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Tuesday, 15 March 2016

March Reviews at the Nameless Zine

I write book reviews for The Nameless Zine, an online zine run by the Western Science Fiction Association (WesternSFA), a non-profit fandom group based here in Arizona.

As the Nameless Zine follows a graphical indexing system, I also maintain my own text index of what I've written at my own website. You can find it here at the Reviews at the Nameless Zine page.

Reviews at the Nameless Zine post monthly on the 15th of each month and March's batch are now online. I reviewed seven books this month:

Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling




This is a magnificent graphic novel from First Second that continues a series by Tony Cliff that was begun in Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant, a book that was nominated for Eisner, Shuster and Harvey Awards. Book two works well even if you haven't read the prior volume; I haven't, but I certainly will.

We're in the early 19th century with an Englishwoman traipsing around the continent in voluminous dresses but somehow coming across as a sort of Indiana Jones type anyway. The plot is not particularly deep but it's thoroughly enjoyable and the style reminds of Hergé's Adventures of Tintin. The lines are simple but effective, most of the book beginning as pencil art that's enhanced digitally.

If the story isn't deep, at least the characters have substance and we're all going to cheer for our heroine and her long-suffering companion, the Turkish Lieutenant of the first book, Erdemoglu Selim. Neither play to convention and I'm looking forward to seeing them grow as this series expands.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine.

The Mall of Cthulhu




I had a lot of fun with this book by Seamus Cooper, even if the story is thoroughly predictable and the characters hardly deep. The leads, Laura the FBI rookie and Ted the latte maker, are more like sets of neuroses riffed on throughout, and the villains of the piece could be replaced by cardboard cutouts for all the depth they're given. Laura is Clarice Starling lite and Ted is a human version of Odie from the Garfield cartoons.

We're in a world where bad things exist, but most people don't know about them, just those like Laura and Ted who happened to encounter a vampire sorority in college. So when they stumble onto a set of cultists all set on recovering a copy of the inevitable Necronomicon from under H P Lovecraft's house in Providence to call the elder gods forth from non-Euclidean dimensions, it's up to Laura and Ted to do something about it.

What works most is the humour, which is utterly irreverent and, on occasion, blasphemous, if you're fans of Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos (and if you aren't, this would be a strange way for you to learn about it). More serious die hards are going to get a little upset here and the rest of us really need to buy into the humour to dig the rest.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine.

Two Serpents Rise




I'm working through Max Gladstone's Craft Sequence and this is the second in the series, following Three Parts Dead. It's not a sequel to that book, as almost nothing continues on from it, but it's set in the same world. Instead of a legal thriller set in Alt Coulumb, Gladstone gives us a thriller set in Dresediel Lex, a foreboding city infused with Aztec mythology.

Well, I can't say mythology when the gods are real. The King in Red defeated those which lorded it over Dresediel Lex in the God Wars and has moved the old ways, right down to human sacrifice, outside the law. We follow Caleb Altemoc, a risk assessor who works for Red King Incorporated, as he investigates sabotage of the city's water supply.

If that sounds boring, let me emphasise that it isn't. He's also the son of Temoc Altemoc, the former high priest who used to run the city and still floats around perpetrating terrorist acts. He claims not to have anything to do with these new ones, but he does complicate matters. So does Mal, a cliff runner, who seems not to be involved but to be everywhere that things happen.

I adored Dresediel Lex, which is painted in what William Gibson used to call 'a sort of elegaic sorrow'. It's not a happy place and there's a real weight to what we read. There's age here, untold centuries of history mentioned in periphery but infusing the very fabric of the city. I can't wait to read the third book in the series and see how different it is again.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine. I also reviewed Three Parts Dead.

Reviva Las Vegas!




Author Sean Hoade is a glorious character and he wrote another one into this novel: Chris Newman, who used to compete in the World Series of Poker but now, after the zombocalypse, ekes out a living as an itinerant gambler wandering the west and plying his reputation in games played for food, clothes or other necessities.

And then he's summoned to Las Vegas, perhaps the last city still free of the zombie menace. Nickels Freeman, who used to run a cheap casino downtown, saved the place by surrounding it with a twenty foot wall created out of crushed cars and now lords it over his domain from his personal mansion, the Bellagio. And he likes the great poker players to come to town and play for the most serious stakes of all.

