Wednesday, 30 January 2013
Title: The Last Wish (The Witcher Saga Book 1)
Author: Andrzej Sapkowski
The Book Depository
When I first signed up to join the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge I wasn’t really sure what novel I would read under the “translated novel” topic. I usually stick to authors who write in English, in fact I can’t remember if I have ever read a novel originally written in another language. In the end though a Polish friend highlighted “The Last Wish” by Andrzej Sapkowski’s to me, or more importantly he informed me that a video game I loved playing was based upon Sapkowski’s series of novels which were originally written in Polish.
“The Last Wish” is basically a set of short fantasy stories featuring the antics of Geralt of Rivia, a Witcher who is paid to hunt down various monsters. These stories are all connected together via a framing story which follows Geralt as he spends time resting at a temple as the wounds he received on a previous job are healed.
If the above synopsis seems rather brief then this is because this novel is at its heart just a collection of encounters and exploits that Sapkowski is using to introduce Geralt to the reader. The sub-title of the version I read even states “Introducing The Witcher” which emphasises that overall aim of the novel. In this task, I think Sapkowski has done a good job; his dry wit is both highly prevalent and entertaining throughout the novel. In addition, Geralt himself was an enjoyable and interesting character to follow. I found that his focus, cynicism and world-weariness really helped to ensure he is a memorable character.
What I really appreciated about this book was how it showcased some of the myths and legends of another culture. It was pleasant to see something different from the more Western European centric fantasy novels I normally read. Don’t get me wrong, the plots themselves are fairly standard for any dark fantasy with an adult focus but I loved how instead of reading about standard goblins and orcs, I got to read about exotic creatures such as strigas and kikimoras.
However, there was one prominent weakness with novel in relation to the format that Sapkowski has utilised. The use of short stories ensures that the world building at times is fairly limited which is a shame as the world is enjoyably varied and the magical use of signs, potions and mutations is an interesting concept. As someone that has played the video game I had some grasp of the lore, geography and political landscape but I think someone new to the world would have preferred to see a little bit more depth and exploration of these points within the book itself.
Overall, this was an enjoyable read that does a good job in introduced Geralt and the world he inhabits to the reader. If you are a fantasy reader who would like to explore a world based on different myths to the norm then there is much contained in this book that you should enjoy. Personally, I would probably have preferred to see a bit more development of the world itself in this novel there is no denying that it should wet the taste buds of anyone who reads it. Either way I am now looking forward to reading the next novel in the series which does appear to be a full length story.
Saturday, 26 January 2013
Author: John Vornholt
"Aftershock" by John Vornholt is the 2nd book in the 1996 Star Trek Starfleet Academy series of novels that charted the earlier escapades of Kirk, Spock and McCoy in the prime Trek Universe. The plot follows McCoy as he ends up doing a form of community service after an unofficial football game with some freshman cadets leads to McCoy and a young cadet named Kirk having an accident with a security shield. McCoy is more or less forced into volunteering for the Disaster Relief Service Club when he teams up with a Vulcan named Spock and a young woman named Lisa. Together they travel to the planet Playamar which has suffered a massive earthquake and attempt to rescue and save the lives of colonists there. Very soon though, Spock begins to suspect that something is not quite right in regards to the earthquake and aftershocks that follow and very soon the team begin to investigate.
As with the previous Starfleet Academy book I read, this novel is heavily geared towards the younger reader with a simple plot that is easy to follow and fairly standard for a Star Trek story. It was still interesting enough for me to enjoy as an adult but it didn’t keep me riveted as some other Star Trek novels have. The aspect of the novel I really enjoyed however was the portrayal of McCoy which Vornholt seems to have captured quite well. His sarcastic and bickering nature is still there for all to see, but there is also an undercurrent of youthful inexperience and insecurity which was interesting to observe.
There are some illustrations throughout the novel created by Todd Cameron Hamilton that didn’t really impress me much. Don’t get me wrong, several of them seemed to capture a young McCoy and Spock quite well but some of them looked didn’t look great. I even asked my wife about one of them and her initial comment was simply that it looked quite poor. However, ultimately these illustrations don’t really affect the enjoyment of the novel and I just started to ignore them as I progressed through the story.
Overall, this is an incredibly quick and easy read that explores a little bit about McCoy’s experiences as a younger man. It probably isn’t complex or deep enough for most adults to thoroughly enjoy but I think it should please any young fan of Star Trek. Therefore, unless you are a Trek novel completionist or you want to try and introduce a child to the world of Trek literature I can’t say there is any real reason you should go out of your way to try and track down this out of print novel.
