Thursday, 28 February 2013

Heir of Novron by Michael J. Sullivan

For my review of the first in this series, Theft of Swords, click here. And for my review of the second book, Rise of Empireclick here.

The New Empire intends to celebrate its victory over the Nationalists with a day that will never be forgotten. On the high holiday of Wintertide, they plan to execute two traitors (Degan Gaunt and the Witch of Melengar) as well as force the Empress into a marriage of their own design. But they didn’t account for Royce and Hadrian finally locating the Heir of Novron—or the pair’s desire to wreak havoc on the New Empire’s carefully crafted scheme.

Heir of Novron is the final part in Michael J. Sullivan’s Riyria Revelations. It is an omnibus consisting of the final two books in the series, Wintertide and Percipliquis. Wintertide is in many ways the climax and conclusion to many of the series’ main plotlines. Answers start to come thick and fast, amid twists and turns which are liable to give you whiplash.

For the most part, Wintertide is a book focused on Hadrian, with Royce and particularly Arista taking a backseat to a lot of the action. We get to see Hadrian in some really entertaining scenes. Wintertide is Sullivan’s biggest Riyria book yet (until Percipliquis) – it’s packed with action, tension, revelations and a lot of darkness. But cutting through this is the humour. It’s not overdone, but I’d say this is the funniest book in the series, as well as being the tension filled climax it needs to be.

Percipliquis, on the other hand, is as dark and twisted as you’re likely to ever see Sullivan become. It’s a difficult book to review without spoilers, as most of what happens is related to the overall mythology of the world which Sullivan has layered in since the start of Book One. If Wintertide ties up the plots of books three and four, Percipliquis harps back to Theft of Swords and the history of Elan. It’s not clear until you reach this point how Sullivan has lined up his pieces, all ready to come together for this final book. Royce and Hadrian are very much at the centre of the novel, but this time they are not alone. Nobody is left hanging in Percipliquis – everyone has their part to play. It’s a huge book, but the pages move ten times quicker.

Sullivan answers everything and ties up the series with an amazingly tight ending. There are moments of joy, sadness and even Myron the monk gets his moment to shine. More so than any of the other books in the series, Percipliquis is like classic fantasy – a quest novel with elves and dwarves, wizards and dragons (kinda). But don’t let that stop you – the difference here is that behind everything is a rich tapestry of worldbuilding, careful plotting and characterisation that Sullivan has been careful to line up throughout the series, meaning no matter how clichéd it may look on the outside, there is always a shock coming round to smack you in the face.

Heir of Novron is that rare beast in fantasy: a great ending to a six book fantasy epic. It’s an ending that feels well justified and foreshadowed to near perfection. Royce and Hadrian have come a long way together, and this is the ending they deserve. A fantastic conclusion to one of the most entertaining fantasy series in recent memory.
 If you want a deep, engrossing read that’s nothing but entertaining at every step, please give the Riyria Revelations a go. It’s the story of two thieves who become embroiled in an epic story to save the world. What more could a fantasy fan want?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

The Written by Ben Galley

His name is Farden. They whisper that he’s dangerous. Dangerous is only the half of it. Something has gone missing from the libraries of Arfell. Something very old, and something very powerful. Five scholars are now dead, a country is once again on the brink of war, and the magick council is running out of time and options. Entangled in a web of lies and politics and dragged halfway across icy Emaneska and back, Farden must unearth a secret even he doesn’t want to know, a secret that will shake the foundations of his world. Dragons, drugs, magick, death, and the deepest of betrayals await.

I found this book thanks to the clever online campaign of the author and self-publishing guru, Ben Galley. I don't normally mention this in reviews but if you are thinking of self-publishing check out his Shelf Help segment of his website,

They say you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but, well, how can you not be intrigued by that cover?

Anyway, onto the book.

It's been described as 'Sin City meets Lord of the Rings.' I don't know about the Lord of the Rings comparison, but the world Ben has created certainly has a dark underbelly, rife with hallucinogenic drugs and crippling magic.

