Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Horus Heresy Short Reviews: “Wolf of Ash and Fire” & “Censure” (Black Library)

Just wanted to flag up two Horus Heresy short stories I’ve read recently, as they were both very good, and well worth an enthusiast’s time.

Kyme-HH-CensureCENSURE by Nick Kyme

In the depths of Calth’s arcology network, the Underworld War has raged for years. Aeonid Thiel, previously an honoured sergeant of the Ultramarines, once again finds himself in trouble – pitted against the daemonic forces of the Word Bearers, he has no choice but to venture back to the ravaged surface and brave the deadly solar flares that have scoured all life from this world. With a lowly Imperial Army trooper as his only companion, it falls to him to drive the maniacal Dark Apostle Kurtha Sedd and his warband from the overrun XIIIth Legion stronghold.

This was originally released as an audio-drama. When it was released as an eBook, however, I picked it up right away. Kyme is really growing as an author – each new story of his that I read, I can see that he’s just getting better and better. This story is set (once again) on Calth, the planet at which the Heresy and the extent of the betrayal truly exploded out into the open. After the battle of Calth, there could be no denying that the galaxy had indeed been set on fire. Censure is set some years after the events of Mark of Calth and Know No Fear, and Aeonid Thiel has returned to the ravaged world to fight against the Word Bearers and support the remnant loyalists. It focuses on a specific mission and conflict, and is fast-paced, nuanced, and expertly paced. Quite excellent, and very highly recommended.

*

McNeill-HH-WolfOfAshAndFireTHE WOLF OF ASH AND FIRE by Graham McNeill

The Wolf of Ash and Fire is a Horus Heresy short story that takes place during the Great Crusade, before the outbreak of the Horus Heresy. The Wolf of Ash and Fire follows Horus Lupercal, fighting alongside the Emperor Himself, as the Luna Wolves fight for control of the Ork-held planetoid of Gorro. The Wolf of Ash and Fire was released as a free e-book with every copy of Macragge's Honour.

This short story was released free through the Black Library website some time ago. It’s a quick, battle-filled tale of Horus’s strategic expertise, battlefield fury, and pre-Heresy devotion to the Emperor. It is also one of the few stories that features both the Emperor and Horus on the battlefield together – and it is epic. The battle scenes are great, swirling and furious. I’d really like McNeill (or any of the Heresy writers, actually) to revisit this campaign, or just write some more stories like this. As with Censure, this is highly recommended for all fans of the series. I can’t wait for McNeill’s next Heresy novel, The Vengeful Spirit (out later this year).

Monday, April 14, 2014

“Midnight Crossroad” by Charlaine Harris (Gollancz)

HarrisC-MT1-MidnightCrossroadUKA great start to a new series

Welcome to Midnight, Texas, a town with many boarded-up windows and few full-time inhabitants, located at the crossing of Witch Light Road and Davy Road. It's a pretty standard dried-up western town.

There’s a pawnshop (someone lives in the basement and is seen only at night). There’s a diner (people who are just passing through tend not to linger). And there’s new resident Manfred Bernardo, who thinks he’s found the perfect place to work in private (and who has secrets of his own).

Stop at the one traffic light in town, and everything looks normal. Stay awhile, and learn the truth…

This is the first novel of Harris’s that I’ve read, and I must say I rather enjoyed it. A gently-paced mystery, with a supernatural slant, and populated by endearing, varied and well-constructed characters.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Upcoming: THE HELLSBLOOD PRIDE by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot)

Wendig-MP2-TheHellsbloodBrideI still haven’t read as much of Chuck Wendig’s work as I would like. Not only have I enjoyed what I have read, but Angry Robot have been commissioning some truly amazing covers for his books (see, for example, the Miriam Black books – stunning jackets). In January 2015, Angry Robot will be publishing the second novel in Wendig’s Mookie Pearl urban fantasy series, The Hellsblood Pride. The cover – by the uber-talented Joey Hi-Fi – is to the right, and the synopsis is below:

Father, barkeep, former Mafioso, ruler of his subterranean crime-kingdom. The Organization is back, and they’ll do anything to get Mookie on board, but Mookie has gone legit, and it’s taking every ounce of effort for him to keep his new bar from crashing and burning.

