Tag Archives: ARC

Seven Wonders – Adam Christopher

Warning: this may be the most scattered review I’ve posted yet, and that’s saying something. Some real life stuff has been exciting and scary, and distracting as all hell. More on that at some later date.

This is the second book I’ve read by Adam Christopher, and  I enjoyed it much more than the first. Again, I picked this ARC up from Angry Robot, and the blurb was the main reason. It hooked me straight in; see for yourself:

Tony Prosdocimi lives in the bustling Metropolis of San Ventura – a city gripped in fear, a city under siege by the hooded supervillain, The Cowl.
When Tony develops super-powers and acts to take down The Cowl, however, he finds that the local superhero team Seven Wonders aren’t as grateful as he assumed they’d be…

See, how awesome does this already sound?

Alright, ok, maybe it was just the words ‘superhero’ and ‘supervillain’ that hooked me, but they imply a certain level of action and adventure and Christopher delivers. I think though, what impressed me with this novel was how unlikable most of the characters were. It sounds weird, but I liked the fact that pretty much every single one of the mains had both redeeming, and truly shit qualities.

The first entrance of one of the main characters, a cop, has her putting civilian lives in danger, and standing back to watch someone get killed in a hostage situation in order to follow a vendetta against The Cowl. The leader of the Seven Wonders is somehow portrayed as smug, though there’s not much concrete evidence from what I can remember; his wife memory-wipes the police. I could go on. Their flaws add a sense of humanity to the cast of superheros, already far removed from the citizens they protect.

The novel was just fun, and some of the plot points Christopher introduced had me grinning, such as the revelation of where exactly Tony’s powers had come from, and what that meant. The scenes between Tony and his girlfriend were also among some of my favourites, injecting some levity into the action of the first half of the novel. Then of course, being a superhero story, things go to hell in sudden and unexpected ways. The reader also realises quite quickly that the superpowers have done more to Tony than give him flight – he’s inherited something a lot darker. To be honest, I felt this corruption plot-line was a bit too rushed, especially when considering the relatively slow pace to get there. When it was first introduced I was looking forward to a slow psychological reveal, but instead it was like a punch in the stomach, fast, but with lingering effects. I did find really interesting; however, how quickly the same effect makes itself known on another character in a similar, spoiler-ridden event.

The novel then quickly escalates the second main plot – the one with imminent peril to Earth, and blockbuster action sequences. Christopher blends the two plot-lines to some degree, but truthfully I felt a bit like I was reading two stories which had been smooshed together (though all the world building was done in the first half, so maybe that’s not entirely an apt description). The second half of the book is full of those big battles which I love, with strategic fighting formations and power combinations. Of course, as with all battle-plans, it goes awry the moment the enemy arrives,  and chaos ensues. It was innocuous parts of this second plotline which tickled my fancy: the scene in the conference room where the superheros are all meeting and discussing strategy for the first time, for example was really pretty fun.

The ending of the book felt like a natural culmination of what had come before, and left just a few questions unanswered to encourage reader imagination. I finished feeling that I had really enjoyed the book, but couldn’t put my finger on any one reason why, which is why all I could seem to do when sitting down to write this review was to niggle at the points which bothered me. I had discussed this book with a friend who has also read it, and being a lot more knowledgeable about comics than I am he suggested that some of the things which bothered me (pacing, for one example) were very true-to-form for the genre and were a nod to the comic world.

My friend also pointed out that there were a lot of in-jokes and homages, none of which I picked up on. So there you go, an enjoyable novel for someone with little-to-no comic knowledge, but potentially phenomenal for those who will read more into it.

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The Dead of Winter – Lee Collins

Another ARC from Angry Robot, this is the debut novel from Lee Collins. I can’t remember when I started reading this one, as I’ve since borrowed a bunch of library books which I always feel the need to get out of the way first. Nothing like the threat of late fines to rearrange your reading pile.

From the blurb:

Cora and her husband hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist.

When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present.

I think if that’s all I’d had to go on, I may not have picked this one up, but I also knew from Angry Robot’s newsletter, that it was a western/fantasy/horror which really peaked my interest. I’m not a huge fan of horror in general but love westerns, which always remind me of Sunday afternoons sitting in front of the TV with Dad as a young girl, trying desperately to follow the plot of those long old movies starring John Wayne or his contemporaries. And as you know if you’ve been reading this blog, I’m pretty much in love with fantasy fiction.

