Tag Archives: Review

Describes any post that does some kind of review of something

Watermarks by Jason Nahrung (Cosmos magazine)

I don’t normally mention individual stories that I come across, but one of my favourite authors, Jason Nahrung, has a story in the latest edition of the Cosmos magazine (June/July 2014). The story is called Watermarks.

Cosmos is an Australian popular science magazine, where local speculative fiction luminary Cat Sparks edits the fiction. She usually chooses stories that are related to science in some way, and has a very discerning eye (so discerning that I wouldn’t even dare submit any of my work!). But that eye for quality means that you can always be guaranteed a good read with whatever short story she chooses.

And so it is the case with Watermarks, which represents a vignette of life in a future, drowned Brisbane. It is a story of unrequited love, of the slow erosion of society when faced with unparalleled but sedate disaster and of the importance of sunblock. I enjoyed it very much, and recommend picking up a copy of Cosmos at your local newsagent and giving it a read.

Monthly round up – June 2014

I took two novella length works for my plane reading when going down to the Continuum convention in Melbourne. Horn and Bleed by Peter M. Ball were published by Twelfth Planet Press a few years back. Both have the same main protagonist, who is a burnt out ex-cop with a strong connection into the world of the fae. I enjoyed both works, I liked the hard boiled main character, the story lines were entertaining and moved along at a good pace. I think both could have stood to be a little longer, but that is probably because I was enjoying them and didn’t want them to end quite so quickly!

I also read the latest Jim Butcher novel, Skin Game. What can I say, I like the series. Not much really to add to previous reviews – this one was a heist novel, moved along at a good pace and I liked the unexpected plot development towards the end involving a particular kind of sword. I think the novels are starting to overly rely on the intervention of the Christian God, with a little too much “let me explain away this giant coincidence that resolves the novel in a  very convenient way by invoking one religion’s God and his/her ineffable plan” for my liking. But hey, when you back your characters into the kinds of corners that Butcher tends to, you probably need an all powerful deity save the day.

Apart from that I’m still working on Ancillary Justice and Winter Be My Shield. I’m enjoying both books but not getting a lot of time to read.

On the TV front, I started watching the new series of Defiance which is being fast tracked from the US on Foxtel. I enjoy the show – feels like a well used universe and I like the interactions between the alien races (feels a bit like Farscape from that perspective). Will be interested to see where they take the season this year.

I’ve also been watching the new season of ArcherArcher: Vice. Ah, Archer. So problematic. So funny.

Continuum is a good Canadian sci-fi series, well worth checking out. I’ve also been watching the remake of The Tomorrow People, but mainly in solidarity from vague but fond memories of the series from my youth. I don’t necessarily recommend it.

That’s all for this month. Stay tuned.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



The Traitor Queen cover

The Traitor Queen is the third book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Missionhere and the second book, The Rogue, here.

OK, so I’m starting to see the issue with reading all three books of a trilogy in a row and reviewing each separately – you end up with a lot of repetitive thoughts on the series as a whole. I think from now on if I’m going to read through a series consecutively I might do a single review for the whole series. Lesson learnt!

So, my feeling on The Traitor Queen don’t deviate much from my comments on the previous two books. Strong characters, good line-by-line writing, a little lacking on the plot/tension side of things, great world building and good attempt to integrate same sex relationships as a normal part of the world. If you’re interested in more thoughts on that front, I’d recommend my previous reviews (links at the top of this review).

In terms of a third book in a series, all the major plot points were closed off by the end. The final battle between the Traitors and the Sachakans happened, but was a little anti-climactic. I actually enjoyed the smaller scale drama of the roet/Thieves/Lillia storyline much better.

I quite enjoyed the sense that the Guild was having to adapt on many fronts at once – politically, technologically, internally. It gave a sense of change and time marching forward, which doesn’t always happen in a fantasy world.

Canavan has introduced several younger characters, and if she was to ever revisit this world again (which I don’t believe she has any plans to), I think leaping forward into the future and not focusing on any of the older characters at all would be the way to go. Anyi and Lillia would form a solid basis for a new series, especially if combined with dealing with the results of the world changes mentioned above.

Overall a solid series that I enjoyed reading.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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May 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I been reading this month? As it turns out, not very much.

As mentioned in last month’s wrap up, I tackled King Rat by China Mieville – my first Mieville read and quite good. I can see why people love his use of language. There were times where it felt a little self consciously fancy, but generally speaking it was enviably crunchy in its ability to evoke emotion in a really visceral way. I enjoyed it very much.

Apart from that, I haven’t read very much at all. I started Winter Be My Shield by Jo Spurrier (which will be a full review for the Australian Women Writers Challenge) and Auxiliary Justice by Ann Leckie (to see what all the fuss is about), but I haven’t finished either of them.

 

The Rogue by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.



The Rogue

The Rogue is the second book in the Traitor Spy trilogy. I reviewed the first book, The Ambassador’s Mission, here.

The story follows straight on from The Ambassador’s Mission. I found myself gravitating towards the “home” plot, involving Cery the thief, Sonea the Black Magician and some internal shenanigans in the Guild, rather than the one that followed a trail of international intrigue. Still, The Rogue expanded even more on the politics wider world and introduced some tantalising glimpses into other societies, which I found quite interesting. Canavan has created a complex and intriguing world and I’m sure there was a depth of world building that went on to create such a coherent narrative.

As with the first novel, the pacing was a little slow for me. At the end of the day I just wasn’t worried for the main characters. I suspect this was one of the reasons that I warmed to a sub-plot involving a new character tricked into learning black magic. As the character was new, I wasn’t as certain that they’d survive, and that added an extra dollop of tension, which I quite liked.

Great to see a normalisation of homosexual relationships, with the same attention given to the gay character’s love life as the straight ones.  Truth be told, there were points where I found all the relationships a little vexing (“you’re the Ambassador man, no good can come from sleeping with a senior official in another government!”) but then I’m becoming a cranky old man (who apparently dislikes other people’s happiness) faster than I’d like.

All in all a very solid middle novel to an enjoyable trilogy.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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April 2014 – mini reviews

So, what have I read in April?

Words of Radiance (Stormlight Archives) by Brandon Sanderson is a great popcorn read. I liked the first book in the Stormlight Archives, and I kept coming back to this second book. I don’t often get so caught up in a book. These are huge fat fantasy novels, but ones that I really like.

Inspired  by the previous read, I also grabbed one of Sanderson’s first books, Elantris. It was interesting to go back and read such an early work, Sanderson has certainly honed his craft over the years. However, some of the elements that makes his later work so addictive were there – the multiple points of view, a logically developed magic system. Mostly I found it interesting to think about the journey Sanderson has made as an author though.

Traitor Queen by Trudi Canavan will be another one of my Australian Women Writers Reading Challenge reviews, so nothing about that here.

I forgot to mention in the previous post that I also read the latest Discworld novel Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett. I love the Discworld series, and the latest is as good as ever. If you have been reading the books, you’ll read this one whether I recommend it or not. If you haven’t, there are better jumping on points earlier in the series. But definitely a good book for the fans.

I started on King Rat by China Mieville but haven’t finished yet. More on that in May.

And that’s the month that was April 2014!

The Ambassador’s Mission by Trudi Canavan – review

This review forms part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers 2014 Reading Challenge. All my 2014 AWWC reviews can be found here.


The Ambassador's Mission

My first review for the 2014 Australian Women Writers’ challenge. I’m very slow of the mark this year.

Years ago I read Canavan’s first trilogy set in this world – The Black Magician trilogy. I enjoyed it at the time, but hadn’t really followed up on any of Canavan’s other work. When looking for books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers challenge, the thought of continuing some adventures in the same world appealed.

Having been years since reading the first trilogy, it took me a while to re-orient myself in The Ambassador’s Mission. There was a bit of assumed knowledge in the first few chapters – assumed knowledge that I couldn’t quite bring to bear. It made the first part of the novel hard going – I couldn’t remember the rules of the world, exactly what black magic was (for instance), who the characters from the last trilogy were and their relationships with each other.

Once I got past that “entrance exam”, I remembered why I’d liked the first trilogy. Canavan has created an interesting world and this new book expanded that world significantly. The focus on different countries and cultures was very interesting.

Canavan makes interesting comments on same sex relationships and gendered power imbalances through some of her choices for her characters. The points are well made without being overwhelming and I think added to a more sophisticated feel for the book.

Having said all that, the plot is a little slow for my tastes and it didn’t feel like the characters were in enough “peril” (for want of a better word). I never strongly felt that there was a possibility that they would fail (or die), and without that I found it difficult to get as strongly engaged with the characters as I would have liked.

A great book and well worth the read, especially if you like a more sophisticated take on a secondary world fantasy.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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Catch up December 2013 – March 2014 – mini reviews

This post contains the first of my “reviews in brief” for books I’ve read. Normally this will be a monthly post, but this month I’ve got to catch up a few months in a row.

Over the summer break (that’s December for any northern hemisphere readers), my wife and I  took the kids to Bali and Western Australia, to visit my brother-in-law and his family for Christmas. Here is a chance to put a dent in the dreaded Kindle to-be-read pile I thought to myself as we set off.

I didn’t. I read Wild Card books instead.

Wild Cards is a anthology series that first came out in the 1980s. It deals with a world where an alien virus kills 90% of the people infected by it (Black Queens), hideously deforms 9% (Jokers), and transforms the lucky 1% into super powered Aces. I loved it at the time, it was a super hero style universe without the somewhat cheesy standard DC/Marvel super heroes that I’d become jaded with in my teen years. Hey, it was the pre-hipster era. Nobody told me you could watch things like Batman and The Incredible Hulk ironically.

I remembered the series recently when I was preparing to attend a George RR Martin interview at the Opera House and came across the first Wild Card book in one of my many boxes of books while looking for my copy of the first volume of Game of Thrones for Martin to sign.

On a whim I looked it up on Amazon to see if you could get copies for the Kindle. I’d never been able to find all the books in the series as a kid (pre-internet and all that).

And there it was, an eBook copy of the original with extra bonus stories. I downloaded it and was instantly transported into 1980′s me heaven. Fortunately it had not been visited by the suck fairy. I devoured it, and then spent the rest of the holidays reading all the books that had been re-released on Kindle. Including the original trilogy:

  • Wild Cards
  • Aces High
  • Jokers Wild

These first three books were very much anthologies, with significantly varied stories. I was amazed at how well a lot of the story telling had held up. These was some material that might be considered slightly problematic in terms of how women are portrayed, but it didn’t seem to grate too much (at least not with me). Super powers in the 80s.

There is a significant gap – it seems like quite a few of the books are yet to make it to eBook form (although from looking at future releases it seems like they are making their way through them over the next year or two). I skipped forward to  a much more recent stand alone book and subsequent trilogy, that was made up of straight novels with an ongoing plot.

  • Death Draws Five
  • Busted Flush
  • Inside Straight
  • Suicide Kings

I didn’t enjoy these four as much as the original books, but it was interesting jumping forward to the 2000s to see how the world had evolved. In particular, watching a world evolve to deal with people whose card might “turn” any time from puberty onwards, especially when they are under stress. I probably preferred the first stand alone novel (Death Draws Five) to the trilogy.

On top of these, I also read two stand alone books. Dueces Down  tells the story of people who get powers, but they are so weak that they don’t really count as Aces. The second book – Fort Freak – was a mosaic novel focusing on the police station that operates out of Jokertown – the Joker slum in New York City. Both were interesting reads, and while not as powerful as the original set of books, they still were very entertaining. So, 9 books later I’d finished my holiday and made virtually no dent in my existing reading pile.

The next four of the older books will be released over the next three months, and I suspect you’ll see them show up in a future monthly review.

I also read the first two books in the Traitor Spy trilogy by Trudi Canavan, however I’m planning a full review of those books for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge so I won’t say any more about them.

The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter is the sequel to The Long Earth, a story about the discovery of many, many unpopulated parallel versions of Earth and mankind’s colonisation of them. It was a good story, well told but lacked the wow factor of the first book, and the stakes didn’t seem very high. It seemed to be setting up for a third book in the series – perhaps that one will be more exciting!

There – we’re up to date.

 

The Darkness Within by Jason Nahrung – review

Long time denizens of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jason Nahrung‘s work. If you don’t believe me, have a read of my reviews of Salvage and Blood and DustAlso, check out the barely-contained-fanboy-enthusiasm in my interview of Nahrung on the Galactic Chat podcast. I’ve also tended to highlight his short fiction as I’ve come across it. I like his work, no doubt about it.

So when I realised there was another Nahrung book out there, back from the dim dark past of 2007, I knew I wanted to read it. Little did I realise what a bugger it was going to be to track the damn thing down. Not available new anywhere. Not even eBook version (seriously, Jason, have you never heard of digitising your back catalogue?). I ended up using the AbeBooks second hand book website to track down a copy in a small bookshop in the remote Scottish highlands (1).

The blurb on the back of the book gives a reasonable summary of the plot. And I quote:

When photo-journalist Emily Winters receives a mysterious phone call, she agrees to a meeting at an isolated church on the outskirts of Sydney. There, a stranger tells her of a supernatural conspiracy. The women in Emily’s family have been resisting a sacred order of elemental magicians for centuries. And this Cabal wants her power.

With dark forces closing in, Emily has come to terms with her magical inheritance. One man, Jehail, has the knowledge to help her. But he also has a secret that could be used against her.

Calling on the strength of her ancestors, Emily must fight to free herself and her family from the evil that has held them captive. On a night of magic and blood she makes a choice that could save them… or destroy them all.

While Nahrung is clearly a horror writer, I think if The Darkness Within was published today it would be marketed more in the (dark) urban fantasy/paranormal romance sub-genres.  While there are strong horror tropes at work, they are blended with and softened by the strong romance elements in much of the story. But when Nahrung shifts into action mode, there is no softening at all with how viscerally he portrays the violence. It is that use of contrasting elements that is a big attraction to Nahrung’s writing.

The Darkness Within has all the elements of Nahrung’s later work, but in a rawer form. The integration of action with relationship building, the strong sense of the physical, the blending of horror and romance, the Australian sense of place. In, say, Blood and Dust, I felt these elements were more smoothly integrated, but then one would hope a writer would hone their craft over time.

In stories where a work-a-day slob suddenly finds out they are the chosen one, I’m always interested to see how the author handles the gaining/mastering of powers. I get thrown out of a story where someone is suddenly expert in skills that should take years of practice. Nahrung explicitly tackles this issue by building in a plausible fast-tracking mechanism into the story, as well as  demonstrating that Emily has a fragile hold on her new skills.

The secondary characters are well drawn and Nahrung uses point of view changes effectively to broaden out the perspectives on the story. Pacing is generally good (although a little uneven in a couple of places).

As with his other longer work, Nahrung infuses an Australian-ness into his work, this time the urban wilds of Sydney. This is done deftly – there is Australian dialogue and an Australian landscape, but the reader is never overwhelmed with in.

The book had an interesting path to publication, which Nahrung described in the Galactic Chat interview mentioned above, as well as having a good summary on his website. For those interested in the wonderful world of publishing, it is well worth reading about/listening to his exploits.

While the book is entirely self contained, the door is left open to a sequel at the very end. It is an interesting world Nahrung has created, I’d certainly pick up any works where he decides to revisit it.

I had a lot of fun going back and reading the early work of one of my favourite authors. Recommended to lovers of Australian paranormal romance, Jason Nahrung completists and people who love a scavenger hunt through the Scottish wilderness to track down a book.

(1) While morally, conceptually and creatively there is a core of truth to this statement that transcends the mundane human experience, it may, technically, be a lie. I recollect it was from somewhere in the UK, but digging up the receipt to  check the actual location seemed like a lot of effort. Besides, I like the idea of the book sitting on the shelf of a small, second hand bookshop in upper Inverness until my email breezed into town, bought it a drink and whisked it away to a life of comfort and luxury on the to-be-read pile in my den. That’s what should have happened. So for the purposes of this review, that’s what did happen. And I defy anyone (excluding the owner of the shop I actually bought the book from) to prove otherwise.

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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Path of Night by Dirk Flinthart – review

I first came across Dirk Flinthart’s work when reading back over the New Ceres project, a shared world Australian spec fic project which occurred a while back. Dirk’s work featured in both the New Ceres Nights anthology and the stand alone Angel Rising (links are to my reviews of both).  I enjoyed his stories in both, so when I saw he had brought out his first full length novel, I was intrigued. I also really liked the cover, to be honest. Iconic Australian imagery doesn’t often find itself on the front of an urban fantasy.

The novel centres on medical student Michael Devlin, who works in a lab to help keep himself at university. He is accidentally infected with a mysterious substance and when he goes to ask the Professor running the lab what it was, a crazed killer breaks in and kills both the Professor and Michael.

Which makes in all the more surprising for Michael when he wakes up in the morgue, toe tag and all. Not only is he not dead, but he seems to have picked up some nifty special powers along the way. The rest of the book involves Michael trying to work out what the hell has happened to him, and avoid/fight off the increasingly scary beasties that want to destroy him.

The book moves along at a fair clip, and involves a series of increasingly large and violent action sequences. According to the Internet Flinthart is a highly experience martial artist, and that flavour comes through in the book. The fight scenes seem authentic, especially the hand to hand stuff.

The story is told from several points of view, but my favourite is Jen, the Sydney police detective. She’s tough, smart and very pragmatic. She is also very relatable.

This is the first book in a series, and while the plot does stand alone there is a lot of world establishing going on. I like the idea of international intrigue and secret cabals of vampires in an uneasy truce with their human counterparts, and the book hints at a scope that could make for very interesting story telling.

That being said, the book is a lot of fun and my impression was that Flinthart was having a good time writing it. This impression was further entrenched when I heard the Galactic Chat interview of Flinthart, where he said “I had a good time writing it”. It is a very interesting interview – Flinthart has some pragmatic views on the publishing industry that I found informative. He even said that writing doesn’t need to be good in order to sell. Thank whatever deity you hold most dear that is the case, or my own writing career would be in a lot of trouble.

Lots of action, violence and vampires – and you’re supporting Australian speculative fiction at the same time. What’s not to like?

I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.


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This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.