Saturday, September 27, 2008

Gone fishin'...

Yep, folks - Mark and I are off to the wilds of Pembrokeshire to fish, sleep, read, write, visit pubs, walk for many miles along the coastal route with Sparrowmutt in tow, stopping to drink loads of beer and coffee and indulge in the numerous gastro pubs in the locale.

This is for a week only - so don't stray too far! I've taken a large wedge of books to read, as has Mark - he's currently wrapped up in Peter V Brett's Painted Man and has got some Simon R Green books to read, as well as a new Warhammer tome.

I should have a stack of reviews to write when I come back - I have a modern day spy/terrorist story to report on, Shannon Hale's newest children's novel (pure luxury for me to read), an excellent sounding new novel from Walker Books called The Ghost's Child and a fun-sounding book called The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz.

All in all a busy holiday, but I can't wait - neither can Mark. This is our first break since last year August and a lot has happened in that time - some bad, some good and some truly excellent. So we need to take some time out to chill and catch up with outselves. It should have been Santorini...but sadly it fell through due to XL Travel going bust - we are hoping to get our money back from them, I've sent off the forms, so hold thumbs!

We'll catch y'all on the flipside.

MFB's gone fishin'...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Confessions of a Manga Head by Sarah Ash

I was thrilled to discover that Sarah Ash, fantasy author, mom and school librarian, lives locally and quite near to me in Beckenham. I immediately and cheekily contacted her to find out if she would be prepared to do MFB a guest blog.

She readily agreed, but took the wind out of my sails when she mentioned that she was a huge manga-fan! I knew about her fantasy writing, obviously (!) so her confession took me completely by surprise. I personally have read very little manga (3 books) and have watched little anime (4 movies), somehow always equating them to a much younger audience (says the girl who review YA and teen books!) . And because manga and anime is something I know very little about, and I know many others know as little, I thought it would be amazing if she did the guest blog on her addiction.
And, in Paul Bettany's words: without further ado, here she is, one of our own, Sarah Ash!

Confessions of a Manga Addict

I fell in love with comics when I was a child and devoured as many volumes of ‘Tintin’ and ‘Asterix’ as I could lay my hands on. But there was no manga available in translation then and it wasn’t till many years later – thanks to my eldest son Tom (also a keen devourer of comics) – that I discovered first anime, and then manga. I’d been hooked on classic Japanese films since seeing ‘Seven Samurai’ and ‘Kwaidan’ at uni, and, as a fantasy writer, had been toying with an idea for a novel set in the Heian era, so my first serious encounter, with CLAMP’s ‘Tokyo Babylon’, was a revelation. Only then did I realize that many mangaka (manga artists) were exploring the same fantasy themes that appealed to me; I felt an immediate kinship with their work!

The recent extraordinary growth of manga in translation in the US has undoubtedly been fuelled by the successful broadcasting of popular shounen anime TV series such as ‘Dragon Ball Z,’ ‘Naruto,’ and ‘Yu-Gi-Oh!’ So I thought I’d share a few favourite titles that may not be so widely known. All of them could best be described as fantasy shoujo, but just because their main target audience is teenage girls doesn’t mean that they won’t appeal to older readers (Stephanie Meyer, anyone?).

Black Sun, Silver Moon by Tomo Maeda, published by Go! Comi Volumes 1-6 16+

In the mountains of Eastern Europe stands a church on the edge of a village…but no worshippers attend the services. The priest, Shikimi Farkash, seems a mild-mannered, pleasant individual... although, unusually for one aged only twenty-eight, his hair is silver. When eighteen-year-old Taki arrives to act as Shiki’s housekeeper, he discovers the reason Shiki’s services are shunned by the villagers: he must help the priest destroy the ‘resurrected’, the newly-buried dead who, possessed by demons, rise from the graveyard to stalk the living. But that’s not quite all. “Taki,” Shiki tells him with his strange smile, “someday you will have to kill me.”

Something demonic has taken possession of Shiki and turned his hair and eyes silver, the colour associated with demons; soon the last vestiges of his humanity will disappear. He is resigned to his fate – but Taki stubbornly refuses to accept it. “If humans can be turned into demons,” he protests, “the opposite should be possible too. We’ll find a way together!”

Into this strange household comes an adorable silver-furred puppy, Agi, who attaches herself devotedly to Taki. Is she the lost puppy he once cherished as a boy? Not long after, a fiery young demon slayer, called Laszlo turns up, determined to destroy Shikimi. Laz insists that he’s a boy, but the protests ring a little hollowly in Taki’s ears, especially as Laz seems to take a liking to Shikimi, the very man she’s been sent to slay. Later still arrives a strange and sinister individual who calls himself Grey; he claims to have known Shikimi before his hair turned silver. Only now do the tragic and horrific facts of Shikimi’s past begin to be revealed. Shiki’s behaviour becomes more bizarre and unpredictable, yet Taki is all the more determined to save his master and reverse his slow, inexorable descent into demonhood.

Tomo Maeda has a delicate, ethereal style of drawing which suits her dark tale only too well. This is no violent gore-fest like ‘Hellsing’ – nor is it a passionate blood-sucking high-school romance, like ‘Vampire Knight’. Instead it builds its atmosphere of claustrophobia and horror slowly and quietly, so that when something genuinely appalling happens, it’s all the more distressing because reader has come to care about the people involved. It’s not all quiet gloom and despair, either; Maeda enlivens her narrative with touches of gentle humour, reminiscent of her charming Boys Love ghost story ‘Beyond my Touch’ (published by June OT 16+). Laz’s bickering with Taki and undead Agi’s cute yet mischievous background antics add a lightness that contrasts well with the darker shadows drawing closer around Shikimi’s unconventional little household. The seventh and final volume is due out in October.

After School Nightmare’ by Setona Mizushiro Go! Comi OT 16+

This dream draws blood…’

Going to high school can be a difficult experience for many young people, but for Mashiro Ichijo it’s a nightmare: although all his peers think he’s a boy, he’s just had his first period. This isn’t just a case of cross-dressing, he’s a boy who just happens to be a girl from the waist down. Now he’s been forced to take part in an unorthodox after school class; every week he must go to a secret infirmary in the school basement and enter an alternate dream world where he has to complete a given task whilst battling against the other students. When his task is completed, he will be able to graduate and leave the high school.

In the dream world, everyone appears on the outside how they are on the inside, which can make it almost impossible to guess who they are back in the real world. All Mashiro’s fears and insecurities are soon laid bare; his dilemma as to who he really is: a boy – or a girl – is revealed to the other students taking part in the dream class. So who is the knight in the suit of black armour who mercilessly attacks Mashiro? Or the cruel-hearted child in the gothloli dress? What about the paper giraffe? Or the girl without a face? The only one Mashiro recognizes is Kureha, his classmate, a pretty girl who hates men after surviving an appalling sexual assault when she was little.

Torn in his affections between the vulnerable Kureha (who loves him because he is not like the other boys) and Sou, an aloof, arrogant boy who has slept his way through most of the girls in the class, Mashiro must try to decide what gender he/she truly wants to be. “How can I love someone when I don’t even know my own gender?”

The high school setting has become a manga cliché, yet subtle little touches (what does the black moon mean?) make ‘After School Nightmare’ fresh, painful, and involving. The colour artwork on the jacket and at the beginning of some volumes is especially beautiful, reinforcing the dreamlike atmosphere of the narrative.

Setona Mizushiro has spun an addictive, disturbing tale which constantly challenges the reader’s expectations. It is genuinely moving at times – and brutally harsh at others, a true metaphor for the pains and joys of adolescence and the slow discovery of self. She provides no easy answers – and the superb final volumes (9 and 10 are still to be published in English translation later this year) bring extraordinary and unexpected revelations.

