Review: Retribution Falls (Tales of the Ketty Jay #1) ~ Chris Wooding

retribution fallsFrey is the captain of the Ketty Jay, leader of a small and highly dysfunctional band of layabouts. An inveterate womaniser and rogue, he and his gang make a living on the wrong side of the law, avoiding the heavily armed flying frigates of the Coalition Navy. With their trio of ragged fighter craft, they run contraband, rob airships and generally make a nuisance of themselves. So a hot tip on a cargo freighter loaded with valuables seems like a great prospect for an easy heist and a fast buck. Until the heist goes wrong, and the freighter explodes. Suddenly Frey isn’t just a nuisance anymore – he’s public enemy number one, with the Coalition Navy on his tail and contractors hired to take him down. But Frey knows something they don’t. That freighter was rigged to blow, and Frey has been framed to take the fall. If he wants to prove it, he’s going to have to catch the real culprit. He must face liars and lovers, dogfights and gunfights, Dukes and daemons. It’s going to take all his criminal talents to prove he’s not the criminal they think he is …

4 Thumbs-UpIf you are a Browncoat who is lost in lamentations over the cancellation of Firefly, this is the book for you.  I’m not saying it will replace the crew of Serenity, but it will go a long way to fill the void and feed the need for a good pirate/cowboy steampunk western.

The individual crew members of the Ketty Jay are introduced to the reader one by one, with each revealing their story, apart from the Captain.  To say he was a work in progress would be an understatement as his character was developed and grew and the novel progressed.  Most of all the characters are loveable on the Ketty Jay, maybe not so much their motives and reasoning at some points, but they each have something about them that will have the reader wanting to learn more about them and join them on their adventures;  Id’ join them if we could leave the Captain behind as I just could not warm to him and thought him to be a bit of a spineless human being.  As in all the good adventure stories the villains, are well just that, villains.  From the description of these characters, right down to the personalities they each have there is nothing that could have the reader mistaking them for being anything else than what they are…baddies.

Although, in my opinion, the story takes a while to get underway this is not a bad thing, as in these ‘slow’ moments is where the set-up for the adventure begins and when it starts it definitely moves along at a cracking pace and does not disappoint at all.  Through great writing the Author is able to provide a perfect balance of sadness alongside humour and wraps it all up in the form of shenanigans.  There is magic, gun play, sword fights and daemons; so enough of everything to appeal to most reader.

I would highly recommend this novel to all Browncoats, steampunk fans and lovers of the type of adventure novels that are so hard to come by today.  I will definitely be reading the remaining ‘Tales of the Ketty Jay’ novels.

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Review: Clockwork Angels: The Novel ~ Kevin J. Anderson, Neil Peart

Clockwork AngelsIn a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels through a lavish and colourful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

For more than two centuries, the land of Albion has been ruled by the supposedly benevolent Watchmaker, who imposes precision on every aspect of life. Young Owen Hardy from the village of Barrel Arbor dreams of seeing the big city and the breathtaking Clockwork Angels that dispense wisdom to the people, maybe even catching a glimpse of the Watchmaker himself.

He watched the steamliners drift by, powered by alchemical energy, as they head towards the Crown City — never dreaming that he is already caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos, between the Watchmaker and his nemesis, the Anarchist. Owen’s journeys begin at a fabulous carnival with clockwork wonders beyond his imagination, and take him aboard airships, far into the Redrock Desert to seek lost cities, through storms at sea to encounters with pirates … and give him a chance at love

4 Thumbs-UpBefore I review this book, I need to point out that I haven’t heard the album of the same name by Rush, so this review is based solely on my thoughts about this book. This is a book that I may have picked up in a store because the cover intrigued me but may not have actually purchased, so it being a free gift from Emerald City ComicCon was a plus.

From the first page the reader is introduced to the main protagonist, and it is through his journey into adulthood that we are introduced to the world he inhabits.  Initially I was under the impression that, because of his naiveté, this character could not possibly be the one who the storyline would centre around; I was sure he would be chewed up and spit out like so many broken watch parts, but this was not the case.  This character is not a complex or multifaceted one in anyway, but he is written with traits and questions in his mind that will make the reader think; order or chaos, life and death, freedom of choice and success or failure, are all covered and encountered by the main character as he journeys through this book.  I enjoyed travelling with this character and joining in his adventures so much that, by the time I finished this book I felt I would miss  our time together and I hoped his future would hold good things for him.  As much as I liked this character, I did feel that the Author would have done this book a great service by providing an equally despicable and thoroughly unlikeable villain as a counterpart but, despite there not being such a character it really did not pull away from my liking of this book as a whole.

