Review: HOUSE RECKONING and HOUSE RIVALS by Mike Lawson (Grove/Atlantic)

LawsonM-JD09-HouseReckoningThe ninth and tenth Joe DeMarco novels

When Joe DeMarco was a boy, he always knew his father, Gino, had a shadowy job, working for a violent mafioso in New York. But he didn’t know that his father had been a hit man until he was murdered. The crime was never solved, but twenty years later, one of Gino’s former mob associates wants to get something off his chest before retiring to his grave: the truth about Gino DeMarco’s killer.

Only the alleged killer was not just another hood, but a supposedly upstanding citizen who is now on the brink of taking a job in Washington, D.C., that would leave him virtually untouchable. If DeMarco has any hope of finding out the truth and avenging his father’s death, he will have to act quickly. But is revenge over a two-decades-old tragedy worth his job, and maybe even his life?

House Reckoning tells DeMarco’s personal story in full for the first time, from his upbringing in Queens to his complicated relationship with his father.

Mike Lawson’s Joe DeMarco novels are among my favourite political thrillers. The series has been pretty varied so far, taking DeMarco all over the map. In these two novels, something from his past takes him to New York City and something in his boss’s past (and a fanatical offspring) takes him to the Dakotas and Montana. Another two great additions to the series.
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SaulterS-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Stephanie Saulter?

She’s Jamaican-born, American-educated, a Londoner by choice. A good cook and a bad singer. Possessor of a career that’s had at least as much to do with what could be learned as what could be earned. The person who never ends up seeing the films that everyone else is talking about, because she stayed home and read a book.

Your novel Binary is due to be published in the US by Quercus in May 2015. It’s the second in your ®Evolution series – how would you introduce the series to a new reader, and what can fans expect from book two?

The ®Evolution trilogy is set in a London of the near future, around a hundred years after a technologically-caused pandemic known as the Syndrome came close to wiping out the entire human species. Genetic engineering of embryos eventually provided immunity and prevented extinction, but with some babies it was taken further, creating a servant class of genetically modified humans known as gems. This continued for generations, until the indenture system was abolished and gems were acknowledged to have at least some of the rights of other humans. The first book, Gemsigns, takes place against the backdrop of the upheaval that follows this decision. The gemtechs are trying to overturn it and reclaim the people they think of as their property; those people are living in freedom for the first time, and fighting to preserve it; there are progressives who want to help them, and religious extremists who want to wipe them out; the norm majority are conflicted, fearful and easily manipulated. It’s an explosive mix. Events pivot around the gems’ charismatic leader, Aryel Morningstar – a woman whose origins and abilities are shrouded in mystery, and who is loved and feared in equal measure. Continue reading

Audio Review: HOW STAR WARS CONQUERED THE UNIVERSE by Chris Taylor (Basic Books/Head of Zeus)

TaylorC-HowStarWarsConqueredUniverseUSThe book every Star Wars fan is looking for…? Yes.

Why do most people know what an Ewok is, even if they haven’t seen Return of the Jedi? How have Star Wars action figures come to outnumber human beings? How did ‘Jedi’ become an officially recognised religion? When did the films’ merchandising revenue manage to rival the GDP of a small country?

Tracing the birth, death and rebirth of the epic universe built by George Lucas and hundreds of writers, artists, producers, and marketers, Chris Taylor jousts with modern-day Jedi, tinkers with droid builders, and gets inside Boba Fett’s helmet, all to find out how STAR WARS has attracted and inspired so many fans for so long.

This book is the first comprehensive history of the Star Wars phenomenon, tracing its origins and examining the incredible impact the films (especially the first three) had on science fiction, film-making and storytelling. Written by Mashable journalist Chris Taylor, this book is a fascinating trove of trivia, insight and observation. Taylor traces almost every kernel of influence — from George Lucas’s fascination and fondness for Flash Gordon to his early days of wanting to be a race-car driver — to paint the most detailed picture of the franchise’s evolution. I alternated between the audiobook edition (provided by Audible UK) and an eARC (provided by Basic Books).

The short version of this review is pretty simple: How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is a must-read for all fans of science fiction. Continue reading

Excerpt: CITY OF STAIRS by Robert Jackson Bennett (Jo Fletcher Books)

BennettRJ-CityOfStairsUKRobert Jackson Bennett‘s City of Stairs was one of my favourite novels from last year. Just released in paperback in the UK by Jo Fletcher Books, the publisher has provided and extract for me to share here. But first, the synopsis:

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions — until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world’s new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself — first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it — stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov’s oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country’s most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem — and that Bulikov’s cruel reign may not yet be over.

