Monday, October 31, 2011

The Red Duke Book Review

Title: The Red Duke
Author: C.L. Werner
Publisher: Black Library
Pages: 413
ISBN: 9781849700733

With the last of Earl Gaubert d'Elbiq's sons dead, sent to their deaths by their own father, an already existing blood feud between the d'Elbig's and the du Maisne's comes to an epic climax.

Seeking revenge for the deaths of his sons, Earl Gaubert heeds the words of one of the lowliest peasants in his court, and seeks out a witch named Jacquetta who promises to lead him to the unmarked tomb of the Red Duke. And with the help of  Renar, -- a peasant Necromancer -- instill the powers of the duke into vessel's of Earl Gaubert's choosing.

"Beware you sons of Britonnia! Beware the forces of darkness that lie in wait to tempt and trap even the strongest soul! Beware the sad end of the heroic knight, that defender of chivalry and crown! Beware, you children of Aquitaine, lest your wickedness draw down upon you the foul curse of the Red Duke!" - Jacques the Troubadour

Once known as El Syf ash-shmel, or "the North Sword," by the Arabyans, the Duke of Aquitaine cast fear into the hearts of his enemies, even before his vampiric resurrection as the Red Duke. Entombed after a bloody battle upon the Fields of Ceren, it will take everything within the Lady of the Grail's reach to help to bring the Red Duke's resurrected reign to a final and bloody end.

Werner, a veteran of the halls of the Black Library delivers a bloody brilliant approach to vampires, Warhammer Fantasy style. Now, granted I haven't read too much of Warhammer Fantasy, but what I have read I've liked for the most part. More specifically the vastness of the world building. After finishing The Red Duke, I've come to the conclusion that Werner knows his stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if the man lives and breathes the source material. And this shows more than anything in the thoughtful layout of the novel.

Beginning with each chapter and speckled throughout The Red Duke, are flashbacks to 500 years before the Earl of Aquitaine's entombment, giving the reader the rich history and backstory needed without the endless, mind-numbing, drool-fest infodumps that seem to be so crippling to most speculative fiction novels. Although each flashback isn't as long as the chapters they reside in, Werner finds a way to include just enough information into them without giving the whole story away.

"Everything a man loves dies. Everything he values must turn to dust. It is only the things inside a man that he can keep with him always. Things like loyalty and honour." - The Red Duke

With most shared worlds it is to be expected that there's not much character development to be read and cultivated within the characters that populate the stories. The Red Duke is not one of those novels. Instead, as the backstory of the Duke is unveiled, the reader slowly begins to see not only the title character grow, but also a large handful of the main cast and secondary characters. No doubt it's a refreshing feel.

But not everything is refreshing. As the story unfolds almost poetically in spots, I can't help but think that the plot of the story is kind of overdone and cliched: an evil from centuries past has been resurrected to exact vengeance on the heads of those who most deserve it. Along the way, said ancient evil being manages to somehow amass a large following of supporters and soldiers willing to die with a single command. It's not that it's overly used in fiction, but in movies as well. Although it does manage to work rather well with this story, I would have much preferred it to be more refreshing.

If that doesn't bother readers, though, the ending might. For those that like closure and a succinct tying of loose ends, The Red Duke might disappoint. But, if you're looking for a story that carries well, and is richer than most when it comes to shared world literature, then look no further.

With that being said, I'm giving The Red Duke 7.5 out of 10 TARDISes.


Friday, October 28, 2011

Thrall Book Review

Title: Thrall
Author: Steven Shrewsbury
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Pages: 288
ISBN: 9780983108634

Ever found a book where it seems no matter what happens you just never have enough money, or time to buy or read it? Thrall was one of those books for me. It wasn't until Context 24, a small convention held in Columbus, Ohio each year, that I had the opportunity to grab a copy. Through conversations with the awesome Stephen Zimmer, an author notable for both his epic fantasy series and urban fantasy series both published through Seventh Star Press, I expressed my interest in Thrall, to which he responded by giving me a copy to review. To Stephen I say: thank you good sir!

With Thrall Steven Shrewsbury introduces a new hero; an aging warrior who has lived for centuries battling the monstrosities of legend and lore. Set in an age when the Nephilum walk the earth, demonic forces hunger to be unleashed, and dragons -- both living and dead -- still set claim to the skies. His name is Gorias La Gaul, and he's on a journey to find one of his own blood, a young man who is caught in the embrace of necromancy. And on his journey Gorias' will encounter things both living and dead. Familiar enemies and new foes alike.

For Gorias La Gaul, Deliverance Will Come...

One of the things that I found most fascinating with the yarn that Shrewsbury has managed to weave within the pages of Thrall is the main character: Gorias La Gaul. A man near the end of his extremely long life, he has seen and done things that most have long since filed away in the annals of history. Though he is a legend and a myth on the lips of many, he is nothing more than a man to those that know him. And a flawed man at that.