Steampunk is always a great genre to find action and adventure set in semi-quasi historical settings, and this book was no different in this respect.  However, if you pick this up and read it purely as a steampunk fantasy you will, in my opinion be missing out on so much more and possibly some of the best pieces of this book.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in French literature (parts of it carry a strong resemblance to Voltaire’s work) and also those with an interest in philosophy.  This is a book that needs to be read slowly and savoured with time given over to the thinking it will provoke.

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Review: Leviathan (Leviathan #1) ~ Scott Westerfeld, Keith Thompson

LeviathanPrince Aleksander, would-be heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battletorn war machine and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.

With World War I brewing, Alek and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way…taking them on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure that will change both their lives forever.

2 Thumbs-UpAfter having this book highly recommended to me, I was looking forward to reading it; what a disappointment. For a book supposedly aimed at the YA market, I found this novel to be so childish it really needs to be reclassified.

As in the true fashion of children’s books there was little to no character development, and what there is paints a picture in the reader’s mind of children not even in their teens; and the way in which not only the Author writes about their motivations and the portrayal of them in the illustrations only serves to cement this image.  I do enjoy both children’s books and those aimed at the YA audience, but there was nothing in the pages of this novel that either captured my attention or made me care one hoot as to what happened to any of the people featured in it.

The descriptions of the war machinery and fabricated animals were, for me, the most interesting part of this book and although these descriptions weighed on the heavy side, they were the only thing that kept me reading to the end.  I enjoyed the way in which the Author described the manufacturing process behind the zeppelins, and after reading the paragraphs of how to operate one felt as if I could jump into one and take to the skies.  Another plus point for me, and this combined with the descriptive skill of the Author are the only reason this book received a two thumb rating, was the cover art and outstanding illustrations. 

Although I personally didn’t enjoy this book, it just wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t discourage any other reader from picking this up and giving it a look; if only for the wonderful illustrations it contains.

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Review: The Anubis Gates ~ Tim Powers

Anubis GatesBrendan Doyle, a specialist in the work of the early-nineteenth century poet William Ashbless, reluctantly accepts an invitation from a millionaire to act as a guide to time-travelling tourists. But while attending a lecture given by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in 1810, he becomes marooned in Regency London, where dark and dangerous forces know about the gates in time. Caught up in the intrigue between rival bands of beggars, pursued by Egyptian sorcerers, befriended by Coleridge, Doyle somehow survives. And learns more about the mysterious Ashbless than he could ever have imagined possible.

3 Thumbs-UpThis is a book that generates curiosity, moves along at high speed, fills the imagination with wonder and provides great enjoyment to the reader.

The Author creates all the characters in such a compelling way, even those that play a supporting role that the reader finds themselves wanting more, unfortunately this never comes. A tantalizing amount of time is spent with each of the character, but it is never enough; this leaves the reading feeling they have spent barely enough time with each of them before they are gone. There were simply never enough of these characters, and it left me feeling cheated, and wanting more of them.

One of the problems I found with this novel, and I am not sure if it was intentional on the part of the Author, was there is so much packed into a mere 380 pages.  In this small space the reader encounters Beggar’s guilds, Egyptian wizards, Romantic poets and business magnates; prize fighters mix with cross dressing vengeance seekers, mad clowns, body snatchers, fire elementals and gypsies.  They are subject to time slips that bounce them from 1810 to 1983 to 1660 and back into the 1800’s at such a pace that I felt I needed motion sickness pills to get me through but, despite all this jumping the Author manages to keep the plot following a linear path of cause and effect.  On the negative side of all this time jumping there are huge gaps; the story moves on too quickly leaving the reader wanting more of the unfulfilled promise of sweeping and epic adventures.  All of this is, however, extremely effective.  It makes the reader want to continue through the novel, joining in with the good old fashioned chases.  It is also the downfall of this piece of writing.

Being left wanting more can be a good thing, particularly with this kind of high fantasy and fast paced adventure read but, in the case of this novel I found it to be extremely frustrating.  To counter this feeling of frustration one of two things could have been done by the Author; either increase the story to match the scale of the book or reduce the epic scale of the book itself, with either of these alterations this book could have become so much more than it is, an entertaining sci-fi fantasy adventure.

In the end this novel is far more time travel than Steampunk and leaves the reader feeling more than a little short-changed and frustrated.  Regardless of these shortcomings, reading this book is not a waste of time and I would recommend it to those lovers of the time travel genre and also people who enjoy a good old fashioned adventure story.

