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Small Time Vengeance

Small Time Vengeance - Steve McHugh

Just one small snippet. Feels like a prologue to the prologue of Crimes Against Magic. Adds nothing to the world or Nate's story. Had it at least shown how he first learned about the massacre in Soisson, but like this... nice to kill some time. Nothing more.

Clan Rathskeller

Clan Rathskeller - Kevin Hearne I like those prequel short stories and novellas, that exist to so many urban fanatsy series. While most of them were written "after the fact", they could mostly be read without ever having read any of the novels. So they are perfect to get a feel for the series and see if one likes it: They are short, cheap and give one a far better impression of the story telling and world building capabilities of an author than any novel extract ever would.

So what could I say about this one? Well, ... it was ok. Yeah, bad word, but still. It's a little story, set some 10 month before the events of the first novel [book: Hounded] . Nothing of consequence, no major revelations er something like that. Just a small glimpse at the narrative world and it's main protagonist. It didn't enthrall me to read the novels on the spot but it didn't warn me off of either, so I'm giving at least the first two or three novels a chance.

Shadows Over Innocence

Shadows Over Innocence - Lindsay Buroker An interesting glimps on an new seemingly steampunk inspired fantasy world that certainly is darker than gray. I will most certainly pick up the first full novel in the series very soon.

Another Life

Another Life - Peter Anghelides “Nine lives has the Alien…”

… well six actually, but what’s the difference? Having read my way through all the Doctor Who novels I had available – five actually – I needed something to read for the remaining two weeks of the month until the new moth would renew my book budget. So I remembered having bought the first five Torchwood books as hardcovers a few years ago. Now I know that Torchwood is actually quite different from Doctor Who. Darker, grittier, more dystopian and certainly much more violent. Even though there where some quite dark episodes in the new Doctor Who series like “Utopia”, “The Sound of Drums” and “The Last of the Timelords”, but they were nothing in comparison to “Countrycide” for example. So, I knew what to expect with Torchwood and I still had problems to get through this book.

Writing/Storytelling: Maybe the writing was the problem. For more than half of the book it seemed an effort to read it. The pace was slow, meandering, never really getting to the point. Then there was so much subplot that never seemed to connect to the main plot. Having finished the book I now know this was all build-up for the climax, with Owen falling victim to the alien. But still, in many places this was too much. Like the whole Second Reality thing. While it was nice to show Tosh as the techno geek who can program almost everything, this could have been cut a lot shorter without losing something for the story. A little more pace and timing would have done the story good, because the idea was really good and promising.

The Point of View varies with a huge portion falling to Gwen and Owen. Maybe it was this to, what made the book difficult for me, since those two are not my favourite characters in the show. What was nice were the chapters with “you”-perspective. Even though, using it on Owen very early one while describing him playing Second Reality was more than just foreshadowing, it was a huge giveaway.

World/Worldbuilding: There is not much to say about the worldbuilding. The Whoniverse is well defined and the Torchwood part is either, so the question is more like “Is the world from the series recognisable?” I would say, yes, it is. Maybe it’s the deteriorating weather, the unnatural permanent rainstorm and darkness, but the world felt genuine. The story doesn’t add anything that would clash with the cannon, it just expands it in a few places like adding the aliens that I’ve never heard of in the TV series so far. But that was carefully done and totally in-world.

Hero/Heroine: With the Characters, the question is the same. Are they right? Do they feel right? Do they sound right? Well, they are and at the same time, they are not. They are recognisable all right, but they seemed slightly off. As if the author had to write them from script and had never been able to watch any off the episodes before he had to finish the book. But since the book is from 2007 and the series’ first run started late 2006, he should have been able to see at least a few episodes while writing the book.