‘Voice or Noise’ by Yamimaru Enjin Blu OT 16+ Vols 1-2 ongoing

If the idea of same-sex relationships makes you queasy, then avoid this next title – although its depiction of the painful acknowledgment of first love is poignantly and realistically portrayed. ‘Voice or Noise’ is all about communication and miscommunication.

Shinichiro’s dog Flappy has begun to misbehave; but a routine trip to the vet’s results in an unexpected referral. For respected young college professor Narusawa has a rare gift; he can communicate with animals. Yet Narusawa-san is no jolly Doctor Dolittle figure; he may be gifted in his chosen profession, but he is not good with people, as his ability to hear what the creatures around him are saying has made him feel alienated and ‘different’. So when Shinichiro tracks him down at his college and blurts out in front of his students, “Professor, you can talk to animals!” of course he denies that he can help. It’s his black cat, Acht, who provides an unexpected bridge between young Shinichiro and the aloof and prickly Narusawa. For Shinichiro can understand every word that Acht says to him. Does he possess the same gift as Narusawa? Will Narusawa understand him and help him develop his skills?

For a cat-owner like myself, Acht is a delight: fickle, preening, constantly interfering in the relationships of the humans around him, yet hiding a sadness beneath his confident exterior. And Yamimaru Enjin’s drawings of Acht are just adorable! But just as adorable is the depiction of the growing understanding between young Shinichiro and the remote Narusawa, an understanding that begins to develop into something deeper. Yet when Shinichiro realizes that Narusawa has been using crows to keep watch over him, he can’t handle the situation any more.

“What am I?” he cries out, confronting the professor. “What exactly am I to you? I’m not a lab rat!”

Yamimaru Enjin’s first extended manga (she also illustrates novels) displays few of the usual clichés of the Boys Love genre; the nascent relationship she portrays is all too realistic in its misunderstandings and heartache. And it’s not until Acht is involved in an accident that the two protagonists really begin to try to communicate with each other.


Yet beware. If you venture into the addictive world of manga and find yourself irretrievably hooked, there are untold perils that await you (apart from the hole in your wallet). A genre that uses the cliffhanger ending to keep its readers desperate for more is dependent on the mangakas reaching their deadlines in time. For almost all manga is published first in weekly or monthly magazines, before the successful series are collected and republished in tankoubon (volumes). And sometimes…no, alas, far too often…those deadlines are missed. The artists are only human, after all! Or, worse still, manga magazines fold and series go on hiatus with tantalizing plotlines left unresolved, characters frozen in limbo, and frustrated readers wondering what might have happened next if only… But those words ‘ongoing’ may mean that there will be a long wait for the next volume to appear.


It would be a shame to conclude without some recommendations for some new series due to be published over the next few months, so here are a few hot tips for fantasy-themed manga that I’ll be looking out for:

‘Silver Diamond’ by Shiho Sugiura published by Tokyopop (Volume 1 already available). Don’t be deceived by Sugiura’s delicate – yet delicious – drawings; her story of a lost prince coming to earth from a dying world has touches of wicked humour, as well as a cast of seriously handsome bishounen (beautiful young men).

’07 – GHOST’ by Yuki Amemiya and Yukino Ichihara, to be published by Go!Comi
A boy with a magical artefact that give him unimaginable powers may not be the most original of fantasy subjects – but the author and artist of ’07 – GHOST’ have put an intriguing spin on the tale of young Teito Kline and the terrifying Seven Ghosts. Convincing characterization, breathtaking action sequences, and dazzlingly different artwork make this a very impressive debut; one to watch!

‘Gestalt’ by Yun Kouga to be published by Viz in 2009. This should be a treat for all Yun Kouga fangirls like me; this fantasy series dates from 1995-2001 but has never been published in an English translation as far as I’m aware before. It acts as an interesting bridge between ‘Earthian’, Kouga-sensei’s breakthrough series about angels which began in the late 80’s and her ongoing dark fantasy ‘Loveless’. One thing is certain: the artwork will be gorgeous.

A quick glossary for readers not familiar with the main categories within manga:

Shounen – manga aimed (mostly) at boys, with a strong action content e.g. ‘Dragon Ball Z,’ ‘Naruto,’ ‘Bleach’
Shoujo – manga aimed (mostly) at girls, with greater development of characters and relationships, often through dialogue e.g. ‘Fruits Basket,’ ‘Fushigi Yugi,’ ‘Cardcaptor Sakura.’
Seinen – manga aimed at an older male readership, with more complicated plot lines and adult material e.g. ‘Monster,’ ‘Berserk,’
Josei – manga aimed at an older female readership, dealing with more mature issues e.g. ‘Nana,’ ‘Walkin’ Butterfly,’ ‘Nodame Cantabile’

Within these four broad categories can be found many different genres ranging from sports and cooking manga through science fiction, thrillers, Boys Love, samurai, mecha, etc. etc. A recent hit in Japan is the wine-themed series ‘Kami No Shizuku’ (‘The Drops of God’) which has actually increased demand for the wines featured in the manga.

Go read – and enjoy! There’s something to suit every taste in the wide world of manga. (As long as you don’t mind reading from right to left…a skill soon acquired by the ardent manga-fan.)

Sarah Ash

What Sarah has to say about herself (culled from her website):

"Unlike many other authors, I didn't gain my life experience in exotic jobs such as trapeze artist, night-club chanteuse or mortician - instead I ventured into the jungle known as teaching! I became a class music specialist and kept up my writing when I could. Having gained one (very supportive) husband and two (very lively) sons, I still wonder how J.K. Rowling managed to write Harry Potter with a small child to look after.

"The major breakthrough came when I bought my first word processor, an Amstrad 9512. For years I'd struggled with my faithful old typewriter; the wpc freed me from having to correct all my typos and the endless frustrating trips to the photocopying shop.

"Now I run a primary school library and school orchestra, an enjoyable combination of roles which combines literature and music with working with children.

"My sister is Jessica Rydill, author of the fantasy novels Children of the Shaman and The Glass Mountain and our cousin, Vicki Howie, writes for children. We're beginning to wonder what the next generation will produce.

"I admit to a passion for anime and manga - my latest ambition would be to see my stories re-worked as anime (I've never really grown out of my early love for comics)."


We went fishing on Sunday past. This is the proof.

I got bored with the waiting for the fish to bite so I hauled out one of the books I had with me to read, safely behind some boulders and rocks, out of the freezing wind. And yes, that is me wearing of the chilliest days of the year.

A reviewer's life is rock 'n roll, all the way!

Horror Reanimated

A brand new wordpress site by two authors published by Bloody Books, Bill Hussey and Joseph D'Lacey has gone live to the populace in general.

The boys are huge dedicated fans to horror in all its shapes and sizes and degrees of (directional) splatter. They've taken it upon themselves to do the blog to talk about ... horror!

From one of their posts:

We’ll be here talking about the resurgence of horror – a literary plague resistant to every drug and all bad press.

These are dark times and in such times, horror’s disease spreads tendrils into even the purest hearts. If you’re reading this, you’re probably infected already.

Be vigilant.

Watch for symptoms.

When your very eyes drip pus and venom, don’t call the doctor: a shotgun is the only medicine.

Find the link here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Del Toro to release book trilogy

Director Guillermo del Toro has announced plans to write a trilogy of vampire novels with crime author Chuck Hogan.

The 43-year-old, best known for making Pans Labyrinth, Hellboy and The Devil's Backbone, said the trilogy would advance in "unexpected ways".

The first book, The Strain, will be released next summer.

Earlier this month it was reported that del Toro had signed a four-picture deal with film studio Universal.

Trade magazine Variety said the deal would tie him up for the next decade.

There are plans to remake Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Frankenstein and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five.

Del Toro has also been lined up to direct two films based on The Hobbit and other works by JRR Tolkien.

However, the Mimic director has a very clear idea of how the books will read.

"Each book contains unique and surprising revelations about the history, physiology and lore of the vampiric race, tracing its roots all the way back to its Old Testament origins."

Hogan's novels include The Blood Artists, The Killing Moon and Prince of Thieves, which is being adapted into a feature film, starring and directed by Ben Affleck.

LARPERS and Cosplay peeps, he is clearly making this one just for you!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

CE Murphy = Supernaturally Talented!

Apart from gallivanting all around London, writing some amazing stories and being a pretty cool person to shoot the breeze with over some Nandos, young Ms. Murphy's gone and gotten her comic published! Awesome news, yes?

This from her website:

Dabel Brothers Publishing, in conjunction with artist Ardian Syaf (”The Dresden Files”), colorist Jason Embury (”Hero By Night”, “Shadowhawk”), letterer Melissa S. Kaercher (”Dr. Blink, Superhero Shrink”), cover artist Scott Clark (”X-Men”, “Stormwatch”), and writer C.E. Murphy (”The Walker Papers”, “The Negotiator Trilogy”) bring you “Take A Chance”, a superhero comic series about Frankie Kemp, aka “Chance”, a woman who loses her son to gang violence and turns vigilante to save other children.

Isn't this just the coolest? These are the various links to her various sites:

The David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy

I feel honoured and giddy to announce the following:

From: Stan Nicholls - Chairman, DGLA Steering Group
Deborah J. Miller - Awards Administrator

PRESS RELEASE: 22/09/08:

We are delighted to announce that preparations are underway to present the inaugural ‘David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy’ for the best Fantasy novel of the year (2008). The Award has the official support of Stella Gemmell, and has been instigated by friends and professional colleagues to celebrate David’s life and literary legacy.

Nominations are currently being sought from Editors of every major genre Fantasy list for full-length novels, in the English language, first published in 2008. The nominated novels must be deemed Fantasy in the spirit of David Gemmell’s own work. All nominated work will be added to the ‘Longlist’ – which will then be voted upon by the reading public on the Award website.

Voting will not be closing until March 2009, which will ensure readers a chance to read, and vote upon, all the nominees. The top 5 novels will go forward to the Shortlist phase, with the winner decided by a panel of Fantasy experts (to be announced on the website).

The Award trophy - a replica of ‘Druss the Legend’s’ famous battleaxe, Snaga - will finally be presented in June 2009, at a ceremony in London. It is expected that the DGLA will soon become the most prestigious Award for authors working within the genre Fantasy field.

For any further information, please check the website for frequent updates:

Or, contact the Awards Administrator on:

Please help spread the word of this amazing award - David Gemmell wrote epic stories with larger than life characters. His death was a loss to the fantasy community and to thousands of his fans and friends.

Mark and I were honoured to meet David shortly after we moved to the UK and he actually knew who we were - I had made contact a few weeks before a signing to ask him to please do a note or a birthday card for Mark. We didn't know we would end up meeting him a day before Mark's actual b'day at FP. David recognised our names and accents, put two and two together so that when we shuffled up with our hoard of books, David stood up and shook Mark's hand and wished him a happy birthday. Mark was stunned (I had not told him I had contacted David weeks before) and for about an hour Mark laboured under the impression his favourite author was somehow psychic! I eventually confessed, purely because I was so stunned that this busy, internationally published author, with tonnes of fans and many other things to remember, cared enough to realise who we were! Every time since then, when we met him, he greeted us by name - now that is some kind of memory, especially taking into consideration the amount of other fans he had every time he did signings!

A truly remarkable man with a heart of gold and the spirit of warrior. Oh, and crazy mad eyebrows. He loved all his fans dearly and made each one of us feel special, singled out for his attention.

The award is going to shake up the industry. Spread the word, visit the site and sign up to become a member and support the award. Stan Nichols and Deborah worked so hard to get this done - they are absolutely amazing and our thanks goes out to David's wife, Stella, who took it upon herself to finish his final novel, to critical acclaim. Stella's agreed to this award, in the memory of her legendary husband. This is our way to honour him. He might be gone, but he definitely will not be forgotten.

Writing Movies, Gotham Writers' Workshop

It's taken me a little while to finish this one, purely because someone whom I won't name (someone else who reviews on this site) decided to pilfer it off me to read and I had to sneak it out of his bag, in order to finish it.

The thing about Writing Movies is: if you are a movie-fan, of any genre, or if you are interested in movies in any way, shape or form, or if you would one day like to be a successful screenwriter, then this is the book for you. It really helps you analyse movies that you've enjoyed and helps you concentrate on so many more things going on at the same time on the screen, that you as a layman might not notice the first time around. Another thing about Writing Movies: if you are a writer, across any genre, of novels or short stories, this is also the book for you.

I can see you thinking: yah, yah, Liz has eventually lost the plot. But I promise you, I haven't. I have probably learned more from Writing Movies about tightening up scenes and character exposition, than I have from some of the other How To writing books out there. It also shines this spotlight on your own work which leads you to examine your own writing in a very critical way and you realise there is a lot you can pare off and trim, something Mr. Stephen King is very clinical about in his "On Writing".

It makes you think, when looking at the screenplays they hold up as examples, or when you examine your own favourite flicks, that no matter how long the movie is, that the stories are told in scenes that are strong and vivid along with tight dialogue -not an ounce of fat to be had, no matter how languorous the shots are over the landscape - cue John Woo's Brokeback Mountain.

And carrying that with me and looking at books I've recently read, Two Pearls of Wisdom, The Painted Man and especially Young Samurai, the stories have been pared down to be lean and interesting, with strong characters and no unnecessary dialogue, whilst retaining their vividness at the same time. It is a skill, there's no kidding about that. And you don't necessarily have the luxury to rely on your editor or agent to do this for you. Especially if you are a newbie, just starting off in the business.

Writing Movies is a genuinely good read and very affordable, more so than some other books out there on writing screenplays and writing novels, and it is worth every penny. It focuses on plot structure and character development, it crucially points out how to show not tell and it provides an interesting insight into the topics of description, voice, tone and theme. It walks you through the different stages of your script and crucially, that dreaded Revision period. The cheat sheets at the back are really handy and will be of use to novelists and screenwriters when it comes to checking up on your various necessary points such as subplots, characters, premise, plot, dialogue and scene, etc.

I would really recommend the book to aspiring novelists and screenwriters, including people who like to know the "how is it done" behind it all. It is a comprehensively easy to read and dip into-book and ranks up there with his majesty Syd Field's body of work, but probably a bit better, purely because it has such cross-over appeal!

Writing Movies gives you access to the screenplays and templates for the exercises online and it also supplies strategies to break into the business. What, you think Diablo Cody got lucky? ;-)

The Gotham Writers workshop can be found online here. Writing Movies has been published by A&C Black here in the UK and can be bought directly from their website or from any online retailer or any good bookshop.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Snippets of news

Orbit has let us know that they've acquired Jo Graham's novel, STEALING FIRE, which is a novel about the theft of Alexander the Great's body and the founding of a new era for Egypt.

Ramsey Campbell's THE GRIN OF THE DARK won the Best Novel award at this year's 2008 British Fantasy Awards. Which is pretty darn cool, especially as he is a client to the lovely John Jerrold.