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Review: The Rithmatist (Rithmatist #1) ~ Brandon Sanderson

RithmatistMore than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever.

4 Thumbs-UpThis book was recommended to me and, at first, I was a little wary of reading it having heard through the bookish grapevine some very uncomplimentary things about the Author.  However, trusting the judgement of a young man who said I would enjoy it I took the plunge, and I am so glad I did; this Authors first foray into the YA arena is very good.  It is also the first, in what promises to be a very good series.

From the main protagonist to the lowliest mention, the reader is given enough of their flaws and strengths to be able to build a relationship with each of them, and have them caring about the outcome of the plot.  The main protagonist is very well written, and comes through as a caring and sensitive soul, as much as he may try to hide it behind bluff and bravado; he is also highly intelligent using his weaknesses as motivation and, like most highly intelligent people I know, brushes off his strengths as being no big deal.  Character development in this novel is very well handled in that insights into all the players are gradually inserted into the book as the reader progresses.  This works very well in this situation as the reader knows there will be a follow on novel, and these are only the foundations the Author is laying for both himself and the reader, in the development of the characters.

There is magic everywhere in this book, but not the usual mundane stuff of witches, wizards and mages; this magic is something entirely new and totally engrossing.  As the roots of the magical elements are based in mathematics, the Author takes time to give in-depth explanations, and also provide diagrams at the beginning of each chapter to tie everything together in a good high fantasy ride full of mystery and adventure. To compare it to any other novel revolving around magic in this genre would be to do it a great disservice and harm, this is a book that stands on its own merits and needs no comparisons to other works to make it a truly good read.  The ending to the novel is neatly tied off, but leaves enough room to give the reader a glance into what is coming next.

I would highly recommend this book to those looking for a high fantasy/adventure novel that is sprinkled with mystery and intrigue. Given the Steampunk aspects of this novel, those that enjoy this genre would most likely find this to be a good read; the novel is also simple enough for middle-grade readers to enjoy even though it is primarily aimed at the YA audience.

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Review: The Looking Glass Wars (The Looking Glass Wars, #1) ~ Frank Beddor

The Looking Glass WarsAlyss of Wonderland?
When Alyss Heart, heir to the Wonderland throne, must flee through the Pool of Tears to escape the murderous aunt Redd, she finds herself lost and alone in Victorian London. Befriended by an aspiring author named Lewis Carroll, Alyss tells the violent, heartbreaking story of her young life. Alyss trusts this author to tell the truth so that someone, somewhere will find her and bring her home. But he gets the story all wrong. He even spells her name incorrectly!
Fortunately, Royal Bodyguard Hatter Madigan knows all too well the awful truth of Alyss’ story and he is searching every corner of our world to find the lost princess and return her to Wonderland so she may eventually battle Redd for her rightful place as the Queen of Hearts.

The Looking Glass Wars unabashedly challenges our Wonderland assumptions surrounding mad tea parties, grinning Cheshire cats, and a curious little blond girl to reveal an epic battle in the endless war for Imagination

3 Thumbs-UpThis is NOT Alice in Wonderland, it is the first novel in The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy and a debut work for this Author.

 Also, I have to say that this was a lot more interesting to read than the original Alice and, in some way this book could even be said to be nudging into the Steampunk genre.  Without giving away any spoilers, I’m going to say if you are looking for the drug crazed explanation people like to put behind Carroll’s book, don’t read this book.  If you’re looking for an enjoyably good read, and are prepared to have an open mind, settle in for the night.

The intent of this book is both intriguing and audacious, with a hint of healthy disrespect thrown in for good measure.  The Author does away with clichéd characterisations in his writing, and makes all the players in this Trilogy exactly who they seem.  There are no grey areas, good and bad, or hidden agendas that the reader has to get their minds round but even so, some of the characters in the novel may seem striking familiar giving a feeling in the back of the mind that they have been encountered somewhere before.  This lack of development of characters, and even the lack of a devious plot twist, made this book a little hard to digest, and I kept thinking that it would pick up and have me beginning to actually care about Alyss as the pages turned.  This was not to be, I found her to be spoilt and imperious; disrespectful and a downright bore at times.

Location descriptions were a little better for me, as it brought into the book an aspect that was lacking in its one-dimensional characters.  I was made to think of ‘Whoville’ and ‘Oz’ (as it appears in the recent release of this take), and I could actually see the colours and places in my mind.  This brought me to thinking that maybe a more suitable medium for this book would have been a graphic novel, were the artwork plays a more integral part in the story telling, and there isn’t as much expectation from the writing side of the house.  Another reasoning behind my thinking this would fare better as a graphic novel is that it was the image on the dust jacket of the book, and the artistic representations of the suits in a deck of cards that first attracted me to the Trilogy; I was hoping the writing contained in its pages would do justice to the graphics unfortunately it was not to be.

When reworking a classic, I feel it must always be done with some measure of guile and finesse, neither of which I found to be in evidence here. All that the Author seems to have produced in this novel is a sloppily plotted mish-mash of ideas, which failed to convince me in any way.  I will read the remainder of the Trilogy, however, to see if the writing style does improve and that this book was just a case of first work nerves coming through on the page.

I would recommend this to teens, as this is the demographic it appears to be aimed at, but also to anyone wanting a quick read that they don’t have to put too much thought into.

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‘And now for something completely different’

“Let’s face it, writing is hell.”
~William Styron

writers almanacI thought it was about time to take a break from the book reviews, and my attempts at writing articles I think may interest people, and hand today over to those who actually know what they are about.  Today, Wednesday August 28, 2013, I am turning my blog over to “The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor”.  For those of you reading who may not be familiar with this web site, it contains daily poems, prose, and literary history from Garrison Keillor, and other Authors.  Not only do these great folks keep this website full of wonderful tidbits, they also produce a podcast for us to listen to as we go about our day.  So, without further ado, take it away “The Writer’s Almanac”:

“Song of Smoke
by Kevin Young

To watch you walk
cross the room in your black

corduroys is to see
civilization start—
the wish-
whish-whisk

of your strut is flint
striking rock—the spark

of a length of cord
rubbed till

smoke starts—you stir
me like coal

and for days smolder.
I am no more

a Boy Scout and besides,
could never

put you out—you
keep me on

all day like an iron, out
of habit—

you threaten, brick—
house, to burn

all this down. You leave me
only a chimney.

“Song of Smoke” by Kevin Young, From Jelly Roll © Knopf, 2003. Reprinted with permission.

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It’s the birthday of the father of German literature, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , born in Frankfurt, Germany (1749), the author of the epic drama Faust.

He moved to Italy in 1786, and when he returned to Germany two years later, he fell in love with a woman from Weimer, Christiane Vulpius, a 23-year-old who was 16 years his junior. That year, he wrote her an epithalamium, a wedding poem, but he didn’t actually marry her; instead, the couple lived together for 18 years unwed. That is, until one night, Christiane saved Goethe’s life by driving off a band of Napoleon’s soldiers who had broken in their home. Goethe went down to a church the very next day and married her, his live-in girlfriend of 18 years.

In 1806, the same year of the home invasion and marriage, Goethe published a preliminary version of Part I of his great work, Faust, the story of a brilliant scholar named Heinrich Faust, who makes a deal with the devil. The great epic has it all: seduction, murder, sleeping potions, an illegitimate love child, a stray poodle that transforms into the devil, contracts signed with blood, imprisonment in dungeons, heavenly voices, and even redemption. Faust is often called a “closet drama” because it’s intended to be read, not performed. Goethe spent 50 years working on this two-volume masterpiece, finishing it in 1832, the year of his death.

Christiane survived for only a decade after her and Goethe’s wedding. In later life, after recovering from a heart disease that nearly killed him, the 73-year-old Goethe fell passionately in love with an 18-year-old woman, Ulrike von Levetzow, and was devastated when she turned down his proposals of marriage.

Goethe, who said, “One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.”

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It’s the birthday of poet Rita Dove , born in Akron, Ohio (1952). Her father had a master’s degree in chemistry but had to work as an elevator operator because he was black. He eventually became the first African-American chemist to work for Goodyear Tires.

He encouraged his daughter to take advantage of education, and she was at the top of her class. She was chosen as one of 100 of the best high school students in the country to visit the president of the United States. Her parents assumed that she would go on to become a doctor or lawyer, so when she announced that she wanted to be a poet, they weren’t sure what to make of it. She said, “[My father] swallowed once and said, ‘Well, I’ve never understood poetry, so don’t be upset if I don’t read it.'” Her teachers at college told her that she was throwing her education away if she didn’t study something more practical.

But with her poetry collection Thomas and Beulah (1986), based loosely on the lives of her grandparents, she became only the second African-American to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and she went on to become the first African-American national poet laureate.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®

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Host: Garrison Keillor
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