Though the novel is written in third person, most of the action follows Cora. As a main character she fits this novel, and this setting, so well: she’s ballsy, brash, and hard-bitten in a way you imagine so many lone ranger types are. And yet, her fondness for her husband and his bookish ways give her enough softness to be likable.  Each of the supporting characters are individual, and easy to distinguish. I particularly liked the Sheriff, who, despite initially being skeptical about the existence of monsters, and the merits of hiring ‘monster hunters’, quickly comes to terms with the reality and learns to fight the terrors.

Collins really nails the balance between western and horror in the novel, with the plot moving at a slow boil punctuated by periods of intense action – this heightens the tension and suspense about the monster stalking the village. The slower pace (though at times a bit too slow for me, who is used to snappy urban-fantasy and YA) also lets the world building shine. The town and its surrounds are not overly described, with a standard sheriff’s office, brothel, bar, train station and assorted buildings, but the feel of the world comes from the characters which inhabit it, the way they speak, and the weapons they use. Though the creatures are familiar  Collins gives each of them a twist, and the monster which first assaults the town is as creepy as all hell. Something about the distortion of human limbs, and faces makes a creature even more scary than something which is entirely unfamiliar.

Unfortunately, the final confrontation with the monster from Cora’s past fell a little flat for me. Realistic, but anti-climatic, less because of the action than the lack of emotional resolution. Perhaps this is more to do with being used to genre tropes than anything, but after building up this monster, Collins doesn’t give Cora a big glorious battle. It’s hard to get into specifics without revealing too much, but when all’s said and done it feels more like putting down a dangerous animal than defeating an enemy. Going back to my being used to more fantasy tropes, it’s possible this end feeling is more consistent with a Western, posse and all. It was pretty realistic – I just wanted more.

In summary, though this book took me a while to finish, and there were parts I thought needed improvement, it was an enjoyable read, and I think a genre which could see a fair bit of growth. As a first novel it was extremely promising and since a sequel is to be released some time soon, it’ll be interesting to see how Collins continues to develop the world, and his writing. I think I remember that there’s a new young female character in the sequel, and I find myself curious to see if Cora will soften more, or if her Eastwood-like tendancies will continue to be a permanent character fixture.

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Katya’s World – Jonathan L. Howard

I loved this book. Really. And if you give me a few minutes I’ll tell you why.

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The Assassin’s Curse – Cassandra Rose Clarke

Before anything else, I have to say: ‘where is the next book already!’

I picked up an ARC of this book a while ago, and was only recently able to read it being swamped with uni work. In fact, this is yet another review which had to be delayed for a few weeks (months) after finishing the book as I had two assignments due in.

Annana is a pirate, born and raised, and all she wants is a ship of her own to captain  into the wild blue seas. Unfortunately, women aren’t allowed to captain ships, so the only options left open to a young pirate girl are to stay on her family’s ship, or to marry into another pirate family. The story opens here, as Annana is introduced to her would-be husband,  the heir of a wealthy but not well respected pirate family. Already distrustful of her too-handsome betrothed, it doesn’t take much to prompt Annana to do a runner. Unfortunately, her would-be husband had not been joking when he said his family would send assassins after her. On the run, battling homesickness, and landlocked Annana somehow manages to activate a binding curse during a confrontation with the assassin Naji. Tied together, the two embark on an epic journey to attempt to find a cure. That sounds trite, but I’ll end up explaining the whole book if I’m not careful. Just trust me: stuff happens and it is cool.

In Assassin’s Curse Clarke neatly walks the line between conventional pirate norms such as the existence of an organised federation and more outlandish notions of floating islands and inter-dimensional assassins. Though I was never a hundred percent sure whether Naji was part of this other world, or just trained there – didn’t really matter.

I think my favourite part of this book, the part that kept me reading for much longer than I should have given my commitments, was Annana’s voice. It is refreshing, strong, and consistent. Not only did I believe in this brash, smart-mouthed, utterly practical and yet somehow tenderhearted pirate, but I could almost hear her island accented voice in my ears. I really liked how the romance was handled as well, but I’m not sure I can say much without major spoilers. All I can say is I like how understated it was. The audience knew what was going on, but it wasn’t overtly mentioned (obsessed about, in many books) – which is a feat in first-person perspective.

