Warrior Stone by Rob Harkess

Warrior Stone Cover

Warrior Stone Cover

The cover art for this book is by Linzi Goldstone. It is quite simple at first glance but it really does put you inside the story. The subtle steampunk hints are in the art and similarly woven in to the story. Except things are not steam powered. There is a magical field in the Underland.

I’d much rather teenagers read books like this rather than ones about sparkly vampires. Underland is a place between worlds. A magical yet industrialized realm tantalizingly close to this one. Only children can jump between realms and they act as guardians against the encroachment from the other side of the Underland.

I usually have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen when I read a book but this one keeps you guessing until the end. Don’t expect everything to be resolved though. The ending closes off the story nicely but it certainly feels like the first in a series. I still have plenty of questions that I’d like answering.

The characters in this book are believable and real (as much as magic using dimension shifting teenagers can be). I found this book to be a refreshing change of pace from my usual reads. It is bright and positive in a way that left me feeling better about life.

Oh and Evie is every bit the kick-ass heroine without the need for overt sexuality or reliance on a male.

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Grandville/Mon Amour/Bete Noire by Bryan Talbot

I like to start by mentioning the cover of pretty books. Unusually for me this time I’m going to talk about the feel of a book. It is in a standard size graphic novel format but it feels like an old hardback book. The cover art is then embossed on to this to complete a piece of tactile heaven. It took me a couple of minutes before I managed to tear myself away and open the book. That’s when the artistry really starts. From the simple and evocative cover you go open the book and find an inside cover that looks like William Morris just discovered steampunk. It would make an awesome wallpaper for a feature wall.Again I spent a minute or too admiring the inside cover. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. As I turned the page I couldn’t help but notice the amazing quality of the paper. That is a theme throughout this book. There has been an obvious drive to make sure that every part of this book lives up to the artwork and writing contained in the story. It may not seem important but it lets you know that you are about to read something important. Something of quality.

It delivers. On a simplistic level is Sherlock Holmes meets James Bond using anthropomorphism to portray different strata of society. The basic premise is that Napoleon won the war, subjugated Britain and has only just escaped the yoke of French oppression. Add in a healthy dose of steampunk and crime noir and you’re pretty much there. There is more though. These books will make you think about oppressive regimes. I couldn’t help but think of Northern Ireland and the middle east. There is an undercurrent of politics running through these stories. What if we had a socialist Britain or France? Would the historical ruling elite accept that? Would somebody else want to grab power for themselves? These are the kind of questions you’ll be asking yourself when you finish reading this book. Anything that makes me question or think about things is good. The story line, the world building and most importantly for me the characters were believable and interesting.

These are more than books. They are works of art. you will not regret buying them.

Piracy edited by Adele Wearing

I normally start a review by talking about the cover, but this time I am going to step back and mention the format. Fox Spirit are marketing this as the first of their Fox Pockets. Unsurprisingly it is pocket sized. It easily fits in to a cargo pants pocket or a handbag or in my case a man bag (handbags don’t have Captain Caveman on them). It is a great size and length of story for a tea break read. A nice cup of Earl Grey and a piece of short form fiction is always a good thing.

I love the cover by Sarah Anne Langton, I’ve seen a picture of the next few covers in this series. They look like a series and will look great on a shelf. Being a small cover the hard-hitting simplicity of this cover really works. Reading this book on a coach the over day at least a couple of people asked to see the whole cover. It really is that striking. The only thing I don’t like about the cover is the lack of any identification of the book on the spine.

The title of this anthology is Piracy and although they all have a common connection through the title there is a huge array of different styles and genres represented in this book. From steampunk to cyberpunk, and from fantasy to science fiction. Every story is different and enjoyable in a different way. My favourite part in the whole book is when the space pirates start singing. It was hilarious. I was giggling away to myself at that point. More importantly it means that like several of the other authors in this book that I’d not heard of before I will be looking for something else to read by Asher Wismer.

As I’d expect from a Fox book there is a definite feminist touch without making anything seem overly feminine. If you are a traditionalist who believes all stories about pirates should be about men and rape then you should probably read this book. It shows you how powerful people can be without taking the shortcut of using rape as a trope. This book has strong characters of both genders portrayed in a manner that demeans neither. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am looking forward to the next one.

At the request of Vincent Holland-Keen here is a picture on the man bag mentioned above.

Captain Caveman man bag

My favourite bag.

Camera Obscura by Lavie Tidhar

Space lizards, robots, shadow governments and a spattering of the more obvious steampunk influences adorn this story. This book works very well stand-alone but there are a few references to The Bookman that will resonate more if you have read that book first. In simple terms this book is about a race to gain control of a powerful alien artefact. All the powerful empires and criminal organizations of the time are all racing and battling to take control of an object that none of them understand. I love the air of mystery that surrounds the Shaolin clans and how this is similar and yet different from the governmental spies of the British, French, Native American and Chinese. Add in a barking mad serial killer and a kick ass female main protagonist and you will start to get a feel for this story. Cleo is a strong female lead that is not sold to you on her sexuality or lack of it. She just happens to be a woman with certain talents that the Council (the shadowy machine government of France) can make use of to destroy their enemies.

This book is just so effortless to read. There is a lot going on and yet it all seems to be explained so easily. Everything just works, every reference to a historical or popular fictional figure adds to the background without taking over the story. I am not going to pretend that I got all the references and quirks in this book but I will give you one example. The Marquis de Sade in several pieces I’ve read is supposed to have a horrible smell. This comes across quite subtly but is there. For me this reminds me of modern Disney films that reference things like bullet time from the Matrix but for the erudite readers (hence why a lot of them passed me by), but not in a snobbish way that would annoy anybody. As usual for a Tidhar points of view from other cultures are portrayed so well that I found myself Googling nomadic tribes and chinese gangs after I finished reading this book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and more importantly it made me want to go and find out more about people that I know almost nothing about.

Empire State by Adam Christopher

This is the first published novel by Adam Christopher. I’ve met Adam once and he is one of those genuine people, so it is no surprise that he got the chance to pitch for this novel due to impressing The Robot Overlords as a person as well as with his short stories (see the link to his site to read some). Being a twitter follower for a year I pre-ordered this book as soon as it was available. Luckily for me the pixies at my local Waterstone’s managed to get my copy in before the release date. Happy days.

The first thing that I could not help but notice is that this book has one of the most stunning covers I have ever seen. If I ever have an art deco room I am going to work this book cover in as a centre piece. It even has textures. I should stop now, I’m getting myself over-excited again. Back to the book.

This book is full of surprises. For me the seemingly simple writing style makes this a very easy book to read. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you’ve figured out the plot after the first fifty pages. You’re wrong. Go on, I challenge you to try. You’ll be wrong. There will be at least one more twist than you are expecting.

This book is basically a science fiction crime noir but with elements of superheroes and steampunk thrown in. I could start talking about alternate realities and pocket dimensions but I don’t want to give too much away.

The more I read of this book, the more I wanted to read. I really enjoyed the setting, and feel that it has a lot to offer. Which brings be rather neatly to yet another innovative idea from Angry Robot. How about a fan fiction site where your work could be published? I haven’t heard of anything like this since the old cyberpunk bulletin board days. If you want to find out more go to worldbuilderonline.com for more information. The usual Angry Robot extras in this book include an interview with Chuck Wendig and a music playlist that relates to this novel.

This is a really enjoyable read that will also look good on your shelf. I’ll just be off to look for the release date of Adam’s next novel.

The Bookman by Lavie Tidhar

This is yet another great release from Angry Robot Books. It was purchased for the price of 99p from Amazon UK. That is less that a cup of coffee, less even than a vote for Britain’s got “talent”.  This book is so cheap I almost feel guilty.

Lavie Tidhar is an interesting person to follow on Twitter, or to read short stories by. I don’t always agree with what he says, but he is nearly always thought provoking.

This book is different from all the other Angry Robot books I have read so far. Normally there is a really high pace throughout the story. I don’t think that would have worked with this one. There is a lot going on, and I barely realised I was at the end until I got there. Most of the threads were tied off so nicely, and those that were not seemed to be deliberately so. I am going to have to read Camera Obscura and I am looking forward to it. I found the structure of this book delightful (can’t believe I said that, but it is true). I love the excerpt from famous works that heads each chapter, and provides an insight into what it contains. There are many literary quotes scattered throughout this piece that show the author has a deep and extensive collection of reading materials.

David Icke. There I said it. I can’t help it. I can’t help thinking that this book may actually be deliberately poking fun at the idea of the royal family being 4th dimensional lizards as part of a Jewish New World Order Conspiracy. At least in my mind that is what political scientists and literature lecturers will be saying in fifty years. It is cleverly done, and made into a serious Steampunk novel. Although Lizardpunk may be closer to the mark. The main protagonist has no idea what is going on for the entire novel, which is easy for me to relate to. More importantly, it is not obvious to the reader exactly what is going on to start with. I found the intensity of the book made this a bit of a slog around the half-way point, but it added so much to the story moving forward. The villain? Well that is an interesting point. There is not a defined villain as such, more a collection of different factions that desire vastly differing outcomes. It is a lot more like real life that a classic good vs evil battle.

There is not a great big cinematic over-the-top ending to this story. The ending fits the writing style, and makes sure you want to read the sequel. It requires a lot of brain power to process this book without coming across as pretentious or overly high-minded.

As usual the Robot Overlords have included extras at the end of this book. A goodly portion of Camera Obscura to aid the brainwashing, er, I mean subtle advertising for the next book in the series. I had to start reading something else straight away to stop me buying the next one on the spot.

This book is subtle and clever and enjoyable to read for anyone who like Steampunk or fiction that makes you think. Oh and it has robots in it.

I should also point out that I have just seen the cover for the third book in the series and it is War of the Worlds stunning.

Unnatural History: Pax Britannia #1 by Jonathan Green

This is a Steampunk novel. If you are confused by all the genre and sub-genre talk and have no idea what speculative fiction is don’t panic. It doesn’t really matter as knowing a genre can sometimes be a bad thing. I spent years avoiding Steampunk books because I read Jeter and did not enjoy his work. I’d heard that Jeter was one of the best Steampunk authors so I assumed I disliked the whole genre. When asked on Twitter the other day by @gavreads it actually sounded really silly that I avoided a whole sub-genre because of one book. It is silly and no different from judging people without getting to know them. This is no longer an issue thanks to the writing of Mr Green.

This is a fun book set in the heart of the British Empire. Only technology is still based on Victorian and Edwardian ideals and Queen Victoria is still alive (kinda) in 1996. Ulysses Quicksilver is on first appearances a dandy and a fop. To those that know him he is a gentleman adventurer. What most people don’t realise is that he is a crown agent risking life and limb in defence of the realm. A flair for dramatic entrances and making improbable escapes from peril obviously draws comparisons with James Bond, but the characters are very different.

The adventure starts with what appears to be a burglary at the Natural History museum. From there things get stranger as the plot thickens. The manservant Nimrod is a great straight man character that could easily be Alfred from Batman. The plot is fairly simple and gradually reveals itself in a timely manner. There is no shocking end, but there are a few surprises to keep you on your toes.

Overall this is a fun and interesting read that will make you smile think about how things could have been in modern London. I will be reading the next book at some point, but I don’t feel compelled to buy it today.

If you watch TV detective shows set in the past this will be right up your alley.