Eoin Colfer, author of the fabulous Artemis Fowl books, has been signed up to write a further volume in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe.

Comics Exhibition at Harrods: (article swiped from The British Fantasy Society's page!)

Curated by Rich Johnston, writer of Lying in the Gutters, the Harrods "Comic Timing" Exhibition will run until 31 October 2008. It is located on the Lower Ground Floor and is directly down the stairs from Door Five, by the Knightsbridge Tube exit.

The exhibition includes original artwork from comics and comic strips as diverse as: Watchmen, Judge Dredd, The Bash Street Kids, Dennis the Menace (1950s) Korky the Kat (1930s), Oor Wullie (1940s), Batman: The Killing Joke, V for Vendetta, From Hell, Tamara Drewe, Petra Etcetera, Commando, Finbar Saunders and His Double Entendres, Tank Girl, Tale of One Bad Rat, Mauretania, Captain Britain, Phonogram, Breakfast After Noon, Slaine, Robusters, Summer Of Love, Four Feet From A Rat, Rhapsody Of Love, All Star Superman, The Filth (as seen on the right), Hellblazer, Nellyphant, Face Ache, Jackie, Commando, Gentleman Jim, Look-In, Cherubs, Judge Death, Jack Staff, Books Of Magic, Superfly, Goddess, Wired World, and Charley’s War.

Pieces have been loaned by the likes of Rufus Dayglo (a comics art dealer who began his career diving in skips outside publishers who often just threw the original art work away, and now represents many British artists), the DC Thomson Archive, the London Cartoon Museum and many private collectors. Most of the work on display has never been seen by the public in its original form.

David Lloyd, artist of V For Vendetta, will be on the Harrods stage on September 29 to present a look at the life of the book to date: its beginning, its long drawn out publication, from the pages of Warrior to those of the DC mini-series, up to its eventual adaptation by the Wachowski Brothers as the Natalie Portman-powered movie.

The exhibition was organised by Harrods Head of Creative, James Chittenden.

Some crazy fangirl (looks innocent) has created a video for Alison Goodman's Two Pearls of Wisdom over on youtube. Find the link here .

Pop over to SciFi Concept to view volume 2 of the excellent ezine, available in various formats.

The new Tor website is awesome, if you've not visited in the past, do so! This is the link.

Whilst over at Transworld Publishers' Blog, Between the Lines, there's an article on the launch of Nation, Terry Pratchett's new book.

The new Writing Magazine (October issue) has an interesting article with Neil "The God" Gaiman in it. And from that, an email I got from Chris over at The Book Swede saying the following, about Neil's visit to the UK, specifically about his signing at Blackwells in London, which Chris in turn culled from Neil's website: and to suggest that it might not be entirely inappropriate if people wanted to come in costume, given the date and all. And that if enough people do turn up in costume, I suspect that I could talk Bloomsbury or Blackwells into making some kind of prize for the best one, as long as I didn't have to decide which it was. (But make sure that any costume is comfortable enough to sit for a couple of hours in, and won't stray into your neighbour's seat or jab them with sharp bits.)

If anyone of you are fans of Cornelia Funke, the trailer for the movie that's been made out of Inkheart, is now online. You can find it here. There is also a fantastic article by Cornelia Funke in this month's Waterstones magazine about incorporating myth and legend into storytelling. A must read for aspiring and existing authors out there.

Paul Bethany as Dustfinger in Cornelia Funke's Inkheart

And then, if you've been a fan of Xena or Hercules tv shows, or of Terry Goodkind's Wizards First Rule, do I have news for you! The new series based on Terry's work is due for release shortly. This is the official website with a raft of trailers and posters. It looks good and has been shot on location in NZ. The show is to be called: Legend of the Seeker....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Last Gospel, David Gibbins


Jack Howard is about to discover a secret. Perhaps the greatest secret ever kept What if one of the Ancient World's greatest libraries was buried in volcanic ash and then re-discovered two thousand years later? What if what was found there was a document that could shatter the very foundations of the Western World? What if you were the one who discovered this secret? And were then forced to confront terrifying enemies determined to destroy you to ensure it goes no further? This is the story of one last Gospel, left behind in the age of the New Testament, in the greatest days of the Roman Empire, and of its extraordinary secret, one that has lain concealed for years. Follow Jack Howard as he discovers the secret and must prevent others from doing the same...

This is one of the toughest books I’ve read in a long time. David Gibbins pulls no punches when it comes to the depth of his research in any of his books, but The Last Gospel is something else entirely: part quest novel, part treasure hunt, part mystery adventure with strong elements of conspiracy theory to keep almost everyone happy, it is a full time learning curve which leads to an all out interesting book that keeps you reading to the very last page.

His characters have already been established in his previous novels: Atlantis and Crusader Gold and when you meet them in The Last Gospel there is an easy camaraderie between Jack and Costas that is quite real and it doesn’t feel forced. Also, each novel is standalone, so you can immediately pick up on the various characters without much hassle.

I mentioned earlier that it is one of the toughest books I’ve read in a long time, purely because of the subject matter – you are expected to do a lot of catching up on the various bits of history they follow up on, from: from St Paul to emperor Claudius to Herod to the Nazarene himself, thrown in general information about Rome as an empire, Pliny the Elder and Younger and the excavations done at both Pompeii and Herculaneum to present. A lot of history is covered, a lot of exposition, but it serves to set the tone of the book. It is an intelligent adventure story that is saved from being tedious by a plot that is tightly written and enjoyable characters. Costas is the perfect foil to Jack’s brainy comments and I found myself making my own notes to read up on Claudius, Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The author, himself a marine archaeologist, draws on a lot of his own experiences, so the scenes of discovery is made to seem very real. My only gripe for this book is that the relationship with the mysterious Elizabeth is not delved into, nor her relationship with the mystery people who are involved in keeping the finds at Herculaneum secret. I would assume that the next book will no doubt deal with Elizabeth’s legacy to Jack – it will make for interesting reading.

This is an intelligent archaeological adventure thriller written by an author who clearly enjoys throwing his two heroes into the midst of a quest and then sits back to find the best way to get them out it again, by any means possible.

The Last Gospel is very much a long lazy weekend read, either by the sea or on the couch, now that the evenings are drawing near. It is a meaty and satisfying read and ticks the right boxes for this genre, especially if you are a history nut and you enjoy picking up new information to research. I really look forward to Mr. Gibbins’ next book – as the previous three have not disappointed, he will no doubt be going from strength to strength.

Find out more about David Gibbins, author and archaeologist here . The Last Gospel is published by Headline and is available at all good bookstores and online.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Painted Man, Peter V Brett


The Painted Man, book one of the Demon trilogy, is a captivating and thrilling fantasy adventure, pulling the reader into a world of demons, darkness and heroes. Sometimes there is very good reason to be afraid of the dark!

Eleven-year-old Arlen lives with his parents on their small farmstead, half a day's ride from the isolated hamlet of Tibbet's Brook. As dusk falls upon Arlen's world, a strange mist rises from the ground; a mist that promises a violent death to any foolish enough to brave the coming darkness, for hungry corelings - demons that cannot be harmed by mortal weapons - materialize from the vapours to feed on the living.

As the sun sets, people have no choice but to take shelter behind magical wards and pray that their protection holds until the creatures dissolve with the first signs of dawn. When Arlen's life is shattered by the demon plague, he is forced to see that it is fear, rather than the demons, which truly cripples humanity. Believing that there is more to his world than to live in constant fear, he must risk leaving the safety of his wards to discover a different path.