To top it all, his daughter is missing, and when Nora’s not in plain sight, that’s usually a sign of bad things to come! On one hand, the Organization. On the other, Nora.

Why can’t Family ever be easy…?

The first in the series, The Blue Blazes was published in May 2013. You can find out more about Wendig’s various writing projects by visiting his website and following him on Twitter and Facebook.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

“The Last Man” by Vince Flynn (Simon & Schuster / Atria Books)

Flynn-LastManUKThe final Mitch Rapp novel

An invaluable CIA asset has gone missing, and with him, secrets that in the wrong hands could prove disastrous. The only question is: Can Mitch Rapp find him first?

Joe Rickman, head of CIA clandestine operations in Afghanistan, has been kidnapped and his four bodyguards executed in cold blood. But Mitch Rapp’s experience and nose for the truth make him wonder if something even more sinister isn’t afoot. Irene Kennedy, director of the CIA, has dispatched him to Afghanistan to find Rickman at all costs.

Rapp, however, isn’t the only one looking for Rickman. The FBI is too, and it quickly becomes apparent that they’re less concerned with finding Rickman than placing the blame on Rapp.

With CIA operations in crisis, Rapp must be as ruthless and deceitful as his enemies if he has any hope of finding Rickman and completing his mission. But with elements within his own government working against both him and American interests, will Rapp be stopped dead before he can succeed?

The Mitch Rapp series is in many ways the one that kick-started my passion for international and espionage thrillers. After reading Transfer of Power, the novel that introduced Rapp as the man who takes back the White House from terrorists, I quickly caught up with the rest of the series, and have read every one since. The Last Man is, sadly, the last novel. Flynn passed away last year, after a long battle with cancer. It’s an awkward ending, however. Thankfully, though, while the novel began shakily, it ended strongly. Long-time fans of the series and characters won’t be disappointed, as this is another fast-paced, gripping international thriller, featuring all of the key series characters.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Interview with MARK SMYLIE

SmylieM-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Mark Smylie?

Let’s see. I was born in Florida; my mother was Japanese, she had come to the States to study piano at Julliard, and my father is a Presbyterian minister who worked for the Church’s national body as their liaison to the United Nations (now long retired). I grew up in New Jersey and have lived there on and off for most of my adult life (with stints in New York and California). I’ve worked mostly in comics publishing, both as a writer/artist and as a publisher (I founded a company called Archaia that is now an imprint at BOOM! Studios).

Your debut novel, The Barrow, was published by Pyr Books last month in the US and this week in the UK. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it the first in a series?

The novel was written as a stand-alone but Pyr has agreed to publish two sequels so, yes, for better or for worse I’m afraid it’s yet another fantasy trilogy. The novel is part epic fantasy, part horror story, and I guess what could be termed part undercover detective story. At first glance it’s about a group of criminals and adventurers of few if any scruples that are following a map to find a fabled lost sword, but nothing is quite as it seems.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Guest Post: “Influences & Inspirations” by Duncan Jepson

JepsonDuncan-AuthorPic1During the last 150 years, China and the West have collided many times, virtually always on Chinese soil, and their relationship is heavily coloured by this history. Many in Asia are choosing and building their futures motivated by their own and their family’s experiences, ambitions and histories, much of it unclear and unknown to most in the West. The relationship between China and West is set to become more intense and complicated and we have to hope these two sides will work together rather than tear the world apart.

The story of Emperors Once More is about the collision of these different motivations and forces in China and among Chinese people, set against their position on the world stage. On a national level, the government is tasked with maintaining a union of a billion plus people so it does not crumble into chaos again, fighting the very human feeling of humiliation from centuries of defeat, both personal and national, the need to re-establish respect on the world stage, the clashes that will arise from the very practical need to obtain vital resources for the future and China’s new role in the global order. The story is also about those very personal experiences such as migration, subservience, colonialism, aspiration, ideology, revolution and tradition.

Monday, April 07, 2014

“& Sons” by David Gilbert (Fourth Estate/Random House)

Royal.inddAn intriguing, engaging literary novel

The funeral of Charles Henry Topping on Manhattan’s Upper East Side would have been a minor affair (his two-hundred-word obit in The New York Times notwithstanding) but for the presence of one particular mourner: the notoriously reclusive author A.N. Dyer, whose novel Ampersand stands as a classic of American teenage angst. But as Andrew Newbold Dyer delivers the eulogy for his oldest friend, he suffers a breakdown over the life he’s led and the people he’s hurt and the novel that will forever endure as his legacy. He must gather his three sons for the first time in many years – before it’s too late.

