Civilian Reader is 10yrs Old… A Look Back at the First Review

Happy10thBirthdayTen years ago today, I posted my first fiction review on Civilian Reader. It’s very weird to think I’ve been writing reviews, etc., for a decade. It was not my first ever book review, though: the first novel I reviewed was Richard Morgan’s excellent Market Forces, for my university newspaper. A review that was, sadly, completely butchered by the editor. Maybe that’s one reason I decided to start my own book review website…

I’ve thought about shutting the website down a number of times over the years — sometimes more seriously than others. And yet, I keep getting drawn back into writing for it. It’s taken up a lot of my free time. I’m of two minds about whether or not this has been a good or bad thing.

And so, to mark the ten-year anniversary, here’s the first review I posted to CR…

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THE BLACK SUN by James Twining (Harper Collins)

TwiningJ-2-BlackSunUKSequel to The Double EagleThe Black Sun is a fine sophomore novel from a truly talented British author.

In London, an Auschwitz survivor is murdered in his hospital bed, his killers making off with a macabre trophy – his severed left arm.

In Fort Mead, Maryland, a vicious gang breaks into the NSA museum and steals a World War II Enigma machine, lynching the guard who happens to cross their path.

Meanwhile, in Prague, a frenzied and mindless anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue culminates in the theft of a seemingly worthless painting by a little known Czech artist called Karel Bellak.

A year has passed since Tom Kirk, the world’s greatest art thief, decided to put his criminal past behind him and embark on a new career, on the right side of the law . Then three major thefts occur, and suddenly Tom is confronted with a deadly mystery and a sinister face from the past.

James Twining has managed to write a twisting tale of historical intrigue and action, while not falling foul to the cliches and pot-holes that affect Dan Brown. There’s no dubious religious connotations or huge leaps into left field to help his arguments and premises. True, he’s clearly made some of the background up, but then that’s why this book is found in the “Fiction” section of Waterstone’s… Continue reading

Turn Back 10: HORUS RISING by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

TurnBackTimeClockIn the third instalment of “Turn Back 10”, we take a look at the third review I posted on CR.

Dan Abnett’s Horus Rising is the first novel in Black Library’s long-running, at-one-time New York Times-bestselling Horus Heresy series, chronicling the beginning of what would become the Warhammer 40,000 game and fiction universe. If you’ve been following CR for even a short while, you’ll have seen that I have been an avid, loyal reader of this series — I’ve posted many reviews of the novels, short stories, novellas and audio-dramas. I haven’t reviewed all the books, though, but probably a majority have featured in some way.

The series has experienced some ups-and-downs. The first three novels — Horus Rising, Graham McNeill’s False Gods and Ben Counter’s Galaxy In Flames — form a fantastic opening story-arc that sets the scene brilliantly, and introduces us to some of sci-fi’s most interesting characters. Sadly, the novels afterwards were of varying quality, but the series picked up again with McNeill’s A Thousand Sons, and maintained a very strong run until everything screeched to a halt with the events on Calth…

Anyway, here’s the review…

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HORUS RISING by Dan Abnett (Black Library)

Abnett-HH1-HorusRisingThe seeds of heresy are sown

At the dawn of the 31st millennium, the Imperium of Man has reasserted its dominance over the galaxy. It is a golden age of rediscovery and conquest, and the Emperor’s Great Crusade has placed his superhuman primarch sons at the head of the mighty Space Marine Legions – the most powerful military force ever assembled. Newly promoted to serve as the Emperor’s Warmaster, the idealistic Horus now stands above his brothers, even as the Crusade enters what must surely be its final stages and dark, cosmic truths begin to reveal themselves. Far beyond the alien threat of malignant xenos breeds or rogue human civilisations, a war now looms that could threaten the final extinction of mankind… The first novel in the epic series, detailing the fall of mankind at the peak of the Great Crusade. Warmaster Horus leads his Legion in the name of the Emperor… but for how long?

Horus Rising is the first book in a trilogy from Black Library that chronicles the events of the Horus Heresy, a time when humanity was ripped apart in an intergalactic civil war, under the leadership of Warmaster Horus, one of the Emperor’s Primarchs and formerly the Emperor’s favourite. Continue reading

Turn Back 10: BETRAYAL by Aaron Allston (Arrow)

TurnBackTimeClockIn this second edition of Turn Back 10, I’m taking a look at an early Star Wars novel review. In the first few months of CR, I read and reviewed a lot of Star Wars fiction. Not long before I started the blog, I had picked up a couple of newer novels in the series, having stepped away for quite some time. I can’t remember what it was that made me re-start, but I did and I got sucked into it in a big way.

They were among some of the first novels I received from a publisher for review. I think this may have coloured my reviews — I didn’t lie about what I liked, but I think I did (in the very early months) focus more on what I liked than what I didn’t. I don’t think I am alone among reviewers to have done that, not that I would ever recommend it. I also think I read many of the Star Wars novels while still in the glow of renewed fandom. This loyalty would slowly wane as ever-more novels in ever-more convoluted series-within-series were published. My interest in reading SW novels cratered in 2013, as I tried four and finished none. With the The Force Awakened behind us, and a new era in SW fiction and movies upon us, though, who knows if my interest will be reignited?

Anyway, here’s my review of Betrayal by Aaron Allston — the first in the nine-book Legacy of the Force series — from a time when the now-“Legends” novels were still pretty great…

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AllstonA-LotF1-BetrayalBETRAYAL by Aaron Allston (Arrow)

This is the era of Luke Skywalker’s legacy: the Jedi Master has unified the order into a cohesive group of powerful Jedi Knights. However, as this era begins, planetary interests threaten to disrupt this time of relative peace and Luke is plagued by visions of an approaching darkness.

Melding the galaxy into one cohesive political whole after the savage war with the Yuuzhan Vong is not the easiest task, and already some worlds are chafing under the demands of the new government. Civil war may be brewing, and the Skywalker-Solo clan find that they might not all be on the same side. Meanwhile, evil is rising again — out of the best intentions — and it looks like the legacy of the Skywalkers may come full circle…

Betrayal is the beginning of the latest Star Wars series, which ushers in (yet another) dark time for Luke Skywalker and his expanding clan of family and friends. This time, the darkness doesn’t come from beyond the galactic rim. This time, its source is far closer to home. Continue reading

Introducing “Turn back 10” & Another Look at WAY OF SHADOWS by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

TurnBackTimeManOnClockApril 8th will mark the tenth anniversary of Civilian Reader. Which is a surprise. I thought it might be interesting to post one old review per week, working back to the first — which I will re-post on April 8th. I’m going to call these “Turn Back 10” posts. The first three don’t feature content that is actually ten years old — I only wrote three reviews in 2006, after all, which would make this a pretty short exercise. Not to mention a bit dull. Each post will feature a review from the first three years of CR (2006-08). And it’s a nifty title, so I’m sticking with it. The reviews are, of course, mostly terrible in terms of style — I was still figuring out how I wanted to write them. They are often rather more hyperbolic than I would like now.

I will do some minor editing and adjusting, in order to make them fit in with the current style, and fix typos, but other than that they are re-posted as they first appeared. If I enjoy posting them, I may continue the practice after the anniversary, but try to feature reviews more relevant to what I might be reading at the time, or what I’m posting about.

Brent Weeks’s The Way of Shadows was the first fantasy novel I had read in a very long time, which wasn’t set in a shared universe or Discworld. I remember it blowing me away, too: it did things that I had thought one wouldn’t find in fantasy novels (remember, I barely read any fantasy at the time). It was, to use words that have fallen completely out of favour, grim and quite gritty. (Especially the ending, and one storyline in the second book.) Certainly, more grim and gritty than I was familiar with. I remember noticing it because Amazon recommended it because I had also bought Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora.

It was also the first fantasy novel I received from a publisher for review — up until that point, it had been predominantly non-fiction and Star Wars novels. It also marked the point when Civilian Reader started to take off — in terms of readership and also how much time and effort I poured into the site. I also remember, after publishing the review, incessantly pestering Orbit’s publicist for the next two novels in the series… (Thankfully, the then-publicist has the patience of a saint.)

WeeksB-NA1-WayOfShadowsTHE WAY OF SHADOWS by Brent Weeks (Orbit)

The start of something truly fantastic

The perfect killer has no friends. Only targets. 

For Durzo Blint, assassination is an art. And he is the city’s most accomplished artist, his talents required from alleyway to courtly boudoir.

For Azoth, survival is precarious. Something you never take for granted. As a guild rat, he’s grown up in the slums, and learned the hard way to judge people quickly — and to take risks. Risks like apprenticing himself to Durzo Blint.

But to be accepted, Azoth must turn his back on his old life and embrace a new identity and name. As Kylar Stern, he must learn to navigate the assassins’ world of dangerous politics and strange magics — and cultivate a flair for death.

Fantasy fiction has undertaken a shift in tone and style in recent years. It’s darker, more realistic (oddly), and the characters are less polished, more flawed and human. The fairy-tale feel of older fantasy fiction has been purged from much the genre’s new writing, and the world is better for it. Brent Weeks’ new series not only fits perfectly into this new genre, but it surpasses much of what’s already available. Continue reading