Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Book Review - The Host

The Host – Stephenie Meyer

The Host

I read the Twilight series out of curiosity and overall found myself pleasantly surprised by the saga. Having said I had no intention to read anything further by Stephenie Meyer. That was until I went to see my niece who was very ill with Shingles. Knowing I like reading she told me to read the Host as it was “Oh my God amazing.” Being the caring uncle I am, I thought I would surprise her and read it on the sly. I don’t need an excuse to read Stephanie Meyer but this is the reason I am. What is a week out of my normal reading?

The blurb:

Our world has been invaded by an unseen enemy. Humans become hosts for these invaders, their minds taken over while their bodies remain intact and continue their lives apparently unchanged. Most of humanity has succumbed.

When Melanie, one of the few remaining "wild" humans is captured, she is certain it is her end. Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, was warned about the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the glut of senses, the too vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Wanderer probes Melanie's thoughts, hoping to discover the whereabouts of the remaining human resistance. Instead, Melanie fills Wanderer's mind with visions of the man Melanie loves—Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from her body's desires, Wanderer begins to yearn for a man she has been tasked with exposing. When outside forces make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off on a dangerous and uncertain search for the man they both love.

(Some small spoilers).

This book is massive. On the Kindle it states that it is only 600+ pages but the writing is so small that this is misleading. The paperback is 864 pages.

Therefore I quickly realised this book would be vastly different from the Twilight series. However, I was not expecting how vastly different it is in regards style and prose. In fact, I defy any cynical fantasy/sci-fi reader to read the opening 100 pages of the Host without knowing who it is written by and not enjoy it.

The story has a very post-apocalyptic feel to it. The idea feels unique and although it is essentially a love story, SM does a good enough job of creating tension and helplessness that this is not a distraction.

Both souls that occupy Melanie’s body are likeable. The entity known as the Wanderer, although a strict follower of her mission, also shows compassion towards the Host she inhabits. This is a rarity for her kind and SM does an excellent job of portraying how the Hosts body and memories gradually influence the alien being residing in the shell. When the “Wanderer” becomes disillusioned with her mission it is believable. You also feel pathos towards her as she doubts her abilities and questions whether or not she is a failure for not suppressing Melanie fully.

Melanie too is a good character. Enraged at the invasion of her body, she is shrewd in what she reveals to the Wanderer, protecting elements of her memories and choosing when to impose herself.  At the same time, through her memories we are also shown her more compassionate side, when she allows the Wanderer to experience her blossoming relationship with Jared. SM could easily have fallen into the sanguine Bella/Edward type language, but to her credit and to my relief Melanie often uses these memories to manipulate the alien inside her. As a result the tender moments are actually well handled and believable.

The majority of the plot occurs when Wanda finds Jared and Jamie. What follows is an interesting study of human nature as each of the survivors in the clandestine community react to having an alien living with them in different ways. Most interesting of all, is how Jared reacts to “the Host” and Ian interacts with Wanda. It is an interesting dynamic made even more complicated by the other characters who all have their own reasons and motivations for treating Wanda the way they do.

The Aliens, almost become secondary to the plot. Whilst this is good as it allows the plot to focus on the characters, it does remove the threat they pose somewhat. Once again, with a SM novel, I wished the plot had gone in one direction and it did not.  The characters never appear to be in any danger. The setting of the caves does feel claustrophobic but also “Comfortable.” This is a shame as SM could have achieved some really powerful moments with a few twists.

The ending is satisfying, but again could have been better is SM had chosen to end it a few chapters earlier. Instead, what we get is satisfying but does not leave the lasting impression it could have. Having said that, I have since read that SM is working on a sequel so that at least explains things.

Overall, the Host took me completely by surprise. It far exceeded my expectations and SM has satisfied me enough for me to look forward to her next offering.

My rating: 8.9

Monday, January 28, 2013

Jacqui's review of 2012

A Late 2012 Review

Well apologies first, when Rob posted his excellent blog at the start of the New Year listing his favourite books on 2012, he did challenge me to do the same.
Well I had every intention to do so, and then work and life dared to get in the way, and so my response has slipped to now, but on the upside, at least I have still managed to reply in January!