So begins a wild, transformative, heartbreaking week, as witnessed by Philip Topping, who, like his late father, finds himself caught up in the swirl of the Dyer family. First there’s son Richard, a struggling screenwriter and father, returning from self-imposed exile in California. In the middle lingers Jamie, settled in Brooklyn after his twenty-year mission of making documentaries about human suffering. And last is Andy, the half-brother whose mysterious birth tore the Dyers apart seventeen years ago, now in New York on spring break, determined to lose his virginity before returning to the prestigious New England boarding school that inspired Ampersand.

But only when the real purpose of this reunion comes to light do these sons realize just how much is at stake, not only for their father but for themselves and three generations of their family.

& Sons is a very good novel. It’s a bit tricky to review, though. I was quickly drawn into the story, and the lives of the protagonists. It was by no means perfect, and sometimes downright weird, but Gilbert’s prose and characters were engaging throughout.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Recently Received Titles…

BooksReceived-201404-01

Featuring: Anne Bishop, Carole K. Carr, Joël Dicker, Charlaine Harris, Tanya Huff, Mark Millar, Gary Meehan, Isla Morley, Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter, Tom Rachman, Samantha Shannon, Joel Shepherd, F.R. Tallis, David Wingrove

Friday, April 04, 2014

Guest Post: “Fantasy – It’s Not a Choice, it’s a Way of Life!” by Debbie Johnson

DebbieJohnson-AuthorPicI was recently asked by a journalist why I felt ‘compelled’ to write fantasy. It’s probably very telling that my first frame of reference for that questions was ‘Compelled? Like, by a vampire or a mystical creature with mind control tricks?’

As I forced variations of ‘these aren’t the ‘droids you’re looking for’ from my brain, I tried to give a coherent answer – but it’s a very difficult affinity to explain to someone who’s not inclined that way. It stems from so many childhood memories – reading The Hobbit, getting bitten by the David Eddings bug as a teenager, watching Labyrinth 10,000 times when I worked as a cinema usherette in the 80s. All of this and more contributed to the kind of brain that sees things a little bit differently than other people.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Hinterkind, Vol.1 – “The Waking World” (Vertigo)

Hinterkind-01-ArtWriter: Ian Edginton | Artist: Francesco Trifogli

In a post-apocalyptic world where humans have been pushed to the edge of extinction by the creatures of fantasy and fables, THE HINTERKIND tells the story of one young woman’s quest to fulfill her destiny and put the world right again.

Fifty-seven years after an unspecified biological event has all but wiped out the human race, a green hand has moved over the face of the Earth. Leaf, root and shoot have steadfastly smothered the works of man, remorselessly grinding the concrete, glass and steel back into the minerals from whence they came. Mother Nature is reclaiming what’s rightfully hers but she's not the only one…

The Hinterkind have returned. They come from hiding places in the lost corners of the world: Centaurs, Satyrs, Elves, Dwarves, Ogres, Trolls, Werewolves, Vampires…

They’re also known as “the Hidden,” “the Twilight People,” the “walkers-in-shadow,” collective names for the menagerie that mankind has hung its tales of myth and magic upon – but these aren’t fairy tale creatures. They are flesh, blood and passion, and they have a long simmering hatred of humanity.

They are a divergent species. Exotic evolutionary try-outs that couldn’t compete with the rapacious ape. Hunted to near extinction through fear and ignorance, they fled to the great forests and deserts, losing themselves in the shrinking wilderness of an ever-expanding world.

Now the wilderness is the world and mankind is in the minority.

Collects: HINTERKIND #1-6

This is a strange, promising, and yet somewhat flawed start to a new series.

The first issue presents a fantastic post-apocalyptic world – one in which human society has been near-destroyed, global populations brought to the brink of extinction. Our protagonists are based in Central Park, New York, and have built a working community: foraging for leftover items in the over-grown city around them, hunting the wildlife. It’s a stunning start, actually, and I was immediately drawn to the setting. The characters and writing were strong, and they were well-realised by the artwork.