Friday, December 27, 2013

Book Review - Disturbia

Disturbia – Christopher Fowler 

Christopher Fowler is an author that I have always heard mentioned on forums etc and vowed to check out. Disturbia it seems is one of his better books so when I saw it cheap in a book store I took the plunge and purchased it. The premise sounded good but for some reason it has languished on my book shelf for a number of years.

The Blurb:

An assignment brings Vincent - permanent student and budding young writer - into the world of Sebastian Wells and the Prometheus League. Under the guise of a Victorian gaming society it operates extremist and covert activities. Threatening exposure, Vincent is thrown into a game of life or death.

First off, the prose took me by surprise. I am not sure what I was expecting, but Christopher Fowler’s vocabulary is certainly accomplished and his observations of the class segregation in society and the decline of London as a thriving enterprise are depicted well with a good grounding in the subject matter.

I will admit openly, that politics does very little for me. Cynical observations of the various political stances are wasted on my mind. Call it ignorance, stupidity whatever you want, but I have an inability to engage on the subject matter, so unfortunately large portions of the commentary passed me by.

Still if a novel has a good plot and good characters then in my mind that is all that matters.

As the blurb highlights, the novel follows Vincent as he becomes embroiled in a world he knows little of but is keen to expose. It essentially exists of two parts. Part one concerns itself with Vincent meeting and interviewing Sebastian Wells. Whilst part 2 deals with the deadly game that Vincent finds himself an unwilling participant off as he struggles to survive.

If you asked me before hand which of the two parts I would have been most interested in, I would have said part two. However, it is the first part that is by far the strongest.

Vincent is a decent character. He is disillusioned with life and has no real career path, despite showing plenty of potential as a promising writer. He is told to create an assignment that will make a name for himself and on a whim, he selects Sebastian Wells as his subject matter.

Sebastian Wells is a “well to do” toff with a shady past. He has never worked a day in his life but despite engaging in many extra-curricular activities, always seems to have controversy follow him.  He is the member of Prometheus League which is shrouded in mystery itself.

And so a series of interviews begins where Vincent tries to extract the juicy details from Vincent’s life without pushing too far and upsetting the man. It makes for intriguing reading as a certain cat and mouse routine is played out.

Vincent wrestles with his conscience as he is torn between liking the affable Sebastian and enjoying the wealthy lifestyle he is afforded as a result, and uncovering dribs and drabs about the man’s past that are scandalous.

Sebastian Wells is a charming character. Unapologetically arrogant, yet at the same time, intrigued by Vincent - it is a good study of both characters.

The second part however fails to match the first. The game that is set up for Vincent to play consists of 10 challenges. All of these have strict time limits and involve Vincent solving cryptic clues and going to the appointed location for the next clue.

It is a good premise, but fails to deliver on multi fronts. First of all, the clues are so complex that the reader does not have a hope of solving any of them. This spoils the fun a little, but even when Vincent does figure out the solution, it is rarely satisfying. The clues rely on knowledge and tenuous links that only specialist will know.

Secondly, some of the clues are solved by completely unbelievable coincidences. For example one of them is solved by a random tramp passing by, who Vincent happens to bump into when he lands on an elder lady after jumping out of the window. That said tramp happens to be an expert on the subject matter makes the book completely implausible.

Thirdly, the game is deadly, people die. Unfortunately, those that die are barely introduced and so when they are killed, the reader has no emotional attachment to them. What is worse, with the strict time limit in between each clue Vincent still manages to stop and have sex for 40 minutes with a complete random – come on!

The ending is merely satisfying. There are no real revelations and it is all pretty predictable.

Overall, I think disappointed sums up how I felt about Disturbia. It is not a bad novel by any stretch of the imagination. The first half is quite good, whilst not necessarily being my cup of tea. The second half also has some genuinely good and tense moments but the implausibility of half of it completely spoilt the novel for me.

My rating: 6.7 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Book Review - The Night Circus

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

Fictional books on the circus are fast becoming a favourite of mine. There is something about the mystique of the subject matter, the unknown. Everyone wants to believe there is more going on behind the scenes of the colourful tents and the spectacular performances. I’ve previously loved, Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked this Way comes” and Robert Jackson Bennett’s “the Troupe.” I hoped I would enjoy “the Night Circus” just as much.

The blurb:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:

Opens at Nightfall

Closes at Dawn

As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.

Le Cirque des RĂªves

The Circus of Dreams.

Now the circus is open.

Now you may enter.

This book is nothing like I thought it would be. That is not meant as a negative, but sometimes you get it in your head as what a book is going to be like and then it completely surprises you.”The Night Circus,” does just that.

The circus in this book is more of a stage for a grander game to be played out. Celia and Marco are two children that have been mentored since childhood to participate in a contest they do not truly understand. They are both brought up very differently, but their objectives are the same: one day they will enter the contest and they are under enormous pressure to win.