We follow Farden, a reluctant hero forever running from the shadow of his uncle, as he travels the length and breadth of Emaneska to prevent a dark and malevolent evil being unleashed on the world. Farden is flawed, damaged goods, but far from beyond redemption.

The story starts with a bang and rarely lets up. Farden is thrown from one confrontation to another and, in the best tradition of Fantasy, more often than not magic (or magick in this case) is used to blast a way clear. Farden contends with werewolves, vampires and, of course, dragons. This is definitely a book for fans of the fantasy genre, especially if you like the action heavy with magic and mystical creatures.

The best part of the story for me was how well Ben made these creatures familiar, yet different enough to avoid the more obvious tropes of the genre. The hierarchy of the dragons was particularly fun. The relationship between the dragons and their Siren riders is brilliant and honestly made me jealous I wasn't a Siren!

The magic system isn't complex by any means, but it is fun and consistent with good drawbacks. It's not used as a get out of jail free card at any point.

The mythology is interesting, with tantalising hints as to what might be to come and daring you to try and figure out why certain things are happening.

There were some predictable twists which fell slightly flat, though they add up to a good and satisfying ending.

Sadly, there are some spelling and formatting issues with the e-book version which Ben has acknowledged and plans to correct once the series is complete.

Despite that, this is a very good read and an excellent look into this debut series. Ben has created some enduring characters that have to work hard to succeed and battle to be the better person. Nothing comes easy in this hard world, where magick must be permanently written in your skin and you have to fight for the right to love who you want.

P.S If you're a fan or graphic novels, Ben has just run a successful kick-starter campaign to turn The Written into one. Keep an eye out!


About the reviewer:
Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

“This book pleased every geeky bone in my geeky body. I felt it was written just for me.”

                                                                                                                        Patrick Rothfuss

In Ready Player One, Ernest Cline creates a future not as bright as we may anticipate and not as unlikely as we may wish. It's the year 2045 and all the oil and gas is burnt up. We have a big, worldwide energy crisis going on, accompanied by a drastic climate change, famine, poverty, diseases and wars, fought over the last resources this planet has to give.
The only thing that makes life bearable for most people is the OASIS, a massive globally networked virtual reality where they spend most of their time.
Ready Player One is a dystopian novel where Cline uses common tropes in a new and imaginative setting. The hero is a poor, disillusioned orphan boy, who has to overcome big struggles to finally save the world. But his weapon of choice is not a magical sword, but Eighties pop culture geek knowledge. On his (virtual) travels he meets a (kind of) princess, but neither is she the prettiest girl in town, nor does she need any saving.
Five years before the story takes place, James Halliday, the single owner of the OASIS, dies. And since he didn't have family to pass ownership of the OASIS on to, he prepared a massive contest known as an “Easter Egg Hunt”, promising the winner the ownership of the OASIS. To win the contest, one had to know a lot about Halliday, who was a massive nerd, who grew up in the Eighties. He had a C64, an Atari, played Dungeons and Dragons and loved Monty Python, Star Wars and Back to the Future.
You can imagine what happened next? Yep. Massive. Eighties. Revival. Surge.
Five years later, nobody believes that the first key can be found. Until the lead character, Wade Watts, manages exactly that. But now, Wade has a problem. A big one. This feat makes Wade the most wanted man in the world. And while he's hunting for the egg online, others are hunting him in real life.
Cline's characters are complex and realistic with their little quirks and weaknesses. The main characters in particular are believably written and each have a personal history, making it easy to follow why they act the way they do.
The only exception is the level of their geekiness. It is not believable that somebody watched Monty Python's Holy Grail 157 times over the past six years (and that they can even remember that exact number).
We don't have a virtual reality like that (yet), but a piece of our lives already takes place online and Cline writes about all the interesting, fascinating or even dangerous situations that may develop there. Like finding friends on the internet - sometimes as a character, created for a special game. Or the dangers if your personal data gets in the wrong people's hands, or like falling in love and someday having to face that person in reality...
Ready Player One is a page-turner with an amazing pace. I wasn't able to put it away and I've reread it not even half a year after first reading it. You normally don't read SF? No problem. All you need to enjoy this book immensely is having been a kid in the Eighties or Nineties. It’s a roller coaster ride through Eighties pop culture and full of innovative, cool and funny ideas. Go read this book, you won't regret it.
And may the force be with you.
About the Reviewer: When Christian Abresch was fifteen, he stayed home to write a fantasy book instead of going with his parents and brother on vacation. More fantasy novels, poems and short stories followed in the years to come and since each was less crappy than the one before he hopes to get published someday. To keep his fingers on the pulse of fantasy, he loves browsing Fantasy-Faction with its articles, reviews and forums even though it caused an unnatural growing of his TBR, which worries him. Christian lives with his girlfriend and an imaginary cat in Berlin. Follow him on twitter: @xiaiswriting.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Giveaway: Signed King of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

