Thursday, February 28, 2013

New books -- round up

  • Julianna Bagott - Fuse - Headline £ 12.99
  • C Robert Cargill - Dreams and Shadows - Gollancz £14.99
  • Lauren DeStefano - Fever - Harper Voyager £7.99

  • Justin Gustainis - Play With Fire & Midnight at the Oasis - Solaris £7.99 (April 11th)
  • Philip Mann - The Disestablishment of Paradise - Gollancz £14.99
  • Chris Priestley - Through Dead Eyes - Bloomsbury £10.99 (March 14th) 

  • Robert Silverberg - Tales of Majipoor - Gollancz £14.99
  • John Wagner, Alan Grant, et al - Mean Team - 2000AD £13.99 (graphic novel/ March 14th)
  • Ian Whates (ed) - Solaris Rising 2 - Solaris £7.99 (April 11th)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Pandaemonium by Ben Macallan: review

Pandaemonium by Ben Macallan. Solaris Books £7.99

Reviewed by Jenny Barber

“Trouble didn’t follow me, so much as the other way around. I stalked it down dark and obviously untrustworthy alleyways, picked its pockets for the hell of it, tapped it on the shoulder and ran away like a kid playing games, led it inexorably into other people’s paths and let them face its fury.” (p.89)

Desdaemona’s on the run again. She ran once before, and found refuge and a new life – for a while at least. But she had a few issues with what she had to do to keep it, so she talked fast and hoped no-one would notice the lies. But trouble is never far away and now she’s harried from pillar to post, by way of old allies and enemies across a broad landscape that takes you from the forgotten stations of the Underground to the chalk lands where the White Horse is ready to ride ever onwards.

Then there’s the complication of two old boyfriends: Jordan, the new love she’s running from – freshly crowned somewhat-reluctant prince of hell; and Jacey, the old love from a previous life she’s running to – heir to an empire and best protection from the wild assortment of mercenaries set upon her. 

There’s a lot of running in this book – by foot and motorbike, by horse and rollerblade and some of it is fun, but at times it becomes too much and can be an exhausting thing to read as you go from monster attack to extended running scene, to monster attack to another extended running scene with scant places to stop and breathe in between. And yet, when those occasions for rest occur, they are often accompanied by the swelling of interesting background detail into just a little too much information that leaves you impatient for the action to start up again. In the author’s previous books this particular stylistic quirk has worked to great effect so perhaps the incongruity is because there’s a certain expected rhythm to urban fantasy, with pop beats you can nod your head to, and Pandaemonium reads more like a surprise jazz remix of a tune you sort of recognise.

“They were going to hang my boyfriend up by his heels and bleed all the life out of him, and they thought I’d want to watch.

“No. Almost all of that is true, but none of it is right.” (p.7)

The book hangs on its lead, and Desdaemona is an awkward character to like. You can sympathise with her plight, want her to shake free of the trouble dogging her, but liking her seems optional. She’s all sharp edges, the centre of everyone’s world and there is the persistent impression that all her sins are instantly forgiven so that everyone can flock to her assistance just when it’s needed. With Jacey, the forgiveness can be understood; there’s been plenty of adjustment time since they became exes, and the previous volume of the series offered a hashing out of their old business that allows for a certain degree of moving on; but there’s no apparent fallout for her betrayal of Jordan, save it creating the instigation for her to start running. 

At the very least you’d expect him to make a snippy comment at some later point, instead of quite happily shrugging off the fact that she forced him into something he’d clearly said he didn’t want to do. And at the very least you’d expect some sign of her own motivation for it, beyond the brushed aside excuse that she felt it needed doing and was hers to do. Perhaps they both felt it was some kind of subconscious payback for him forcing her to face a part of her own past in the last book, but if so that’s not clear in the text and so his switch from betrayed to helper creates a feeling of unfinished business.

There’s also a running obsession with power happening throughout as Desdaemona repeatedly dwells on both the power of her gifted Aspect and the power of those around her: an understandable habit given her necessary rise from powerlessness, and the need to measure the many potential threats against her own ability to respond, all of which make her choices at the end particularly effective.

“I’d told the story before, here and there, or parts of it: just often enough that the old ways of telling it, the old words came easily to my tongue.” (p.91)

And yet, despite pacing issues and odd character niggles, Pandaemonium is still a hypnotising read. Macallan, no matter what name he writes under, has always had a distinctive gift for language that catches you up and pulls you along, weaving decorous spells that don’t let go. The story is built slowly, layering piece upon piece until the whole emerges in a patchwork of glorious imagery and fun concepts that make you want to read the next one to see what he can come up with next.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Whitstable by Stephen Volk

“1971. A middle-aged man, racked with grief, walks along the beach at Whitstable, Kent. A boy approaches and, taking him for the famous vampire-hunter Doctor Van Helsing from the Hammer movies, asks for help. Because the boy believes his stepfather really is a vampire.

The actor, devastated after the recent death of his wife and soul mate Helen, is an inconsolable recluse. In that vulnerable state he is forced to face an evil far more real and terrifying than any of the make-believe monsters he tackled on the big screen…”

So begins the new novella, Whitstable, by Stephen Volk, to be published by the British Fantasy Award-nominated Spectral Press in May 2013 to coincide with the centenary of the celebrated Hammer star, Peter Cushing. To pre-order visit the Spectral Press webpage

Friday, February 8, 2013

Two Judge Dread titles

Day of Chaos: The Fourth Faction an instalment in the Judge Dread saga – by John Wagner, Ben Willsher, Staz Johnson, Colin MacNeil and Henry Flint – is due next week from 2000AD at £17.99).

“With the much-loved mayor of Mega-City One presumed dead by the citizens, an election has been scheduled to choose his successor. Cadet Judge Hennessey has predicted that something terrible will happen on the Election Day and she may be right. East-Meg assassin Nadia has arrived in the Big Meg, looking for a scientist who has created a very dangerous virus...”

And in March: The Judge Child by John Wagner, Alan Grant, Brian Bolland, Mick McMahon and Ron Smith also appears from 200AD (£6.99). In this case, the book is published in tradepaper back size with b&w interior art.

“When Judge Feyy, Mega-city One's oldest pre-cognitive, has a vision of the city being destroyed in 2120, Judge Dredd and a select group of other Judges, including future Chief Judge Hershey, are sent on a mission to find the Judge Child. Apparently, young Owen Krysler may be the only one with the power to stop the apocalyptic event from ever happening. With the fate of the 'Big Meg' in the balance, Dredd will travel through the irradiated wastelands of the Cursed Earth and venture out into the depths of uncharted space to find him.”

Sever by Lauren DeStefano

Sever by Lauren DeStefano is the final volume in The Chemical Garden trilogy (Harper  Voyager £9.99)

“Time is running out for Rhine. With less than three years left until the virus claims her life, Rhine is desperate for answers. Having escaped torment at Vaughn’s mansion, she finds respite in the dilapidated home of her husband’s uncle, an eccentric inventor who hates Vaughn almost as much as Rhine does.

Rhine’s determination to be reunited with her twin brother, Rowan, increases as each day brings terrifying revelations to light about his involvement in an underground resistance. She realizes must find him before he destroys the one thing they have left: hope.”

In this conclusion to The Chemical Garden trilogy, “…everything Rhine knows to be true will be irrevocably shattered. But what she discovers along the way has alarming implications for her future…”

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness is published next week by Headline (£7.99).

“Historian Diana Bishop, descended from a line of powerful witches, and long-lived vampire Matthew Clairmont have broken the laws dividing creatures. When Diana discovered a significant alchemical manuscript in the Bodleian Library, she sparked a struggle in which she became bound to Matthew. Now the fragile coexistence of witches, daemons, vampires and humans is dangerously threatened.

Seeking safety, Diana and Matthew travel back in time to London in 1590. But they soon realise that the past may not provide a haven. Reclaiming his former identity as poet and spy for Queen Elizabeth, the vampire falls back in with a group of radicals known as the School of Night. Many are unruly daemons, the creative minds of the age, including playwright Christopher Marlowe and mathematician Thomas Harriot.

Together, Matthew and Diana scour Tudor London for the elusive manuscript Ashmole 782, and search for the witch who will teach Diana how to control her remarkable powers...”

The Emperor of All Things by Paul Witcover

The Emperor of All Things by Paul Witcover is due next week from Bantam (£16.99):

“1758. England is embroiled in a globe-spanning conflict that stretches from her North American colonies to Europe and beyond. Across the Channel, the French prepare for an invasion – an invasion rumoured to be led by none other than Bonnie Prince Charlie. It seems the map of Europe is about to be redrawn. Yet behind these dramatic scenes, another war is raging – a war that will determine not just the fate of nations but of humanity itself...

Daniel Quare is a journeyman in an ancient guild, The Worshipful Company of Clockmakers. He is also a Regulator, part of an elite network within the guild devoted to searching out and claiming for England's exclusive use any horological innovation that could give them an upperhand, whether in business or in war.

Just such a mission has brought Quare to the London townhouse of eccentric collector, Lord Wichcote. He seeks a pocket watch rumoured to possess seemingly impossible properties that are more to do with magic than with any science familiar to Quare or to his superiors. And the strange timepiece has attracted the attention of others as well: the mysterious masked thief known only as Grimalkin, and a deadly French spy who stop at nothing to bring the prize back to his masters. Soon Quare finds himself on a dangerous trail of intrigue and murder that leads far from the world he knows into an otherwhere of dragons and demigods, in which nothing is as it seems ... time least of all.”

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King

For readers new to The Dark Tower, Stephen King’s The Wind Through the Keyhole is a stand-alone novel, and acts as an introduction to the series. It is a story within a story, which features both the younger and older gunslinger Roland on his quest to find the Dark Tower.

“This Russian Doll of a novel, a story within a story, within a story, visits Mid-World's last gunslinger, Roland Deschain, and his ka-tet as a ferocious storm halts their progress along the Path of the Beam. Roland tells a tale from his early days as a gunslinger, in the guilt ridden year following his mother's death. Sent by his father to investigate evidence of a murderous shape shifter, a ‘skin man,’ Roland takes charge of Bill Streeter, a brave but terrified boy who is the sole surviving witness to the beast's most recent slaughter. Roland, himself only a teenager, calms the boy by reciting a story from the Magic Tales of the Eld that his mother used to read to him at bedtime.”

Out in paperback later this month (Hodder £7.99).

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb

Blood of Dragons by Robin Hobb is the final instalment in the Rain Wild Chronicles – due next month (Harper Voyager £20.00).

“The dragons and their motley crew of keepers (who are slowly turning into elegant Elderlings) have finally found the long lost city of Kelsingra where the mythical silver wells that the dragons need to survive supposedly exist. But the legendary city is shrouded in secrets and ancient memories trapped in stone and the wells are no where to be found. In a desperate attempt to unlock the whereabouts of the wells the keepers risk ‘memory walking’ — immersing oneself into the drug-like memories of long deceased Elderlings — to find clues necessary to their survival.

To make matters worse time is of the utmost importance because Tintaglia will not survive the wounds from her long sojourn to Kelsingra without silver. And if Tintaglia dies, she’ll take with her the ancient memories needed to survive and doom the group to extinction.”

The Daylight War by Peter V Brett

The Daylight War by Peter V Brett continues the fantasy series The Demon Cycle (Harper Voyager £18.99):

“On the night of a new moon all shadows deepen. Humanity has thirty days to prepare for the next demon attack, but one month is scarcely enough time to train a village to defend themselves, let alone an entire continent caught in the throes of civil war.

Arlen Bales understands the coreling threat better than anyone. Born ordinary, the demon plague has shaped him into a weapon so powerful he has been given the unwanted title of saviour, and attracted the attention of deadly enemies both above and below ground.

Unlike Arlen, Ahmann Jardir embraces the title of Deliverer. His strength resides not only in the legendary relics he carries, but also in the magic wielded by his first wife, Inevera, a cunning and powerful priestess whose allegiance even Jardir cannot be certain of.

Once Arlen and Jardir were like brothers. Now they are the bitterest of rivals. As humanity’s enemies prepare, the only two men capable of defeating them are divided against each other by the most deadly demons of all: those that lurk in the human heart.”