Saturday, October 16, 2010

jacqueline carey's carefully crafted world returns in naamah's curse

God I love Jacqueline Carey’s books. Her complex fantasy series Kushiel's Legacy was made up of six books, each as good or better than the previous one. When that series seemingly ended I was devastated.
So imagine my joy when the new series, Naamah Trilogy, was announced with the first book Naamah’s Kiss. 
Now the next in the series Naamah’s Curse has been released and the epic emotional, human yet different, world that Carey created in Kushiel’s Legacy has returned to her dedicated readers.
Carey’s world is almost an alternate history world, created not so much by positing that certain people didn’t die or different countries won historical wars – the usual structure for such genre novels – but rather by repositioning a religious movement away from a denial of sex and sexuality to one of acceptance and love.
Love, and sex, in all its forms is Carey’s central tenant in her fantasy world – the “real” countries and cultures of Europe, Russia and the United Kingdom are the basis for her new world, with a mythical France – Terra d’Ange, the land of the angels – being the source of her characters’ mystical connection with a god of love and compassion.
Although the central character of the Naamah books, Moirin, is half d’Angeline, she is also half Alban – a Celtic version of England with remnants of natural magic still in the blood of its people.

Read my review of Naamah’s Kiss: Kisses for Jacqueline Carey’s newest novel

Journeying halfway round the world to Ch’in – yes, China, but the mystical China of dragons and emperors and magic – Moirin finds herself falling in love, falling into danger and becoming first the mistress of a dragon-possessed princess before realising she still has to follow the wishes of her Alban goddess.
This bare telling of Moirin’s complex journey cannot begin to describe the sheer joy it is to read Carey’s books.
Her instinctual understanding of human nature and her ability to give form to psychological impulses in our psyches are what have made her books New York Times Bestsellers.
The novel is full of raunchy sex, loving and healing sex, action, dragons, magic, religious zealots, betrayal and luxurious indulgence set right next to terrible deprivation. A rich tapestry of borrowed cultures and countries add new characters at every turn.
But it is Carey’s complete non-judgement of sex, sexuality, emotional attachment and the bare essence of basic human feelings that makes her so compelling to read.
Although Khusiel’s Legacy and the Naamah Trilogy are set in a fantastic past, this lack of moral judgement is quintessentially modern; it offers a possible way for people to be; without imposed moralities, yet still with a binding requirement to not harm nor hurt other.
I can’t wait for the final instalment in the trilogy, Naamah’s Blessing, but I’m also dreading it; I don’t ever want to leave Carey’s carefully crafted, fascinating world.

Naamah’s Curse by Jacqueline Carey is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.

the way of kings is classic epic fantasy from brandon sanderson

Brandon Sanderson continues to show exactly why he was chosen to help finish Robert Jordan’s epic series The Wheel of Time with his first book in his second series, The Way of Kings: The Stormlight Archive Book One.
The Mistborn Trilogy, Sanderson’s first series has concluded to much critical and box office acclaim and now The Stormlight Archive series has launched with the thumpingly good The Way of Kings.

Sanderson is a fantasy writer of the traditional swords ‘n’ magic sort, but with an ability to add human emotion to inhuman characters, readers are never alienated.
In The Way of Kings, Sanderson introduces us to a world of storm and stone, where wild energy and magic of sorts comes from the devastating storms that lash the world.
A thousand years ago mythical knights protected the land from the depredations of a vicious enemy relying on “Shardblades” and “Shardplate” – armour and swords that give the wearing unending strength and magical powers of healing – to help them.
The knights have disappeared under clouded circumstances and although some Shardblades and Shardplate remain in the hands of a few warlords, it is little enough protection should the ancient enemy return.
As the past is lost in time the current batch of politicians, lords, kings and mercenaries occupy their time fighting seemingly pointless and endless battles. A new enemy has arisen, a race of generally subservient creatures used as slaves, has suddenly acquired a warlike offshoot and must be put down at all cost.
The battlefield is populated by soldiers and slaves, lords and ladies and a young king who has no idea what he is doing fighting this war, or why the enemy continues to hold off his supposedly invincible army led by Shard bearing warriors.
Slave to a lord, a young man who should have been a doctor finds himself becoming a defacto leader, attempting to do the impossible and protect his men; persecuted he begins to realise that he might not be just the simple soldier he always assumed he was.
On the other side of this world a young woman is attempting to ingratiate herself into the retinue of a renowned scholar to both learn but, more importantly, gain access to a coveted item that may, or may not, be able to help her family.
Sanderson deftly weaves these three main strands together with added detail from a plethora of minor characters; there is something moving in the storms, heading towards the heedless army battling for shiny rocks in a devastated landscape.
As with most fantasy novels, The Way of Kings is only the first in Sanderson’s new series that looks set to blow away readers and critics alike.
Sanderson is indeed a worthy heir to Robert Jordan’s epic fantasy crown; can’t wait for the next instalment. 