Wednesday, 23 January 2013
Title: The Nostalgia Gambit
Author: Carmen Webster Buxton
“The Nostalgia Gambit” is written by Carmen Webster Buxton, an author whose previous works I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. Therefore when she asked me if I wished to read and review her latest book I was more than happy to say yes! This novel itself is set in the same Universe as another of her novels entitled “Tribes” which I previously reviewed here. However, whilst they both inhabit the same universe there is no real link between the stories and therefore you can happily read this novel without any issues if you haven’t read the other and vice versa.
The plot follows Tychon Damiano, a small time crook who takes pleasure in stealing from his nation’s aristocratic rulers. However, when a random encounter results in him being recognised as possible illegitimate son of the ruling monarch his life changes hugely. Suddenly he is thrust into a life of luxury and opulence as his long lost father tries to reconnect with him. Of course, such a prominent figure can’t have a crook for a son and therefore Ty is sent to court where his punishment for previous crimes is house arrest within the palace. So the reader gets to follow Ty as he tries to adjust to his new life, family and loss of freedom.
I have to be honest and say I was a little bit worried initially as I was unsure how Buxton would be able to create an exciting and enjoyable book when it appeared that the main protagonist was going to spend most of it under house arrest. In the end though I didn’t need to worry because she manages to keep the reader interested and entertained via the use of politics, intrigue and Ty’s psychological response to the situation.
Don’t get me wrong, if you are looking for an action packed story then you will be very disappointed as it is very much a thoughtful story and is mainly driven by the various character interactions. However, even with this limited action I felt that the pace was about right and the story flowed well as the politics and history of the planet where slowly revealed to both Ty and the reader at the same time helping to ensure that I wanted to keep on reading so I could learn more. Basically this is another novel in which Buxton continues to impress me with the interesting and varied worlds she creates which are a main element in the overall attraction of her novels.
The characters were all very charming, friendly and easy to like, especially the members of Ty’s family. The only issue I had is the way in which the family members all accepted him into their life with only the odd element of complaint. It was almost like they were being too nice and understanding to the point that I couldn’t take them seriously. I can’t say it affected my enjoyment in any way but it ensured that for me the novel lost any sense of realism.
Overall, this was another interesting and enjoyable novel from Buxton that explored a new and varied future world. I will admit that it wasn’t the most action packed novel I have read but sometimes it can be nice to read science fiction dedicated to character interactions and world building. Basically, if you want a break from the more action driven Science Fiction then this is definitely a pleasant and enjoyable option that I am happy to recommend.
Saturday, 19 January 2013
Title: Nightmare Along the River Nile
Author: Suzanna E. Nelson
Genre: General Fiction
“Nightmare along the River Nile” by Suzanna E. Nelson is a book that appears to have been written for one fundamental purpose. It aims to highlight and expose the rather harsh fact that modern day slavery does exist. For me, personally this book has succeeded in fulfilling that purpose as prior to reading it had no idea that slavery still went on in the modern age.
The story itself is set during the 1990’s and follows Edgar and three friends who have just graduated from High School in Uganda. Whilst travelling home to his mother, the bus Edgar is travelling on gets ambushed by an insurgency group known as the LRA. Alongside the majority of the passengers Edgar is abducted and so begins an ordeal of suffering and misery as he ends up being sold into slavery in the Sudan. Meanwhile, when Edgar’s three friends find out about his kidnapping they undertake an attempt to locate and secure Edgar’s release.
This book is quite simply heart-wrenching at times as the reader is subjected to following the unbearable circumstances that Edgar must endure. The cruelty and hate shown by his captors really does highlight the simple fact that evil is still alive and well in the world. However, Nelson doesn’t just leave the reader feeling miserable and gloomy because she has also tried to highlight some of the good that people can do. Edgar’s friends are used well to highlight the various different people who are willing to try and do the right thing. I think it highlights well that good and evil are there no matter colour, race and religion of the people involved.
One issue I did have with the novel though is that I don’t think Nelson did a great job in using her characters to capturing a real deep emotional element to the story which in turn affected some of the tension within the story. I basically found that the novel came across in a very direct and factual style, with that characters telling the reader how they felt instead of having their feelings expressed through actions and descriptions. I really do think that it would have been an incredibly powerful novel if the reader had got to feel the character’s fears rather than just be told about them.
Overall, this novel does vividly highlight the suffering and horror that people can still face due to slavery. I think the overall tension and emotional impact do suffer a little bit due to the style of the story telling but I still found the entire novel entertaining enough to ensure I followed it through to completion. On a personal note, I really appreciated reading a story that explored parts of Africa I knew nothing about and it created enough interest that I have read more about the countries and people introduced to me in this story.
Wednesday, 16 January 2013
Title: Golden Feathers Falling (Moonlit Cities Book 2)
Author: Marcin Wrona
“Golden Feathers Falling” is the 2nd novel in Marcin Wrona’s Moonlit Cities series; a collection of standalone stories set in a Mesopotamian influenced fantasy world. As the novel is standalone then you don’t need to worry if you haven’t read “Pale Queen’s Courtyard” which I have previously reviewed here. However, there are a few appearances by characters and references to events from the first novel which helped to increase my appreciation of this novel.
Anyway, the plot follows a young woman named Alit, who lives and works with her disabled brother delivering letters that he has scribed for others. However, when a job she embarks upon results in a confrontation with a group of people asking questions about her father who died years before, Alit soon finds her own life at risk and only survives through a lucky encounter with a group of mercenaries. Her brother unfortunately is not so lucky and with revenge in her heart, Alit uses her dowry to pay the mercenaries to help track down those that were responsible. She therefore embarks upon an adventure that reveals more than she could ever have imagined about the nature of her country and the people who inhabit it.
As with the previous novel in the series I found that the real selling point of this book was the way in which Wrona has used setting different from the fantasy norm. Yes, there is magic, fights, religious powers and other regular elements of a good fantasy story, but the Mesopotamian influence just gives it all a unique and different feel. In addition though, the plot itself is an exciting tale of politics, religion, friendship and revenge that had me engrossed from start to finish. In simple terms, I loved both the plot and the world in which it was set.
The characters were also wonderful to behold and they came alive on the pages with personalities that were both vivid and real. In addition, I found the way in which their stories and histories were revealed to the reader as the story progresses just ensured that you could fully appreciate who they were and how they acted. I basically found myself fully engaged with them to the point that I felt both their sadness and worry as various events unfolded.
To be honest, my only disappointment with the story was the finale but only because I really wanted to know more about what had happened to several of the characters. Yes the reader gets a good glimpse at what happened to Alit herself but I wanted more than this. This is probably just a personal issue it did spoil my overall enjoyment of the novel a little. I just hope that in Wrona has included the odd reference to the characters from this story in the next novel so that I can gain a little bit more understanding of what happened to them all.
Overall, this was an enjoyable return to the world that Wrona has created and I found myself thoroughly entertained from start to finish. If you are looking for a fantasy book with a different setting then I can’t recommend both this book and “Pale Queen’s Courtyard” highly enough. Personally, I am now looking forward to getting my hands on the next book in the Moonlit Cities series and to me that is on the best advertisements I can give.
Saturday, 12 January 2013
Title: Collision Course
Author: William Shatner with Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens
The Book Depository
“Collision Course” is a rather enjoyable Star Trek novel written by William Shatner with some assistance Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens. It follows the antics of teenage Kirk and Spock as they undertake a form of adolescent rebellion in their own individual ways. Through accidental happenstance, both Kirk and Spock “bump” into each other and find that their behaviour has embroiled them in a dangerous plot involving espionage, theft and murder. This plot results in both Spock and Kirk to considering joining Starfleet in an attempt to resolve their own problems and issues.
As I am sure people can expect from a book involving Shatner, it is very Kirkcentric and I am sure some people could argue that Kirk seems to be a little bit too perfect in how he responds to the various situations he faces. However, in the end, Kirk is meant to be someone who became a Starfleet captain at the age of 30 and seemed to solve everything thrown at him, therefore it should be expected that he was going to be more than just some gung-ho rebellious kid.
I found the story itself to be entertaining, skilfully written, well-paced and action packed to the point that I struggled to put it down at the end of each night. I also quite liked the little references to other aspects of Star Trek’s on-screen universe such as the various academy buildings being named after crew from the Enterprise TV Series. One element I really enjoyed though was the intriguing characterisations of young Kirk and Spock alongside the interesting interactions that occur between themselves and others. I specifically appreciated the sections of the novel dedicated to Spock and his parents that really seemed to bring out the best in all the characters.
The one issue I did have with the novel was that some of the events that occur throughout the novel seem a little bit unbelievable; in particular there is something that happens in the orbit of Neptune near the end of the novel that left me incredulous. I understand that people have to suspend their disbelief when reading Science Fiction but some parts of this novel just went that little bit too far in my opinion.
Another aspect that some people may dislike about the novel is that the story doesn’t really fit in with any of the other novels written around Kirk’s youth, such as Diane Carey’s prequel novels and the Star Trek Academy series from the 1990’s. Inconsistencies between Star Trek literature is nothing new but I just felt that I should warn people about. However, whilst it may sit outside the continuity of other novels covering the same period I must clarify that I didn’t notice anything in the novel that would contradict any on-screen canon.
Overall I enjoyed this fun and engaging look at the teenage years of Kirk and Spock even if it could be a little bit jarring in relation the differences between this and other novels covering the same period. To be honest I am little bit disappointed that the promised sequel never appeared and I can only assume this was due to poor sales or due to the fact that JJ Abram’s alternative Star Trek universe debuted so soon after its release. Perhaps one day Shatner will get a chance to continue this series but either way if you want to see an entertaining attempt at developing the characters of Kirk and Spock then you should give this book a try.
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
Title: The Last Days (The Tree of Life Book 3)
Author: Steven Smith
Lulu (Ebook Here)
“The Last Days” by Steven Smith is the third book in his “The Tree of Life” fantasy trilogy that started with the novel “The Map of the Known World” which I previously reviewed here. As with most reviews on sequels I need to warn people that this review is likely to obtain minor spoilers to what occurred in the other novels. Therefore I would advise anyone new to the trilogy should read my review of the first book and then decide if they want to give it a try.
This book continues the adventures of Elowen Aubyn, who is still on a quest to discover the three remaining artefacts that will help her finally locate the Tree of Life and defeat the dictatorial Prester John. She continues her journey across land and sea, meeting new people and creatures, all the time trying to ensure she does not become corrupted by her own magical abilities. In addition, the young prince Bo must step up to the plate and lead an army of both men and Eldar against Prester John in the hope that alongside Elowen, they can finally end the tyranny that has befallen the world.
I enjoyed the return to this rather dark fantasy world and found myself hooked as I followed the story to its satisfying conclusion. Smith continues to use his setting well to create an adventure story that is full of action and intrigue, but also tries to show the power of hope and friendship. In regards to the characters, Prince Bo continued to be a character I found interesting and couldn’t help but cheer on as he tried to do the right thing whilst facing his own doubts and fears.
Whilst I did enjoy the book I have to say that it is probably the weakest in the whole series. The reason I say this is that Smith has tried to pack so much into this novel in an attempt to complete the trilogy that some of the overall detail has been lost. It felt like we were just jumping from one event to another without any real exposition or further development of the characters.
I want to add that one element of the novel I also appreciated was the inclusion of a brief synopsis of what occurred in the previous books in the series. There have been many times in the past that I have read multi book series and by the time a book would come out my memory of what had was fading and I struggled to remember everything that had occurred. So it was nice being able to pick up a book and reading a few pages at the beginning to help refresh my memory.
Overall, it was a nice conclusion to the series with everything tied up in a manner that any follower of the series should be able to appreciate. Whilst I think it may have been better to see this story spread across two novels in greater depth, there was still enough there to keep me interested and I always struggled to put it down at the end of the day. So if you have read the other novels I would go out and pick this one up as soon as possible. If you haven’t even started the trilogy then I advise you go and try it out because it is an enjoyable experience and unlike many Fantasy series out there this one has an ending!
Sunday, 6 January 2013
Title: Best Destiny
Author: Diane Carey
“Best Destiny” by Diane Carey is the latest novel I have read as part of my Star Trek Reading Challenge and it is more or less a sequel to “Final Frontier”, another of Carey’s novels which I previously reviewed here. Whilst there is a basic framing story based around an attempt to rescue another Starfleet ship by the soon to be retired James T. Kirk, the main portion of the story follows the antics of a young 16 year old Jimmy Kirk. As a teenager Kirk has a lot of pent up anger against his father and seems destined to for a life of gangs and crime. However, Kirk’s father decides to make one final attempt at “rescuing” his son and takes him on a voyage aboard the Enterprise which is currently under the command of Captain Robert April.
This supposedly safe journey to an archaeological dig on the planet Faramond soon turns out to be anything but safe. Whilst journeying to the planet aboard a shuttlecraft Captain April and those alongside him which includes the Kirks find themselves under attack by an unknown assailant and end up fighting for their lives. As the crew tries to survive, the young Kirk learns the meaning of teamwork, discipline and finally begins to understand his father.
