Archive for January, 2015

Red Blooded

January 30, 2015 - 9:25 pm No Comments

Red Blooded
Jessica McClain. Book 4
Author: Amanda Carlson
Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 369pp
Release Date: 9th Sept 2014
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

This series so far has literally been moving ‘like a bat out of hell’, so much adventure, romance, death and destruction happening between books one to three, that I was almost glad to take a breather. I say almost, because this series is addictive so here I am diving into book four with relish and anticipation.
This fourth novel starts with Jessica neck deep in training to protect herself for a visit to the Underworld. Her twin brother Tyler has been kidnapped and dragged to Hell in order to lure Jessica down to face trial for crimes she may or may not have committed. During all of this preparation for entering the Underworld, she’s busy trying to stop the coterie of vamps and witches from killing each other. Jessica is desperately trying to master any demon magic that could be flung at her, but she’s in danger of swallowing it whole and being dragged on her own to Hell instead of with Ray, her newly turned vampire reaper. But you know what they say about plans? Jessica is dragged into Hell by a Vortex on her own, and Rourke is determined to follow her even though his scent all set off all of their alarms.
When Jessica does emerge into Hell it makes great material for Carlson, who introduces us to chupacubras, imps and muted purple sky in just the first few pages. Her vision of Hell, is delightfully different, as all demons use glamour to look the image of the human appearing Prince of Hell, the buildings are weird but very much like a business domain, and half of the demons haven’t got a clue how to fight. Jessica’s internal monologue with her wolf is also particularly interesting. She uses the term ‘we’ and is constantly having debates with her less cautious wolf half, which makes this a little bit more unusual than standard werewolf fayre. In Hell she also meets a demoness, Lily who reminds us that Jessica is fated to rule Hell, not that she particularly wants to. And Lily is offering to help Jessica rescue Tyler and escape the Underworld if Jessica helps Lily escape herself. But what are Lily’s motives.
As with all of the Jessica McClain books so far, this one is filled with activity, danger, adventure and a great sense of humour. The characters are all enjoyable, particularly the Prince of Hell himself, the pace is tight and just right, and the book eds on another cliffhanger.
Will Jessica every get a rest like she deserves? At this rate, who knows?

The Misfortune Cookie

January 29, 2015 - 8:36 pm No Comments

The Misfortune Cookie
Author: Laura Resnick
Publisher: DAW
Page count: 394pp
Release date: 5th Nov 2013
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Actress and singing waitress Esther Diamond is at it again. Not content with taking a back seat, the unlikely heroine of Resnick’s fun magic infused urban fantasy series finds herself in trouble again. Things get off to a tricky start for Esther New Year’s Eve when Detective Connor Lopez (who slept with her and didn’t call) shuts down the Italian Mob restaurant she’s working in, arresting her in the process. But luckily for Esther, Connor ‘accidentally’ forgets to do the paperwork and procedures correctly so she’s set free. After that debacle things get even trickier with the death of Chinese boss Benny, who is apparently killed by a cursed fortune cookie. So along with ancient Max, and Max’s dog/familiar Nelli, Esther gets involved in trying to get to the bottom of the mystery. And as usual, it involves a chance for her to use her acting skills as she needs to go undercover on the set of new film ABC, funded by Benny before he died. Now the film needs a new backer.
The continuing will they/won’t they/oops they did and Lopez never called! dynamic between the two main protagonists is as always great fun and with Esther’s tendency to be honest and forthright, adds a bit of banter and tension to the novel. Familiar Nelli is a character in her own right, and Max is an equally fascinating character. Add to this the Chinatown setting, Chinese folklore and superstition and the vibrancy of NY and it makes for a great environment for this novel. Resnick is very respectful of the Chinese culture and the multicultural backgrounds of her varied protagonists (Lopez is Cuban/Irish, Esther is Jewush, Lucky is American/Italian and Ted, Cynthia and a whole host of other characters are Chinese/American) adding to the sense of diversity.
I always enjoy the Esther Diamond novels and this was no exception. I look forward to the next novel and hopefully a progression on the Esther/Lopez front.

A Vision of Fire

January 28, 2015 - 1:00 pm No Comments

A VISION OF FIRE – BOOK ONE OF THE EARTHEND SAGA
by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin
Simon & Schuster; 292 pages; £12.99; hardback
Reviewed by Michael Jones

Gillian Anderson will of course always be known for her role in the X-Files (yes, that Gillian Anderson!), but she has since moved on to become a quite highly regarded stage and screen actress. In collaboration with established writer Jeff Rovin she now makes what the publishers describe as her “thrilling science fiction debut” with the first volume in a Saga of as-yet unspecified length. In point of fact, it may well be that Rovin has provided the majority of the writing while Anderson’s contribution is largely confined to providing her supposedly prestigious name to be put on the cover.

It tells the story of how child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is called in when the teenage daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations becomes severely disturbed after her father survives an assassination attempt. O’Hara discovers that other cases of disturbed teenagers have occurred in such unlikely places as Iran and Haiti, cases which appear at first glance to be different although certain points of similarity are to be found. Eventually a connection emerges in the form of a kind of possession by a spirit force seeking escape from a fiery cataclysm and O’Hara also becomes affected. This volume ends with her having discovered something of the nature of this mysterious influence which seems to arise from a civilisation of the remote past in the Antarctic, but a full understanding will, obviously, not emerge until it is explained in the later volume(s).