One criticism was that I felt the ending of the story was a bit abrupt, however I cannot be sure if this is because my e-reader died close to the end and I had to wait until I could recharge to finish reading. I think I remember this story being slated for completion in a second book so it’s just speculation on my part, but I might guess that it was originally one manuscript with two acts. Don’t get me wrong, the book doesn’t end badly, and I don’t think continuing straight on from the ending would have necessarily flowed very well, I just had a bit of an ‘oh, that’s the end?’ feeling. Maybe this just means I was really into the story 🙂

Aaand, just about everything else I want to say I enjoyed carries spoiler warnings attached. I will say that I would definitely recommend this book to read; it’s a fun adventure-romp with aspects of an epic quest which will appeal to many readers (and possibly gamers, now I’ve read that back).

On a personal note, I apologise for how scattered and inconsistent my reviews are. Generally I just speak from the heart but I’m thinking a structure might be something to investigate in the future.

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Poltergeeks – Sean Cummings

October 2012 release.

Poltergeeks is part of the impressive opening gambit of new YA publisher, Strange Chemistry (an imprint of Angry Robot). They were gracious enough to give me an ARC to review, which I was super excited about having seen the cover and blurb beforehand.

The main character, Julie Richardson, is a regular teen girl. She goes to school, fights with her single mother… and rescues old ladies from Poltergeists. The aforementioned  rescue is merely the first in a string of increasingly sinister paranormal activities which Julie feels compelled to investigate against her mother’s wishes – wanting to prove her independence. Unfortunately Julie’s investigations soon land her in trouble and her mother is seriously injured in the process. In the aftermath, Julie finds herself racing the clock in a desperate attempt to find the perpetrator – find a cure for her mother – all while navigating strange paranormal alliances, family secrets, and hardest of all: a budding romance.

Poltergeeks is a lively novel, and the action is fairly constant throughout, helping to set a quick and easy reading pace. There are a few stand out action sequences and I was impressed with the variety of settings used for the fight scenes: a living-room, school bathrooms, a graveyard, a baseball arena. The magic used was also fairly easy to follow,  a lot of it based on willpower. Though the twists were not that surprising, I didn’t find that it mattered, especially when taking into account the age of the intended audience.

The teen characters in the novel are written from a very real place, and their motivations and actions are honest to their age – particularly in regards to relationships. Not to give too much away, but some of the family scenes, and certain reactions to romance are immediately bought to mind. And though the budding romance could be a bit clumsy at times, I did find it a refreshing change from the instant, soul-deep love that is being portrayed in a lot of YA (in fact, in a lot of paranormal fiction in general) at the moment.

Unfortunately, despite the ease with which I read Poltergeeks, the narrative voice didn’t really resonate with me. This is one of the huge gambles with fiction – especially first-person perspective – and there’s nothing technical I can pull out of the writing to give a reason for it. Maybe it was a bunch of small things which added up, or maybe I just didn’t connect – sometimes it happens.

However, while I won’t be running out to buy a hard copy of this book for my own shelves, I would definitely consider purchasing it for a YA library collection as I genuinely think some readers will adore it. This book just wasn’t written for me.

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Giant Thief – David Tallerman

Oh my gosh, I put this into my drafts and then forgot all about it with uni taking over my brain.

Short version: this is a light, fun read and I enjoyed it.

Another e-ARC, this January release from Angry Robot Books was a great bit of light reading, especially since it came between  LotR: The Fellowship of the Ring and A Game of Thrones (still unfinished). This is Tallerman’s first novel, and also the first book in the Easie Damasco series – a second book having been recently confirmed by Angry Robot.

From the blurb:

Meet Easie Damasco, rogue, thieving swine and total charmer.

Even the wicked can’t rest when a vicious warlord and the force of enslaved giants he commands invade their homeland. Damasco might get away in one piece, but he’s going to need help.

Big time.

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Empire State – Adam Christopher

Release: February 2012

Published by Angry Robot Books, Empire State is Adam Christopher’s debut novel. I was really exicted about this one when I downloaded the e-ARC from Angry Robot (my first ARC from them) – my friend Shaun had already read the book and absolutely raved about it, and the blurb was exciting and and intriguing.

From the blurb at the Angry Robot website:

“It was the last great science hero fight, but the energy blast ripped a hole in reality, and birthed the Empire State – a young, twisted parallel prohibition-era New York.

When the rift starts to close, both worlds are threatened, and both must fight for the right to exist.

Adam Christopher’s stunning debut novel heralds the arrival of an amazing new talent.”

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