As I have probably mentioned in some of my reviews, I am trying to write a book. Trying is definitely the right word; Rob puts me to shame with the amount that he writes! Sometimes it is great and the scenes seem to write themselves. Other times the characters are sitting round like actors waiting for their lines to be fed to them, and I huff, puff, and struggle to get anything down on paper.
This is normal I hear you say. Yes I know, but still very frustrating. I just feel sorry for my friend who I force to read what I write as I go along!

However, enough about my problems, what books did I enjoy last year?
I thought this would be a simple task, but how wrong could I be, as my short list very quickly became a very long list. I knew I had to do something to make it a bit manageable and not put any reader to sleep, so decided to be ruthless and make this a short list of five.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor 

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

This was a book I came across by accident, and bought on a whim. It has some flaws, more details on the some of the creatures would be nice, and maybe some of the dialogue was stilted. This is a first book for the author so some leeway is allowed. I found this to be an enjoyable fantasy novel and it was good enough to make me buy book 2 with no hesitation, so it definitely makes this list.

 Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

The Game of Kings

 This was a series recommended by a friend, and am so glad he did. The writing is clever and skilful, with carefully crafted scenes and some of the best dialogue you will find.  You need to concentrate with the numerous sub plots, but it is definitely worth it, I have since read the second in the series, and the author has found herself at the top of my must read pile.

Whispers under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Rivers of London

The third book in the series, which luckily is just as good as the others if not better so an easy contender for this list.  Pc Peter Grant will always be one of my favourite characters, and the idea of a magic branch within the Met Police is brilliant. This book using the tunnels of the London underground as the setting is brilliant, I have always found the empty platforms a little creepy, and this story makes them more so!

 The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven

I had not read any of this author since the Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series, but liked the description of this story. Angels and demons appearing when you die and going before a judge for your soul, has to be worth a read. The writing for anyone who has read any of Tad Williams work is as polished as any of his other works, and made my list with no effort.

Outlaw series by Angus Donald


Well this is a bit of a cheat, as including the whole series so far under this one! This is a different take on the Robin Hood legend. In this he is shown to be ruthless and violent - in fact just the sort of person you would imagine him to be. I enjoyed the series and am about to start the fourth book- Warlord- which I am really looking forward to.

So, they are my five books, though it could have easily extended to more. Among Thieves, Prince of Thorns, Vampire for Hire, see my list goes on.

Have always enjoyed reading books, but writing reviews seems to make the books mean more, maybe as you have to concentrate more on them. It seems strange now that I only started doing this about a year ago, so am grateful to Rob letting me doing this, and hope that people find what I have to say helpful in looking at books to read.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Book Review - Fortress of Spears (JS)

Fortress of Spears by Anthony Riches

Fortress of Spears

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I can see eyebrows raised at another review for this series. I put my hands up though; I cannot help reading them, as I find the series a bit addictive.

 In the enthralling third volume of Empire, Anthony Riches takes the legions deep into north Britannia, where the survivors of the rebellion still hope for revenge.

The Romans have vanquished the rebel alliance, leaving Calgus, Lord of the Northern Tribes, and the prisoner of the chieftains he once led.

However, the new Roman leader will not let them rest. He forms an audacious plan to capture Dinpaladyr, the Selgovaes' fortress of spears, and return it to the hands of a trusted ally.

Marcus Aquila - burning for revenge on an enemy army that has killed one of his best friends - is part of the select group of infantry chosen to go north with the Petriana cavalry and take the fort before the rebel army can reach it. He believes his disguise as Centurion Corvus of the 2nd Tungrians is still holding.

However, he is just a few days ahead of two of the emperor's agents, sent from Rome to kill him. Pitiless assassins who know his real name, and too much about his friends

I know I have said it before, but each book just keeps getting better and better. You do need to start from Book1; this is not a series that you can read in any order. Trust me though there are five books so far, and each book is a treat to read.

As in the other books, there is action and violence straight from the start in this instalment as Marcus has to face the loss of one of his friends in battle.
His reaction is believable as is that of his men who try to protect him even from himself, and there are some great moments especially when Marcus volunteers to join the Calvary for a special assignment.

In this story you have different sub plots going on, but these are clear as in each part you have different characters taking the lead, this is a tricky skill as some people only like to follow the story from one angle and jumping from place to place could be off putting to some readers. To be honest though, it adds to the tension, as the author gets to a point with one storyline then jumps to action that is going on elsewhere.