The rules of the game are never truly clear, which works in the books favour. As Celia and Marco try to figure out what is going on, so does the reader. It seems that the game is to outdo the opponent with true magic and illusions until one is unable to compete anymore.
That is all there is to the main plot really, which is a shame, as something with a bit more depth would have elevated the book in my eyes. So are the characters memorable?

Celia is the more prominent character of the book. She is easy to root for as she is forced into the game by her father, Hector. Her childhood years are perhaps the most intriguing, but as a character she is pretty one dimensional.

Likewise the same could be said about Marco. Marco takes more of a backstage role in the circus but it is a role of great importance.

There are a host of other characters such as the founders of the circus who meet at their midnight feasts at regular intervals. The scenes involving this company of oddballs comprise the more interesting aspects of the novel as none of them can escape the lure of what they have created.
The other characters worth mentioning are Bailey, who is a young boy whose fate becomes entwined with that of the circus, a contortionist and a clock maker who becomes the founder of the reveurs – a devoted following of the circus.

Based on the plot and characters above, this would just be an average read. However, it is the circus that really shines. As seen through Bailey’s eyes the circus is truly a place of wonder. The tents created by the Marco and Celia are astounding, from the Ice garden to the cloud maze. The basic plot and characters are irrelevant when one is reading about such a beautifully described place.
The ending of the book is satisfactory if nothing special. When there the plot is light and a little confusing, you can’t expect much else.

Overall, I really enjoyed the book. As a story it did not grab me in the way other circus tales have, but the description of the circus itself and just reading about it, is fascinating.

My rating: 8.1


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Book Review: The Persuader

The Persuader – Lee Child
The Persuader is the seventh outing for Lee Child’s wildly popular Jack Reacher series. The books are easy reads and always fun if a little formulaic. They start with the same basic premise Jack witnesses something he doesn’t like, gets involved and the problem always turns out to be more convoluted then he first believed. It is a simple formula and it works, if taken in small doses.
The blurb:
Never forgive, never forget. That's Jack Reacher's standard operating procedure. And Francis Xavier Quinn was the worst guy he had ever met. He had done truly unforgivable things. So Reacher was glad to know he was dead. Until the day he saw him, alive and well, riding in a limousine outside Boston's Symphony Hall.

Never apologize. Never explain. When Reacher witnesses a brutal attempt to kidnap a terrified young student on a New England campus, he takes the law into his own hands. That's his way, after all. Only this time, a cop dies, and Reacher doesn't stick around to explain. Has he lost his sense of right and wrong? Just because this time, it's personal?
Having harped on about being formulaic above, “the Persuader” opens with an original concept where Jack is automatically involved in an action sequence. He prevents an abduction of a rich boy and shoots a cop in the process. All is not what it seems of course and the next few chapters cleverly unveil the real plot that drives the narrative. 
Reacher is his classic self: assured, calculating and applying his military background to every situation. I have mentioned in previous reviews, that the stories involving Reacher that work best are when he is vulnerable. In this outing, Lee Child strikes the balance between Reacher being untouchable and then being at risk perfectly. 
As he is working deep undercover, he is constantly susceptible to being discovered. He has to be cautious at all times and Lee Child plays on his paranoia well. It also helps that the colleagues Reacher is forced to work with are not stupid as well. They may not suspect him immediately but they realise that something is not right and take an instant dislike to him.
The constant one-upmanship Reacher shares with Paulie is particularly entertaining. Paulie might not be anything but a jerk but he is a worthy nemesis for Jack. Especially as Jack realises his own limitations against the man.
However, the Reacher’s main adversary, Francis Xavier Quinn is woefully underdeveloped and considering he is the main reason Reacher involves himself in the undercover operation we see very little of him.
Instead, we are treated to several flashbacks where Jack meets a young soldier who investigates Francis’ actions. These are interesting, as the woman officer (Dominique Cole), allows the reader to explore Reacher’s more maudlin and reserved side. His memories are filled with regret, not only due to professional decisions he made, but also personal ones. Dominique herself is a good character and one that it would also have been nice to see more of.
The other characters are useful plot devices. Reacher works relatively closely with Duffy, a DEA agent who runs the operation and although Lee Child fleshes out Duffy’s character a little, she only ever pops in and out of the novel to progress the plot or manufacture a twist.
As always the novel is fast paced and interesting. There were some very repetitive phrases for example, the amount of time a character spoke and Jack Reacher “said nothing,” began to grate a little. The action however, was top notch. There is a great slobber knocker in there, and Child creates a lot of tension towards the end of the novel where Reacher finds himself in a particularly perilous position.
The ending is somewhat disappointing. The showdown at the end looks promising but then stutters before being resolved quickly. It leaves a sense of anti-climax which is unusual for a Child novel.
Overall, this is a worthy addition to the series. Fans will know exactly what to expect and will not be disappointed.
My rating: 8.3

Friday, December 13, 2013

Book Review - Unnatural Creatures (JS)

Unnatural Creatures by Neil Gaiman

Review by Jacqui Slaney

This book was suggested to me as an offer on Amazon, now I get loads of these daily and generally ignore, but saw the name of the author of this one and thought I would indulge.

This is the description:

Chosen and introduced by Neil Gaiman, this thoroughly beguiling collection of short stories is inhabited by an amazing menagerie of creatures from myth, legend and dark imagination.

Now anyone that has previously read some of my reviews knows that I have a soft spot for tales of dragons, and by extension all other mythical creatures as well, so I was very interested to see what these short stories would be like.

These stories are of varied quality, which I have often found in such collections even when there is just one writer involved. However, the good thing is, even though you may not be very keen on one story, you can always jump onto the next.

I must admit I stuck with each tale, even if I found the story not completely to my taste, I cannot actually say that I disliked any of them enough to stop reading. They were also short, so it was no real hardship to read to the end.

I knew some of the authors, for instance Larry Niven, E Nesbit, Peter Beagle, Saki and obviously Neil Gaiman, but the others were new to me, most of which I really enjoyed.

To give you some ideas of the stories, here are a few snippets.  You have a story about a time traveller sent back in time to capture a horse, but finds instead something that looks like the picture he has, except for one difference. There is a very entertaining story about a sunbird, this I will admit was one of my favourites, and shows the dangers of eating very hot food. There is also an old story about a little girl’s journey to see a relative, sounds quite straightforward you would think, but no, and a brilliant story about the exhibits in the natural history museum.

Before each story there is also a foreword by Neil Gaiman, in which you can read a little about the author and it gives you a taster of the story to come, he also wrote the main introduction to the book that is great.

All in all this is a fun collection of stories to read and  being a collection you can jump in and out of the book, so you do not have to read it solidly, would recommend the book to anyone, especially if you like Neil Gaiman.

8 out of 10

Monday, December 9, 2013

Book Review - Dead Simple

Dead Simple – Peter James        
Dead Simple
Peter James is an author I have heard a lot of good things about but have never got round to reading. My wife has often mentioned the premise of this book and I had to admit it sounds good. I mean a stag (not the deer variety) trapped in a coffin – how cool is that?
The blurb:
It was meant to be a harmless stag night prank. A few hours later four of his best friends are dead, and Michael Harrison has disappeared. With only three days to the wedding, Detective Superintendent Grace - a man haunted by the shadow of his own missing wife - is contacted by Michael's beautiful, distraught fiancee, Ashley Harper. Grace discovers that the one man who ought to know Michael Harrison's whereabouts is saying nothing. But then he has a lot to gain - more than anyone realizes. For one man's disaster is another man's fortune ...
“Dead Simple,” marks the start of the Roy Grace series. Roy himself is not immediately introduced which is refreshing as it allows the author to flesh out some of the secondary characters more.
In order to build a successful series of books around a character that character needs to be interesting and often they have to have a flaw. All too often that flaw is an addiction to alcohol which as a stereotype can get a little tedious. Grace’s flaw is that he sometimes uses mediums to help him solve crimes. It is a refreshing idea, as Peter James plays with people’s prejudices towards such a notion and has Grace ridiculed by colleague’s and chastised by his superiors.
At the start of the novel, Grace’s propensity towards the supernatural have a direct impact on a case he is working on and makes for a great side story, however this fades away as the main plot kicks in which is a shame.
Grace also has a past which is intriguing. His wife vanished from his life and was never found. It adds another dimension to his character as he tries to move on with his life but can’t quite let go.
The rest of the characters aren’t quite as well realised, although that does not necessarily make them boring. They all have their functions to play and do not stray too far from it. For example, Michael is the groom-to-be trapped in the coffin and despairing in the process, Ashley is the grieving widow and everyone else is only distinctive by their job title.
For such a good premise, there is only one way for the novel to go in order for it to be a crime novel. In a sense then, the story is highly predictable. Thankfully Peter James recognises this it seems and reveals some of his hand halfway through the book which helps the momentum going.
Maybe, I’ve read too many crime novels but there were numerous plot holes in “Dead Simple,” normally I don’t look for them as they spoil my enjoyment but there were a couple of glaring ones here or instances where characters did not make logical choices. To detail them would spoil the story but I did find myself screaming at some characters every now and then to check the obvious.
Overall for a debut novel this was an enjoyable read. The prose was quick and easy and I whizzed through the pages. Peter James has also introduced secondary characters that I want to find out more about, which is always a good sign in a series. “Dead Simple” was not without its problems but a quick read I’d recommend.
My rating: 7.9

Friday, December 6, 2013

Book Review - The Racing Factions (JS)