The second book in the Broken Empire series, Lawrence takes his young anti-hero one step closer to his grand ambition.

To reach greatness you must step on bodies, and many brothers lie trodden in my wake. I’ve walked from pawn to player and I’ll win this game of ours, though the cost of it may drown the world in blood…

The land burns with the fires of a hundred battles as lords and petty kings fight for the Broken Empire. The long road to avenge the slaughter of his mother and brother has shown Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath the hidden hands behind this endless war. He saw the game and vowed to sweep the board. First though he must gather his own pieces, learn the rules of play, and discover how to break them.

A six nation army, twenty thousand strong, marches toward Jorg's gates, led by a champion beloved of the people. Every decent man prays this shining hero will unite the empire and heal its wounds. Every omen says he will. Every good king knows to bend the knee in the face of overwhelming odds, if only to save their people and their lands. But King Jorg is not a good king.

Faced by an enemy many times his strength Jorg knows that he cannot win a fair fight. But playing fair was never part of Jorg’s game plan.

This is our first ever giveaway on Wilder's Book Review, and what an amazing prize we have for you to win! We have one HB copy of the brilliant King of Thorns (2nd in the Broken Empire Trilogy) by Mark Lawrence, signed by the author to giveaway.

For the chance to win this awesome book we just want you to answer one simple question:

Why should you win this book?

The giveaway will run through Friday 1st March. Answer in the comment thread of this post and I'll pick a winner at random on Saturday 2nd March.

This is an International Giveaway! 

Remember to leave either your email address or Twitter username in your comment, otherwise I won't be able to get in touch with you and the prize will go to someone else.

And the funniest answer might just get a little something extra - so be creative with your answers!


You can find Mark Lawrence online at his blog - here.
Or follow him on Twitter @mark__lawrence

Thursday, 14 February 2013

The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett

This one starts with a farmboy.

Arlen Bales lives on a small farm with his parents, near the small village of Tibbet’s Brook. He’s quite a bright and cheery kid, despite the world he lives in. In this world, darkness brings demons – they sprout from the earth at night like natural killing machines, and come in various guises. Fire demons are the hunters, the dogs in the pack. Rock demons are the muscle – the sheer, terrifying brute force. And they are only the beginning. When Arlen’s life is shattered by this plague of demons he has to make his way out into the world, and in doing so, force himself into becoming the hunter, making the demons his prey.

So far, so ordinary. For fantasy, anyway. And that’s where this one falls down for me. I read all the glowing reviews, saw the rabid fanbase and slowly, The Painted Man rose to the top of my reading pile. I knew it was a “farmboy versus the world” story, but assumed it would be a completely fresh and original take on a tired old trope. But, mostly, it really isn’t. There is no truly shocking twist, no sudden reveal that I didn’t see coming. The Painted Man’s biggest disappointment, for me at least, was that it never really shocked me as a reader. Its plot just seemed very unoriginal.

But, that’s not to say this isn’t an exciting read.

Brett’s writing is fast paced, the characters are always interesting and despite the tropes, it’s a well-developed setting. The plot may be fairly uninspired, but the overarching demon infestation and the history of the world is what’s really interesting here, making me hope Brett explores this further in later novels. Although it perhaps feels geographically small, the level of world-building here is genuinely excellent and heaps layers on to a book which would otherwise be fairly forgettable.