As in all these books, you have some villains that are good to hiss at, and in this story you have the two Roman officers hunting Marcus, killing as they go and threatening all that he has come to care for

The action scenes are as brutal as ever, especially with the descriptions of what is done to a captured soldier and the revenge of Martos, prince of the Votadini on those who killed his family.

Although it is good to have plenty of action, you could soon tire of this, but the writing is lightened by the humour between the soldiers and officers. This is excellent, and makes the writing come alive and can make you laugh; the weather forecasting is one such moment.

 I have read some books where the technical detail is spot on but the characters are wooden and silted. In this series, you have excellent fighting scene and some of the best characters that you will find.

I would definitely recommend this book and the earlier books of the series, am now fighting a battle with myself not to read the next.

10 out of 10

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Book Review - Blood Song

Book one of the Raven's Shadow; Blood Song - Anthony Ryan

This book won many fantasy readers debut novel of the year award last year. As soon as I heard the buzz around Anthony Ryan when he first came on the scene, I began following his blog. The guy seems extremely nice and is basically living the life I want to be living in terms of his success story with writing.  To say I was looking forward to this novel was an understatement.
The blurb:
Vaelin Al Sorna was only a child of ten when his father left him at the iron gate of the Sixth Order. The Brothers of the Sixth Order are devoted to battle, and Vaelin will be trained and hardened to the austere, celibate, and dangerous life of a Warrior of the Faith. He has no family now save the Order.

Vaelin's father was Battle Lord of the Empire of King Janus. Vaelin's rage at being deprived of his birthright and dropped at the doorstep of the Sixth Order like a foundling knows no bounds. He has little memory of his mother, and what he will come to learn of her at the Order will confound him. His father, too, has motives that Vaelin will come to understand. But one truth overpowers all the rest: Vaelin Al Sorna is destined for a future he has yet to comprehend. A future that will alter not only the Empire, but the world.
Some books have an amazing opening chapter, others are slow to get going but turn out to be awesome and there are even those that start mediocre and never recover. Anthony Ryan falls into the rare category of those authors who as soon as you read the first few pages you know instantly that you are going to click with the author and love their book. I can’t explain what this feeling is. I had it when I read GRRM, Hobb and Gemmell. Something in the prose just resonates with you and gives you a tingle.
I got this feeling straight away when I began reading Blood Song and it stayed with me throughout.
Vaelin is a great protagonist. He has the renowned status of Gemmel’s Druss the legend, the conviction and honesty of Hobb’s Fitz and the innocent and likeability of Rowling’s Harry Potter. The great thing is Anthony Ryan achieves this with his main character without even trying. Vaelin just is who he is. Throughout the novel there are echoes of similarities to the characters mentioned above but it never feels like they are being copied. Instead, it feels like Vaelin was the original character and all the others spawned from him.
Every decision he makes is a sensible one. There is never a point where as a reader you think, “why the hell is he doing that?” And it is this that makes the reader really identify with the character. It also allows Vaelin to transform from the innocent boy dropped off at the Order to the feared legend he becomes effortlessly. The transition is so smooth, that towards the end of the book, you stop and question how it all got to this stage. The answer is that is the book is just that good.
As with all books, the supporting cast has to be great. In Blood Song, this is the case. Every character breathes life on the page. They all have their own history that is integrated into the tale without feeling forced. They all evolve as the story progresses, yet evolve in a logical way. Many retain an element of mystery to them and Ryan strikes the balance between revealing enough about them to keep them interesting and revealing too much.
Frentis, Caenis, Sollis and Sherrin were particular favourites but there was not one character I found boring and that includes the dogs and horses!
The world is well established whilst being simple. The various factions are well explained and the political intrigue provides an understanding from all points of views. (On a personal note I am slightly gutted that it is eerily similar to the set up of the world in my novel but hey what can you do?) On many occasions Vaelin finds himself fighting on the wrong side and knows it. It is a refreshing perspective to read about and works well.
The plot itself unfolds effortlessly. The story follows Vaelin’s early life and whilst the tale feels epic in the events that happen, you still get the sense that things are just beginning. There is a mystery of sorts throughout, and Ryan does a good job of drip feeding the information. If I’m honest I pretty much guessed straightaway who the antagonist was but Ryan threw enough doubt in there for me to question my suspicions, so that when the “reveal” did occur I was satisfied.
Overall, I enjoyed Blood Song immensely. Ryan self-published the novel and has now been snapped up by a publisher. It is of course well deserved, but unfortunately it means we have to wait a little longer for the second instalment.
My rating: 9.5

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book Review - Queen's Play (JS)

Queens Play by Dorothy Dunnett

Queen's Play

Review by Jacqui Slaney

Though I thoroughly enjoyed Game of Kings, I delayed jumping straight into book 2, as though the writing was skilled and the characters detailed and real, I found that the book required a great deal of attention to read. Therefore, with the Christmas period and a bug that I could not throw off, I was worried that I would not give this book the attention that it deserved, so I controlled my impatience until now. This is the description:

The second book in the world-famous Lymond Chronicles, which bring to life sixteenth-century history through the eyes of one man: Francis Crawford of Lymond. Menaced by England and riven by internal discord, Scotland in 1548 clung to a single hope of survival as a nation - an alliance with France to be sealed by the betrothal of the five-year-old Mary, Queen of Scots, to the Dauphin. However, once in France, Mary suffers a series of ominous 'accidents'. The one-man Mary's mother, the Dowager Queen, feels she can trust to proctor her daughter, now seven, is Francis Crawford. Lymond is dispatched to France and embarks upon a nightmare game of hide-and-seek at the very heart of the glittering, decadent court of Henri II.Show More

Lymond in this story starts in a disguise to assist his work in France and the reader has to try to work out which of the Irish characters he is. Both of them are possible contenders’ so this is intriguing, I kept changing my mind for a while and was pleased when his alter ego was revealed and I was proved right.

Though the story line is just as intricate and there are various sub plots running through this book, I found to my pleasure that this book was easier to read than Game. Why, I am not sure, it might just be because of reading the first book I was more used to the writing style. As the reader already knows many of the characters and the history of the time had been explained there was also less emphasise on whom everyone was and on whose side they were.

This book though still brilliants paints the politics of the era and describes in detail the French court and the antics that the courtiers get up too, the roof chase is excellent and will keep you engrossed to its conclusion as will the hare hunt.

Lymond has definitely grown to be one of my favourite characters; he is developed more in this book becoming fleshed out and in a way more complicated if that is possible. As in the first book, he is shown to be unpredictable and this is part of his charm. You think he will act responsibly now in this story as he has undertaken such an important role for the Queen Mother, but how wrong can you be.  The author in just two books has built Lymonds character in very skilful layers, so you cannot take anything he does or says at face value, as there is always something behind it.

This is clearly a book 2, so I would not recommend starting this one, without reading Game of Kings; you need to know the background to the characters and to understand some references made to the occurrences in the first book especially to Christian, Tom Erskine’s first fiancĂ©.

This is one of those books, you will not want to put down.  I found myself thinking about the book even when I was not reading, and when the ending came, though it was excellent I was sad to have finished, now I will have to try to contain my impatience to read book 3.

10 out of 10

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review - The Ritual

The Ritual – Adam Nevill.
I read Adam’s debut novel Banquet of the Damned last year. Whilst I thought it started well, I thought it got a bit monotonous very quickly and once the mystery was removed or the supernatural element made evident, it removed a lot of the tension  from the novel. I find this to be the case with most horror novels. They either need good characters ala Stephen King or need to be very short ala Brian Keene to sustain their impact.
I wasn’t overly interested by the blurb of Neville’s second novel but this third one caught my eye and I decided there were enough positives from the first novel for me to give Nevill another chance.
The blurb:
It was the dead thing they found hanging from a tree that changed the trip beyond recognition. When four old University friends set off into the Scandinavian wilderness of the Arctic Circle, they aim to briefly escape the problems of their lives and reconnect. But when Luke, the only man still single and living a precarious existence, finds he has little left in common with his well-heeled friends, tensions rise. A shortcut meant to ease their hike turns into a nightmare scenario that could cost them their lives. Lost, hungry, and surrounded by forest untouched for millennia, things couldn't possibly get any worse. But then they stumble across an old habitation. Ancient artefacts decorate the walls and there are bones scattered upon the floors. The residue of old rites for something that still exists in the forest. Something responsible for the bestial presence that follows their every step. And as the four friends stagger in the direction of salvation, they learn that death doesn't come easy among these ancient trees...
I am so pleased I did. If I had to sum up this novel I would say it is "Predato"r meets "Blair Witch" meets "the Stangers". I mentioned a horror story needs good characters and Nevill has provided four very good characters here. He writes the four English friends so honestly, that you feel that they are sitting behind you in a pub and you are over hearing their conversation.
Luke is the main protagonist and he is far from likeable, however, he is dam readable. Despite the horrific situation the quartet find themselves faced with, it is made believable by just how real and down to earth they all are. This is typified best by Luke’s discontentment at being slowly ousted out of the group and envious of the others closeness. He is also frustrated at the lack of physical ability of the group.
The tension among the friends bubbles nicely as their past is slowly explored and their lives analysed. Only one of the group emerges with any credit but you are never quite clear how much the group are dysfunctional or whether it is just the extreme situation they find themselves in.
The story would have stood up well if the group had merely gotten lost without the supernatural element which is why it works well. However, the supernatural element is brilliant. Despite the sprawling, vast woods, the book feels claustrophobic. You get a good sense of the helplessness of the hikers and the despair they feel as food runs out and the true terror slowly reveals itself.
And then the book changes. Part two begins and the psychological horror aspect of the novel vanishes with it. Initially I hated this change, especially when I thought the novel was going to go in a particular direction.
It soon becomes apparent that Adam Nevill knew what he was doing. Rather than drag out the novel and repeat aspects of it, he introduced a new danger - One that the reader can identify with and is no less frightful. Despite my initial fears that the novel had taken a downturn, part two is actually equally engaging. The technique is masterful as it sustains the reader’s interest without losing what made the first part so great.   
The ending brings the two parts of the novel together well. It makes sense and the danger never fully subsides. My preference in any supernatural novel is to have enough questions answered to be satisfactory but also leave an element of mystery at the end. The Ritual is an excellent example of this.
My rating: 8.9

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book review - Servant of the Empire

Servant of the Empire by Raymond Feist and Jenny Wurts (JS)

Servant of the Empire

Review by Jacqui Slaney

This is the second in the series of books about Mara of the Acoma and without going into details and spoiling the first for those who have not yet read, I think this one is better.

Nobody knows how to play the Game of the Council better than Mara of the Acoma. Through bloody political manoeuvring, she has become a powerful force within the Empire; but surrounded by deadly rivals, Mara has to be the best simply to stay alive.
But Lady Mara must contend with battles on two fronts: in the hotbed of intrigue and treachery that is the court of Tsurani; and in her heart, where her affection for a barbarian slave from the enemy world of Midkemia leads her to question the principles by which she lives.

In this book, Mara’s character really develops, her POV chapters are well written and you can really see the world around her and the rules with which her people live by. What makes the book so good you get another very good central character in the slave that she buys. You get to see this strange world through his eyes so get a completely different point of view and how he interprets Mara’s actions really makes the whole world of the Tsurani come alive.

There is an excellent scene where Kevin revisits the other slaves who were bought with him. They are field hands, their lives are quite hard, and Kevin is shocked to find that they still see this world as alien and cruel. It dawns on him that as he himself has been accepted; to him the Tsurani has become normal, and that now he  sees these former enemies as friends and their ways and actions as making sense. This realisation is quite hard on him and the dialogue between him and Mara following this is excellent as he starts to change her perception of how her world sees slaves.

There is plenty of action in this book with various battles between the different factions and a war with a different race of being. The battle scenes are well described and it is easy for the reader to visualise them.

Pug the Magician from the other Riftwar books makes an appearance and due to his feeling of hatred for the ruling classes of the Tsurani uses his power to causes ones of the biggest upsets that has been seen.

The Mara and Kevin combination is excellent with the ideals of both worlds being thrown against each other, both the good and bad. Of all the three books this is the book I have gone back to the most. With the humour and action, quite bloody in some cases, any reader will find something to hold their attention.
9 out of 10

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book review - Without Fail

Without Fail – Lee Child
Without Fail is the 6th outing for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. So far the series has proved to be very strong but has times threatened to become a little too formulaic.
The blurb:
The secretive, closed organization that invites Jack Reacher in is the Secret Service, the organization that protects the Presidency. Someone who was once close to Reacher's brother, needs help in her new job. Her new job? Saving the Vice President of the United States from being assassinated
I’m pleased to say that this entry does not disappoint and maintains the standard. Jack is sought out by a new member of the secret service who is keen to do a good job. Her job? To protect the vice president Armstrong. How does she know Reacher? She is his sister in-law of course.
Reacher is asked to do an audit as it were to establish how tight the protection around the vice president is. Inevitably, Jack discovers that it is not too tight and then is enrolled to help uncover the mystery behind a recent assassination attempt.
One of my hang-ups about this series in the past, is that Jack Reacher is infallible. All the experts may think one thing, but Jack will think another and is inevitably right. This book falls into the same trap. Throughout Jack manages to see things the Secret Service and FBI fail to see. I’m fine with that if Jack was dealing with your average Joe, but we are supposed to be talking about the elite forces in America. Should this happen?
Having said that, this story is good. The Secret Service agent who recruits Jack used to date his brother which adds a nice dimension to the story. Jack realises that he can’t perform the role by himself and so calls in help from Neagley, a character who refreshingly does not swoon at Jack’s feet straight away.
The dynamic between Neagley, Reacher and his sister in-law is fun as both the woman are quite strong characters. The tension between Reacher and his sister in-law is particularly refreshing, especially when his past relationship with his brother is explored.
Once again, Lee Child draws attention to the fact that Jack Reacher is not invincible and is prone to the odd mistake here and there. It’s great to see and works effectively considering the setting of the novel is not your small town in the middle of nowhere but the high profile centre of Washington.
As always, the conclusion is tidy and satisfying. Some reviewers have blasted the departure away from the quiet town setting. I found the change invigorating.
My rating: 8.7

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Review - A Betrayal in Winter

A Betrayal in Winter – Daniel Abraham
Book one in the Long Price Quartet left me extremely frustrated to begin with. It was a book I expected to love and for some reason I could not get into it. I can honestly say I the book just didn’t click with me, which was extremely annoying as there was no reason why that should be the case. The writing was not particularly complex and the world building although different was not difficult to understand. However, perseverance was the key and I ended up appreciating the story and the characters. I approached book two then with more realistic expectations.
The Blurb:
As a boy, Otah Machi was exiled from his family, Machi's ruling house. Decades later, he has witnessed and been part of world-changing events. Yet he has never returned to Machi. Now his father--the Khai, or ruler, of Machi--is dying and his eldest brother Biitrah has been assassinated, Otah realizes that he must return to Machi, for reasons not even he understands.

Tradition dictates that the sons of a dying Khai fall upon each other until only one remains to succeed his father. But something even worse is occurring in Machi. The Galts, an expansive empire, has allied with someone in Machi to bring down the ruling house. Otah is accused, the long-missing brother with an all-too-obvious motive for murder.
What a difference “being in the mood” to read a book makes. I loved Daniel Abraham’s second novel from the outset. It was everything I expected the first book to be. A number of reviewers have complained that this book is more of the same and perhaps that is a good thing in my case as whatever the reasons I did not initially enjoy the first novel were, I did not experience them here and confirmed that I was just out of sorts when reading the first book.
A lot of the characters return from the A Shadow in Summer and Daniel Abraham does a good job of recounting the events of the first novel without feeling like he is trying to do just that.
Otah and Maati are more in the background to begin with. Both are keeping a low profile, but are slowly drawn into the scheming that takes place in Machi. This allows Abraham to develop their characters effectively without having them the main characters all the time.
The new characters are also likeable. Idaan is the daughter of the dying Khal. She is disillusioned with the male society and wishes to exert her presence. However, she is far from the driven, man-hating woman that so often occupies literature. Abraham portrays her as indecisive. She wants to carry through her plans but also wishes for the whole mess to be taken out of her hands. It makes for a compelling character. On occasions she is trapped and on others her actions surprise you.
The Poet Cehmai and his Andat Stone-made-soft are also great new additions. Cehmai is hopelessly in love with Idaan and blind to all that goes on around him as a result. However, he still retains a sense of justice and a conviction that is beyond his years. The Andat, although not as memorable as Seedless, still has enough mystery surrounding him to make him one of the more interesting characters.
Abraham also uses an effective GRRM trait in building up characters off screen so that the reader can’t wait to meet them. He then kills them off and or introduces them when you don’t expect it evoking  a strong response from his audience.
The plot of A Betrayal in Winter is more simple. Although there are many twists and turns along the way the story focuses on one family mostly rather than the sprawling nature of the first book. It makes for more intimate characters and settings and brings the world to life.
The ending, although inevitable is very good. Although everything is resolved, you get the sense that the politics have only just begun which is the perfect way to end a story.
My rating: 9.0

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Book Review - Arrows of Fury (JS)

Arrows of Fury- Empire II by Anthony Riches

Arrows of Fury

Review by Jacqui Slaney

I do not often go straight into a book 2 but having enjoyed Wounds of Honour, I could not resist. I am normally slightly wary as some second books are a bit of a let down, especially with a new author as they can struggle to continue, the growth of the characters and the story can stagnate, and there was no such problem with this book.

This is the description:

The Battle of the Lost Eagle saved Hadrian's Wall, but the new Roman governor of Britannia must stamp out the rebellion of the northern tribes or risk losing the province. Rampaging south with sword and flame under the command of their murderous chieftain Calgus, they have stretched his forces to the limit.
For Marcus - now simply Centurion Corvus of the 1st Tungrian cohort - the campaign has become doubly dangerous. As reinforcements flood into Britannia, new officers with no reason to protect him from the emperor’s henchmen surround him. Death could result from a careless word as easily as from an enemy spear.
Worse, one of them is close on his heels. While Marcus is training two centuries of Syrian archers to survive a barbarian charge and then take the fight back to their enemy, the new prefect of the 2nd Tungrians has discovered his secret. Only a miracle can save Marcus and the men who protect him from disgrace and death.

As with Wounds of Honour, this is an enjoyable read as you are carried along with the pace of story, there are excellent descriptions of the battles scenes and the general lives of the soldiers.
The author shows a great understanding of the role of both the ordinary men of the army and their officers and this contributes to the reader’s enjoyment of the book. With Marcus, you have a character that is both a natural fighter and someone whose men will follow him anywhere. His ability is believable and he makes a very good central character. In many books, the rest of the characters would be shallow figures that are only mentioned in passing, here though Marcus is clearly the hero; the others have a life of their own and have their own scenes so take the story forward, Rufius and Dubnus just to name two.

In this story Marcus is given a cohort of unwilling infantry- Syrian archers who are unused to the foot slog of the Roman soldiers, the sub plot of him turning these into a fighting unit is entertaining, with their abilities being laughed at by the other soldiers until the day when they start using their normal weapons of the bow and arrow to kill.   
As in the first book, there is plenty of quite brutal action, with the description of the punishment of the soldier in the 2nd cohort being graphically described. There is less intrigue than in Wounds but there is enough sub plots still to keep anyone’s interest.

For anyone who likes Roman stories I would thoroughly recommend these books and definitely this author, he makes the storyline interesting and accurate without drowning the reader in cold facts and making it feel like a history lesson rather than a book of fiction, in fact I can hear book 3 calling me as I write this.

10 out of 10

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book Review - Legend

Legend – David Gemmell


My previous experience with David Gemmell has been devouring the Troy trilogy. Needless to say I loved it. The way he envisaged parts of the story brought the myth I studied at university to life in a realistic and fantastic way. It also introduced a host of new and exciting characters.

Gemmel is most famously known for his Drenai series and to say I was looking forward to starting it was an understatement.

The Blurb:

Druss, Captain of the Axe, whose fame was legendary, had chosen to wait for death in a mountain hideaway. But mighty Dros Delnoch, the last stronghold of the Drenai Empire, was under threat from Nadir hordes who had destroyed everything else in their path. All hope rests on the skills of one man.

I was not disappointed. Druss the Legend is the type of character you can’t help but love. Think Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven crossed between Lamb in Red Country and you are half way there. Druss is a character who knows what he is and is not afraid of it, nor is he ashamed of it. He is the Ultimate Warrior, a man so famous that people had come to think of him as a myth.