The Racing Factions by Robert Fabbri


Review by Jacqui Slaney
Having read all the current books in the Vespasian series and enjoyed them, I bought this novella without hesitation. The racing teams are mentioned a great deal by Magnus in the stories especially his favourites the Greens, so it was good to read a story about them.
This is the description:
Marcus Salvius Magnus is a fanatical supporter of the Green Racing Faction and expects a wager to be honoured. Although he does not presume honesty from anyone, he does believe that a bookmaker at the Circus Maximus should record each bet scrupulously and pay the full amount due. However, Ignatius, the bookmaker, is foolish enough to attempt to cheat Magnus out of his winnings, incurring not only his wrath but that also of the South Quirinal Crossroads Brotherhood of which Magnus is the leader. In the shady realm of Rome's underworld Magnus will use the full resources of his criminal fraternity to exact appropriate vengeance. However, Magnus also has a problem: his patron, Gaius Vespasius Pollo, is attempting to get his nephew, Sabinus, elected as a quaestor. To do this he feels that the support of the senior consul, Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus, would be more than useful. He asks Magnus to ease the consul - a man known for his extreme violence - in the right direction. Ahenobarbus has a passion: the Red Faction at the circus. Could it be that Magnus might wash two tunics in the same tub, bringing Ignatius down and securing Ahenobarbus' support by attempting to fix a chariot race in a manner that has never been done before?
Again, like the last novella, the main characters are Magnus and his crossroad brotherhood. Magnus is an amusing character in the main series, and I have really liked reading the back-story that the writer has created for him.
In this story, you find Magnus successful in a win at the races but when going to collect his winnings, he finds himself cheated by his bookmaker. Definitely not the smartest thing to do you would think against a group such as the brotherhood, but the bookmaker thinks he is untouchable, wrong!  What follows is an elaborate plan of revenge, which assists Magnus’s patron as it unfolds and so helps Magnus even more. 
This is not a long story, it’s quick and fun to read, but you get a real taste  of the Romans enjoyment of these races and the joy and fury that they lead to.
Read this is if you have tried some  of the other Vespasian books and definitely if you are new to the series as these novellas are a great introduction to some very good writing skills.
8 out of 10

Monday, December 2, 2013

Book Review - Ready for Murder

Ready for Murder – (not the) Joe Hill     
Ready For Murder (A Harry Strong Mystery - #1) (The Harry Strong Mysteries) 
I am rapidly becoming a major Joe Hill fan so when I saw this on this novella on the Kindle store I snapped it up, looking for a quick easy read. Didn’t read the premise, didn’t need to, it is Joe Hill after all.
The Blurb:
Ready For Murder is the first book in the Harry Strong Mystery Series. Harry Strong is a man haunted by his past. An ex-cop, he now barely keeps afloat by running his own detective agency. But he begins to unravel the day rich and successful mystery writer Julia Weston walks into his life. She is the prime suspect in the brutal murder of her boyfriend Jimmy Chandler, and hires Harry to prove her innocence. But as Harry delves into the writer’s past, he finds several startling coincidences between her mystery crime novels and real life murders. Is this merely a coincidence or is there a sinister reason why the beautiful and seductive Julia Weston consorts with convicted murderers and has a trail of unsolved murders in her past?
There comes a point in any blogger’s writing career when they have to think very carefully about how scathing they are going to be. In my opinion, even if I didn’t enjoy a book, having written one myself, I know the heartache and exertion that goes into writing and publishing and therefore try to pick up the positives amongst the negatives.
I so very nearly put this book down in disgust. Let’s get one thing straight. This is not written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King and author of the excellent N0S4R2. Anyone that has read that Joe Hill’s books will be aware of that immediately. Now, I appreciate that there are several Joe Hill’s out there in the world and just because this particular one shares his name with another author it does not mean he should alter it. I suspect however, that this author is merely enjoying the fame of his namesake and the resulting downloads but I could be wrong.
Ultimately though, this was my mistake. I got the wrong Joe Hill and I blame myself. However, it was not the reason I nearly gave up on the novella. The reason is far more outrageous. This novel is “Basic Instinct,” with different names. If it was a novelisation of the film it would be incredibly accurate. As things stand though, there is nothing in the blurb to indicate anything of the sort, in fact the names have been changed to cement the distinction.
So am I just being unfair. Is the premise just similar? Hell no. I would say read it for yourself to see but I don’t believe you should be handing over your money for such a blatant rip-off and I do mean rip-off. From the opening murder season with the sex and the screwdriver, to the interrogation scene where the main suspect is wearing a white dress, with no underwear (there is even the, “what you going to do arrest me for smoking?” line), to the violent sexual encounter with the protagonist’s therapist and the crazed lesbian lover of Sharon Stone. This is as blatant as you can get.
I was so disgusted that I was going to put it down and demand a refund. The only reason I didn’t was because I hadn’t seen the movie in ages and had forgotten how it ended. Honestly that is the only reason.
And yet, the writing is not bad. It flows well and clips along at an enjoyable pace. The author has talent but does not have an original thought in his body. I even Googled the script from the film and would you believe it the dialogue is the same in places.
I recognise that this is not a review of the plot and characters but I refuse to do that in this instance. I would essentially be review Basic Instinct and attributing to someone else’s name.
I don’t understand what has gone on here. Am I missing something? Was this the original novel re-released? I have searched Google and found nothing but if I have got the wrong end of the stick I apologise. But for me, this is an outrageous copy of another medium passed off as an original piece of fiction.
My rating 2 out of 10.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review - Wool (JS)

Wool (Wool Trilogy 1) by Hugh Howey


Review by Jacqui Slaney
I bought this book, as I liked the look of the next in the series. Yes, I know that is a strange reason for buying a book but that is what happened. I did not know the author, but the whole idea sounded very readable.
This is the description:
In a ruined and hostile landscape, in a future few have been unlucky enough to survive, a community exists in a giant underground silo. Inside, men and women live an enclosed life full of rules and regulations, of secrets and lies. To live, you must follow the rules. But some don't. These are the dangerous ones; these are the people who dare to hope and dream, and who infect others with their optimism. Their punishment is simple and deadly. They are allowed outside. Jules is one of these people. She may well be the last.
As I have mentioned in other reviews, I do like science fiction, in fact, they were the first books I read, but some can be disappointing and difficult to read with very technical writing and poor characters that were as interesting as lumps of wood. This book does not fall into that category I am happy to say.
I found within a couple of pages of starting it, that I was hooked. The first character you meet, Holston the sheriff, pulls you in and by the time you meet Juliette the real main character, you cannot put the book down.
Imagine living inside a Silo, your life restricted to the different landings and the stairwell that runs from Down Deep to Up Top, where the airlock is and the canteen. This is where you can look out through screens and see what remains of the world. The screens are dependent on the people who choose to go or are sent outside by the judge to clean them. The result of which is a clean viewing lens and the death of the cleaner due to their space suit failing. Imagine living in this Silo and that the only time that a child can be conceived is when someone has died. Imagine what happens when someone popular and loved is sent outside to clean and what would happen to the mood of the silo when a rumour starts about the quality of the suits used for the cleaning.
You think all this would be hard to imagine, but this novel is so good, the writer makes the scenario very believable for the reader. You feel that you are there and you empathise with the different characters.
There are different points of views but in no way does this distract from the story, if anything it makes the story more tense and suspenseful, and ensures interest in even some of the secondary characters.
Juliette or Jules as she calls herself is a brilliant main character. She is strong and resourceful, though she still has doubts and fears, which make her more real. I liked Lukas with his stargazing and Bernard is someone everyone can dislike.
Normally by now in the review I am writing the part which says I like this book but.., but honestly I cannot find much fault. I can pick holes and say at times the pace of the story dips, but that is being very fussy.
As you can tell I really enjoyed this book and recommend it to all to read, as for me, well I’m going to read book 2.
9 out of 10

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Book Review - Republic of Thieves

Republic of Thieves – Scott Lynch
Sometimes authors are a victim of their own success. Scott Lynch launched his career with two fantastic books. Unfortunately he then suffered from a well documented illness which led to a prolonged six year wait for the third entry into his “Gentleman Bastards” series.
With all delays there is a sense of inevitability these days that the reviews will always be mixed and the book will be met with general disappointment. I therefore made a point of letting the pandemonium die down after the release before enjoying the book with my views untarnished.
The blurb:
After their adventures on the high seas, Locke and Jean are brought back to earth with a thump. Jean is mourning the loss of his lover and Locke must live with the fallout of crossing the all-powerful magical assassins the Bonds Magi. It is a fall-out that will pit both men against Locke's own long lost love. Sabetha is Locke's childhood sweetheart, the love of Locke's life and now it is time for them to meet again. Employed on different sides of a vicious dispute between factions of the Bonds Sabetha has just one goal - to destroy Locke forever. The Gentleman Bastard sequence has become a literary sensation in fantasy circles and now, with the third book, Scott Lynch is set to seal that success.
It was like Scott Lynch had never been away. Having recently re-read both preceding books in preparation for ROTs, I can safely say the style of writing and natural dialogue remains as strong as ever.
Once again, Scott Lynch tells two stories at once. One is concerned with the present day and the other returns to the familiar flashbacks of the Gentlemen Bastards and their time with chains.
In both we finally meet the eagerly anticipated Sabetha. For those that don’t know she is the one member of the Gentleman Bastards that we have heard mentioned a lot but have never met. Up until ROT, all we knew of her was that she was well regarded, dangerous and Locke pined hard for her.
What Scott does is interesting as essentially we are meeting two versions of Sabetha. In the interludes we meet the younger, more insecure incarnation and in the present day we witness Sabetha as a more closed off and confident woman who has established her place in society.
I have to admit, I liked both versions very much. She is strong, cunning and selfish but also retains a certain charm. It is easy to see why Locke falls for her in a big way and Lynch does a good job of conveying just how attractive she is by having others desiring her too.
Her relationship with Locke however is not so well handled. There is something a little too babyish about their dynamic and there are often times when one misinterprets what the other says or how they act, when their meaning was so blindingly obvious. A lot of the relationship also felt too drawn out so it felt frustrating rather than endearing. Even the other characters got annoyed at the pair’s reluctance to take move from a platonic relationship, this is fine to happen once, but when your own creations start repeatedly getting frustrated with the relationship, it is a sign that maybe the reader will too.
It did not detract from my enjoyment too much, but it did irk me slightly. Locke is stronger in this entry. He is back to being his assured self and is at home when improvising or getting out of trouble. His antics are amusing and you always feel like he has something extra up his sleeve which is the Locke you want to root for.
Jean on the other hand is relegated to a more supporting role once again. He does get his own POV chapters but is far less influential this time round which is a bit of a shame.
It was also nice to get reacquainted with Callo and Galdo in the flashbacks. The twins constant banter was a massive loss in “Red Seas Under Red Skies.”
Of the two stories the flashback plot is probably the stronger. The parts in Camorr in particular are excellent and the cast of actors who perform the play of Republic of Thieves is stronger and more diverse. If I had a quibble, it would be that the parts where Lynch had his characters read out lines from the play were a little tedious. The verses went on a little too long and felt unnecessary. I had little doubt that Lynch has probably written a whole play to support the story, it just felt a little self indulgent to include large portions of it and didn’t really add anything to the story for me. 
The present day storyline is enjoyable enough. It is fun reading about the one-upmanship the two sides of the political parties partake in, but there is never really the sense of danger involved. Yes there is the external threat from the Bonds Magi but you always get the sense that the outcome of the election doesn’t really matter.
What is good is that we learn more of the Bonds Magi and their background. We also learn a bit more of Locke’s past which is interesting to say the least.
Overall I enjoyed the Republic of Thieves a lot. It certainly disappoint me in any shape of form although it was not without its minor flaws.
My Rating: 8.6

Monday, November 25, 2013

Pewtory the lesser bard chapter 16 - Confrontation

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 16 – Confrontation
Archie “mmm’d” appreciatively as the two plates were placed on the table in front of him. Pewtory sat opposite the peddler and was thoroughly on edge. He looked at the entrance of the Boar’s tusk tavern - waiting for the town’s guards to burst through the doors at any moment and arrest him.
The dinner in front of them was roast chicken and looked mouth watering. Pewtory could smell the sour taste of the lemon that had been squeezed over the meat along with another spice, cumin perhaps? Mounds of potatoes, golden and crisp spilled over the variety of fried vegetables. The bard saw carrots, suede and cabbage drowned in thick syrupy gravy. The food was the most appetising thing he had seen in weeks, yet still he was reluctant to touch it.
Archie Freestone had no such qualms and stabbed a fork into a potato and plopped the whole thing into his mouth. He then spent the next few seconds doing a serviceable impression of a monkey and revealing the contents of his mouth to all as he frantically waved his hand in front attempting to cool his tongue down.
Pewtory was confused. At the town entrance, the bard had waited as the peddler had driven the clattering cart towards him with a scowl on his face. Archie had jumped down and jabbed Pewtory in the stomach.
“You and me need to have a serious conversation,” Pewtory merely nodded bracing himself for what was about to come next. “Food first!” Archie had said and then ushered the wagon inside the town announcing his trade much like he had done at Gandara.
Those were the only words they had exchanged. Pewtory had followed the peddler like a culled child with his head bent and gaze firmly to the floor.
“Why are you not eating?” Archie said.
“I was waiting to see what you had to say?” Pewtory replied.
“You need your ears for that, not your mouth. Eat up, my treat.”
Thoroughly bewildered Pewtory did as instructed. The chicken was gorgeous and soon the bard was lost in the meal. Archie ordered two goblets of wine and the two enjoyed the meal in companionable silence.
Pewtory finished his meal first and sat back with a contented smile. Maybe Archie was allowing him one last decent meal before he turned him in. If that was the case, Pewtory could have no complaints. He sat back in his chair and studied the tavern.
It was dark, small and very busy. A fire roared in to one side smothering the room with the comforting smell of a logs burning. The customers all huddled together, nursing their drinks and speaking in low murmurs. From the snippets of conversations he overheard, the visit of the witch was very much the agenda of most people’s attention. A few glanced at him and Archie and shook their heads in disgust. Even if Pewtory was dressed up in his bard’s attire, the message was clear at this moment in time, strangers were not welcome in Compton. One particularly large man, with grey fluffy hair, downed his beer and openly stared. He moved the beer across to the waiter to be refilled with one hand whilst the other gripped the counter until it trembled.
Pewtory considered the wisdom of the way Archie had announced their arrival only moments before. The peddler was ignorant to the looks he was getting. He lifted his plate and drank the last of the gravy before washing it down with wine. When he had finished he let out a loud contented sigh. Pewtory shrank lower into his wooden bench and ensured the fish were covered underneath his cloak.
“We need to talk about what happened on the farm.” Archie said instantly bringing Pewtory’s mind back on the peddler.
“Did you get my message?” Pewtory asked. He did not like the stern expression on Archie’s face. He had never seen him like this before. The peddler pulled at his beard as he stroked it.
“No I did not get your message.”
“But I left it in the middle of the barn?” How could he have missed it? He couldn’t have made it any clearer?
“Ah so I am liar now am I?” Archie threw his hands up in the air. He shook his head from side to side and blew out his cheeks, looking at Pewtory as if he had just discovered he was not who he thought he was.
“Of course not, I just thought you’d see it. I spelled it out in stones.”
“Stones? What did it say?”
Pewtory frowned. What did the Peddler think it said? “Hope you liked my work? Catch me if you can? Victim number twenty seven?
Pewtory leaned across the table and beckoned Archie to do the same. He looked around and then whispered.
“It said, ‘NOT ME”
Archie nodded several times and sat back leaning against the wall. He bit the inside of his mouth as he considered what he had heard.
“I swear Archie. It was not me.”
Archie was silent for a few seconds before he launched into his tirade.
“What in the blue moon are you wittering on about? I thought we are friends and now you are trying to insult my intelligence.”
“I...I...I wasn’t?” Pewtory spluttered. He felt his mouth bob up and down like Willow and Wisp. He could not comprehend Archie’s reaction. It made no sense. Why would he be worried about Pewtory insulting his intelligence? Did he think he had been just masquerading as a bard but was really a murderer this whole time?”
“I get up in the morning first thing looking for you. I go to the barn to find it empty. No sign off you, no sign of that other bard nothing. Imagine how much of an idiot I looked when Red Jack comes up next to me and finds you gone, especially when I had spent most of the night, singing your praises and telling him what a special talent you were.
Red Jack was furious I had brought you to the farm and was up for killing you himself, but there I am, reassuring him that you were a good man and my friend. I informed him that we were travelling companions and I had high hopes for our combined skills.
And then, not only had you left without me, now you have the audacity, the front to sit there in front of me and claim it ‘wasn’t you.’ Well who was it then Pewtory? Some other you? Were you not in control of your thoughts?
I may not be the sharpest man, but I have feelings. If you didn’t want to travel with me all you had to do was tell me. I would not have taken offence. Much offence anyway.”
Archie finished his rant by pushing his plates across the table, he folded his arms and jerked his head away from Pewtory clearly sulking. His raised voice had caused the inn to go silent but again the peddler seemed oblivious to his actions.
Pewtory felt his cheeks burn as he registered the curious looks from everyone in the tavern. It seemed every eye in the place was upon him, judging him. He did not care though. If he was confused before, his mind was blown now.
There was no body? They had not found Lionel the Lark or the stones that Pewtory had constructed but how? How was that possible? Had Pewtory imagined it? Was it some damn awful dream? No, he knew it wasn’t? He might talk to his fish but he knew he was not crazy. It had happened he was sure of it. He could still recall the crack as the bard’s neck snapped.
Now that the entertainment was over, most of the tavern returned to their drinks. Pewtory watched as a barmaid sauntered towards him. She held a round tray level with her shoulders, on it was another goblet. She had a black bob of hair with a red streak on one side. She was curvaceous rather than large and was well covered for serving wench.
She stopped at his table and placed the goblet in front of Pewtory. It contained more wine.
“Compliments from a friend,” she said in a lazy drawl.
“Who?” Pewtory asked immediately scanning the bar.
“The guy over there,” she pointed towards a vacant bar stool near where the large man sat. “Oh, he was here a second ago. I guess he disappeared.”
Pewtory had no doubt that he had.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Writing update

Writing update:
First of all I would like to apologise for the lack of attention the blog seems to have had recently. I have gone from posting content three times a week on a regular basis, to only one item a week at the moment. My reasons for this are plentiful but you probably don’t care. Still I am going to tell you them all anyway.
First of all, my blog partner in crime has been ill again. Jacqui was required to have another operation for the same condition as before. She is recovering at her home as we speak but I’m sure you will agree we wish her all the best and a speedy recovery.
Next the dog ate my homework! Well not quite but there have been some issues with the blog. I always have several reviews scheduled in advance in case for whatever reason I am unable to write any. Somewhere along the line these have disappeared. I have managed to recover one or two but the rest are gone. I will re-write them but please have a little patience whilst I get things up and running again.
Thirdly, NaNoWriMo happened. For those of you that aren’t aware, in the month of November, writers of the world unite to try and bash out 50,000 words in one month. It is a Herculean effort, especially for me who prior to November was churning out around 5K a week. This is the main reason for the lack of attention to the blog and I apologise. The good news is that the sequel to the Ritual of the Stones is getting written a lot faster than it would otherwise have been.
As of today, I am behind on the target amount of words but only 5K behind. It is about where I expected to be at this stage and have a few days earmarked to catch-up.
So please have a little patience, continue to support the blog and the reviews will start again next week.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Pewtory the Lesser Bard Chapter 15 - Arrival at Compton