Read on for Chapter 1…
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Review: VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab (Tor/Titan)

SchwabVE-ViciousUSA marvellous novel

Victor and Eli started out as college roommates — brilliant, arrogant, lonely boys who recognized the same sharpness and ambition in each other. In their senior year, a shared research interest in adrenaline, near-death experiences, and seemingly supernatural events reveals an intriguing possibility: that under the right conditions, someone could develop extraordinary abilities. But when their thesis moves from the academic to the experimental, things go horribly wrong.

Ten years later, Victor breaks out of prison, determined to catch up to his old friend (now foe), aided by a young girl whose reserved nature obscures a stunning ability. Meanwhile, Eli is on a mission to eradicate every other super-powered person that he can find — aside from his sidekick, an enigmatic woman with an unbreakable will. Armed with terrible power on both sides, driven by the memory of betrayal and loss, the archnemeses have set a course for revenge — but who will be left alive at the end?

This novel got a lot of attention in the lead-up to its publication, and the attention has barely wained (the paperback edition came out a couple of weeks ago). I held off reading it for some time, largely because I have cooled to super-hero novels (each one I’ve read has been something of a disappointment). With Vicious, though, the hype is entirely justified. If you read only one super-hero novel, make it this one. If you only read one fantastical novel, make it this one. It’s marvellous. Continue reading

Review: THE EMPEROR’S BLADES by Brian Staveley (Tor)

Staveley-1-TheEmperorsBladesUKA superb, must-read debut epic fantasy

The circle is closing. The stakes are high. And old truths will live again…

The Emperor has been murdered, leaving the Annurian Empire in turmoil. Now his progeny must prepare to unmask a conspiracy. His son Valyn, training for the empire’s deadliest fighting force, hears the news an ocean away. And after several ‘accidents’ and a dying soldier’s warning, he realizes his life is also in danger. Yet before Valyn can act, he must survive the mercenaries’ brutal final initiation.

The Emperor’s daughter, Minister Adare, hunts her father’s murderer in the capital. Court politics can be fatal, but she needs justice. Lastly Kaden, heir to the empire, studies in a remote monastery. Here, the Blank God’s disciples teach their harsh ways, which Kaden must master to unlock ancient powers. But when an imperial delegation arrives, has he learnt enough to keep him alive, as long-hidden powers make their move?

There was much hype around The Emperor’s Blades when it was released last year. Naturally, being the ornery and difficult fellow, I decided to wait. And wait. As the weeks passed, I became distracted by other things and other new books. Then I moved to Canada. After the arrival of the sequel, The Providence of Fire, I decided I had waited long enough, and started reading The Emperor’s Blades (wow, that was one long, convoluted tale that was utterly unimportant and uninteresting…). And then I kept reading. Well into the night, multiple times. With only a couple of niggles, I can sum things up thus: Believe the hype. This is a great novel and the beginning of something special. Continue reading

Review: MESSENGER’S LEGACY by Peter V. Brett (Voyager/Subterranean)

Brett-MessengersLegacyUKAn enjoyable new Demon Cycle novella

Humanity has been brought to the brink of extinction. Each night, the world is overrun by demons. Bloodthirsty creatures of nightmare that have been hunting the surface for over 300 years. A scant few hamlets and half-starved city-states are all that remain of a once proud civilization, and it is only by hiding behind wards, ancient symbols with the power to repel the demons, that they survive. A handful of Messengers brave the night to keep the lines of communication open between the increasingly isolated populace.

Briar Damaj is a boy of six in the small village of Bogton. Half-Krasian, the village children call him Mudboy for his dark skin. When tragedy strikes, Briar decides the town is better off without him, fleeing into the bog with nothing but his wits and a bit of herb lore to protect him.

After twenty years, Ragen Messenger has agreed to retire and pass on his route to his protégé, Arlen Bales. But for all that he’s earned the rest, he has no idea what to do with the rest of his life. When he learns Briar, the son of an old friend, is missing, Ragen is willing to risk any danger to bring him safely home.

Any new fiction from Peter V. Brett is something to celebrate. He is probably my favourite fantasy author, and his series has been riveting and addictive from the beginning. Messenger’s Legacy, the third novella in the best-selling, superb Demon Cycle world, is another good addition to the series. It focuses on a new character, Briar, and also the messenger who took in Arlen, Regan. What begins with a rather idyllic, but not easy look at the life of Briar and his family turns into tragedy pretty quickly. Briar is half-Krasian, so he and his siblings, not to mention his father, are frequent targets of local resentment and racism. I liked the way Brett wove this into the story — it doesn’t dominate, but it also offers some great commentary on contemporary Western society.

It’s a good-length novella, and I was entertained from beginning to end. The scenes at night, as Briar or Regan (or both) dealt with the corelings are superb — the author is always advancing the readers’ understanding of how these demons function in the world, and I liked the new ways Briar develops to protect himself living in the swamps. A great short story, and also a great lead-in to the fourth novel in the series, The Skull Throne — Briar will apparently feature quite centrally in that book. It’s published in March/April 2015, and I really can’t wait. I think I may have enjoyed the previous two novellas, Brayan’s Gold and The Grand Bazaar, a bit more than this one, but this was still very good.

If you haven’t tried the series yet, then I strongly urge you pick up The Painted Man (UK)/The Warded Man (US) immediately. While you’re at it, get The Desert Spear and The Daylight War at the same time, because I doubt you’ll be able to read just one. This series has my highest recommendation. A must-read.


Messenger’s Legacy is published in the UK by Voyager, and in the US by Subterranean Press.

Review: PRINCE LESTAT by Anne Rice (Chatto & Windus/Knopf)

RiceA-PrinceLestatUK2The Vampires Return…

The vampire world is in crisis – their kind have been proliferating out of control and, thanks to technologies undreamed of in previous centuries, they can communicate as never before. Roused from their earth-bound slumber, ancient ones are in thrall to the Voice: which commands that they burn fledgling vampires in cities from Paris to Mumbai, Hong Kong to Kyoto and San Francisco. Immolations, huge massacres, have commenced all over the world.

Who – or what – is the Voice? What does it desire, and why?

There is only one vampire, only one blood drinker, truly known to the entire world of the Undead. Will the dazzling hero-wanderer, the dangerous rebel-outlaw Lestat heed the call to unite the Children of Darkness as they face this new twilight?

Few novels have had as much of a lasting impression on me as Anne Rice’s The Vampire Lestat and Queen of the Damned. I have read them so many times, now. I have, of course, also read the other novels in the Vampire Chronicles. It was with considerable anticipation, then, that I started this long-awaited new novel. It did not disappoint. An ambitious expansion of the existing mythology, and an engrossing update to the lives of Lestat and the undead tribe. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE RELIC GUILD by Edward Cox (Gollancz)

CoxE-RG1-RelicGuild2014The first part in an exciting new fantasy trilogy

In the sealed Labyrinth, a young woman must find a way to control her magic and escape her prison in this remarkable debut fantasy.

Magic caused the war. Magic is forbidden. Magic will save us.

It was said the Labyrinth had once been the great meeting place, a sprawling city at the heart of an endless maze where a million humans hosted the Houses of the Aelfir. The Aelfir who had brought trade and riches, and a future full of promise. But when the Thaumaturgists, overlords of human and Aelfir alike, went to war, everything was ruined and the Labyrinth became an abandoned forbidden zone, where humans were trapped behind boundary walls 100 feet high.

Now the Aelfir are a distant memory and the Thaumaturgists have faded into myth. Young Clara struggles to survive in a dangerous and dysfunctional city, where eyes are keen, nights are long, and the use of magic is punishable by death. She hides in the shadows, fearful that someone will discover she is touched by magic. She knows her days are numbered. But when a strange man named Fabian Moor returns to the Labyrinth, Clara learns that magic serves a higher purpose and that some myths are much more deadly in the flesh.

The only people Clara can trust are the Relic Guild, a secret band of magickers sworn to protect the Labyrinth. But the Relic Guild are now too few. To truly defeat their old nemesis Moor, mightier help will be required. To save the Labyrinth – and the lives of one million humans – Clara and the Relic Guild must find a way to contact the worlds beyond their walls.

This is a fantastic debut, and one that worked for me on pretty much every level. I’ve now read two different versions of The Relic Guild. The first was an early draft, back in 2012. I don’t say this to brag.* But rather, because it was interesting to be able to see some of the process – issues were ironed out, and the novel improved considerably between the two versions. I really enjoyed this, and definitely think Cox is an author to watch. This is a great first installment, and a must-read of 2014. Continue reading

Review: STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel (Knopf/Picador)

MandelESJ-StationElevenUSA superb, must-read post-apocalyptic

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave.

I was rather nervous, coming into this novel. It’s received so much attention and advance praise, that I feared inevitable disappointment. Instead, I find the hype entirely justified. This is an absolutely marvellous novel: beautiful prose, excellent pacing, an engaging plot, and well-rounded, sympathetic characters. A must-read of the year. If you only read one dystopian/post-apocalypse novel, make it Station Eleven. Continue reading