Brett also has an interesting way of structuring the novel. We follow Arlen up to a certain point in time in his life and then jump to the second major POV character, Leesha, way back around the same time we first met Arlen. Brett then does this again with the third POV, Rojer. It’s perhaps not a structural choice which everyone will enjoy, as arguably it robs the book of its sense of urgency when Brett cuts from the climax of one character arc to start another. But I found it worked and helped build the whole book to a fairly memorable ending.

The other element which deserves a positive mention is the magic system. It’s as basic as it comes – paint symbols on the ground and they will help protect people from demons. Sure, there is a little more to it than that (and hints at bigger things to come) but essentially it’s Demons vs Symbols (Wards). It’s so basic, so D&D that it shouldn’t work – but it really does. A lot of this has to do with the atmosphere. Brett has created a novel that is based on fear. Fear against the demons, fear against the night itself. Ultimately, the demons are deliberately simple – they represent fear itself. And the only way people can fight this fear is with literal symbols, and the faith they have in the power of these wards. It’s a deceptively simple system that drives everything in the book. Everything is based on fear and attempting to overcome it.

So overall, The Painted Man was a bit of a mixed bag for me. Nothing about it sings of originality, but Brett’s writing helps lift it above the majority of other “farmboy saves the world” stories. The world he’s created is an exciting one to read about and it sets up what could be a far more original sequel – something which I plan on reading very soon. For all that I found uninspired about The Painted Man, I enjoyed reading it and the pages flew past – so it must be doing something right.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Fortress Frontier by Myke Cole

Shadow Ops: Fortress Frontier is Myke Cole’s second novel, the sequel to Control Point which introduced readers to Shadow Coven and his ambiguous hero, Oscar Britton.  It’s the near future, magic has re-emerged in the world, and the US military has turned it to their own purposes.  If you manifest with a magical talent, you have three choices; prison, the military, or life on the run.
The idea makes perfect sense. Of course the governments of the world would try and turn magic to their own tactical advantage, if they could. Especially in an alternate dimension peopled by magical races – goblins, trolls, demons, where the US army is trying to maintain a foothold.  Thrust into this base is Colonel Alan Bookbinder, a Pentagon pen-pusher with an unusual and recently-manifested magical talent, who wants nothing more than to get back to his wife and family.
The novel is split, for the most part, between Bookbinder, finding his feet in a new world, and Oscar Britton, on the run and trying to atone for mistakes of the past.  There are threads of story picked up from Control Point, and certainly when the action switches to Britton for the first time it’s not clear who is who or what’s going on, but it’s easy enough to pick up if you haven’t read the first book.  Perhaps it’s for this reason that the sections from the point of view of new character Bookbinder seem to work slightly better; he doesn’t come loaded with the baggage of history from the previous book.  He’s a more immediately sympathetic character than the occasionally arrogant Britton.
Bookbinder is forced into an uneasy alliance with Britton in a bid to save Frontier from being overrun by hostile magical forces, and watching the nervous desk-jockey come into his own, both magically and mentally, is the highlight of the book, especially taking place as it does against a background of magical slicing-and-dicing, freezings, explosions and dismemberment.  It’s a real action movie of a book, rarely pausing to take a breath before the next bombardment begins.
Several threads are left hanging, perhaps most significantly one with a rogue witch with the power to make organic matter rot instantly, a character that Cole could have made more of.  Readers will have to hope she makes a return in the next book of the series, which is sure to be another thrill-ride.
About the reviewer: Jo, the cake-obsessed chair of Bristolcon, is a reviewer, blogger and fantasy author whose fourth novel, "The Art Of Forgetting" is due out this summer from Kristell Ink. Her blog-ramblings can be found at, and you can track her down on Twitter too (@hierath77). She often frequents pubs and coffee shops, and she is very amenable to bribery.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