To celebrate the release of “Ritual of the Stones,” I am releasing a free serialised story set in the same world of Frindoth. The story will follow the journey of Pewtory the Lesser bard as he travels to Lilyon to witness the Ritual. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter 15 – Arrival at Compton
As the hours sped by, Pewtory began to relax, sure he was not being followed. He only checked behind out of habit by the time the sun had reached its zenith and the tall chimneys and grey walls of Compton loomed into view.
He had heard rumours that the mayor had grandiose plans to establish the town as a major force in Brimsgrove but Pewtory struggled to see how he was going to achieve this. Despite its centralised location in the region, the town was too enclosed with trees for merchants to travel to regularly and serve as any real trading outlet.
Compton was a useful stop for those travelling to Lilyon from the north western regions and nothing more.
Pewtory crouched down and observed from a distance. The town was surrounded by a stone wall the size of a man. There was a main gate on the eastern side of the town and this was patrolled by two very bored looking guards.
Ordinarily Pewtory would have strolled up to the gates and announced himself loudly in an attempt to garner attention. Although logic dictated that there is no way news would have reached Compton yet the events at the barn had made him paranoid and he did not wish to take any chances.
“This is stupid,” he muttered to himself. He was acting like he was going to storm the town not find a random woman in it. He needed to be inside and mingling if he was to find Elsie Brookman, not skulking about in the shadows. No one knew him here and if news had travelled to the town of a deranged, murderous bard, than that did not have to mean him it was him. If he was lucky the residents of Compton would probably assume it was Lionel the Lark anyway.
“You’ve received word, that your nephew is to be one of the soldiers presiding over the Ritual and you are on your way to see him in action,” he said to himself making up an excuse for entering the town. At the end of his staff, one of the fish splashed in the bowl, Willow by the sound of it. “Quiet, unless you want to be left here with Beth.”
Convincing himself of his fictional backstory, Pewtory removed the feather from his ear and wiped the make-up from his face. He then carefully unpacked his mandolin and kissed it, before burying it in his blanket and stowing it in a thick bush. He prayed it would not rain.
“Sweet dreams Beth. I will be back as soon as I can for you, I promise.”
He rolled up the sleeves on his shirt to disguise the frilly cuffs and then for good measure, smeared mud on one side of his face to give him a rougher appearance. He could do little about the purple streak in his hair, other than tie it up and hope the guards did not notice it.
“Really I should leave you too as well,” he said to Willow and Wisp. “You are the biggest give away.” He looked long and hard at the fish who stared back blankly. “Ah come on then,” he said, and tucked them under his arm.
The guards looked bored as he approached. Both were young and were pitted with spots. One slumped against the town wall and barely glanced at the bard through dirty brown locks. He chewed on a blade of grass that was slick with his saliva. The other rested his hands and chin on the hilt of a sword that nestled in the ground. It was an awkward pose as the sword was quite short and so the boy was forced to stoop and part his legs.
The armour they wore was a similar design to the guards at Gandara. The padded vests were in even worse condition though and ripped in places.
“State your business,” the stooped guard mumbled in a tone that could not be less bored. His voice must have just broken, as it was deep and he screeched parts of the sentence. He blew out his cheeks as he spoke as if Pewtory was the biggest inconvenience in Frindoth.
“I’m here to sack the town, raze it to the ground, rape the women and enslave all the children,” Pewtory said.
“Really?” The boy suddenly stood up from his sword and struggled to pull it from the mud. The other one pushed himself of the wall with his shoulders.
“No! Of course not really. Do you think I would tell you if that was my plan?”
“How do I know that you aren’t bluffing now?”
“I’m sorry?” Pewtory said, now it was his turn to be genuinely confused.
“Well it seems to me, that if you wanted to sack the city, graze it to the-”
“Raze it.”
“Yes, raze it to the ground and all that other stuff. Then announcing it and then denying it would be a good way of trying to fool us guards.”
Pewtory was stunned into silence. The two guards looked at each other and smirked as if they had just outsmarted Frindoth’s greatest criminal mind.
“Do you get headaches often?” he asked finally.
“Don’t tell him Garett,” said the grass sucker.
“Look I am on my way to Lilyon for the Ritual,” Pewtory said. He thought about adding the rest of the story he had just rehearsed in his head, but decided it would be lost on the guards.
“Oh,” said Garett, “You best come on in then. Although I warn you the witch was here a few nights ago. Compton is not a place you want to be.”
Pewtory was more touched by the boy’s warning then the ease in which he was now being allowed to enter the town.
“Do you know who was selected?”
“Not yet,” Garett replied. Pewtory could see the fear in their eyes and felt guilty about teasing them. “But there will be three of us.”
“That is what the witch said.”
Pewtory’s mind raced. Three stoneholders from the same town was unheard of. Was there some significance or was it a massive coincidence? It couldn’t be coincidence, the Ritual was random in who it selected, but three people from such a small town was too much to be a fluke.
He thought of the stranger appearing to him so close to Compton as well. There had to be a reason behind it all.
“By the moons I hope it is not either of you two,” the bard said.
Garett nodded but the other lad puffed out his chest defiantly. “If it is than I shall do my duty to Frindoth.”
“Quite,” Pewtory said.
He was about to enter the town when a loud clattering noise accompanied by the unmistakable clop of hooves on the road behind him caused him to whirl around. His stomach lurched as Archie urged his horses on as they galloped towards him. The peddler saw Pewtory and frowned.