This initially feels like a fun but throwaway novel, but it gets more involved as it runs on and ends up springing a number of very cool twists on us. I've read a lot less substantial work by New York Times bestsellers, even if they don't have as many typos. Hoade lives in Vegas and he transforms it magnificently here into something very different... or is it just a metaphor?

I ate this book up, pun well and truly intended, and it makes me want to read the rest of Hoade's output.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine.

Blood of Innocents




I reviewed the first book in Mitchell Hogan's Sorcery Ascendant Sequence last month, A Crucible of Souls, and thoroughly dug it even though it felt like a five hundred page prologue rather than an actual novel. This first follow up definitely starts to tell us a story, but in a vaguely similar way to the first, just revealing more secrets and ramping up the levels of magnitude.

The city of Anasoma has fallen to the Indryallan army and Caldan, our chief focus, is perhaps the only sorcerer to escape and he's just an apprentice. He, with a small band of characters from the first book, travels to the nearby city of Riversedge to inform the authorities there and to deliver a sword. The story begins long before we get to Riversedge and only escalates once we're there.

As before, we have a diverse set of characters crafted with due care and attention. Every one of the people we follow, and there are three sets of them, has their own history and motivations and we could tell the story from each and every one of their perspectives. He isn't afraid to kill them off either, however well we've got to know them.

This answers a lot of the questions raised in the first book, but not all and it adds new questions to the mix. I'm eager to read more, though I'm guessing I'll have to wait because Hogan surely isn't churning out five hundred pages a month!

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine. I also reviewed A Crucible of Souls.

Vendetta




This is the second book in the urban fantasy series that Gail Z Martin began with Deadly Curiosities. It revolves around Trifles and Folly, an antiques store in Charleston, SC, that's run by people who do more than buy your grandma's jewellery. It's been around for three and a half centuries, locating supernatural artifacts and either neutralising them or secreting them away from the public to keep everyone safe.

The first book established their raison d'ĂȘtre and told the first story in a series. If that read like the pilot to a TV show, this reads like the second, more experimental, episode to see what the creators could get away with. It drops the point of what Cassidy Kincaide and her silent partner, the centuries old vampire, Sorren, do to focus on the vendetta of the title.

Someone has it in for Sorren and they're quite willing to cause massive collateral damage in their attacks on him. Our intrepid heroes have to figure out the why to get to the who and, in doing so, help keep Charleston safe, given that whoever's coming for Sorren is stirring up the ghosts and making people vanish into thin air as they walk down stairs.

I didn't like the sweep here, because the vendetta takes over and everything becomes supernatural fight scenes. What I liked was the detail, because Martin gives us great characters and great locations and expands this fictional world successfully. I'm especially keen on reading more about the Briggs Society, but there are a host of people and places I want to learn more about. Hopefully book three will be more focused, but I'll be back to find out.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine. I also reviewed Deadly Curiosities.

Pirate of the Pacific




I've been reviewing a Doc Savage adventure each month and I'm up to the fifth, which follows on immediately from the fourth, The Polar Treasure, is even more of a bundle of fun and introduces, for the first time, a real opponent for Doc in the Mongol pirate, Tom Too.

The obvious catch is that it's a product of its time, notably racist in a number of ways that nobody cared about in 1933. It's an entry into the Yellow Peril genre, which is fine, but it has a ridiculous habit of overusing pidgin English. No Japanese is ever going to say words like 'halm', 'fol', 'short' or 'pelhaps' and, if you can't figure them out, just change the L's to R's. Renny even gets into blackface here.

Outside of that, Lester Dent got most things right. He segues well from one adventure to the next. He stays grounded with an exotic but believable location. He introduces the details of the Doc Savage universe for new readers without boring the regulars. He ties into contemporary history with the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. And he sets up an intricate web around the villain of the piece which proves massively difficult for Doc and his men to unravel.

This is by far my favourite of the first five Doc Savage novels and I'm eager to launch into the sixth.

For more, visit my review at the Nameless Zine. I also reviewed The Man of Bronze, The Land of Terror, Quest of the Spider and The Polar Treasure.

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