This review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction in January 2013
“What kind of story you tryin’ to tell me?” he said gruffly.
            “A vampire story,” said York with a sly smile. “Surely you’ve heard them before…”

Fevre Dream is the story of Abner Marsh. An old steamboatman in the mid 19th Century; a man who knows the Mississippi like the back of his hand; a man with a dream to own the fastest steamboat on the river. Only problem is, Marsh is broke. So when he gets the offer of a lifetime to build the ship of his dreams, the Fevre Dream, from a young businessman, Joshua York, he pretty much jumps at the opportunity. Only catch is – York is coming too. And Abner has to abide by York’s every whim, no matter how strange they may be. Y’see, Joshua York has a few odd habits – he likes to dine late in the evening, stop off at strange places along the river, and sleeps during the day. Yep, Joshua York is as strange a fella as Marsh has ever met – but he can put up with a few odd habits for this beauty of a steamboat. That is until the crew start talking. Until more of Joshua’s friends appear on the boat. Until bodies start appearing along the banks of the Mississippi.  

The setting for Fevre Dream – the mid nineteenth century Deep South – is fully realised. Martin has taken a real historic setting and thrown the reader in the deep end. His passion for the setting; for steamboats and the Mississippi, is all right there on the page. The sense of atmosphere is astonishing – Martin plants you right there, in the middle of the cloying heat of the Deep South. It feels grimy, hot and dangerous; disgusting and horrific.

In the character of Abner Marsh I couldn’t help feeling like he’d thrown in elements of himself. Marsh is a big guy – he likes his food (and we all know how much GRRM loves writing about food!) and he’s getting old. He certainly isn’t your typical protagonist. But that’s what makes him so endearing – Marsh isn’t afraid to say how he feels, and it’s through Marsh that we see this strange world of steamboats, slavery and vampires. He’s the perfect everyman and a deeply layered character to boot.

Likewise, Joshua York (although not a POV character) is enigmatic and captivating. The story behind York, when we get around to it, is fascinating, and really shows how fully developed Martin’s writing can be. Some of the scenes involving York are edge-of-the-seat type stuff. Martin’s take on the vampire mythos is still genuinely original – and perhaps best of all, Fevre Dream doesn’t necessarily read like a vampire story. It’s more of a good old fashioned tale of terror from a real master of atmosphere and pacing.

The pacing is different to most fantasy/horror novels I’ve read. At times, particularly in the early stages of the novel, it feels like it’s deliberate – like a steamboat cruise, it meanders and burns slowly, but always stays on track. But once things start to take a turn, about a third of the way through, Martin’s plotting comes into play and the book takes twists and turns like only the fastest steamboat could manage.

The side characters in Fevre Dream are perhaps not as fully realised as may be expected from Martin – it’s a much smaller book than any of the Ice and Fire novels, and sometimes his characterisation suffers. Much of the crew members blur into one at times, as do many of York’s friends. However, the antagonists, when they are revealed, are every bit as terrifying and unhinged as one would expect from the man who brought us Joffrey Lannister.

Fevre Dream feels like a long trip through hell; hot, claustrophobic and filled with demons. It’s like Deliverance or Aguirre: Wrath of God – a terrible, heart-thumping journey along a river, filled with all of the worst obstacles imaginable. The red thirst surges along the river – and you really should go along for the ride.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Black Feathers by Joseph D'Lacey

“Satan walks nowhere on this Earth, nor has he ever, save where he treads within the human heart.”

The sum of this book is encompassed in that single line. But don’t let that stop you there.

Black Feathers, Volume One of the Black Dawn Duology, is a dark, grim and haunting tale that gripped me from the beginning and didn’t let me go until the very bitter end. Joseph D’Lacey portrays a horrifyingly believable story of the frightening turns our world could take if we were somehow stripped of our technology, breaking down civilization and if the earth took back the resources we rely on. In this world he constructed, there are legends of one they call the Crowman or Black Jack or Scarecrow. While all the legends seem to agree he is crucial in the Black Dawn, the destruction of the Earth, the opinions on who and what the Crowman is exactly are polarized. Many denounce him as the devil himself, claiming he is the one who will bring on the Black Dawn; he is the one that will destroy the world. Others claim that he is the only one capable of saving the human race and the world in general.

As a reader, I found it intriguing to have such a legend so strongly entrenched in the world, but to have such a clear division of perception of good vs. evil surrounding him.

One side clearly finds the Crowman to be a saint - the other, the very definition of evil. The question is what side will I, the reader, fall on? Will I find this Crowman to be the devil or the savior?

The book unfolds as two tales. Each follows a child on the verge of adulthood. They are each on their own journey to find the Crowman. And each has the weight of saving the world placed on their shoulders.

In the one story, we follow Gordon Black. Gordon watches as his world (the world as we know it) begins to unravel. D’Lacey did a wonderful job building his character, and exposing Gordon’s path from naive child to a determined young man destined to bear the weight of the world, and kept him likable, relatable and believable.

The other story follows Megan Maurice who lives in a simpler time. On her journey, she discovers the destruction that has been wrought across the land. She brings a more wide-eyed innocence to the story than Gordon, who has seen and experienced too many horrifying realities in his young years.

Curiosity plagued me (in a very good, riveting way) throughout this book. I was trying to piece together how the two stories are related, how and if they will ever intersect.

Both stories hint that what is needed to save the world is to save people from themselves, teach them to return to respecting the earth (and each other) rather than exploiting it. That was another thing I loved about this book. It was full of powerful and beautiful passages that while written for this fictional Earth, are also very strongly advocating for us as a people to take better care of the Earth we live on.

“There’s no part of the world untainted by the touch of humanity”

It’s the only one we have, and we are guests here. And might I add,  I strongly encourage you to read this book.
 Black Feathers is available from Angry Robot Books from April 4th 2013 in the UK and March 26th in the US.
About the Reviewer: Lisa spends her days programming in Java, living the exciting life of a cubicle ridden software engineer. When not at work, she enjoys her time with her husband and two boys. She spends the rest of her free time playing on multiple indoor soccer teams and of course reading, reading, reading. She is ‘new’ to the fantasy genre, having read her first fantasy book in 2010. After reading more and more fantasy, she is now hooked and can often be found around the internet searching for her next book and adding titles to her ever increasing TBR list.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb


In a faraway land where members of the royal family are named for the virtues they embody, one young boy will become a walking enigma.
Born on the wrong side of the sheets, Fitz, son of Chivalry Farseer, is a royal bastard, cast out into the world, friendless and lonely. Only his magical link with animals - the old art known as the Wit - gives him solace and companionship. But the Wit, if used too often, is a perilous magic, and one abhorred by the nobility.
So when Fitz is finally adopted into the royal household, he must give up his old ways and embrace a new life of weaponry, scribing, courtly manners; and how to kill a man secretly, as he trains to become a royal assassin.

How to review a book such as this? How can I originally say what has been said by many fans of the fantasy genre since this book was first published 18 years ago?

