are here- Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett and Marion – all though here she is known as Marie- Anne. They are all mentioned although shown in different ways; Friar Tuck for example is much stronger than shown in the various films and argues continually with Robin almost to bloodshed about his behaviour.
Robin in this book is no Hollywood figure living in a neat and tidy Sherwood, he is shown here to be much as you would expect him to be: completely ruthless, brutal to his enemies and loyal to the few friends that he has. Instead of the ex noble stripping gold only from the wealthy, the book shows how the villagers themselves pay him for protection and also use Robin as a judge in their village disputes- all of which obviously they pay for.
You do as a reader have some difficulty liking the character of  Robin, but this conflict in the reader is shown very cleverly though the character of Alan, who in one minute can be completely hero struck by Robin the next feeling sick as the man he is awe of orders gruesome punishments on those who betray the outlaws.
The writing is fast paced and there is plenty of action and though this is the first in a series of books, the ending is satisfying and complete. There is a similar feeling to the style as in the Bernard Cornwell War Lord Chronicles, especially when the story switches to what is happening to Alan in the present day. The history of the time is dealt with well, the hardships of the villagers’ lives being believable set against the life of the nobles.
There are few niggles, one of the sub plots to the story is that there is a spy in Robins men and Alan tries to work out who it is, I thought the person was quite obvious so found Alan’s thoughts on this a little annoying.
This aside I still like the book and have hopes for the rest of the series and so would definitely recommend it.
8 out of 10