Category: Book Review


hang wireTitle: Hang Wire

Author: Adam Christopher

Publisher: Angry Robot

Published: Out Now

Ted is worried, he’s been sleep walking and each episode seems to coincide with the murders carried out by the Hang Wire killer.

Meanwhile the circus is in town, but the Celtic dance troop seem to be taking their act a little too seriously, the manager of the Olde World Funfair has started talking to his rides and the new acrobats frequent absences are causing tensions with the rest of the performers.

Elsewhere in the city there are other new arrivals, immortals searching for an ancient power, a primeval evil which, if unopposed, could destroy the world.  

Hang Wire is Adam Christopher’s fourth book and it is his best so far. That’s not saying the three that went before – Empire State, Seven Wonders and The Age Atomic – were not good, they were very good in fact, what I am saying is over the course of the previous books I have seen Adam’s style and mastery of his craft grow and expand. The result is Hang Wire, a pitch perfect story set in the world of nameless monsters and forgotten gods running rampant on the streets of San Francisco. Adam seems determined not to tie himself down with one genre, so far we’ve had a noire-gumshoe tale set in an alternative Manhattan, we’ve had a superhero team fighting the last great super-villain and we’ve returned to the alternative world of the Empire State with a tale or impending Armageddon and nuclear powered robots. Now he’s turned his unique and fresh style of writing towards mythology, but not your usual run of the mill mythos – there are no Thor’s or Zeus’ here – for this tale he’s mined the rich folklore of Hawaii, Korea and China. It’s a credit to his style that he can switch between genres so easily, whilst they all do sit firmly within the Urban Fantasy section, they each warrant their own section within.

This book also differs from his previous ones. They were all tightly focused tales centred on a few characters set within one or two locations. Hang Wire is on a more grander scale, it is not only set in the present day but it also builds a back-story through a series of flashbacks ranging from Oklahoma 1889, to the 1906 San Francisco quake, and on through the decades with interludes spread across the United States. It also has a larger cast, including Kanaloa Hawaiian god of life and death, Nezha the Chinese trickster god and Tangun the legendary founder god of Korea it also has their alter egos, and those alter egos have friends, loved ones. There is Jack Newhaven – the brilliantly named Magical Zanaar – ringmaster for The Magical Zanaar’s travelling Caravan of Arts and Sciences, his carnival manager Joel Duvall, the mystery man known only as Hirewire, Malcolm the leader of the Stonefire Celtic dance troop, Ted, Alison, Benny, Zane and everyone else that gets caught up in the events surrounding the killings carried out by the serial killer known as Hang Wire. All these elements – the characters, the locations, the back-story going back over a century – come together in a gripping tale that whips along at a frantic pace.

Adam has always put out tightly written stories, there is no fluff, no side bars that take the reader away from the action. I like this style, it drags you in and locks you down for the duration. To say a book is un put downable is a cliché that is liberally bandied about, but here is a book that is definitely that. Adam also uses his near-trademark chapter ending cliff-hanger so the reader can’t just leave it until tomorrow to carry on, you have to read just one more chapter to find out what happens. And then he goes and does it again at the end of that one. In a way his writing is episodic, his work could very easily be translated to TV – if that is intentional I do not know, but it is a style that makes for very easy reading.

I’d like to say that Adam has hit his peak with Hang Wire, the style, the dialogue, the characters and the story all flow and wind their way into your head like a worm until it takes you over, the result is you’ll find you’ve lost blocks of time and have a pile of undone jobs but a satisfied feeling that you’ve read a dammed good story.

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the shattered crownTitle – The Shattered Crown

Author – Richard Ford

Publisher – Headline

Out Now

I suppose there comes a time if you review books – and find yourself on a publisher’s mailing list – when you will get sent a book that is either part of a series, or the middle book of a trilogy. The Shattered Crown is such a book. It is the second in the Steelhaven trilogy, and being the second book must act as the bridge between what went before and what comes next. It could be seen as a hindrance to have not read the first book, to find yourself thrust into a story already a third done with characters established and the plot well underway. But it is the sign of a good author if he or she can write a book so that someone in my position can read it and not be totally lost. Richard Ford is such an author.

Steelhaven is the primary city and administrative centre in the Free States – kind of like Brussels – and so a jewel that must be taken if anyone is looking to take those states for their own. The Elharim warlord Amon Tugha has united the fractured Khurta tribes into a formidable army and is crushing all before them en-route to Steelhaven. But the city has other problems apart from the approaching army, the king is dead and his young daughter Queen Janessa wears the steel crown. Also the city if rife with plots, the Father of Killers assassin is at large and the Guild seems to be operating to the benefit of the approaching army. Janessa is surrounded by advisors of dubious character who seem to have ideas of their own as to how the defence of the city should be organised.

There must be about a dozen sub plots crammed into this book, all of them rattle along at a great pace. The host of characters rivals a book with the initials GRRM attached to it, but they are not there to make up numbers. Merrick Ryder & Kaira struggle to acclimatise to their new roles and responsibilities, Waylain wonders what other ills will befall him on his path to knowledge, the killers Forest and River, the Ying and Yang in the Father of Killer arsenal, the Zatani troop led by Regulus hoping to find redemption glory and honour on the battlefields of the north and finally the brilliantly named Nobul Jacks who’s dark past threatens to consume him and that he finds he has to embrace to survive. All of them have a story to tell, a small part of the same story of a city preparing for war, but together those stories come together and merge until all the characters are in place ready to face the coming storm.

The book is mainly set within the walls of Steelhaven but through the various characters POV you get glimpses of the greater world beyond, the battles that the defending armies face, and the darker deeds that are done to aid the Khurta horde. You don’t actually get to see any of this external action, most of this book is set up with Ford moving his pieces in preparation for the third book – making this book a ship-in-a-bottle instalment – but that doesn’t mean this book doesn’t have any action. The city is not a safe place and factions vie for supremacy seeing an opportunity and thinking the Queen is soft and an easy target. But unlikely heroes come to the fore and blood is spilt – in inventive ways as well.

I have known of Richard Ford for some years, we both frequent the same forums and follow eachother of Twitter. But this is the first of his books I’ve ever read and boy have I been missing out. The plot is packed but not convoluted, the characters colourful and at times brutal, and the prose flows so fast you find hours slipping away as you immerse yourself in the tide. If you like your fantasy full of guts and glory and with a clever plot then this is for you.

 

 

beauty sarah pinboroughBeauty is the retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairytale, all the elements are here, the impenetrable forest, the cursed princess, the handsome prince. This final story in Sarah Pinborough’s trilogy of fairy tale retellings closes the circle started in Poison, but whilst being the last book released, chronologically it is the first story in the sequence. I’d long suspected – after events and comments made by two characters in Poison – that this trilogy would follow along the same non-linear lines as the film Sin City. This disjointed way of telling the story has built over the previous two books making this first story a brilliant ending.

From the title it’s easy to assume what this book is all about. Already we’ve had Snow White in Poison and Cinderella in Charm, so going into this I was expecting the trademark slantways take that Sarah has given us many time before, but this time focused on the Sleeping Beauty story. Whilst this is mainly what we get – in a roundabout way – we also get a lot more. I did think everything and the kitchen sink once I’d finished, counting at least three separate fairy tales blended into the mix, and possible nod’s to more. It’s a nice piece of plotting pulling all these threads into one story and not making it looked crowded. But as well as telling this story Sarah had to also tie off loose ends carried over from the previous two. I’ve read some full novels where too many threads have made the story bloated and incoherent, but Sarah has managed this with some sparkling prose and a cracking pace.

Sometimes novellas can be a little like a Chinese takeaway, a quick meal and soon after you are feeling hungry again. But here Sarah has managed to make a novella that feels like a full novel, you get given a full blown world full of character’s all of which are fully formed and three dimensional, and whilst they may feel familiar, they all have uniqueness to them that sets them apart from what may be the accepted image of the characters. Here you also get very much the view that the separate kingdoms already visited in the previous two books are very tightly linked together. Whilst the cast comes from different parts, they have a common past, one that brings them together whether they wanted to or not.

As with the previous two stories this is very much a Sarah Pinborough book, full of devious twists on character traits and healthy dollops of sexual tension. Whilst not as blazingly sexy as the previous two – though there is a pretty wild party – this time there is more underlying tension, a hint that at any moment bodices will be ripped and breaches dropped to the floor. As a standalone this would work on many levels, added to the whole it makes a perfect episode in the overall story arc.

According to my account on Goodreads I’ve read 32 books this year, well 33 as I’ve just finished one that is not currently listed on the site. So that’s 2.75 books a month, and I wonder sometimes what I spend all my time doing!

So this year, for the first time, I decided to look through what I had read and list my top 10. I’m not usually a fan of best of lists purely because tastes change on a regular basis. What might be the best today may not be tomorrow simply because something better comes along. But seeing as 2013 is in its last few hours, and the books I have read during the last 12 months will not be repeated, I thought it was fairly safe to put a list together, because even if something better does come along tomorrow, it’ll be 2014 by then.

I should point out this is a list of books I have read in 2013, not a list of books published in 2013.

So to kick things off…

No. 10: Ace Of Skulls by Chris Wooding – whilst I was not totally blow away by this final instalment in the Tales Of The Ketty Jay series it gets a placing simply because it is the final instalment. The series as a whole has been brilliant, with a mix of fantasy, horror and steampunk it was something different and entertaining. The  mixed crew of misfits were instantly likeable and grew on you with each book. Was it original, maybe not. A lot of people likened it to Firefly, but having never seen the show I had no comparison to make.

No. 9: The Blue Blazes by Chuck Wendig – a mix of organised crime, fantasy and horror, this is the story of Mookie Pearl. Pearl is a hard man, an enforcer, a killer. He is also privy to the knowledge of the dark forbidden underbelly of the city where monsters lurk and death is ready for the unwilling. Along with Wendig’s trademark no-holds-barred style of story telling this is a great tale full of wit, blood and kick-ass action.

No. 8: Exit Kingdom by Alden Bell – the sequel/prequel to the excellent The Angels Are The Reapers. Set in a post apocalyptic world where humanity has fallen to the zombie hordes. But unlike your run-of-the-mill zombie tale here the walking dead are mere bit part players. Carrying on the tale of Moses Todd this story flashes back to his days on the road with his psychotic brother Abraham,  as he tries to find some form of peace in a broken world. Along the way they encounter a gifted woman who may very well be the cure everyone has dreamt of.

No. 7: Ack-Ack Macaque by Gareth L Powell – Ack-Ack Macaque is a cigar chomping, whisky swilling one-eyed spitfire pilot, he is also a Monkey. Fighting the hordes of ninja-Nazi paratroopers is what he does, but he is beginning to think everything is not as real as he thinks. This is a unique tale of a sentient ape and his part in the saving of a prince and battle against the coming apocalypse. There is a twist, and its a very inventive twist that allows Ack-Ack to bridge the gap between the 1940s war and the 21st century workd where most of the story is set. Look out for the sequel Hive Monkey due out soon.

No. 6: Age Atomic by Adam Christopher – this is the follow-up to the brilliant Empire State and carries on the story of the Pocket universe that is the mirror of Manhattan. This time round the Empire State is in danger of being destroyed as earth tremors and a freezing winter threaten to tear the fabric of the Pocket apart. On top of that someone is building an army of nuclear powered robots and plan to invade New York.

No. 5: The Pagan Lord by Bernard Cornwell – this is the latest in the Saxon Stories and continues the tale of Uhtred. King Alfred is dead, Edward now sits on the throne and his advisor’s and the church have distanced him from his fathers greatest warlord, the pagan Uhtred. After an ill advised trip to punish a wayward son, Uhtred finds himself banished from Wessex, penniless and with only a few faithful warriors still at his side he heads north to finally retake his ancestral home. But the long peace between Wessex and the Danes is about to come to a crashing end, and when the Danes strike, and blood is spilt, Wessex as always will only have one man to turn to to save them.

No. 4: The Split Worlds Trilogy (Between Two Thorns/Any Other Name/All Is Fair) by Emma Newman – the Nether is home to the Fae-touched and is a mirror to Mundanus (Earth). There is a treaty in place that forbids the Fae and their puppets from interfering in the lives of the Mundanes, a treaty enforced by the Sorcerers and their Arbitors. But someone has corrupted one of the Chapters and Mundanes are being snatched from the streets of London. This trilogy is a debut fantasy series and if you didn’t know that you’d be hard pressed to notice. Emma’s writing is pitch perfect, her characters vibrant and three dimensional. The story is one of adventure, conspiracy and rebellion. But in amongst this there is also dark subjects including murder, marital rape and slavery.

 

No. 3: The Copper Promise: Let Sleeping Gods Lie by Jen Williams – I reviewed this in the previous post to this, so most everything I have to say can be read there. But I will say this is a debut fantasy novel that breathes life into the pulp style of story telling that I grew up reading. brilliantly paced, great characters and a plot that carries you through a breathtakingly imagined fantasy world.

No. 2: The Broken Empire Trilogy (Prince Of Thorns/King Of Thorns/Emperor Of Thorns) by Mark Lawrence – another debut fantasy trilogy, and another breath of fresh aired breathed into a genre stuffed full of grim and dark. Jorg of Ancarth has to be one of the darkest characters I’ve come across in a while. Haunted by a childhood tragedy that saw his brother and mother brutally slain, and treated with scorn by an unloving father Jorg does what many boys have done before and runs away. But in running away he joins a troop of road brothers and embarks on a killing spree that would be seen as bloody by any counts, but is made more so because Jorg is barely into his teens at the time. Through the course of the three books Jorg cuts his way from road brother, to King to the Empire Throne, the body count is countless, no-one is safe, including those who ride with him. Does Jorg have redeeming qualities, yes, he is not a mindless killing machine, he does what he does for a reason. But those reasons are not always as clear as you might think.

No. 1: Sarah Pinborough’s Modern Fairy Tales (Poison/Charm/Beauty) by Sarah Pinborough – the title I made up, not sure this series of three novellas actually has an overall title? But still, Sarah’s re-imaging/retelling/modern interpretation (call them what you will) of classic fairy tales are brilliant and by far the best thing I’ve read this year. These are fairy tales for grown-ups, Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty all come under the spotlight and are given the Pinborough treatment. These are not suitable reading for children, some adults of a sensible nature may want to steer clear as well. Sarah has taken the core of each story and given it a twist, added ingredients and also brought in elements from other fairy stories to make original stories that intrigued and delight.

 

Bubbling under and worthy a mention…

Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough – a fresh new take on the Jack the Ripper legend that isn’t about Jack the Ripper.

NOS4R2 by Joe Hill – twisted serial killer Charlie Manx kidnaps children and takes them off to Christmasland where he feeds off their fun.

The Shinning Girls by Lauren Beukes – another serial killer but this time one that can time travel between the 1920s and 1990s killing girls that show some spark of greatness.

Space Danger by Doug Strider – a series of self published novellas set about a starship captained by Kurt Dangler. To sum this up its a mix of Monty Python, Douglas Adams and Ripping Yarns, in space.

 

 

 

 

copper promiseThere are some far-fetched rumours about the caverns beneath the Citadel. Some say the Mages left their most dangerous secrets buried there, some say the gods themselves have been imprisoned there. For Lord Frith the caverns hold the key to his vengeance, against all odds he has survived torture and the death of his family, and now someone has to pay. For Wydrin and Sebastian the quest into the Citadel is just another job, the promise of gold and adventure and the possibility of getting a good tale or two that will stand them drinks everywhere they go.

But sometimes there is truth in rumours. Sometimes it pays to listen, pays not to be a reckless adventurer. But Wydrin was never a good listener and soon this trio of adventurers will find themselves the last line of defence against a hungry, ruthless terror that wants to tear the world apart.

But worse than that, they’re not even getting paid.

This is a first for me, reviewing a book that is not even out yet. First a disclaimer, I’ve known Jen Williams via Twitter for a couple of years, I’ve followed her journey throughout the process that started with the novella The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel and culminated in the publication of this, her first novel.

There is a saying, “books are like the TARDIS, bigger on the inside”. Whilst this is true they are also like the Doctors ship in another way, they are capable of sending the reader back in time. I grew up in the 1970s reading about the adventures of Conan of Cimmeria, whilst my reading tastes may have moved on since, there has always been a special place in my heart for the style of writing Robert E Howard made all his own, his styling’s were my first taste of fantasy. In a way I can see something of Conan in the main character of this book, Wydrin, the Copper Cat of Crosshaven. They are both carefree in their attitudes to personal danger, both have a healthy interest in loot, both know how to use a blade. Wydrin may not be a tall brooding barbarian, but put her toe to toe with one and it would be a hard fight to call.

I not saying Wydrin is a carbon copy, Jen has created a strong and vibrant character, a character that has her own unique personality. Wydrin is the source of much of the humour throughout the story, she is a bottomless well of one-liners, put downs and endless enthusiastic mirth. But she also has an edge, as a daughter of Crosshaven she has piracy in her blood, and has no qualms about killing to defend herself. Wydrin is not your typical heroine, her interests lie firmly in creating havoc and getting blinding drunk.

Alongside Wydrin Jen has assembled a strong supporting cast. The steadfast Sebastian, a fallen Knight of Ynnsmouth, tall and strong, a stubborn mule of a man with principles that are at odds with the life he now leads. Sebastian is a conflicting character, a man who lives by a strict moral code whilst aiding an adventurer and thief. But despite being poles apart the bond between Sebastian and Wydrin is strong. Then there is Lord Aaron Frith, heir to the Blackwood throne who employs Wydrin and Sebastian to lead him into the Citadel of Creos in search of the ancient secrets said to be buried there. Frith initially is not someone you feel you can get close to. He’s a broken man, his family and home brutally taken from him, his life focused on vengeance and his pursuit of power he feels is his. But Frith – of all the characters – has the biggest character curve throughout the book, as piece by piece his shell is cracked away to reveal the man beneath.

The plot is a simple one. A theft leads to a hunt leads to a big battle. But it’s how these pieces are put together and moulded that makes this book such a thrill. At its core it is an adventure story, much like the early Conan stories. Within the pages of this book we get to see the world Jen has created through the eyes of her three characters. It is a big, breathtaking world full of wonders and horrors. It is a world that I hope is explored in greater detail in future books (this is the first in a trilogy). Along the way Jen also manages to expand on her characters, fleshes them out so rather than ciphers going through the motions, each and everyone of them has a purpose and a reason for being there. Amazingly as well she manages to incorporate a chase sequence, in a fantasy novel, a chase sequence unlike anything I’ve ever come across before.

As a fantasy novel this stands its own against any other book I’d care to put alongside it. As a debut fantasy novel it is a gem and breath of fresh air. Whilst the norm for fantasy now is grim, gritty and bloody – not a form of fantasy I’m knocking, I’m a massive GRRM, Abercrombie et al fan – this turns around and shines a light on how fantasy used to be written. It’s very retro in its prose and styling, a rollicking boys-own adventure with a feisty female lead who you definitely would not want to take home to meet your mother.

On my blog you will find my review for the original novella that grew into this novel, at the end of it I said that Jen Williams was a worthy successor to the pulp giants of the 1920s and 30s. I’d like to amend that comment and say that Jen Williams IS a worthy successor. With her fresh old/new style of fantasy storytelling she has hit on a winner, and I hope in some way will herald back into fashion this pulpy style that I so loved reading as a young teenager.

The Copper Promise is due for release February 14th 2014, but the first part – Ghosts of the Citadel – is currently available as an ebook. Jen can be found on Twitter @sennydreadful and on her blog http://sennydreadful.co.uk/

 

all-is-fair-by-emma-newmanTitle: All Is Fair

Author: Emma Newman

Publisher: Angry Robot

Published: Out Now

The Duke of Londinium is dead, long live the Duke. The dust has barely settled, and Will enthroned as head of the court before events threaten to overtake everyone. Cathy is gravely wounded and recovering, Will begins to realise he’s been duped and perhaps an innocent man has paid for it with his life.

 Sam, an innocent to the ways of the Fae and the Split Worlds, is made an unexpected offer by one of the Elemental Courts most powerful Lords, an offer he has little choice to refuse, an offer that he realises he can put to some good.

 Max, the last surviving Arbiter of the Bath Chapter, draws ever closer to finding out the truth behind the destruction of his order. But can he stay true to his oath without being destroyed by his master, who’s insanity threatens the stability of all the wolrds.                         

There is a definite feeling, with this third book in the Split Worlds series, of things coming to an end. Threads, that started with Sam veering from the walk home to take a drunken piss, and finding himself embroiled in the schemes of the Fae and their puppets, have reached a sort of conclusion. But things are not that clear cut with this story, whilst everyone – Cathy, Will, Sam, Max and the Gargoyle – all come to the fore and have their moment to shine. The ending we get to this opening trilogy in what looks to be an epic tale is more of a beginning. Due to the events in the closing half of the book the balance of power across the Split Worlds shifts, old institutions fall and the treaty that holds everything together seems to be paper thin, leading me to think that open war is not that far away.

It’s been a slow build up, Emma has taken her time to establish her world, and the characters that inhabit it. Whilst some authors might have been tempted to have had certain major events take place earlier in the series, Emma has held back and let the story unfold naturally, let circumstances evolve so the characters find themselves in the right place – physically and mentally – to force the major events to happen, and to live through them. I’d been hoping for a while that Max and his soul-locked Gargoyle would have more to do, here finally they do, and in some ways are instrumental in events enfolding as they do.

There has been little to fault along the way, Emma has a gift at creating a colourful world out of the drab, monochrome world of the Nether. She has also chosen characters that can be moulded into something more than your run-of-the-mill heroes and heroines. Like the previous book she also covers some dark themes within the narrative, slavery, persecution, rape and murder. Not what anyone would have expected after events in the first book, where Society and the puppets seemed twee and time-locked in a gentler way of life. It was a great piece of misdirection, whilst Lord Poppy was obviously not someone to be messed with, he was by far the lesser of the evils that would follow. The hierarchy of the Fae is still unclear, but the schemes and games they play through their puppets are equally as dangerous to them as everyone else.

In this third book we also get a better insight into the Sorcerers, as Erkstrand continues his investigations to what happened at the Moot. And we get to meet another of his kind (or two), whose way of doing things differs so much from Erkstrand’s that they are chalk and cheese. The subplot surrounding these two characters highlights the problems in policing the Split Worlds, and making sure the treaty is enforced. It also helps to highlight what a disjointed group the Sorcerers are, and also how their power is subverted so easily.

All the characters have grown from our initial introduction to them, but one more than others. Will started out as every inch the product of his culture, and after his marriage to Cathy, and dalliance with Amelia, seemed to be heading towards becoming the sort of man that Cathy had been trying to run away from all her life. But Will’s eyes are opened in this third book, I’m not saying he changes his colours totally but there are glimmers that perhaps the union between him and Cathy may be the most important – and pivotal – in the history of the Split Worlds. For whilst this third book has many endings, to threads that begun in book one, it also has many beginnings. Two new characters introduced – I’m sure – will prove to be important as the series continues. Their very nature makes them important as, in a way, they are the last of their kind. And in order for the Split Worlds to survive, and for Mundanus not to be overrun, they will have to come forwards and make their stand.

On top of all this there is Sam, who has come across as the comic relief for much of the story so far. Always in the wrong place at the wrong time. But Sam may well be the only person that can link all the worlds together, he inherits a position and power that seems to be able to trump everything else, he becomes something the Fae cannot deal with, but something they will have to because Sam has set himself a mission, and he intends to see it through no-matter who tries to get in his way. After having been the stooge for Lord Poppy’s schemes and games it was good to see Sam make him cringe and get some form of payback for all the suffering he has endured.    

As a debut fantasy the Split Worlds nails it, and Emma pins her colours to the mast as someone who can weave a great story, that can grow and evolve as events within the story dictate.   

any other name

Title: Any Other Name

Author: Emma Newman

Publisher: Angry Robot

Published: Out Now

RRP: Print – £8.99 / Kindle – £5.49

 

Lady Rose has fallen, all those associated to her were taken by the Agency, and the lucky ones have escaped into hiding. Londinium is in turmoil, the Duke – a Rosa – is gone along with his Patroon, leaving a power vacuum. William Reticulata-Iris is told upon his wedding that he has been chosen to take residence in Londinium and take the throne. But William has doubt his new wife – Catherine – is up for the task. Catherine knows she isn’t, she has been forced into an arranged marriage, sent to a city she does not know, and finds herself part of a family that expects its members to follow orders unfalteringly, no matter what.

The Arbiter Max, along with the gargoyle that houses his soul, continues his investigations into the murder of everyone in his Chapter House. Those investigations take him north and the secret base of the Agency, where he uncovers deeper mysteries surrounding fallen houses, and those that do not conform to what is seen to be acceptable in Society.

Sam, the unwitting Mundane who seems to have the protection of the mysterious Lord Iron, sees his life implode, his marriage fail and his job gone. Becoming embroiled in the events surrounding the Master of Ceremonies of Aquae Sulis kidnapping have left him a man unsure what is real and what is not. And also leads him to once again become involved in the plots and games the Fae and their Puppets enjoy.

With this second story set in the Split Worlds Emma has upped the stakes considerably, she has also altered the tone, highlighting the plight of women in the patriarchal society of the Fae touched. Arranged marriages, suppression of expression, hints at honour crimes and the disturbing subject of marital rape. This is a much darker tale, gone are the whimsical fairies who took such joy at making the Fae touched puppets dance, now we are presented with a society where women have no rights, except the right to perform properly for their husbands, and uphold the standing of the family in Society.

As much as I’d like to think of William, on some levels, as a sort of good guy, overall I can’t get away from the fact he’s every inch the product of his society as Catherine’s abusive father. He may not have physically hurt her, but he still expects the devotion to Society, and family, her father expected. Also his reaction to the possibility she may love another – despite him having a mistress – showed how he views Catherine, and his mistress come to that.  Despite this he is still the only one of all the Fae touched male characters who shows any indication that he could change, his experiences on his Grand Tour seem to have opened his eyes to the larger world, beyond the Nether. But there is a long way to go for the William now to become anywhere near the hero of the piece he could be.

As for Catherine, she is a different character from the one first encountered in Between Two Thorns, she is less confident, in fact for the first part of the book this change in her did become testing, but I can see why it was done. Emma had to get Cathy into a place where she realised something had to be done for all the women of the Nether, and not be selfish and only think of her own needs. Her arc in this book is the most striking, we see her grow into her role, realising that in order for there to be change, change has to come from within.

But events are working against everyone – mainly William and Cathy – and no matter what they both feel and want forces outside of their control are moving pieces into position for a conflict that may have been in the planning for a long time. This time round we see that maybe the Sorcerer’s are not as all-powerful as first suggested, in fact Erkstrand seems even more distant, out of touch, than he did last time. There are some serious turns of events for the Sorcerer of Wessex, and Max and the gargoyle. In fact the gargoyle is fast becoming my favourite character, his childlike enthusiasm to believe the best in people is infectious. But I do feel he is wasted, there are several times when I wished he would bash heads, but perhaps Emma is saving that for the coming conflict?

This time out Emma has opened up the world of the Fae touched, there are glimpses of the power struggles, the schemes and hints at the dark deeds driving this story along. As with her first book don’t expect a tidy package, this is so evidently part of a wider story, a story we have yet to pass the opening section of. She is sparing in the information she shares, but gives you enough to keep going, and when you turn that last page enough to make you think “damn, that’s it!” For cliff-hangers to work – whether on TV, or in comics and books – they need to give enough to grab the reader, but hold back enough to make you come back. You get that in spades in the closing chapters.

nos4r2Title: NOS4R2

Author: Joe Hill

Publisher: Gollancz

Published: Out Now

RRP: Print £18.99 – Kindle £9.49

No matter what Joe Hill does he’ll always be compared to his father, and those comparisons in NOS4R2 are there for all to see, highlighted by big neon signs with arrows pointing to them. But this is not a bad thing, I’ve been a Stephen King fan for a lot of years (OK we did fall out over that ending to The Dark Tower but that’s in the past now), and to date I’ve read and enjoyed all of Joe’s work because of the comparisons to his dad. That’s not to say you’re getting a clone of something that has been done before, Joe’s work is unique, the stories original, but they all have that magical “King” ingredient.

With NOS4R2 I feel Joe Hill has found his stride, whilst Heart Shaped Box and Horns were great stories with fantastic characters, here you have a story with a grand vista, a rich history and characters that will be with you long after you put the book down. Also there are seeds sown, subtle single line seeds that begin the process of joining the worlds Joe has so far created together in their own multiverse. This is the most striking comparison to what his father has already so brilliantly done, and it’s left me wondering if – maybe – in Charlie Talent Manx III Joe has found his Randall Flagg?

In Charlie – and his associate Bing Partridge, aka the Gasmask Man – Joe has created dark twisted characters to rival any that have gone before. Both have no redeeming qualities, they are totally rotten to the core and no act, no depravity, is beyond them. And the depravities they relish are there for all to see, in glorious technicolour. Manx is old, over a hundred years old, he drives around the country in his vintage 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith – with the vanity plate of NOS4R2 – taking children and transporting them to his own personal wonderland, called Christmasland, where they never grow old and slowly lose their humanity.

To counterpoint the bad we have the good, in the shape of Victoria McQueen, child of a broken home, with a gift that enables her to travel across The Shorter Way Bridge – a bridge that was destroyed years before – to find that which is lost, objects, people and ultimately someone else who shares her gift. But a gift can be a curse, especially when she asks the Bridge to take her to find a person no-one else has been able to find, someone no other sane person would not want to find.

Vic McQueen became famous at an early age, she was the only child to escape the clutches of Charlie Manx. But that escape was only the start, a quarter decade later Vic must again face the horror, must again travel the United Inscape of America, and visit Christmasland to try to finally end the horror that is Charles Talent Manx III.

mayhemTitle: Mayhem

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books

Published: Out Now

RRP: Print £14.99 – Kindle £4.12

 When a rotten torso is discovered in the vault below New Scotland Yard, it doesn’t take Dr. Thomas Bond – Police surgeon – long to realise there is  a second killer at large in the city, where days earlier, Jack The Ripper brutally murdered two women in one night. Though this new murder is just as gruesome, it is at the hand of a cold killer, one who lacks Jack’s emotion.

 As more headless and limbless torsos find their way into the Thames, Dr. Bond becomes obsessed with finding the killer. His investigations lead him into an unholy alliance with a vagabond psychic and religious zealot. And as the terror grows Dr. Bond begins to wonder if it is a man who has brought mayhem to the streets of London, or a monster.

 Sarah Pinborough has a deft hand at taking a known story and turning it on its head. She did it with creation itself in The Dog Faced Gods Trilogy, and is doing it now with Poison (Snow White), Charm (Cinderella) and Beauty (Sleeping Beauty). With Mayhem she turns her eye on the legend of Jack the Ripper, except this isn’t totally a story about him. In fact Jack is a bit part player, a side effect to other events. This is a story about an age old horror that comes to the streets of London with a taste for blood, and about the men who must face it.

 There is an interesting mix of characters, fictional and real. The main character – Thomas Bond – is real and was a Police surgeon who worked in and around Whitechapel during the time of the Ripper murders, he even wrote a paper on the psychology of the killer. Here he is a driven man, obsessed with tracking down the so called Thames Torso murderer and proving the two sets of killings are not by the same hand, he is also battling near crippling insomnia and drug addiction that see’s him walking the streets at all hours. Alongside him is Polish refugee Aaron Kominski – another real life character, and a onetime suspect in the Ripper killings – and a Jesuit priest tasked with tracking and despatching something that is not human. Other characters include Inspector Moore and his assistant Andrews, like Bond they were both real life Policemen (though in real life Andrews was an Inspector as well) in and around Whitechapel and worked on the Ripper case.

 Sarah has worked her story within known events and managed to make the two seamlessly gel. London is suitably dark and dismal; the wretched streets of Whitechapel are vivid to the point that you can smell the waste that fills the gutters. Likewise the people are equally wretched, their desperation palpable. Along with Dr. Bond the reader is taken through the dark underbelly of London, the Opium dens and gore drenched murder scenes. And all along the reader sits inside Dr. Bond’s head, knowing his inner thoughts, inner conflicts, slowly throughout the course of the book piecing together the clues that will lead to the killer.

 The, surprisingly for a murder mystery, the killer is revealed halfway in, it came across all very Columbo and I did have to go back and re-read that part again thinking I’d suddenly skipped a wad of pages. But outing the killer so early in the book made the rest more interesting, now you get chapters that show you where he came from, what he was about. I do like stories that get you inside the mind of the villain, one of the reasons I like Dexter Morgan I suppose. The second half of the book now became a race against time, with the killer known and his reasons suspected Bond and his cohorts had to prove their suspicions, not only to themselves but to others when they had the proof they needed, and stop the killer before he struck again.

 The whole process of telling this story is helped by the different styles Sarah uses to get her characters experiences across. Dr. Bond is told in the first person, the rest is in the third. An interesting mix that frees up the flow giving insights not only into the main character but also helps fill in the blanks about anything else that’s going on. I personally like first person storytelling, it is one of the easiest to read and to write – for me, but there are limits, there are always blanks where the reader is left wondering what is happening elsewhere and only get the briefest of insights when other characters relate events. Here you get the best of both making a stronger story and an easier understood one.     

 You are left – after all this – with an exciting murder mystery with strong supernatural elements. Alongside the main story the Ripper investigation quietly bubbles along, there are hints, snippets that lead the reader in the direction of one character. Sarah doesn’t set out to name Jack, but the implications are obvious as to whom she identifies, and you are left wondering what happened next.

 You think you know about the Ripper, well you don’t know jack. 

PoisonTitle: Poison

Author: Sarah Pinborough

Publisher: Gollancz

Published: Out Now

Snow White lives the idyllic life of a fairytale Princess, she has the love of her father and of the people, she has the loyalty of the dwarves who toil all daylong under the mountains. But her stepmother – the Queen – is not happy with the way Snow White lives her life and feels it is time she accepted her role and found a husband. With the King away at war the Queen weaves her magical web around the castle and the country beyond, making every-one’s life a misery and threatening horrible punishments on any who defy her. She also sets about pressing Snow White to accept a husband, so the Queen can be rid of her, leaving her no rivals. But Snow White defies her step-mother and she does it with seeming impunity, the protection her absent father offers her a greater threat than any the Queen can make.

The Queen does not take this situation lying down and when her guards capture a Huntsman in the forest, in return for his life she tasks him to kill Snow White, the Huntsman accepts and sets out in search of the Princess, of course he fails, and in order to save his own life tries to trick the Queen, but in this he also fails and the Queen punishes him for trying to trick her. But the Queen’s grandmother is on hand and says she will deal with the problem of Snow White her own way and sets off into the forest with a poisoned apple. With Snow cursed the dwarves entomb her in a glass coffin where eventually the Prince finds her and falls in love, the curse is lifted by true loves first kiss and the couple married to live happily ever after.

Everyone knows the story of Snow White, it is said to be the most famous fairy tale in the world. But the version everyone is most familiar with is the 1937 Disney film Snow White and the Seven Dwarves; a twee musical animation, with a stunningly beautiful Snow White  running away from her wicked step-mother, and hiding in the woods with the cuddly dwarves in harmony with the forest animals. Now how do you take that image, that icon of purity and goodness, and make it sexy. Why you give it to Sarah Pinborough. Poison is Snow White with all the Disney taken out and a lot of Pinborough put in, anyone familiar with Sarah’s work will know what I’m talking about. Sarah has a knack of weaving a tale that’ll twist around you making you addicted in no short time.

You know you’re in for something different when the evil Queen performs a sex act on the King in the first chapter. Here you’ll find no gentle tale of good versus evil, what you will find is a head strong young woman fighting against the bonds of her birth and trying to stake a place for herself in a man’s world. Of course it’s not as simple as that, all the elements everyone has come to expect from the story are there. An evil Queen, a Huntsman, seven dwarves and, of course, Snow White. But here those elements are turned on their head so the traditional roles are seen through different eyes. The Huntsman for one is exactly that, but I feel reading between the lines he is more a hunter of men – a mercenary perhaps – than the forest living hunter gatherer more traditionally depicted. Hot from a previous adventure he is in the forest on the run when captured by the Queen’s guards. Likewise the handsome Prince, he is every inch Prince Charming from all the fairy tales, but he has an edge that makes him more of a danger than the simpering dandy more usually seen.

In fact out of all the characters I feel that it is the Prince and the Huntsman that are the most interesting, and the two that readers need to pay great attention to in what they say and their inner monologues. Both characters have a history, and I feel they have a shared history. As to what that may be is up in the air, but I’m convinced they are the two characters that link the three stories Poison, Charm and Beauty together. Whilst this is the first in the trilogy of fairy tale retellings, I don’t think it is the first chronologically.

All in all this is a fairy tale with edge, a sharp edge that cuts both ways and leaves you with more questions than answers. It also has a nice twist in the tail, a twist that I didn’t see coming and makes you sit back and go “whoa!”.