Well, Im going to take a different tact. This isnt a classic work of fantasy. Or rather, this isnt just a classic work of fantasy. In my view, it is a classic work of literature that should be spoken about in the same conversations with Tolkien, something that transcends the fantasy genre.
Heres why:
We follow a six year old boy - who we quickly find out is a royal bastard - as he is torn away from his mother and thrust to the attention of the royal court.
Fairly typical of a fantasy novel so far, I think youd agree.
This boy, named Fitz by the Stable Master who is ordered to look after the youngster, quickly displays a semblance of an old, taboo magic. He begins training with the old royal assassin and finds himself embroiled in political machinations.
Old magic in a fantasy? Check.
Old mentor? Court intrigue? Check and check.
I could go on. There is no hiding what the book is or where its roots begun and neither should there be. If the above is enough to put people off reading it then more fool them. (No pun intended)
Fitz is our main character and is exceptionally well realised, as you may expect when the book is written in first person. The real skill that Hobb has though, is in making you forget the method of narration and invoking such strong feelings for each and every character. Prince Verity is one of the most stoic and noble characters you will ever read - you will feel the loyalty and painful sacrifice of Burrich and the awful vindictiveness of Prince Regal. As for the Fool, well, you're better off discovering this delight for yourself. Having read the trilogy several times I still cant pinpoint how she does this, but I cant think of another first person narrative that has such strong characters throughout the cast.
Not that they are without issue, though. Fitz's decision making is somewhat.... questionable at times and once or twice it feels ever so slightly forced, as if to move the action along, but these are few and far between. The actions of Regal can also seem slightly over the top, at least at first.
The name of the novel itself could be off putting to the casual reader, one whose boat isnt floated by the idea of assassins. Whilst it is a significant portion of Fitzs life, it isnt a major part of the book. It serves to move the plot to where it needs to go and to round out Fitz himself; but the amount of cloak, daggers and poisons is quite minimal.
But what makes me think even non fantasy fans would adore this book? Well, the prose is beautiful, in a way that I cannot do justice. Hobb reveals her world with such elegance and care that she elevates this to more than a fantasy epic. It should be looked at as a modern literary classic.

"I wonder if I can write this history, or if on every page there will be some sneaking show of a bitterness I though long dead. I think myself cured of all spite, but when I touch pen to paper, the hurt of a boy bleeds out with sea-spawned ink, until I suspect each carefully formed black letter scabs over some ancient scarlet wound."

I implore you to read this book if you havent already. If youre a writer of any standard you could learn lots. If youre an avid reader you wont regret it. If youve not tried fantasy before, please think long and hard before dismissing this.
If nothing else, itll lead you to book two, Royal Assassin, which is one of the best books Ive ever read.
About the reviewer:
Alex can be found in the rolling hills of Oxfordshire, splitting his time unevenly between fighting crime and raising two little boys (which is surprisingly similar). When he does find a spare moment he crams it full of fantasy or basketball, and due to rapidly ageing knees it's mostly fantasy these days. He's trying to learn the writing craft through sheer bloody mindedness and dreams of the day he has to do nothing else. If you're so inclined you can watch him stalk writers on Twitter - @shep5377

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

This review was originally posted on Fantasy Faction in November 2012.
“Dear Diary, he began. On Friday I had a job, a fiancee, a home, and a life that made sense. (Well, as much as any life makes sense). Then I found an injured girl bleeding on the pavement and I tried to be Good Samaritan. Now I've got no fiancee, no home, no job, and I'm walking around a couple of hundred feet under the streets of London with the projected life expectancy of a suicidal fruit fly.”

Poor Richard. It was always going to get worse before it got better.

Most of you are probably familiar with Neverwhere and the works of Neil Gaiman. Many of you are probably thinking – why review an old Neil Gaiman novel? We all know how good it is. Well, until a few weeks ago, I’d never read anything by Neil Gaiman. Shocking, isn’t it?

For those that aren’t familiar with Neverwhere – it follows the story of Richard Mayhew. A man who moves to London from a little town in Scotland, gets a pretty decent job and gets engaged to a (pretty horrible) woman. Mostly, his life is about as ordinary as he could want it to be. But one evening, when walking to a particularly important dinner reservation with his fiancée, Richard stumbles across a fairly bedraggled girl in the street. Her name is Door, and she’s from a place called London Below. Y’see, all this time Richard’s been living in London Above, but he’s about to find out what happens to the people that slip between the cracks…

First off, Neil Gaiman’s prose is superb. It’s fast-paced, bizarre and extremely clever. He uses the nuances of language to create sentences which tell mini-stories of their own. Almost every sentence could be ripped out of this book and used as a quote – it’s that good. It feels like this book is a tribute to the entire city of London. Although most of the novel takes place in the fictional world of London Below, the descriptions of the places and the way in which the characters see everything makes you wonder if this isn’t just Gaiman’s way of describing the London he sees, every time he’s there.

“There was no moon but the night sky was a riot of crisp and glittering autumn stars. There were streetlights too and lights on buildings and on bridges which looked like earthbound stars and they glimmered repeated as they were reflected with the city in the night water of the Thames. It’s fairyland, thought Richard.”

