Shadows by Joan De La Haye

Shadows by Joan De La Haye

I’ve read a few stories by this author and was surprised to find this one lurking at the bottom of my reading pile. At the start of this book I was asking myself whether the demon was real or in the heads of the victims. By the end of the story I wondering if the victims were real or there purely as a punishment for the demon. Looking back after a couple of days I’m not sure I could definitively tell what if anything was supposed to be real. I might be having an existential crisis of sorts right now.

This book review is real. I’m sure of that (I think). As you probably gathered from my ramblings above this is a psychological horror. There was a nice balance of how much information was provided and how much was left to the reader. There was a slight negative for me though, there was a raw and unrefined quality to this book that left me thinking it could have been even better. If I was to read only one story by Joan De La Haye it would be Requiem in E# but Shadows was still an enjoyable read that put me in the mind of The Scarecrow from the DC Universe.

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Emily Nation by Alec McQuay

Emily Nation by Alec McQuayAlec McQuay is an author who’s work I’ve enjoyed. This though is very different from his book Spares. It did recognize the setting instantly from his short story Bunker Buster (that story can be found in the book reviewed here). This made me happy as I’d enjoyed that story.

I like the cover of this book. There is a simple quality that appeal to me. I Can’t help feeling that it should have been photo-realistic and sepia though. This book is set in a post-disaster Cornwall. It somehow manages to avoid being Steampunk story and reminding me more of a western. A western with energy weapons and artificial intelligence engine that ensure mankind never again has the destructive capabilities to destroy the planet.

Emily Nation is an assassin. She’s a sociopath that takes great delight in her profession. She also happens to have a great grounding at home with her wife and daughter. What seemed like a normal job destroyed Emily’s life and everything that mattered to her. This is more than a simple revenge or justice tale though. There is an entirely different story unfolding just beneath the main one. What is the Custodian doing? Why does it have a deal with Emily? What does the Custodian suspect about Mr Silvine? The bigger of these questioned do not get answered in this book. Which I’m hoping means that there will be a sequel to this story.

In  short this book is like Tank Girl, Mad Max and DOOM mashed together and set in the old west. Except in this case the west in question happens to be Cornwall.  What’s not to like?

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep Sangha

The Velocity Of Constant by Hardeep SanghaI’ve spent the last week trying to work out how to describe this book. I’ll start with the easy bit. The cover. Daniele Serra. I could look at Serra’s work all day long. I don’t think I need to add to that.

At first I thought this was going to be beat poetry in a science fiction setting. That doesn’t quite describe it though. For me it sits somewhere between beat poetry and the beat literature of writers such as Burroughs. That for me is what makes this book different and almost indefinable. It is only seventy five pages long but reading this book takes a lot more time and effort that a book of that length normally does. I had to read some parts of this book three or four times and I’m still not sure I’m bright enough to understand all the subtleties.

The big difference for me was the layout. The little boxes of text on the page seem to laugh at linear progression and flip the bird at convention. I should have hated this but I didn’t. I found it fun and refreshing and most important thought provoking.

If you want a safe and simple read this is not the book for you, but if you want something different and challenging this book will be well worth your time and effort.

 

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

Drag Noir Edited by K.A. Laity

If like me you often skim read or outright ignore the introductions found in anthologies as sycophantic and generally boring monologues then stop right there. The introduction section of this book is not just funny and insightful but it genuinely made me think about things and in ways I’d never done before. That is just about the highest praise I can heap on any piece of writing. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in sexual politics but for me this book is all about one word, sexuality.  The drag and the noir intersect in the different meanings of the word. There are some sexy dames in this book but not all of them are dames, or are they? What defines a sex siren? Is it intrinsic in their gender or is it an attitude and look that has nothing to do with gender? These are just a couple of the surface questions I found myself asking, there were plenty more but I’ll let you discover them for yourself.

There was an easy favourite for me in this anthology. A Bit Of A Pickle by Paul D. Brazill not only has a really clever title but addresses something I hadn’t considered. Fading glory. Such a perfect noir subject applied in a fascinating and spellbinding manner. King Bitch by James Bennett was completely different and yet captured the spirit of drag noir just as well. Every story had a niche all to itself, just like every dame is more than the bright red warpaint and stilettos they wear. There wasn’t a single story that I didn’t enjoy.

This book could easily be considered subversive by encouraging lifestyles that are seen by some to be against their cultural norms. Good. This book made me think and challenge my own perceptions. I hope it does the same for you.

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

The Accidental Apprentice by Anika Arrington

Although not obviously a young adult book this was a book that I could read with my children. It made a nice change for me to read a fantasy story that was more interested in court intrigue and petty back-biting than expansive battles and an obvious good versus evil. Even the villains in this story had heart and character. One of them was clearly unhinged but rather than being evil for evil sake there was a sense that his life and choices built up rage and resentment towards his brother to the point where he snapped. I liked that.

Every chapter changes the point of view and this could have been confusing. The author put the name of the character at the start of the chapter to make it clear and easy. IN fact everything about this story works to make it easy to read. I flew through this book a lot faster than I thought I would. The descriptions of how wizards learn the laws of physics and then tweak them to create magic really worked for me. Changing the nature of things rather than creating or destroying them fits a lot better with my mindset than an abstracted view that magic just is.

My favourite character was the cat. A wizard’s familiar. Except he wasn’t just a cat he was a shape-shifting demon. It was the small things that made this book really work. From the lovable minor characters to the use of language this fantasy story provided me with entertainment throughout. It was more Philipa Gregory than George R.R. Martin and with less executions than either.

Locke & Key welcome To Lovecraft by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & KeyI saw this cover from half way across the shop and made a bee-line towards it. A flashing neon sign saying buy me would have been less likely to draw me in. A creepy looking house with an interesting looking key what wasn’t to love? Having Welcome To Lovecraft in the title makes it pretty clear what kind of story lies inside.

For me the mark of a good Lovecraftian tale has always been the way that normal horrors are blended with paranormal ones. For large parts of this story it was easy to forget that there was any supernatural elements involved. I got lost in the story and characters. So much so that I barely even noticed how long I was just staring at some of the stunning artwork. There is one page in particular where the young Bode draws his school holiday. It is perfectly rendered. Every aspect is how I have seen similar things from my kids. The obvious differences being the lack of horrific murders and out of body experiences. Even if you don’t want to read this book I’d recommend looking at that page. The rest of the artwork was also enthralling. After I finished reading this book I went back through it ignoring the words and just looking at the pictures.

This story was dripping with pain and anguish. The deeper story was only hinted at but I just have to find out more.

I have to buy the second part of this story. It has really tickled my fancy.

Breed by K. T. Davies

Breed by K. T. DaviesThis cover is rather underwhelming. I textured physical cover like the limited edition Salamanders book that Black Library put out would work amazingly on this book. Somehow the cover works. There is something about the simplicity that draws the eye and make the bright orange scales really pop. What I really like though is the attention to detail. Rather than a quote attributed to a modern author it credits Voltaire. That made me chuckle and instantly want to open the book.

]Of course opening the book was never going to be an issue for me. I am yet to read anything by K. T. Davies that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. No pressure then. I was a little confused during part of this book as I thought I’d read it before. There is a very similar scene regarding the demon in another book by the same publisher. That scene aside these are very different books but both enjoyable.

At first glance this is a very simple book with not a lot of though process required. It wasn’t until I finished reading the book that I realized that I didn’t have a clue as to the gender of the main character Breed. Just Breed. The half-breed. The outcast. That’s how I viewed the character all the way through. That made me stop and pause for a while. I’ve not thought about mixed heritage characters for ages. That made me reflect Tanis Half-Elven the first mixed race character I ever really thought about in that way. Anything that makes me think of my first fantasy obsession is a good thing.

This story is really easy to read and is easy to relate to. There were moments where I laughed out loud. The cursing is at times highly creative. I had to look-up what scut meant. We live and learn. If you want an easy to read and enjoy fantasy story that manages to think about the world we live in without impacting your enjoyment this is a great read. I will be looking out for more gems from this author.

King Wolf by Steven Savile

King Wolf by Steven Savile

This book cover kicks butt but it is also perfect for the book. The little touches like the apple really made it pop. The obvious fairy tale nature of the story provided some obvious allegorical references and then it started to get Grimm. There is a darkness that pervades these three stories. I thought that was going to be it though. A nice story wrapped in an allegory. Instead I found a story that seemed simple and easy to read but was much deeper and interesting than it first seemed. There was a lot of symbolism in this story aimed at differing levels to create maximum impact. There was a huge amount of reading between the lines and it was very effective.

This book contains three linked stories. Two I believe have been published before but that third story really made them work as a whole and it was hard to believe that they were not written as one piece. At only eighty two pages long it didn’t take long to leave but it was a damn sight more interesting than watching England play footie last night. I’m certainly glad I turned off the goggle box for this book.

 

 

A Case Of Noir by Paul D. Brazill

A Case Of Noir

There is a uniquely British feel to Brazill’s noir. Even when his characters are right at home in Poland there is a feel that is unmistakably tied to the way the working class traditionally (and still do in many cases) manage their weekly pay. That is to say that as soon as work finishes they head to the pub until they are tossed on to the street and wander home. This adds a vivid feel that somehow manages to evoke unpleasant smells as well as the expected sights.

This book is a series of linked stories. I’m not sure if it was a deliberate technique to throw the reader back towards the previous story but I personally found that the couple of times a phrase was repeated it knocked me out of my reading rhythm and I had to re-focus. That is about the only negative thing about this book for me. I don’t normally quote from a book in a review but I just have to in this case because this snippet stopped me dead. I thought about it for quite a while before continuing and for me it gets to the heart of Brazill’s writing.

“Anonymous hotels attract interesting peoples but only anonymous people stay in interesting hotels since they hope it will add a bit of colour to their dreary lives.”

This is a thoughtful look at the seedy underbelly of cities across Europe and is well worth a read.

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

Whilst looking through a second-hand book shop last week I realized that although I’d played the roleplaying game Stormbringer and read a few of the later books I’d never read the story that explains how it all started. How could I possibly resist?

Although a fairly short story there is so much story and character in every page that it feels much longer. There is no wasted space in this thoroughly enjoyable story. It made a refreshing change to read a fantasy story that I could hold in one hand.

Probably my favourite thing about Elric’s world is that all sorcery comes at a price. A bargain must be made with the elemental or demon providing the power. The more powerful the magic the more dangerous the bargain. There is one line in this story that makes the whole thing work for me. It basically says that the physical manifestations of a bargain are inversely proportional to the power of the spell. That is the insidious nature of sorcery. The powerful sorcerer thinks they are in control and so makes ever greater bargains that hasten their demise. All that from a single line. There are more lines like that too.

If you have any interest in fantasy fiction you really do need to read this book.