Carey, really has done another brilliant job in capturing some of the earlier aspects of Kirk’s saga and I found that this book compliments “Final Frontier” superbly. The novel has action and tension aplenty but the primary focus of the novel is an interesting character study that examines Kirk’s change from a teenage tearaway into the young adult who would later become a legendary hero. The change that Kirk has undertaken is masterfully highlighted in the framing story where we see him face off against a foe from his youth who failed to learn from his past mistakes.
As always with Trek novels it does help to know the characters already but I actually think this is one of those novels that could have worked easily outside of the Trek Universe. Therefore as long as you know the basics about the main characters then you should be more than able to read and enjoy the book. Carey also keeps the technobabble limited and when she does include it there are some good explanations due to Kirk being young and new to space and therefore needs it explained himself. Therefore no one should get lose trying to understand what various technologies re being used for.
Overall, this is another enjoyable book from Carey that takes a look at the earlier years of Kirk’s life and I found it highly interesting to see why Kirk became the type of person he did. It really is a must read for all fans of Star Trek and I can’t recommend it highly enough as a real showcase of what Star Trek literature can and should be.
Friday, 4 January 2013
Runs from January 1, 2013 - December 31, 2013
Hosted by Book'd Out
The title of this blog kind of gives it away but I see myself as someone who has a rather wide taste in books. Therefore when I saw there was a challenge out there for 2013 that would really push my reading experiences further I was more than happy to sign up for it.
The 12 categories that have been chosen by the hosting blog for the challenge are:
- Translated fiction
- Historical mystery
- Romantic suspense
- Made into a movie
- New Adult
- Urban Fantasy
- Action Adventure
- Published in 2013
I have to admit that I have no idea what books to use for some of these categories but discovering the books I will read is going to be half the fun.
Wednesday, 2 January 2013
Title: Great North Road
Author: Peter F. Hamilton
The Book Depository
“Great North Road” follows the usual Peter F. Hamilton format of being absolutely massive in length with it coming in at just above 1,000 pages. The story itself however is set in a 22nd Century Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and initially kicks off like a futuristic police procedural with the reader following Detective Sid Hurst as he begins to investigate a brutal murder of a rich clone. However, as the investigation progresses it becomes clear that the murder is similar to one committed 20 years ago that occurred on another planet named St. Libra. Angela Tramelo, the woman convicted of the previous murder has been in jail for all those years but always maintained that the deaths had actually been caused by a violent and dangerous alien. Now, with the crime in Newcastle perhaps proving that her story may have been correct, she is released in order to help an exploration team try to track down the creature on the very world where the first murder took place.
The novel really is an amalgamation of various storylines coming together to create a mysterious and enjoyable drama. The two main plotlines are of course the murder-mystery investigation in Newcastle and the adventurous survival drama in the jungles of far off St. Libra. However, there are plenty of other smaller storylines woven around this which are used to link in with various flashbacks to ensure the full truth is kept hidden right up until the end. This jumping between differing time periods and characters can of course be a little off putting at times but I think it helped to enhance my enjoyment of the story as I was always trying to deduce what was really going on.
I found the main characters to be fantastic and well developed although I did find of the supporting characters to be a bit surplus to requirements at times. In regards to the main characters, Sid is a flawed but hard working cop whose heart is in the right place and you can’t help but hope he will find a way to solve what appears to be an impossible case. Angela however is the real gem within the story and her past is full of secrets, betrayal, intrigue and revenge that go way beyond the murder she was convicted of. She was used really well to provide a wonderful insight into the world that Hamilton has constructed.
There were also some nice touches in regards to the local Newcastle dialect that Hamilton used within the book such as the way several people were referring to each other as “pet”. However, I will admit that the constant use did begin to irritate me after a while as it almost became like a stereotype that Hamilton was using just to emphasise that his story was set in Newcastle. Overall though it was still nice to see a novel set a story in a city like Newcastle rather than just utilising the standard of London, New York, etc.
The main issue I did have with the novel though is the length and I am just glad it was an ebook version I was reading and not the hardback as I suspect my arms may have fallen off if I had to lift that up every evening. In all seriousness though, Hamilton could easily have removed a fair portion of the police investigation which was presented to the reader in stunningly high detail. I do understand that police work can be full of various monotonous and tedious elements but filling a book up with them doesn’t really lead to the reader being entertained. I suspect a fair few Science Fiction readers may find the earlier elements of the story to be a bit of a chore which could be a shame if it makes them give up on what does turn into a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Overall, this is another stunning Science Fiction novel from one of Britain’s best Science Fiction authors that should appeal to most of his fans. The length is definitely an issue and it can at times feel a bit monotonous but the ambition, ultimate conclusions and new universe that Hamilton has created are quite simply brilliant to behold.