The plot of Neverwhere is mostly fairly standard stuff, with a bit of a Gaiman twist. Richard is quite a typical protagonist – most likely to help make him a lense to the weirdness of London Below for the reader. But it’s the side characters in Neverwhere which make this book shine. Hunter and her dream to defeat the Monster of London; the Marquis de Carabas and his razor-sharp wit; and perhaps most memorable of all – the villains, Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar. These two will stick out in my mind for quite some time as one of the greatest double acts I’ve ever read.

“There are four simple ways for the observant to tell Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar apart: first, Mr. Vandemar is two and a half heads taller than Mr. Croup; second, Mr. Croup has eyes of a faded china blue, while Mr. Vandemar's eyes are brown; third, while Mr. Vandemar fashioned the rings he wears on his right hand out of the skulls of four ravens, Mr. Croup has no obvious jewelery; fourth, Mr. Croup likes words, while Mr. Vandemar is always hungry. Also, they look nothing at all alike.”

I’m so glad I decided to finally read Neverwhere. It’s at times: hilarious, touching and terrifying. A novel absolutely brimming with creativity and wonderful writing. The ending was perhaps a bit rushed when compared to the rest of the book, but at the same time, I think it is ultimately the right ending. Reading Neverwhere has spurred me on to read everything else I can by Neil Gaiman – so next up, Smoke and Mirrors.

And if you should decide to dive into London Below, just remember two things: Mind the Gap, and perhaps most importantly, Beware of Doors.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very, very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë's novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

After some careful prodding from a few people, I decided it was about time I gave Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series a go. There is no real way to summarise this book – it’s a whirlwind of ideas, genres and comedy. The Eyre Affair never confines itself clearly to one genre. It really is a book of pretty much every genre going – both through its style and content. The very nature of The Eyre Affair defies easy genre categorisation.

It has elements of the literary, science fiction, fantasy, crime, romance, comedy, thriller and more besides. It’s not a particularly long novel, but it packs a serious amount into its length and, for me at least, remains consistently entertaining.

The book is structured from the 1st-person point of view of the LiteraTec Detective Thursday Next. The main plot of the novel is mostly that of a crime thriller, following an overtly evil villain named Archeron Hades and his plot to become the most notorious criminal of all time. (On a side note, the names in this novel are all ridiculous – but that’s part of the joke. A personal favourite was Runcible Spoon. After all, Dickens gave us names like Ebenezer Scrooge, Martin Chuzzlewit and Barnaby Rudge.)

But really, the overarching plot is simply a vehicle for Fforde to show off his incredible imagination. This is an alternate history where something in time has gone seriously wrong. Science has developed to a point where the most ridiculous of inventions (no matter how scientifically amazing they may be) are seen as nothing particularly special. It takes something huge to get the bigwigs interested.

In Fforde’s world, books are the be all and end all. Every area of society is built on the importance of books, from the media, to the police; the government to entertainment. It’s a fun world to get caught up in – I found myself chuckling at lots of little references to other books.

The characters in The Eyre Affair are all fairly colourful. They’re deliberately over-the-top and felt like they were (in some cases literally) ripped from the pages of fiction. Grounding us in this bizarre world is the character of Thursday herself. In amongst the weirdness, Thursday constantly questions and explains to the reader what’s going on. Yes, there are a few big questions left at the end, but I suspect these will be expanded upon in the sequels. She is an entertaining character to have as the lens to this world; although she is more grounded than most, she still has a few quirky foibles of her own.

The Eyre Affair is a novel which complete defies all sense of logic and genre boundaries, and yet remains entertaining despite its completely wacky premise and utterly bonkers plot. It is a great introduction to a strange, alternate history where things are seriously wrong, setting up even greater things to come. It has thrilling moments, humour throughout and an exciting plot with a great climax. And it has the greatest version of Richard III I’ve ever come across. Lots of fun, and I’ll be reading the sequel as soon as I can.