The characters all feel kind of flat. Tosh, the techno geek, knowing everything, researching the rest, programming everything and anything, even some kind of “holodeck”. But there was nothing more to her. No real life, no feeling. Just like those figures in a shadow play, where you can see the outline, but nothing more. Same – worse even – with Ianto. He’s near to non-existent. Yeah, I know, that reflects how they treat him before “Cyberwoman”, just like the Hub’s own Butler, but still. It seemed even more extreme than in the series. Plus in the end I got the impression, the author diminishes him even more, in the way he described his interaction with Jack and Gwen in the aftermath of the events. It seems to be Gwen’s point of view, but he still comes over like a stupid little puppy, eager to please his masters. And Ianto is definitely anything but that.

Gwen and Owen are slightly better depicted, maybe because a big part of the story is told from their perspective, but they still don’t feel alive to me. Owen is just the snarky, often very cynical Doctor and Gwen is just the good Copper with the big heart, wanting to rescue everything and everyone, even the alien, that has controlled six people in turn, using them to its means, abandoning them to their deaths when he could no longer use them and making them murderer of at least two dozen people along the way.

But the greatest feat of all is that the book even manages to let Jack look flat. While I grant you, that it might be difficult and sometimes an effort to bring Jack as Barrowman plays him adequately to life on the pages of a book, there certainly is no excuse for him being this flat. He is a character with many facets, he can be caring and cruel at the same time, he often is in a very dark mood and very cynical and yet there have been occasions, when he shows the same eccentric happiness in face of dire situations the (10th) Doctor displays. But there is something underneath all that, that holds the character together, make him feel like a real person. And that bit is somehow absent in the book, along with his more caring side.

One might argue, that since the book is placed between the second and the fourth episode of the first season, the author had to be careful not to give away too much, but I think that doesn’t count. I’ve read many media tie-ins and many of them while written much later are placed within the early season of a series. None of the authors reverts back to the characterizations from early scripts, but build their stories on what the actors had established within the series.

Supporting Characters: Since the Torchwood character set already consists of five people, well mostly minus Ianto in this one – there is not much room for notable supporting characters. Especially with an antagonist like this one. The only character who’s getting a little more attention and is not immediately connected to the antagonist is Owen’s ex-girlfriend Megan Tegg, with whom he by chance meets up again. Owen tries to recruit her for Torchwood but as things go with him and woman usually, it all goes horribly wrong. She ends up first being a slave to the antagonist and then dead.

Antagonist: It is difficult to say something about the main antagonist here without giving too much of the story and its conclusion away. The ostensible antagonist, a guy from the nuclear power plant Blaidd Drwg near Cardiff, having stolen some nuclear fuel packs and killed several people with an inhuman hunger for human cerebrospinal fluid, is seemingly caught within the first few chapters but since this isn’t the end of the story and this is Torchwood, there has to be something more to is. And there is, but any more word would give away too much. And this part of the story was told and build-up really good, with adequate pacing and suspense, but sadly it was interrupted at all the wrong places.

Editing: Not much to say about the editing. I read the hardcover version from Random House and it was good. Some Typos, but nothing really distracting. I think it mostly was the slow pace in the first two thirds of the book that made me notice them at all. Had the book been more gripping, I don’t think I would have spot any.

Conclusion: So, what’s there to say about the book? It’s difficult. The story certainly was good, the premise interesting, the solution very “Torchwood”. But with this very slow meandering pace in the first two thirds and the ever so slightly “off-ness” of the characters, even the certainly good devised solution and it’s then finally good paced narration in the last third couldn’t restore the book in my eyes. It was good enough to make me want to read the next Torchwood book – especially since I know the authors vary – but it’s not nearly as good, as the first Doctor Who books. So, I would say 3 stars, which makes it an average read on my scale.