So often in literature this type of figure is reluctantly called back to action to fight one more battle. It is nice to see than that Druss wants to fight as he thinks it is the right thing to do. He arrives to defend the greatest fortress ever constructed to find it ill guarded and undisciplined. He immediately sets about rectifying the situation, and it is here that the story really comes into its own, as his arrival is received with a mixture of happiness and bitterness from soldiers who are both grateful for and jealous of him.

Like the Troy series, Legend is filled with great characters. Rek is also a point of view character and a dam good one at that. Rek is more complicated than Druss in that he is the more typical reluctant hero. However, there is an uniqueness to him in that he is a coward and wishes to avoid any form of combat. The premise of his character is great although all evidence of cowardice quickly evaporates which is a shame. Hogan is also another character that is worthy of a mention.

With great characters, it goes without saying that the dialogue is very good. Gemmell is sparing with his words but has a distinctive way of making the characters and story feel real. There are no grandiose speeches here. Any speech given before a battle is not a chance for the author to write a rousing motivational speech, but a realistic example of what may transpire. Druss for example struggles with a speech and has it cut short. It makes for compelling reading and helps put across how war never goes as planned.

The plot is fairly straightforward, but then again that is all it needs to be. The story revolves around the siege of Dros Delnoch, as the Drenai defend against the insurmountable hordes of the Nadir. Having said that, there are a few nice twists and turns along the way: the introduction of Serbitar and Nosta Khan with their mystical powers adds an extra dimension to the book for example.

I won’t say too much about the ending, in case there are a few more people out there that have yet to experience this great read. Needless to say though that mostly, it was exactly the type of conclusion that I relish.

With Legend, Gemmell has propelled himself into one of my “must read” author categories. I can’t wait to read more of the series.

My rating: 9.3

Friday, January 4, 2013

Book Review - Empire - Wounds of Honour (JS)

Empire- Wounds of Honour by Anthony Riches
Wounds of Honour
Review by Jacqui Slaney
As I have mentioned previously, I like books about the Roman Empire especially the armies, so when I found this series and read the description, I was hooked:
Marcus Valerius Aquila has scarcely landed in Britannia when he has to run for his life - condemned to dishonourable death by power-crazed emperor Commodus.  The plan is to take a new name, serve in an obscure regiment on Hadrian's Wall and lie low until he can hope for justice.  Then a rebel army sweeps down from the wastes north of the Wall, and Marcus has to prove he is hard enough to lead a century in the front line of a brutal, violent war.
This was the authors’ first book, so I was prepared for the writing not to flow as well as say Simon Scarrow, who has written numerous excellent books on the legions. I also had a few doubts after reading that the author had a military degree. Having read some well-written but very technical books in the past, I was wary of receiving a history lesson when all I wanted was to enjoy a story. I need not have worried, although the author has obviously researched his subject matter and has a great deal of knowledge, this is incorporated into the writing quite naturally so an entertaining world of 2nd Century Britain and the Romans is created for the reader.
I can hear you say that there are numerous other Roman books out there so what makes this one different. I know that there are many of these books, I have read quite a few of them, but the style of writing in this one makes it different.  The story sounds a bit familiar, a young man suddenly finds him self alone after his family is killed and is forced to make his own way against all the odds, hiding his identity. The writer takes this simple idea and builds on it creating a situation and a character that the reader can believe and sympathise with.
There are some great characters in this book that support Marcus the young centurion who suddenly gets his world turned upside down by being declared traitor. To name just a few, you have Rufius the veteran, Dubnus, who Marcus names his chosen man, Antenoch, who initially thinks that Marcus will be an easy target to beat and then becomes his man and saves his life and the First Spear who knows Marcus’s secret.
There is action from the word go in this book with no let up in the pace of the story, with plenty of intrigue to keep you interested.  In fact, you find yourself so caught up with the plot that you do not want to stop reading.
 I read some reviews that criticize a lack of polish in the writing with some of the characters speeches being unclear. This is slightly true, but in no way does this take anything away from the story. Speaking as someone who is struggling to write a book, if I thought anything I was writing could get up half as good as this one, I would be over the moon.
I would recommend this to anyone, not only those who likes Roman books but anyone who is looking for a good book to lose themselves in for a while.
9 out of 10