For the most part I enjoyed the story of Gorias La Gaul, although I found some of the names, places, and creatures to be quiet contrived, as if Shrewsbury ripped a page out of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign. However, Shrewsbury does a fine job of executing the story, and making it believable enough to grab the readers attention.

If you're not one for novels with a large cast of characters, then Thrall might not be for you. Throughout the course of the novel the reader is introduced to many characters that share a history with La Gaul. And although Shrewsbury takes the time to fill in the reader as to how the hero of the story knows the individuals, after a while the constant feeding of information becomes tedious and lessens interest. Whether Shrewsbury meant to do this or not -- possibly setting Thrall up to be the conclusion to a longer story arc, (think David Gemmell's Druss the Legend series) -- it just didn't work for me. However, if you're a fan of tome-length tales of sword & sorcery, and are looking for something as deep and rich in world and character, but smaller in length, this might just be the novel for you!

With Thrall, Steven Shrewsbury has found a way to blend sword and sorcery, the occult, incredible monsters, and biblical beings into a tale set in antediluvian times, all the while channeling David Gemmell and Robert E. Howard. Remarkable!That's why I'm giving Thrall 7.0 out of 10 TARDISes. If you like the works of Robert E. Howard, or David Gemmell, and you're looking for a non-stop, action packed novel, then Thrall is the book for you!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dead of Night Book Review

Title: Dead of Night
Author: Jonathan Maberry
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9780312552190

For the last few years I've been hearing nothing but great things about Jonathan Maberry and his works, specifically his Joe Ledger novels (Patient Zero, The Dragon Factory, King of Plagues), and his recent foray into young adult fiction with his Benny Imura novels (Rot & Ruin, Dust & Decay), I was more than eager to jump on the chance to review one of his stand alone novels (thanks to the kind folks at St. Martin's Griffin, and of course Janathan Maberry). Most of the time I like to read shorter fiction of new authors before I dive into some of their bigger bodies of work, but with Dead of Night, I couldn't resist.

Dead of Night tells the story of Stebbins, Pennsylvania, a small town that will soon pack a big bite. When a prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots, it's up to cops Desdamona Fox (Dez to everybody) and her partner JT Hammond to put things right and save their small town. When they're taken in for questioning in regards to the deaths of fellow Stebbins police officers, things take a turn for the worse, and they are forced to fight even harder for their lives, and the lives of the other two thousand people who call Stebbins home.

Maybe it's the fact that I read it during the days leading up to All-Hallow's Eve, or maybe it's the fact that I have a soft, rotten spot in my heart for zombies, I couldn't help but find myself absorbed in the pages of the novel, so engrossed that I finished two-thirds of Dead of Night in one quick sitting. 

With characters as ordinary as you and me; with faults and flaws, and lives lived as ordinary as the lives around us, it wasn't hard for me to find myself quickly becoming attached to the characters. Unlike some zombie novels that focus on the broader scope of a zombie infection-turned-plague, Dead of Night brings the setting down a few notches, and makes it more intimate, while all the more terrifying.

That's not all that Maberry does well with Dead of Night. Jonathan writes with such knowledge and love for zombies, that when I finally came to the scientific reason for the creation of the plague and the process with which it was done, I found myself fascinated. And I'm not normally one for in-depth science explanations!

But not all of the novel was great: at times I was confused as to whether Maberry was trying to be artistic, or more literary than some of his fellow authors. With the beginning of each new part there is an extract of T.S. Elliot's The Hollow Men, a poem which is referenced several times throughout the novel. Because of the purpose of the man-made plague, and reasons I won't get into for worry of spoiling the book, Maberry tries to connect the poem to the situation at hand, but unfortunately it's an attempt that felt too forced for me to try and like.

When I wasn't laughing, I was on the verge of tears; hoping against all hope that there would be a happy ending. This is a book filled with suspense and zombies... lots of zombies. Two things that just happen to mix very well! With interesting characters and an-almost-perfect plot, it's a novel that shouldn't be missed this Halloween season, that's why I'm giving Jonathan Maberry's Dead of Night 8.0 out of 10 TARDISes!


Saturday, October 1, 2011

Updates and More: Salvation's Reach. Children of the Sky. Blue Dragon. Kultus. The Night Eternal. Dead of Night.

It's no surprise that Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts series is a major hit for the Warhammer 40k author. The thirteenth book in the Gaunt's Ghosts series, and the second title in The Victory story arc, Salvation's Reach is long overdue. Because of medical issues that conflicted with Mr. Abnett's writing schedule, Salvation's Reach will finally hit the shelves on October 4th. For those fans out there, here's the newest synopsis below.

 The Ghosts of the Tanith First-And-Only have been away from the front line for too long. Listless, and hungry for action, they are offered a mission that perfectly suits their talents. The objective: the mysterious Savlation's Reach, a remote and impenetrable stronhold concealing secrets that could change the course of the Sabbat Worlds campaign. But the proposed raid is so hazardous, it's regarded as a suicide mission, and the Ghosts may have been in reserve for so long they've lost their edge. Haunted by spectres from the past and stalked by the Archenemy, Colonel-Commissar Gaunt and his Ghosts embark upon what could be their finest hour... or their final mission.


What began in 1992 with A Fire Upon the Deep, Vernor Vinge continued it's story with A Deepness in the Sky seven years later. Now, twelve years after the second book in the Zones of Thought series, Children of the Sky is finally seeing the light of day. Here's the synopsis for it:

Ten years have passed on the Tines World, where Ravna Bergnsdot and a number of human children ended up after a disaster that nearly obliterated humankind throughout the galaxy. Ravna and the pack of animals for which the planet is named have survived a war, and Ranva has saved more than one hundred children who were in cold-sleep aboard the vessel that brought them.

While there is peace among the Tines, there are those among them -- and among the humans -- who seek power... and no matter the cost, these malcontents are determined to overturn the fledgling civilization that has taken root since the humans landed.

Children of the Sky hits shelves October 4th.


Blue Dragon is the conclusion to Kylie Chan's Dark Heavens trilogy, which started with White Tiger and continued in Red Phoenix. Although I have yet to pick up the second book in the trilogy, I'm excited to see what the third volume brings, and how Mrs. Chan manages to wrap-up the series. Below is the synopsis:

Martial arts, magic, demons and science.

The forces of Hell are poised to strike...

When Emma's relatives come to visit her, they are totally freaked out by what they learn... Emma's beloved, John Chen, is a 3,000-year-old Chinese god. Not only that, John is becoming weaker by the day. Demons pursue him relentlessly, hoping to use Emma and his child, Simone, as bargaining tools against him.

Emma battles to defend Simone as John's energy is drained by the effort of both living in the mortal world and protecing them. While Emma is nagged by doubts about her own nature, she must find the courage to go on...


Here's a first for Updates and More: a book featured from Solaris Press!

I've been patiently looking forward to seeing what Kultus is all about. Here's the synopsis for it:

Thaddeus Blaklok -- Mercenary, demonist, bastard and thug-for-hire -- is pressed into retrieving a mysterious key for his clandestine benefactors. Little does he know that other parties seek to secure this artefact for their own nefarious ends and soon he is pursued by brutal cultists, bloodthirsty gangsters, deadly mercenaries and hell spawned monsters, all bent on stopping him by any means necessary.

In a lightning paced quest that takes him across the length and breadth of the steam fuelled city of Manufactory, Blacklok must use his wits and his own demonic powers to keep the key from those who would use it for ill, and open the gates to Hell itself.

Kultus hits shelves on October 25th, just in time to scare the hell out of you for Halloween!


Another title that will see publication just in time for Halloween, is The Night Eternal, the third and final book in the Strain Trilogy. Written by the dynamic duo author Chuck Hogan, and filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, I'm hoping for an explosive, dramatic ending. Not only did I love the first two books, but I'm a big fan of del Toro's work. Here's the full synopsis for The Night Eternal, which also hits shelves on October 25th:

It's been two years isnce the vampiric virus was unleashed in The Strain, and the entire world now lies on the brink of annihilation. There is only night as nuclear winter blankets the land, the sun filtering through the poisoned atmosphere for two hours each day -- the perfect environment for the propagation of vampires.

There has been a mass extermination of humans, orchestrated by the Master -- and ancient vampire possessed of unparalleled pwoers -- who selects survivors based on compliance.

The future of humankind lies in the hands of a ragtag band of freedom fighters -- Dr. Eph Goodweather, Dr. Nora Martines, Vasiliy Fet, and Mr. Quinlan. It's their job to rescue Eph's son, Zack, and overturn this devastating new world order. But good and evil are malleable terms now, and the Master is most skilled at preying on the weaknesses of humans.

Now at this critical hour, there is evidence of a traitor in their midst... And only one man holds the naswer to the Master's demise, but is he one who can be trusted with the fate of the world? And who among themwill pay the ultimate sacrifice -- so that others may be saved?


And finally, the other title to see publication just in time for Halloween, is Jonathan Mayberry's Dead of Night. It hits bookshelves on the 25th  as well. Here's the synopsis from the back of the Advanced Reader's Copy: 

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bong... but a bite...

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots. But before he can be buried the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. Can two small town cops contain the plague before it spreads beyond all control?

Look for a full review of Dead of Night to be posted before the end of the month!