Doctor Who: The Stone Rose

Doctor Who: The Stone Rose - Jacqueline Rayner “Be careful, what you wish for…”

“… you may get it.” Being a big fan of the Doctor Who relaunch in general and the 10th Doctor in particular and having studied Classical History my expectations for this book where really high. On the one hand I wished for characters I would recognise from the TV series, characters that would feel right, characters that I can hear in my mind while reading. On the other hand I wanted a depiction of the ancient Roman society that would be realistic. With wishes and expectations like these, you are almost certainly in for a big disappointment in one way or the other – or even worse: both. But this book was a welcome surprise.

First of all, it was a good and genuine Doctor Who mystery. Mickey shows Rose and the Doctor a near 2000 year old statue of Rose in the costume of the Roman goddess Fortuna in the British Museum, but since Rose posed for any sculptor back in Roman times, nor having been there at all to begin with, there must be something else to it. And being who they are the two of them “whoosh” of to Hadrian’s times to investigate. They stumble upon a Roman nobleman in search for his missing son and a slave girl that seemingly can foretell the future and knows details about Hadrian’s Wall that isn’t even planned yet. And as the Doctor and Rose dig deeper, they find they’re not the only time travellers around and wishes can be a very nasty and tricky business. Especially when they are to be fulfilled to the letter.

There is quite a bit of Aladdin and his Lamp in this story, but with the certain twist every good Doctor Who mystery needs. What I really liked about this one though was the solution. I’ve read some Doctor Who novels by now and none of the uses the TARDIS and the fact that the Doctor can travel through time like this one. In every other novel I’ve read before and after (“The Clockwise Man”, “The Monsters inside”, “Winner Takes All”, “The Feast of the Drowned”, “The Resurrection Casket”), the Doctor was either separated from the TARDIS or seemingly forget all about it. It never was more than the means of getting the Doctor and Rose to where and when the story was set. While I can understand this approach, since it is rather difficult to tell a good and logic story with a hero who can just jump anywhere in Time and Space at a whim, I wished more than once for a story that would make good and clever use of this fact. Well, another wish granted by this novel. The Doctor uses his ability to jump back and forth trough time rather freely even if it takes him some time to remember, that he can do so and use it to his advantage. I liked this solution, even though I have to admit thinking more closely about the fact, that the phial Rose wishes the GENIE to fill again with the anti-petrification potion is the same phial she’ll give the Doctor a few day back in the past to it’ll end up in her future self’s hands again to be refilled by the GENIE to give it to the Doctor back in the past is kind of mindboggling. But well…. since the even the Doctor admits his approach to the problems at hand creating more than one paradox, who am I to try and sort that out.

Writing/Storytelling: The story is told from multiple points of view. While the Doctor and Rose are dominating, there are other “voices” thrown in here and there: Mickey, Vanessa, Gracilis, Ursus, and some more. They all have their own distinguishable voices and the original characters from the TV series are certainly recognisable. From the very first line I could practically hear them in my mind. Their views on the events happening always felt believable and genuine.
The pace of the story was good. Steady, but not rushing, allowing the events time to unfold where it was necessary, speeding things up and summarizing, when it was not. With some books I’ve read lately I often got the feeling, the story had the wrong pace, giving too much time, where it was only diversion, speeding up, where more time and information would have done some good. Not with this one. The pace always seemed adequate, anything that was told was driven by the story but I never got the feeling this or that event was totally illogical or out-of-character and just happened for the sake of the story.

World/Worldbuilding: Worldbuilding in media tie-ins is a tricky thing. On the one hand, the author has to stick to the cannon, on the other hand, with writing the book alone s/he adds something non-cannon (even though approved by the creators, otherwise it would have never been published). For this one, it was tricky doubly so. For not only had the author the Doctor Who Universe to consider, but also create an authentic, believable ancient Roman world. I would say, she did really well on both occasions. The depiction of the Doctors World was good and the representation of the ancient Roman world believable and authentic. Down to the Doctor noticing that something’s of with Vanessa’s story since she knows details about things no roman slave girl could know because they would only happen a few years in the future.

Hero/Heroine: What’s said about the world, applies even more for the main characters, in this case the Doctor and Rose. Where the recognisable? Do they speak and act like they would do in the series? In short: are the genuine?
Well, to me they were. As I said before, on many occasions I could practically hear them talking in my head while reading the book. They were depicted very much according to the series and I always though, the author knew the characters quite well – which sadly is not always common with media tie-in authors. I hand no difficulty imagining the Doctor or Rose do the things that were told they do, hearing them say the things that were told they said, even their exact pronunciation and how their moods and opinions would show in their voices.

Supporting Characters: There were a lot of supporting characters in this one, and only two of them – in really minor roles – known from the TV series. Jackie and Mickey just appeared at the very beginning and end of the story. Mickey being the one to tip the Doctor and Rose of to the statue that was the beginning of this particular adventures. But that’s as far as their role goes. Their “screen time” is too small, to judge if they’re in-character or not, but the author didn’t manage to make them totally out-of-character – a feat not few media tie-in authors have managed with supporting characters in even less than a page – so I think they are okay.
The more important supporting characters were those, the Doctor and Rose met back in Roman times, first of all Gracilis and Vanessa. Gracilis is a Roman Senator in search for his teenage son who had disappeared into thin air a few days back and Vanessa is a slave girl that seemingly can foretell the future but the Doctor soon recognises that there has to be something more to her than meets the eye. While Gracilis seemed good devised to me, his motives clear and believable, and his actions adding nicely to the plot, I had some difficulties with Vanessa. She was so whiny and so … well just the helpless little damsel in distress, it annoyed me at times. I mean, granted, she had been thrown out of her time almost 2500 years back to AD 120 into Roman slavery but when she finally realized, that the Doctor and Rose where time travellers too and they might have the means to bring her back home, this would have been the right time, to stop whining and more importantly stop holding viable information from them but actually help them. She did almost nothing of that sort and on top of that wishes to be back in Ancient Rome the moment the Doctor and Rose drop her of in her own time. And all because her father is busy inventing things and not having much time for her. She appeared as a spoiled brat more than once.

Antagonist: There is no real antagonist in this one – at least not in the “evil mastermind with world domination plans” sense of the word. Not that Ursus’s plans and actions where particularly nice nor did he really care for the people falling victim to his dreams of being the most famous sculptor of the roman world, but he is not the main antagonist here. He’s more like a symptom of the things gone wrong and leading to up to the things that brought the Doctor and Rose back in time in the first place (Even though – as we learn later on – technically speaking there never was a reason so the Doctor had to create it afterwards – in yet another time – and bring it back to make them go back in the first place. As I said, slightly paradox the whole story and its solution). To say anything more about the “real” thing behind everything would be totally spoiling the story, but it has to do with an interesting way to spell out the acronym GENIE.

Editing: I didn’t find any grave mistakes or other editing matters. There might have been a few typos, but nothing that would disrupt the reading experience so I’d say the editing was good.

Conclusion: This was my first Doctor Who novel featuring the 10th Doctor – having only read “The Clockwise Man” with the 9th Doctor beforehand – and I was quite sceptical when I started. Doctor Who plus Ancient Rome – that better had to be really good devised and I certainly expected to be disappointed. But the novel surprised me. It was cleverly devised, making good use of the fact that the TARDIS not only travels backwards and forwards in space, but in time as well, and crafting a genuine Doctor Who mystery in an authentic depicted Ancient Roman world. So, it was a good and worthwhile read, therefor I say 4 Stars.

Omar the Immortal (Europa #1)

Omar the Immortal (Europa #1) - Joseph Robert Lewis “They do have toilets in their air-ships…”

… and they are actually using them. If nothing else that made the world real to me.

But let’s not rush ahead, let’s start at the beginning. If you pick up this book based on the blurb, you are most certainly in for a disappointment. Sure, everything mentioned on the back cover happens over the curse of this story, but it doesn’t do it any justice. