Monday, August 27, 2012

The Middle Kingdom by David Wingrove

The Middle Kingdom is volume three in David Wingrove’s Chung Kuo series, out in October in a smart new edition from Corvus at £14.99. The Middle Kingdom was first published in 1989 – so here is a great opportunity to catch up on the saga.

It’s 2196: “The great Empire of Ice, Chung Kuo, has finally been shaken after, more than a century of peace. The Minister of the Edict has been assassinated. The seven ruling T’ang struggle to maintain Stasis, even as their mile-high, continent-spanning cities descend into chaos.

Amid the chaos, the rebels responsible for the assassination seize the opportunity to effect Change. But the assassination was orchestrated by those far closer to the ruling power, and this betrayal will lead them all into the world-shattering War of Two Directions.”

13 by Kelley Armstrong: book review

13 by Kelley Armstrong. Orbit £16.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

13 is the final and – yes, the thirteenth – volume in the Women of the Otherworld series, since Bitten, the first in the series, appeared in 1999.

War is coming thanks to a cult led by the insane immortal Gilles de Rais’s, hell-bent on exposing the world of vampires, werewolves and demons to the world at large by creating immortals of his own design, and under his control.

13 follows directly on from (for me at least) the slightly disappointing Waking the Witch and Spellbound, and is a welcome return to form!  Yes we still have the irritating Savannah to contend with (21 years old - going on 12) but though ‘Savannah effect’ is central to the themes it is thankfully diluted by the presence of all those characters we’ve grown to know and love: Elena and Clay; Paige and Lucas, Jeremy and Jaimes; Hope, Eve and all the rest. Plus some old enemies we have come, delightedly, to hate, such as Jaz, Balaam, Josef etc.

I did feel at times that we were being led through an i-dotting and t-crossing exercise, but given the scope of the WOTO series, this has to be expected, and I don’t think it detracted from the overall reading satisfaction-factor; though it is, of course, not a book that could be read in isolation.  A knowledge of at least some of the previous volumes is essential to understand the plot and character dynamics. But I doubt that a newcomer to the WOTO universe would start with this volume, anyway, so it’s not really an issue. The pace is good and the character interaction excellent as we follow the crew through a minefield of demon plots and politics, and of avenging angels, by way of Savannah’s mother – formerly Demon’s daughter and evil witch – to a rousing crescendo in de Rais’s underground lair out in the wilds of America’s corn belt.

While the novel does have a satisfactory ending, it does, whatever the author may protest, leave everything wide open for sequels, prequels and spin-off narratives. Nevertheless, even if you have read only a few of the previous twelve Women of the Otherworld volumes, 13 is well worth your time.

Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan: book review

Blood and Feathers by Lou Morgan. Solaris £7.99

Reviewed by Jan Edwards

Alice blocked out the trauma of her mother’s passing. People do that when things they cannot comprehend happen to those they love the most. She carries on her life as normally as she and her grief-stricken father can when a mother and wife has been taken from them. And then things go really bad. She gets home, wet, tired and really pissed off, to find two men who are vaguely familiar and extremely ominous. Once hands had reached down through the ceiling to grab her father she knows her life has gone pear shaped in a way that won’t ever be repaired. To say more would give away the plot and that would be a tragedy, because Blood and Feathers romps away into a world of angels and demons at such a speed that you are nearing the end before you’ve had a chance to breathe.

The subject matter did put me off reading this book, to tell the truth. I am not an angel person and I avoid the usual angst-ridden Angel romances that seem to weigh down the paranormal romance shelves. But this is like no other angel book you have come across: no weeping or swooning involved. In fact, not a paranormal romance at all. Plenty of the paranormal, but more in the true urban fantasy vein, with battles and blood and vengeance being wreaked right and left through the city streets – and below! Blood and Feathers is peopled by beings with bigger issues to be dealt with, rather than random inter-species bonking. Alice is fighting for her own life, and the survival of the world, and there isn’t the time or energy for much else.

There is plenty of subterfuge and double dealing, however, and Alice is never quite sure who she can trust. The reader is presented with a well- constructed story: edgy, and with tension that is never predictable – and still allows breathing space to take in what’s going on. It is, perhaps, slightly confusing through the early chapters; it must be said, a basic knowledge of Angelology (that I didn’t possess) might be useful. Fortunately, Lou Morgan’s characters step up and look you in the eye, and dare you to question their motives – so much so that you are compelled to read on.  

Witty and well paced with plenty of scope for things to come, Blood and Feathers is an impressive debut novel that I highly recommend.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Sanctuary by Rowena Cory Daniells

Sanctuary by Rowena Cory Daniells (Solaris £7.99) is the third volume in the Outcast Chronicles – due out in September.

“For over three hundred years, the mystics lived alongside the true-men, until King Charald laid siege to the mystic’s island city and exiled them. Imoshen, most powerful of the female mystics, was elected to lead her people into exile. She faces threats from within, from male mystics who think they would make a better leader. And her people face threats from true-men, who have confiscated their ships. They must set sail by the first day of winter. Those who are left behind will be executed.

Once they set sail, they face winter storms, hostile harbours and sea-raiders who know their ships are laden with treasure. Imoshen relies on the sea captain, Ardonyx, for advice, and on Sorne, the half-blood mystic, who has lived among the true-men kingdoms of the Secluded Sea. But Imoshen knows the mystics can’t run for ever. They need somewhere to call home. They need... Sanctuary.”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Birmingham Independent Book Fair

The Birmingham Independent Book Fair is scheduled for 9 September, from 11.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.:

“Browse, buy and discover new books, many of which are not available on the high street.
This day-long event will feature independent publishers from the West Midlands and beyond, offering you the chance to buy books directly from the publishers, who will be on hand to answer questions and introduce you to new writing. From poetry pamphlets to prose fiction, graphic novels to science fiction and fantasy, a wide range of forms and genres will be represented. The fair is free and all are welcome!”

Rooms 3 & 4, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB

The Alchemy Press will be there selling copies of Rumours of the Marvellous, Beneath the Ground, Sex, Lies and Family Ties, Swords Against the Millennium… and we hope to have preview copies of The Alchemy Press Books of Pulp Heroes and Ancient Wonders.

If you are in the area, come along and say hello.

Alchemy Press: book launch

The Alchemy Press launches two new anthologies at FantasyCon on Saturday 29 September, at 10.00 a.m. The convention, a highpoint in the fantasy and horror fan’s calendar, once more returns to the south coast city of Brighton.

Join us, the editors and some of the contributors, to welcome these two new, brilliant anthologies: The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders and The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes.

The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders, edited by Jan Edwards and Jenny Barber:

“When we think of a wonder, our minds go most often to the great buildings of the past – the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge – but the human mind can make almost anything wondrous. We walk with wonders every day, through the power of curiosity and imagination and our human tendency to make stories about what we fear, what we desire, what we wish to understand. This collection offers new glimpses into the wonder we all feel.” – Kari Sperring

So then, discover standing stones, burial mounds, ruined castles or sunken cities: the ancient sites that litter our landscapes; the ancient wonders that possess a mysterious appeal that cannot be denied.

With stories by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Aliette de Bodard, Peter Crowther, Anne Nicholls, Adrian Cole, Pauline E Dungate, Bryn Fortey, William Meikle, John Howard, James Brogden, Shannon Connor Winward, Misha Herwin, Lynn M Cochrane and Selina Lock.

The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes edited by Mike Chinn:

In the tradition of The Shadow, The Bat, Doc Savage, The Spider; Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Detective Agency; Dusty Ayers & His Battle Birds; Sheena and K-Zar. Hard-boiled detectives, sinister vigilantes, bizarre villains – the staple of the Pulp tradition. Two-fisted heroes – and heroines – fighting for right and justice in the midnight city, foetid jungles or exotic, far-flung lands. And deranged villains for whom the world is never enough.

Here, seventeen writers dive headlong into the world of the pulp fiction, to tell us tall tales of daring do, of heroes, heroines and their villains.

With stories by Mike Resnick, Peter Atkins, Peter Crowther, Adrian Cole, William Meikle, Joel Lane, Amber L Husbands, Milo James Fowler, Anne Nicholls, Robert William Iveniuk, Bracken N MacLeod, Chris Iovenko, Joshua Wolf, James Hartley, Ian Gregory, Michael Haynes and Allen Ashley.

Special FantasyCon price: £8.00 each (cover price £10.00) or buy both for £15.00.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Initiate’s Trial by Janny Wurts

Initiate’s Trial by Janny Wurts (Harper Voyager £8.99) is the first book of Sword of the Canon, and the ninth in the Wars of Light and Shadow series.

“Betrayed and double-crossed, Arithon s'Ffalenn is held captive by the Order of the Koriathain. The desperate Fellowship Sorcerers have gambled the weal of Athera and forced through the perilous bargain that spared him, as the last Prince of Rathain, and their sole hope of unity. To suspend the Prime Matriarch's decree of execution, Arithon lives only to battle Marak's horde of free wraiths, unleashed one by one from the shielding grip of the star wards.
But on the day the last wraith is redeemed, the inflexible terms sealed by Dakar's oath of debt will come to be forfeit…

Against a world backdrop, in which the Religion of Light has undergone schism, the zealot True Sect's canon grips Tysan, its high priesthood stands consumed by its thwarted ambition: to conquer Havish, last crown bastion and backbone of order that secures the terms of Paravian survival. Now Lord Mayor of Etarra, Lysaer s'Ilessid must fight the pull of the Mistwraith's curse, and battle for sanity to uphold his just ethic. Another young defender will stand at his side, newly sworn by the Sorcerer's auspices.

As Arithon's life once again becomes the fulcrum that shifts the game board, Elaira's choice might save or break the unstable future; while at large and answerable to no mortal law, Davien and the dragon that holds his service throw in the wild card no one predicts…”

Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane

Chasing Magic by Stacia Kane – the fifth volume in the Downside Ghosts series – see is published by HarperVoyager (£7.99).

“Magic-wielding Churchwitch and secret addict Chess Putnam knows better than anyone just how high a price people are willing to pay for a chemical rush. But when someone with money to burn and a penchant for black magic starts tampering with Downside’s drug supply, Chess realizes that the unlucky customers are paying with their souls – and taking the innocent with them, as the magic-infused speed compels them to kill in the most gruesome ways possible.

As if the streets weren’t scary enough, the looming war between the two men in her life explodes, taking even more casualties and putting Chess squarely in the middle. Downside could become a literal ghost town if Chess doesn’t find a way to stop both the war and the dark wave of death-magic, and the only way to do that is to use both her addiction and her power to enter the spell and chase the magic all the way back to its malevolent source. Too bad that doing so will probably kill Chess – if the war doesn’t first destroy the man who’s become her reason for living.”

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Book Fair: 9th September

On Sunday 9th September, Writing West Midlands is holding an Independent Publishers’ Book Fair in Birmingham as part of ArtsFest 2012. They say:

 “Browse, buy and discover new books, many of which are not available on the high street. This day-long event will feature independent publishers from the West Midlands and beyond, offering you the chance to buy books directly from the publishers, who will be on hand to answer questions and introduce you to new writing. From poetry pamphlets to prose fiction, graphic novels to science fiction and fantasy, a wide range of forms and genres will be represented. The fair is free and all are welcome!”

The venue is Rooms 3 & 4, Council House, Victoria Square, Birmingham, B1 1BB, from 11.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m.

The Alchemy Press will be there with a range of titles, including Rumours of the Marvellous, Where the Bodies are Buried, Beneath the Ground, Sex, Lies & Family Ties and Swords Against the Millennium. We also hope to have pre-view copies of The Alchemy Press Book of Pulp Heroes and The Alchemy Press Book of Ancient Wonders. More details of these can be found on the Alchemy Press website.

School's Out Forever by Scott Andrews

“‘After the world died we all sort of drifted back to school. After all, where else was there for us to go?’ Lee Keegan’s fifteen. If most of the population of the world hadn’t just died choking on their own blood, he might be worrying about acne, body odour and girls. As it is, he and the young Matron of his boarding school, Jane Crowther, have to try and protect their charges from cannibalistic gangs, religious fanatics, a bullying prefect experimenting with crucifixion and even the surviving might of the US army.

Welcome to St. Mark’s School for Boys and girls...”

School’s Out Forever by Scott Andrews is the omnibus volume of  School’s Out, Operation Motherland and Children’s Crusade – part of the Afterblight series published by Abaddon (£10.99).

The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter

“She had no name. She had only her mission - she would return Home. And bathe in the light of a long-dead sun... Even if it meant the sacrifice of this pointless little moon to do it.

The Wheel of Ice: a ring of ice and steel turning around a moon of Saturn, home to a colony mining minerals for a resource-hungry future Earth. A bad place to grow up. The Wheel has been plagued by problems. Maybe it's just gremlins, just bad luck. But what's the truth of the children's stories of 'Blue Dolls' glimpsed aboard the gigantic facility? And why won't the children go down the warren-like mines? And then sixteen-year-old Phee Laws, surfing Saturn's rings, saves an enigmatic blue box from destruction.

Aboard the Wheel, The Doctor, Jamie and Zoe find a critical situation - and three strangers who have just turned up out of nowhere look like prime candidates to be accused of sabotage ... The Doctor finds himself caught up in a mystery that goes right back to the creation of the solar system. But it's a mystery that could have dire repercussions for the people on the Wheel. It's a mystery that could kill them all.”

Discover more in Doctor Who: The Wheel of Ice by Stephen Baxter (BBC Books £16.99), now available.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Dirty Streets of Heaven by Tad Williams

The Dirty Streets of Heaven is Tad Williams new novel, the first in the Bobby Dollar series (Hodder & Stoughton, £18.99, out in September).

“Bobby Dollar is an angel – a real one. He knows a lot about sin, and not just in his professional capacity as an advocate for souls caught between Heaven and Hell. Bobby’s wrestling with a few deadly sins of his own: pride, anger, even lust. But his problems aren’t all his fault. Bobby can’t entirely trust his heavenly superiors, and he’s not too sure about any of his fellow earthbound angels either, especially the new kid that Heaven has dropped into their midst, a trainee angel who asks too many questions. And he sure as hell doesn’t trust the achingly gorgeous Countess of Cold Hands, a mysterious she-demon who seems to be the only one willing to tell him the truth.

When the souls of the recently departed start disappearing, catching both Heaven and Hell by surprise, things get bad very quickly for Bobby D. End-of-the-world bad. Beast of Revelations bad. Caught between the angry forces of Hell, the dangerous strategies of his own side, and a monstrous undead avenger that wants to rip his head off and suck out his soul, Bobby’s going to need all the friends he can get – in Heaven, on Earth, or anywhere else he can find them.”

The Dusk Watchman by Tom Lloyd

Tom Lloyd’s The Dusk Watchman is book five in The Twilight Reign series (Gollancz £14.99), out later this month.

“After his pyrrhic victory at Moorview, King Emin learns the truth about the child Ruhen, but he is powerless to act. Instead, he must mourn his dead friends while his enemy promises the beleaguered peoples of the Land a new age of peace. The past year has taken a grave toll: the remaining Menin troops seek revenge upon Emin, daemons freely walk the Land, and Ruhen's power is increasing daily.

And yet, a glimmer of hope remains. There is one final, desperate chance for victory: a weapon, so terrible only a dead man could wield it, and only a madman would try. But if they do not grasp this opportunity, King Emin and his allies will be obliterated as Ruhen's millennia-old plans are about to bear terrible fruit. If his power continues unchecked, Ruhen will achieve total dominion and not just over mankind, but over the Gods themselves.
One way or another, the future of the Land will be decided now written in the blood of men.”

Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types

Coming in September from Shadow Publishing (£7.99): Frightfully Cosy and Mild Stories for Nervous Types by Johnny Mains. 

The author says: "This collection was originally going to be 'The Difficult Second Collection' but then I discovered that the 'popular disc jockey' Chris Moyles called his latest 'bestseller' 'The Difficult Second Book' and that put paid to that. The title for this book comes in part from a reviewer who called my first collection 'awfully cosy and mild'. The sentence tickled me so much so (though I didn’t agree with the review!) that I thought I’d pinch it and make it near unrecognisable for this new collection."

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards

Earth Girl is the YA debut novel from Janet Edwards (Harper  Voyager, £7.99).

“2788. Only the handicapped live on Earth. While everyone else portals between worlds, 18-year-old Jarra is among the one in a thousand people born with an immune system that cannot survive on other planets. Sent to Earth at birth to save her life, she has been abandoned by her parents. She can’t travel to other worlds, but she can watch their vids, and she knows all the jokes they make. She’s a ‘throwback’, but she won’t give in.

Jarra invents a fake background for herself. She joins a class of norms that is on Earth to excavate the ruins of the old cities. When an ancient skyscraper collapses, burying another research team, Jarra’s role in their rescue puts her in the spotlight. No hiding at back of class now. To make life more complicated, she finds herself falling in love with one of her classmates – a norm from another planet. Somehow, she has to keep the deception going.

A freak solar storm strikes the atmosphere, and the class is ordered to portal off-world for safety – fatal for Jarra. The storm is so bad that the crews of the orbiting solar arrays have to escape to planet below: the first landing from space in 600 years. And one is on collision course with their shelter.”

The Black Mausoleum by Stephen Deas

The Black Mausoleum by Stephen Deas is available soon from Gollancz (£12.99).

“Two years have passed since the events of the Order of the Scales. Across the realms, dragons are still hatching…

Skorl is an Ember, a soldier trained from birth to fight dragons. He is a living weapon, one-shot only, saturated with enough dragon-poison to bring down a monster all on his own. Misanthrope, violent and a drunk, to fulfil his purpose and slay a dragon, means to be eaten. Now Skorl has a choice: he can hang for his crimes, or he can go with the last of the Adamantine Men, fighting against an enemy he was born to face.

Rat is an Outsider. He's on the run and he's stumbled onto something that's going to make him rich beyond all his dreams. It's just a shame that the end of the world has started without him.

Kataros is an alchemist, one of the order responsible for keeping the dragons in check. One of the order that has just failed, and disastrously so.

Two men, one woman. One chance to save the world from a storm of dragons…”

Iron Winter by Stephen Baxter

“Many generations ago the Wall was first built to hold back the sea. Northland, a country of fertile plains and ancient forests, has become a thriving civilisation. The whole of Europe, spanned by the Northlanders’ steam caravan lines, has been changed in ways that could never have been predicted. But nothing lasts forever. The weather is changing, growing colder, and in the wake of the long winters come famine, destruction and terror […] There is one man who believes he can calculate why the world is cooling, and perhaps even salvage some of the great civilisation. But as he embarks on his grand quest, only one thing is certain: the ice is coming.”

This is the final volume in the millennia-spanning Northland trilogy. Iron Winter by Stephen Baxter is out this month from Gollancz (£14.99).

Friday, August 3, 2012

Total Recall by Philip K Dick

To coincide with the new movie, Gollancz is releasing a new edition of Philip K Dick’s Total Recall (£8.99).

When the book arrived I had was momentarily confused – Total Recall isn’t a 390-page novel. I was relieved to learn that my memory could recall it for me (wholesale?). This book is, in fact, an collection of some 25 short stories including “We Can Remember it for You, Wholesale” – the basis for the movie Total Recall.

Other stories include “Your Appointment will be Yesterday”, “A Game of Unchance”, “Return Match” and “The Little Black Box”. Also included are an introduction by Thomas M Disch and a series of notes by Dick on many of the stories.

Full marks to Gollancz for publishing this collection. It is important to keep such seminal works in print. But null points for the ridiculously small font. 

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper

Trinity Rising by Elspeth Cooper is the follow-up to 2011’s Songs of the Earth. Trinity Rising is already available from Gollancz (£14.99).

“The future holds nothing but blood and death  . . . and Teia fears there is nothing she can do about it. Her clan is riding to war, but her secret, untrained gift of foretelling has shown her they are riding to their doom. If she cannot turn them from their course, her only hope of saving them will be to betray them to their sworn enemies.

Gair is mourning his past . . . but there is no time to dwell on his grief or hunger for revenge. Pursuing an artefact from the Founding Wars, he travels deep into the hostile southern deserts. As religious tensions erupt into bloody violence around him, he must make an impossible choice: save innocent lives or sacrifice them in the hope that thousands more can be saved later.

And all the while, his grip on his powers is failing.”

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

“‘I will tell you a story, but it comes with a warning; when you hear it, you will become someone else.’

He calls himself Alif - few people know his real name - a young man born in a Middle Eastern city that straddles the ancient and modern worlds. When Alif meets the aristocratic Intisar, he believes he has found love. But their relationship has no future - Intisar is promised to another man and her family's honour must be satisfied. As a remembrance, Intisar sends the heartbroken Alif a mysterious book. Entitled The Thousand and One Days, Alif discovers that this parting gift is a door to another world - a world from a very different time, when old magic was in the ascendant and the djinn walked amongst us.

With the book in his hands, Alif finds himself drawing attention - far too much attention - from both men and djinn. Thus begins an adventure that takes him through the crumbling streets of a once-beautiful city, to uncover the long-forgotten mysteries of the Unseen. Alif is about to become a fugitive in both the corporeal and incorporeal worlds. And he is about to unleash a destructive power that will change everything and everyone - starting with Alif himself.”

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson promises to be a treat. It’s published this month by Corvus (12.99). Wilson is also the writer of the acclaimed graphic novel Cairo.