Meanwhile, a highly secret and very powerful Group hidden within something called the Global Explorer’s Club is pursuing its own agenda and clearly knows already a lot more of what is involved than O’Hara has yet discovered.

This is all a lot less thrilling than they would have us believe. The characters spend a lot of time just talking and thinking about things instead of actually doing anything and trips to Haiti and Iran are described in unnecessary detail which contributes to the sense that it has all been padded out beyond the length the story is naturally capable of supporting. Learning more of what the shadowy Group are seeking to achieve might have made it more interesting or even exciting, but again that may have to await later opportunities for revelation.

Overall, the writing is pedestrian and the style and structure of the book are strongly reminiscent of a mainstream novel where the general lack of originality might be less noticeable. On the other hand, there is an impression that the book would be readily suited for adaptation as a film script, which may be indicative of future hopes and plans.

There is perhaps some scope for subsequent volumes in The Earthend Saga to redeem the shortcomings of this one, but the signs are not hopeful.

Symbiont

January 27, 2015 - 9:59 am No Comments

Symbiont
Parasitology Book 2
Author: Mira Grant
Publisher: Orbit Books
Release Date: 25th Nov 2014
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Earlier this year I had the absolute thrill and pleasure of reading the first book in this series, Parasite. With authentic science and plenty of research, engaging characters, particularly Sally, and a great cliffhanger, I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment. But what about the second book in the series?
As with the first book, this sequel uses a combination of regular narrative, diaries and reports. The first report dated 2027 starts with wheelchair bound Dr Shanti Cale (Dr Nathan Kim’s Mom) talking about the symbionts (SymboGen implant) an organism bred to live within the hosts stomach to prevent everyday illness. Unfortunately, some of those implants in Paradite started to travel into the brain stem, taking over the human host sending them crazy and aggressive, or medically diagnosed as suffering from the ‘sleeping sickness’.
Despite being pretty fit and active, Mayor Paul Moffat was dying. As Paul gives a speech, slowly but surely his implant moves up through his body, eating it’s way into his brain until nothing is left of who Paul was. Luckily he wasn’t able too recognise himself biting into the flesh of the woman next to him. Now it’s too late, despite USAMRIID and the CDC getting involved; the tapeworm parasites are winning.
Just a few pages in, Grant recaps the penultimate event of the first novel in finer detail, packed with emotion, as Sally/Sal and her boyfriend Nathan discover the truth about her identity. She has to learn to come to terms with it, accept who she is and help in the fight to come.
As well as first person narrative from Sal and the reports and diaries, Grant utilises the rather fun chimera character Tansy as a narrator, with her own skewed worldview and derogatory viewpoints of pretty much everyone else, making for fun intermissions between the tension.
At its heart, or its core if you will, Symbiont is a version of a zombie apocalypse story, however, the grounding in science, the dual personalities and chimeras as well as the diverse reactions of the parasites makes this so much more. Yes, the parasites sometimes eat flesh, but sometimes, like Tansy and Adam they think and feel too. The implants have reached sapience. And for those who are incoherent we have varying degrees of activity from Romero type shambling to 28 days Later. A lot can be learned about identity and how we see ourselves in this book, and it pushes against the stereotypes and boundaries of gender and race.

Deadly Spells

January 23, 2015 - 2:45 pm No Comments

Deadly Spells
Author: Jaye Wells
Publisher: Orbit
Page count: 350pp
Release date: 12th Feb 2015
Reviewer: Theresa Derwin

Detective Kate Prospero of the Magic Enforcement Agency is back in her third adventure and it starts off with a bang; there was a body in the church. The fact that Prospero and partner Drew Morales have been called in, means that dirty magic is involved. When she gets to the crime scene to find the severed body, decapitated, the head turns up a clue she’d rather not have; the body belongs to an old acquaintance, Charm. Charm had stood there as a member of her coven, when Kate was a child and comforted her as she grieved the death of her Mom, who had overdosed on a potion. With the murder of Charm, Prospero has to do all she can to prevent a coven war. On top of trying to prevent a war, Kate has to deal with the tribulations of being guardian for her little sixteen year old brother and facing the challenges of parenthood.
Babylon is an intriguing city, filled with all sorts of magical crime, grime and seedy establishments, yet its inhabitants are vibrant and engaging to read. From Hot Pocket, the homeless man who sells an unmentionable part of his body for potions, to Aphrodite Johnson, the hermaphroditic religious coven leader who switches genders at the drop of a hat, to the enigmatic Mayor John Volos, Babylon’s citizens make this series of novels stand out from the crowd through its sheer diversity. And it is this wonderfully eclectic setting that makes Prospero’s investigations into magical crime so enjoyable to read. The pace keeps on in this instalment and after much violence and fighting, the end is a blessed relief. Wells also gets a chance to deal with the issue of discrimination in all its forms as she and Danny both experience ill treatment at the hands of so-called superior individuals. Wells deals with this expertly and certainly makes her feelings about prejudice in any form known to the reader.
All in all, this was a great read with a satisfying conclusion and I hope to read more of Prospero in the future.