In the small town of Cutter's Hollow, Leesha's perfect future is destroyed by betrayal and a simple lie. Publicly shamed, she is reduced to gathering herbs and tending an old woman more fearsome than the corelings. Yet in her disgrace, she becomes the guardian of dangerous ancient knowledge.

Orphaned and crippled in a demon attack, young Rojer takes solace in mastering the musical arts of a Jongleur, only to learn that his unique talent gives him unexpected power over the night. Together, these three young people will offer humanity a last, fleeting chance of survival.

Knowing how much my friend Dave-Brendan enjoyed TPM, I was worried that I might not appreciate it quite as much. I try never to read reviews or opinions about books that I know I have to read - go in with a clear mind and form your own opinions, is my motto. But having met Peat and his posse in person, I also felt under a bit more pressure.


The fact that I twice missed my stop on the Underground (walking down from Baker Street to Portman Square is not a quick stroll!) and then almost ended up in Orpington on Thursday night on the last train home, because I was reading TPM, and did not hear the announcement about platform is safe to say that The Painted Man lived up to the hype.

It was for me literally unputdownable. I resented having to leave it to the side whilst I was at work. I eventually finished reading it last after a marathon three hour session from eleven pm to one am. I couldn't bear not knowing what happened.

The thing about Mr. Brett is...he writes in a very visual way, cinematic even. I got the impression that he knew this world and his characters so well, he probably has conversations with them and a multitude of small maps to plot and plan the layouts of the cities and tiny hamlets the villagers visit.

The story is character driven, all the way. My favourite character of the three main characters the author chose to run with, has to be Arlen whom we meet as a young boy. Through Arlen we are introduced to the corelings, demons that rise as soon as the sun sets. We learn of the terror, the fear and the wholesale belief that one day a Deliverer will arise once again, like in the days of old. I loved the way we are taught this by a travelling entertainer who accompanies a Messenger to the small town Arlen grows up in. It was a very clever way of handing you the information on a platter, without it being too obvious. Arlen's subsequent flight and realisation that some men fight and some men crumble in the face of adversity is a valuable lesson and a shocking revelation. His escape from the small town to one of the Free Cities is fraught with incredible danger and makes for interesting reading. If, you are concerned about boring stories of eleven year olds growing up and being apprenticed, fear not! Yes, this is what happens but it is handled with skill and ease and before you know it, you are more than halfway through the book.

Leesha's character as healer could so easily have turned into a parody. Peter V Brett reigns himself in very tightly when writing Leesha. She could have easily been his biggest mistake in the book. But we find a strong, interesting young girl who decides to fight against what is expected of her and she chooses to march to a completely different drum. If you've ever read any of Robin Hobb's books, you will know the intense characters she creates, to the extent where you want to throw your hands up in despair because their situations just seem so dire that there is NO way they will ever get out of it, alive. I felt this way when reading about Leesha, initially but I am really happy to say that she gets out of it alive and...well, you know, go buy the book and find out.

When Rojet was introduced, I immediately thought: the last one to join the away team, which means cannon fodder. Don't get too attached. But I couldn't help it. Rojet is a true innocent initially and goes through absolute hell as a baby. He becomes a young apprentice Jongleur in one of the free cities and is beaten up on a regular basis by other performers' apprentices. But he keeps coming back and remains a true and honourable person, caring for his drunkard of a master and seeking to better himself.

I enjoyed watching the story unfold and getting to know these characters. Because you spend so much time with them, you really do get to know them well. The story runs at a good pace and because the writing is so fluent, you don't notice it. Once the three characters join up, prepare for an insane ride to the end of the book. A memorable battle ensues, friendships are forged, and quite a few storyhooks are tied up...but not all of them because, my friends, there is more to come!

The Painted Man is a strong debut from Peter V Brett and it promises to fill out the ranks of the fantasy genre in a very satisfactory way. If you like books by Scott Lynch, Mike Carey, Robin Hobb, Fiona MacIntosh and Karen Miller, you have to go and buy a copy of The Painted Man. The characters are rendered in strong vivid strokes and the world-building is very cleverly plotted. Importantly the action sizzles and fizzes and the scenes run together seamlessly, even when the years are between the chapters are indicated.

About the author: Peter V Brett's official website can be found here and his online journal can be found here.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Brilliance of CE Murphy and Friends

Last night, I got to meet CE Murphy, author of a whole tranche of excellent books such as the Walker Papers and the Negotiator Trilogy. She did her signing at the mecca of sci fi and fantasy, Forbidden Planet here in London. (I'm thinking I need to be paid by them for all the advertising I do!)

After squeeling at poor Ms. Murphy like a stuck pig and monopolising her time to have her sign my three books in The Walker Papers series and the new Negotiator Trilogy books as well as TWO copies of The Queen's Bastard, I settled down and chatted with Trisha from Murder One who really is one of the most amazing people I have ever met.

She then in turn introduced me to Cassandra Claire who was strolling about the shop with two friends. Yep, you guessed it, more squeeling and hugging and professing undying love to poor Cassie. She handled it with great aplomb.

I also met Sarah Rees Brennan who has something lovely and tasty coming up from the wonderful peeps at Simon and Schuster UK in 2009. It is called “The Demon’s Lexicon” and it looks AMAZING! This is the link to her hugely professional site.

They eventually tore themselves away from my clinging hands and went off to have dinner. After more chatting and looking through Sian from FP’s autograph book and being suitably impressed by the coolness of the various authors and guests (Glen Fabry rocks) who wrote her little notes, we packed up our goods and I hauled all my books upstairs to pay and spotted lovely Lexi (aka Skarrah on LJ) . More squeeling and hugging and introductions all around. We decamped to Murder One for Catie to sign the stock Trisha had (go buy ‘em!) and made general nuisances of ourselves around the shop.

Five of us trundled off to dinner (clanwilliam from LJ, her lovely lad ghm, Catie, Lexi and I) and had an absolute whale of a time. Then, because it was a school night, there were hugs all around and we waved goodbye – Lexi and I trundled off to Charing Cross where I made sure she got on the RIGHT train and I subsequently got on the WRONG train due to platform alterations which I was not paying any attention to.

I got off at Hither Green, found a lovely chap from the local taxi company to drive me home, clutching my bag o’loot to me, trying not to yawn my head off. Thanks so much to Cassie, Sarah, Clanwilliam, GHM, Catie and Lexi for a fabulous night. I have resolved to do as many Cons as I can next year, to work on my geek-quotient. And because I also want to have war-stories to tell like Clanwillian and Catie!

Anyone up for Irish MeCon next year?

Neil Gaiman - UK Booktour

I am in geek-aplexy at the moment, having managed to secure some tickets to Neil Gaiman's event here in London. His newest book "The Graveyard Book" is being released on 30th October 2008 and to mark the occasion, he's coming to the UK to do a talk and signing.

I copy the article below but this is the link to the site.

October 31, 2008

Graveyard Book UK Tour: London Talk and Signing

Friday, 6:30pm

WHERE:Old Theatre

London School of Economics

Houghton Street, WC2A 2

AEBlackwell Charing Cross Road are very pleased to announce an exclusive London event with Neil Gaiman, to celebrate the launch of his fantastic new novel, The Graveyard Book.

Join us on the 31st October, Halloween, for a talk and signing, starting at 6.30pm.

Tickets are priced at 8 pounds and 6 pounds (concessions), and will entitle you to 2 pounds off either edition of the book on the night.

The book officially goes on sale on the 30th October, so this should be a fun one.

Tickets can be purchased in two ways: come into the shop (Blackwell, 100 Charing Cross Road, London WC2H 0JG), or contact us by phone on 020 7292 5100 and we will send your tickets out to you. We expect the phone lines to be very busy for the first couple of days, so bear with us!


is truly in the eye of the Beholder.

So this has NOTHING to do with book reviews but can I just say: Aragorn the Divine (specifically in The Two Towers) on a full HD TV being played through HD DVD = both Mark and Liz going: hmmm HD Aragorn....and then going quiet for a few moments, just you know, taking the time to appreciate the complete hawtness and masculinity.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan


The gods of Olympus are alive in the 21st Century. They still fall in love with mortals and have children who might become great heroes, but most of these children meet horrible fates at the hands of monsters by the age of twelve. Only a few learn the truth of their identity and make it to Half Blood Hill, a Long Island summer camp dedicated to training young demigods. Such is the revelation that launches young Percy Jackson on a quest to help his real father, Poseidon, avert a war among the gods. With the help of Grover the satyr and Annabeth the daughter of Athena, Percy must journey across the United States to catch a thief who has stolen the original weapon of mass destruction - Zeus’ master bolt. Along the way, they face a host of mythological enemies determined to stop them. Most of all, Percy must come to terms with a father he has never known, and an Oracle that has warned him of betrayal by a friend.

I relished reading this and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series. I knew some of the story, from having picked the books up previously in various shops and reading about them online and I was therefore absolutely thrilled when Puffin Books decided to send me the first three in the series to read.

Rick Riordan writes with supreme ease from the first person perspective as Percy. Percy is your average kid who tries to make it through the normal school day without getting into trouble, but it’s hard to do when your teachers try and do you serious damage. He manages to survive an attack by his maths teacher but something weird is going one else seems to recall her ever teaching at his school! Things get a bit weird from there onwards.

I thoroughly enjoyed the author’s style of writing. It is humorous and witty and quite tongue in cheek. Percy never becomes a chore to read and his friends, Annabeth and Grover have been established for future books. I’ve not read any of the other covers of the series as yet, so I’m going in blind, but I hope they make a come-back, purely because there is a lot of good stories to tell.

I enjoyed the light touch the author had when it came to explaining who the deities were and why they were alive and well and occupying the Empire State Buidling’s topmost floor. It is a well researched book giving you an interesting ride through classical mythology along the way, without it impacting on the pace of the book. My favorite does have to be Mr. D, who runs the Half Blood Hill training school. Dumbledore can move over – Mr. D rocks. Literally.

It is interesting to watch Percy struggle to accept his status as a demi-god and to see how he deals with the quest they decide to send him on. I found it interesting to see how he coped with the various stages of the quest, some of it truly hilarious, and found his solutions to some of the problems that came his way as very clever – almost A-Team / MacGuyver clever.

The writing is tight and clear and as I mentioned earlier, I am hoping that Percy’s friends make a come-back because every hero needs sidekicks who mirror them in order to show their strengths and impart wisdom. I particularly appreciated the end of the novel, where Percy turns a tricky situation over to someone else, leaving them to decide the “out”. Naturally the repercussion is something he will no doubt have to answer for later on, but I thought it was a deft way to show the Percy’s growth as hero.

A fun read, littered with enough mythological creatures to satisfy Angela Carter herself.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Ten Thousand, Paul Kearney

Official blurb:

On the world of Kuf, the Macht are a mystery, a seldom-seen people of extraordinary ferocity and discipline whose prowess on the battlefield is the stuff of legend. For centuries now, they have remained within the fastnesses of the Harukush Mountains. They have become little more than a rumour.

In the vast world beyond, the teeming races and peoples of Kuf have been united within the bounds of the Asurian Empire, a continent-spanning colossus. The Empire rules the known world, and is invincible. The Great King of Asuria can call up whole nations to the battlefield. His word is law across the face of the earth.

But now the Great King’s brother means to take the throne by force, and in order to do so he has sought out the legend. He hires ten thousand mercenary warriors of the Macht, and leads them into the heart of the Empire.

When we meet Rictus, he’s made peace with the fact that he’s about to die. What he doesn’t realise is that fate has other plans for him, plans that will see his youth burned away in the forge-heat of battle.

I wasn’t quite sure where the story was going at first; having the hero spitting blood and making peace with his gods isn’t how I expected things to start. The setup is the snowball tipped over the edge of the mountain though. It builds on itself and becomes a thundering behemoth that bullies you into staying up late at night with the promise of ‘one more page’.

Paul paints a wonderfully gritty, solid feel to the legion of the Macht. The Kuf are rendered both exotic and mundane, alien and human.. but it’s what happens when these worlds collide that gives the second half of the book that extra va-va-voom that keeps you turning the page long after you should have turned the lights off. The battles bring the filth, fear and brutality of war to vivid life; the desolation of the aftermath lingers long after the swords are sheathed.

I'm pretty fussy when it comes to action; Liz can attest to the number of books I've binned after losing interest in a character's fate; I'm happy to say that Ten Thousand was never in danger of sharing their ignominious fate.

If you’re looking for intelligent action, look no further. Give those nice people your money and take Ten Thousand home with you.

(I'm still pretty depressed about Jason though. Poor bugger.)

Friday, September 12, 2008


Righto, readers and fans (she says, optimistically) some news for the upcoming month of September:

Firstly, CE Murphy, novelist, comic book writer all round cool rock chick, will be doing a signing at Forbidden Planet in London, this month - naturally, as I am a squeeling fan, I will be there, trying to remember not to drool or spit. The date is the 18th September between 6 - 7. CEM has also updated her website, so why not check it out. This is the link. I will be trying to devastate her with my charm and drag her off to

Secondly, Peter Brett has posted a lovely post over at his site about his visit and his signing at FP. Read it here.

Thirdly, Suzanne McLeod's book has made it as a part of 3 for 2 deal at Waterstones so that is awesome news! And, what is always very sweet, to me personally, is that you can read, on the back of Sweet Scent of Blood, a quote from the review from MFB, which I did for Suzanne's book. I am totally blown away and am in fan-girl mode. I've gone and bought my copy to sit next to the ARC, and will have her sign both when I one day get to meet her in real life.

Fourthly, the tasty, shoe-loving and very talented Cassandra Clare will be coming to London to do research for some of her new books but because of fan pressure (tries to look innocent) she's agreed to do one signing only. It is to be at the fab Murder One book shop on Charing Cross Road and will be taking place on the 27th September at 5pm. Much hilarity will ensue, so do make an effort to swing by if you are in the area. And yes, again, I will be there!

Lastly, Dave Brendon's logged an interview with favourite Karen Miller over at his rapidly growing site. You can read the interview here.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tales of Terror from the Black Ship, Chris Priestley

I was absolutely delighted when this dropped through the letterbox.

I packed it in my bag for lazy day out we had planned, expecting to be able to read it at my leisure. However, things didn’t quite go as planned and on the drive home we found ourselves stuck in the gigantic parking lot known as the M25. Sick of the drivel on the radio and the CD’s in the player, I asked Liz to dig out the Black Ship and read me a page or two.

After only a little pleading, she agreed and so it was that the newest Tales of Terror were told to me as they should be. I can’t remember the last time anyone read to me; I can happily say that the Tales are perfectly suited for this kind of storytelling. If you like your kids clinging to you at night I’d recommend reading these as bedtime stories!

Not surprisingly, given the title, this volume of Tales has a nautical theme. We meet the sickly siblings Ethan and Cathy as they wait for their father to return one storm lashed night. In the deep of the night they answer a knock on the door, and we meet the enigmatic Mr Thackeray, a sailor seeking shelter from the storm that rages beyond the Old Inn. To repay their kindness and pass the time, he kindly offers to tell them stories from the high seas, terrifying tales which couldn’t possibly be true..

Chris has a talent for tension. It lurks in every sentence, a gently nagging feeling that something isn’t right.. it takes hold early, and becomes increasingly insistent until the dreadful truth of things spills out. The tales are laced with mischievous menace,told with relish and beg to be read out loud by firelight. On Halloween.

‘The Boy in the Boat’ was a particular treat, the promise of something dark and dreadful woven through every sentence, staying with you long after you’ve turned the last page. It creeped Liz out completely.

Dave Roberts’ scratchy illustrations suit the tone of the book perfectly, flavouring the pages with a sense of childish mischief and lurking horror.

All in, it's a wonderful book and a welcome addition to my hoard. I can only hope there’s more to come- it would be a crying shame if there isn’t.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Two Pearls of Wisdom, Alison Goodman


Under the harsh regime of an ambitious master, Eon is training to become a Dragoneye – a powerful Lord able to command wind and water to protect the land. But Eon also harbours a desperate secret – he is in fact Eona, a young woman living a dangerous masquerade that, if discovered, will mean certain death.Brought to the attention of the Emperor himself and summoned to the opulent court, Eon is thrust into the heart of a lethal struggle for the Imperial throne.

In this new, treacherous world of hidden identities and uneasy alliances, Eon comes face-to-face with a vicious enemy who covets the young Dragoneye’s astounding power, and will stop at nothing to make it his own.The Two Pearls of Wisdom is based on the ancient lores of Chinese astrology and Feng Shui. It is a thrilling, timeless novel of deadly politics, sexual intrigue and dazzling swordplay set in a brilliantly envisioned world where both appearances and loyalties can prove so very deceptive…

There are times when you pick up a book and you are hesitant as the concept described on the back seems a bit overwhelming and you can’t help but think that maybe the author’s not going to be successful in pulling off this epic story.

Then you start reading it and you are completely and utterly at a loss for words and all you want to do is squeal. Because it is just that amazingly good.

As I mentioned elsewhere I am a huge fan of the kung fu genre. I am also a dedicated fan of Lian Hearn and was therefore really pleased to see that Two Pearls of Wisdom is recommended for fans of Lian’s work.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom follows Eon as a young trainee in a quest to become a Dragoneye, someone who can work closely with the Ascending Dragon in order to help command wind and water to protect the land.

Eon has a secret – she is in fact a girl. And it could mean her death and the death of her master if she is found out. She is also a cripple, her hip had been damaged years ago in an accident, yet Eon manages to overcome this disability by hard work, doing her best not to let it rule her life.
I don’t want to ruin the story, by dropping plot spoilers, so I’ll do the same as above where it says she comes to the attention of the Emperor and the young Heir.

They hurry to make an alliance with Eon as her powers can benefit the Throne tremendously. Naturally there are factions, things are on the cusp of blowing up as the Emperor’s brother, tries to seize power for himself, whilst another highborn noble, Lord Ido, wants the same thing, but they aren’t working together, which makes for interesting reading.

Eon becomes a pawn in a game of political intrigue and has to step into her role of Dragoneye without the benefit of proper training. She is unique in her chosen role and in her ability to see all the dragons – most of the time, a Dragoneye can only see the dragon to which it is bonded to.

The antagonist in the story, Lord Ido, is wonderfully portrayed as a scheming, charming man, prone to fits of incredible rage. The first glimpse of him had me thinking: Eon stands no chance. I am looking forward to see how he develops in the next book as there was a definite twist at the end of The Two Pearls of Wisdom which took me by surprise, insofar as his character went.

The story is littered with beautiful imagery and it is easy to imagine the setting and the courtly way of life.

Eon’s character is finely drawn, throwing in a bit of Mulan (the deception), to the magic and mystery of the heroines from great films like CTHD, Hero and House of Flying Daggers. The author, Alison Goodman, takes her time to establish Eon in our mindseye. She uses vivid settings and interaction with other minor characters to show off Eon’s abilities, her fears and insecurities.

If you think you might be put off by a massive cast of characters, allow me to allay your fears. Here we deal with a small handful of characters, all very well drawn, set on a path to either help or hinder Eon.

The Two Pearls of Wisdom is a fantastic read with an engaging main character, a strongly imagined setting which draws on elements of martial arts, feng shui and political intrigue that has you tearing through the book at a very rapid pace. The second book, the conclusion to The Two Pearls of Wisdom should be published in the near future. Watch this space!

Alison Goodman’s site can be found here and the Fantasy Book Critic is running a competition, which ends tomorrow, 11th September – this is the link to the comp. The book is published by Transworld and should be for sale tomorrow at all good bookstores and online. The author will also be touring in October, so do visit Transworld's site if you would like to meet her.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Young Samurai: The Way of the Warrior, Chris Bradford


August, 1611.

Jack Fletcher is shipwrecked off the coast of Japan – his beloved father and the crew lie slaughtered by ninja pirates.

Rescued by the legendary sword master Masamoto Takeshi, Jack’s only hope is to become a samurai warrior. And so his training begins . . .

But life at the samurai school is a constant fight for survival. Even with his friend Akiko by his side, Jack is singled out by bullies and treated as an outcast.

With courage in his heart and his sword held high, can Jack prove himself and face his deadliest rival yet?

I am a big massive huge fan of movies in the vein of The Seven Samurai, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, House of Flying Daggers, Hero, Kung Fu Hustle and even the stunning Versus. Let's not forget Lone Wolf and Cub, Bichunmoo, Fearless - the list is endless. In other words, any movie set in ancient China or Japan that has to do with swords, heroes, kicks, action.

Which is why I jumped with glee when I received Chris Bradford's amazing Young Samurai: The way of the warrior in the post from Puffin.

This book - in a word - rocks.

Set in Japan it follows a young English boy, Jack Fletcher's adventures in the Masamoto household. He is rescued by Masamoto after the ship he is travelling on, with his father as the pilot, is attacked by pirates and ninjas. Jack's father is murdered by a ninja, known as the Dragon Eye. Jack survives and is wracked with guilt because he could not help save his father.

In the Masamoto household he makes friends with the lovely Akiko and learns to basics of fighting with the wooden swords known as bokken from Masamoto's only surviving son, Yamato. He foils an attempt by a group of ninja to steal the only possession he has of his father, the rutter - a journal to help him reach home, once he is able to translate it's odd writings - and at the same time, he helps rescue Yamato from certain death.

Masamoto immediately decides that Jack, Yamato and Akiko should travel to his very exclusive school for Samurai, to learn the way of the warrior. Once there the friends are faced by xenophobia and Jack is ousted as a foreign devil, a gaijin, eventhough he deports himself with good grace and honourable bearing.

A lot happens in this first book and it is written in a very scenic way. I utterly loved it and can't wait to get the rest of the series. The author, in an interview in the back says that he wrote the book in two months, which is no mean feat. It is comprehensively referenced and probably will do for martial arts what JKR did for wizards. I can guarantee you that if you read it, even if you are 75, you will want to take up some form of martial arts. I am certain I am secretly Michelle Yeoh.

It is written with great enthusiasm for its subject matter and the author uses Jack as the perfect foil to demonstrate the differences between the two very different cultures. Through Jack we watch them progress in the school, we experience the rigourous training expected of the young Samurai and we learn a lot about the way of the warrior. These themes are explained meticulously through the teaching of the various tutors in the school. Again, really well done, with a light touch, so it never becomes preachy or in your face.
Chris Bradford's site can be found here and the Young Samurai site can be found here.

Wicked Lovely, Melissa Marr


The clash of ancient rules and modern expectations swirl together in this cool, urban 21st century faery tale. Rule #3: Don't stare at invisible faeries. Aislinn has always seen faeries. Powerful and dangerous, they walk hidden in the mortal world, and would blind her if they knew of her Sight. Rule #2: Don't speak to invisible faeries. Now faeries are stalking her. One of them, Keenan, who is equal parts terrifying and alluring, is trying to talk to her, asking questions Aislinn is afraid to answer. Rule #1: Don't ever attract their attention. But it's too late. Keenan is the Summer King and has sought his queen for nine centuries. Without her, summer itself will perish. He is determined that Aislinn will become the Summer Queen at any cost! Suddenly none of the rules that have kept Aislinn safe are working any more, and everything is on the line: her freedom; her best friend, Seth; her life; everything.

I have heard some genuinely good things about Melissa Marr's writing (thanks Karen!) and was therefore very chuffed to find a copy of Wicked Lovely at my local Waterstones on Oxford Street.

And in a testament to how engaging I found the book, I read it in one evening.

The story is as old as time itself...a faerie lord desires a human girl, he declares his desire and that girl stands no chance, at all. A bit unfair, I always thought. What chance does this poor girl stand? She doesn't even put up a token resistance. What a farce.

Marr takes that opinion too and has Aislinn be the one to stand firmly against Keenan. She finds him beautiful yes, scary and annoying, but she fights and does not give in. She refuses to be swayed, to fall under his spell. She clings to the teachings her Gran taught her and she clings to Seth, a boy who is as remarkable as a human can be, when contrasted against the glory of Keenan, the Summer King.

An interesting counter-point to Keenan's belief that Aislinn is "the one" we have Donia, the Winter Girl, whom Keenan thought many years ago to "the one" too. I found Donia's story to be heartbreaking. Still in love with Keenan, after so many years, but being unable to be with him, she has to watch him go through years and years of young girls, whom he tempts into taking the test, to be "the one". None of them chooses to take the test...instead they become part of a group of young female fae called The Summer Girls. Donia is trapped as the Winter Girl until someone can be convinced to take up the challenge to become the Summer Queen and succeed.

Keenan's mother, the Winter Queen, has effectively bound Keenan's powers until he finds a girl to stand by his side as the Summer Queen. Winters are becoming colder and summers are becoming shorter. Without a Summer Queen, the Summer King's powers are curtailed and can be hugely detrimental to the world at large.

It is a deftly written book. Aislinn's character is a well developed and initially I thought she was going to be a flash in the pan, blindly following Keenan but once she showed some backbone I cheered her on. Seth remains remarkable as her best friend and later, as something more. He does sound delicious, I have to admit. Keenan could so very easily have become a one dimensional character - obsessing about Aislinn, but we are introduced to his inner turmoil by the small interludes he has with his mother - who is, in plain words, a bitch. He is fighting for his own existence and that of his court, and importantly, in a roundabout way, for the continued existence of humanity. His mother has managed to browbeat him so much that he sulks, like a petulant child, until Aislinn stands by him, voluntarily to ward off the Winter Queen.

I punched the air in glee, going "yes!" when I read that section. But all is still not well. Aislinn has definite ideas about being her role in all of this. She is a clever negotiator. Keenan is taken aback and we find Donia's heart breaking as she watches it all from the sidelines.

I really enjoyed reading Wicked Lovely much more than I thought I would. It ranks, to me, up there with Holly Black's Tithe in the YA Urban Fantasy genre. It's written with a new slant, an unwilling Queen who remains unwilling but does what she has to do because it is the right thing to do in the end. It shows true friendship, it highlights the loneliness of someone in a role of responsibility and how hard it is to break out a role which others have created for you, so that you can be your own person.

Melissa Marr has quite a following and you can find her site here - if you follow the links to her livejournal site, do check out some of the youtube videos fans have made of the book. Excellent work!

Midnight Never Come, Marie Brennan


England flourishes under the hand of its Virgin Queen: Elizabeth, Gloriana, last and most powerful of the Tudor monarchs.

But a great light casts a great shadow.

In hidden catacombs beneath London, a second Queen holds court: Invidiana, ruler of faerie England, and a dark mirror to the glory above. In the thirty years since Elizabeth ascended her throne, fae and mortal politics have become inextricably entwined, in secret alliances and ruthless betrayals whose existence is suspected only by a few. And two courtiers, struggling for the favour of very different royal patrons, are about to uncover the secrets that lie behind their thrones. What they find has the potential to fracture both worlds.

This is a breathtaking novel of intrigue and betrayal set in Elizabethan England.

The novel opens with a scene set in the Tower of London, where Elizabeth is held prisoner, awaiting her execution. A mysterious stranger appears, offering to help her. The stranger is called Individiana. A pact is made. The story unwinds and we are swept up in the passions of Elizabethan England. This single opening scene genuinely sets the tone of the rest of this political faerie spy novel set in Elizabethan England.

I admire Marie Brennan greatly as an author and researcher. Her hard work shines throughout the book and brings historical figures to vibrant life. We meet courtiers and fae alike, and it is difficult to tell which Court has more political intrigue, spies and traitors.

The book reflects the tremendous changes occurring in the world at the time - seafaring nations going to war, the battle between Catholicism and the Protestants, the flowering of poetry and literature across the known world, the expanding of ideas in sciences, the occult and technology.

Ms. Brennan holds the book together with tight plotting and immense characterisation. Personally, I feel the book should be read in conjunction with watching the first Elizabeth movie which stars Kate Blanchett. They definitely compliment one another.

The characters we meet as the story unfolds, Walsingham, Elizabeth herself, Lady Lune (nee, Ann Montrose) and Michael Deven, John Dee and other gentleman and ladies, inhabit a world so close on the cusp to the real and unreal that it becomes a bit of a struggle to sort out fact from fiction. The storylines are so closely linked to reality and spliced so finely that you have to take a break and think to is just a bit of fiction, right?

The author worked really hard in only making use of English faeries and in her interview in the back of the novel, I came to realise that what she said is true: the majority of stories we know are European, Cornish and Welsh (Celtic) and Irish faerie tales. She embroidered the myths and legends of London into her novel with such effortless ease, I found myself crossing the Thames on the train the other day and greeting Father Thames very quietly, just in case.

The book is written with painstaking detail yet never for a second does it become a boring retelling of historical facts and a rehashing of already known figures. Elizabeth is particularly well portrayed and I relished in her intelligence and skill as a monarch. We watch the Courtiers jockying for power, wondering how it is going to turn out and when things totally went awry, I wanted to put the book down and not read further. But I felt compelled to do so. I had to find out how it ended.

The story is a slow-burn, intially, with characters being fleshed out and scenes being set, but once the author pulls the rug out from under Lune and Michael Deven, it is interesting to see who steps up to the mark to sort out the threat and then the story genuinely rolls forward at a rapid pace.

A good read, especially if you are a fan of the time period. I've copied the bit below from The Book Swede's site: And Ashes Lie is the next book in the Onyx Court series, it's a sequel of sorts, with continuity among the faerie characters, but definitely something that a person could pick up without having read Midnight Never Come. It'll cover the period from 1640 to 1666 -- in other words, the English Civil War, the Interregnum (when they chopped the head off Charles I and drove Charles II into exile), the Restoration of the monarchy, and then the Great Plague and the Great Fire. It's an action-packed span of time; if Midnight Never Come is my Elizabethan faerie spy novel, And Ashes Lie is my Stuart faerie disaster novel.

You can find the Midnight Never Come site here and her actual website here.