The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.

genetic manipulation & corporate greed gone awry ... again

Yet another in the burgeoning genre of genetic manipulation and corporate greed gone awry, The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry isn’t the worst of the lot, but it’s certainly not the best either.
The Dragon Factory has the obligatory mad scientists – this lot appear to be leftovers from Nazi times – with designs on world domination and creating the “perfect” human being.
There are also “speak softly and carry a big stick” type government agents – this time it’s an ex-cop special ops shooter called Joe Ledger, an ongoing character for Maberry – and some shifty government types who are probably playing both sides.
The dragon factory of the title is a lab that manipulates animal genetics to create fictional creatures so rich, nasty people can hunt them or rich, manipulative people can use them to create cults to take over countries.
Ho hum. The whole plot of The Dragon Factory reads like a B-Grade film that went straight to DVD and stared actors who were in the first few minutes of a slasher movie as their only claim to fame.
But the book isn't pretending to be literature in any way, shape or form – just check out it's schlock-horror cover picture – so enjoy it for what it is.
Still, the plotting is tight, there are a few twists, the action scenes are relatively well-written and the baddies get their comeuppance. The Dragon Factory is another good airport read or a Christmas present for the non-reading man in your life. 
The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.

good, but not great: blonde bombshell by tom holt

“A comedy of intergalactic proportions” reads the blurb on the front cover of Tom Holt’s latest book, Blonde Bombshell, but while there’s the odd chuckle among the pages this is no Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
Holt has been hailed as the heir to Douglas Adams any number of times, despite the fact that his work is as often about magic as it is about science.
But the sheer surrealism of a universe run by mice is missing from Blonde Bombshell – even though Holt has the audacity to nick the concept and substitute another Earth animal as the protagonist.
In fact there are more than a few nods to other seminal works in this novel, not the least being a “bomb” that becomes self-aware.
While there are some humourous passages as aliens attempt to interpret seemingly bizarre human rituals like using money, fast food and airports, Blonde Bombshell generally falls rather flat.
There are no new ideas, no really engaging characters and the pat platitudes of “make peace not war” – even coming from the mouth of a creature created to destroy – doesn’t really grab the reader.
Blonde Bombshell isn’t a bad book; it’s easy to read, light and not too taxing. Basically if you’re stuck in an airport somewhere wondering why two men dressed in bad suits are trying to board with a decaying octopus in their carry-on luggage but can’t really be bothered paying attention, then Blonde Bombshell will certainly help pass the time. 

Blonde Bombshell by Tom Holt is published by Orbit Books and is available from good book stores and online.

an uncannily prescient look at the future of war

Hailed by genre critics and those of the more traditional literary sort, Adam Roberts’ New Model Army is a fascinating read about a world that’s not really that far away.
Although this is technically science fiction, the premise of Roberts’ story – that a mercenary army can be run without a hierarcy of officers via the internet – is an almost realised prediction in the modern age of terrorist cells created from web pages, weapons sourced via Facebook and untraceable communications via throwaway mobile phones and iPhone texting apps.
New Model Army traces the experiences of one member of Pantegral, a “new model” army made up of disparate groups who communicate via the web, only occasionally meeting up with other soldiers in the “real” world to physically fight.
Set in the UK, the story also echoes the rise of corporate mercenary teams like those that appear to be running the US war in Iraq; members of the new army are mostly ex-traditional army soldiers either AWOL or cashiered out for disciplinary reasons. They all have guerilla warfare training that they put to good use.
While the country’s government attempts to react to an enemy that won’t stay in one place, is better equipped – if soldiers are supplying themselves they buy the best they can afford – Pantegral marches on London at the behest of their client, Scotland.
Pantegral is run via consensus, every soldier has a vote on deciding which way the fight will go, right down to whether or not to take prisoners, what to do with them and details of negotiations with the opposition; all via the internet.
As the story continues the central character – who is never really identified – muses on the origin of the New Model Army, the vicissitudes of war and the eventual outcome of a world run via a community versus top-down or “feudal” government structures as it is now.
However what the soldiers don’t realise, but some traditional military boffins do, is that Pantegral – and similar organisations around the world – are becoming aware.
The complex net of communication, ideas, even emotions create an almost organic “mentality” that slowly becomes an identity. As the blurb on the book says: “His is called Pantegral. And he is you and me.”
Roberts’ format – writing purely from a first person perspective and with little to no indication of time – can be somewhat hard to get into at first. If you’re looking for a traditional shoot ‘em up, New Model Army is not for you.
If, however, you are either fascinated by the constant change of modern technology and concerned by how this will affect our societies, then New Model Army is a must read. It is uncannily prescient in so many ways.
After all, a full-blown war run by web-savvy youth may be only a small step from the current world of global online gaming.

New Model Army by Adam Roberts is published by Gollancz and is available from good book stores and online.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

want to win every orbit book released next year? then enter the orbit quest

One of the biggest publishers of science fiction and fantasy novels, Orbit, has just announced an amazing competition for lovers of this genre.
The Australian branch is offering a competition which will see the winner receiving “every new release title from Orbit books for 2011 – around 70 books.
To enter the competition, readers have complete 12 tasks, each one of which gets a point. The person with the most points at the end of the event becomes the “Orbit Champion” for 2011. The more tasks you complete, the more points you get.
So far, 11 tasks have been announced:
  • Task 1: Register your interest
  • Task 2: Discuss your favourite moment
  • Task 3: Post a fan picture of your bookshelf
  • Task 4: Favourite Old Tongue word
  • Task 5: Design a cover
  • Task 6: Trivia Challenge
  • Task 7: Review
  • Task 8: Cool Crossovers
  • Task 9: Suggest an alternative title
  • Task 10: Confess your nerdiest moment
  • Task 11: Dress up as your favourite character / post a picture
  • Task 12: To be announced on the morning of October 30, 2010
The competition closes on November 30 at midnight, EST. For more details go to the Orbit Australia Facebook page or email: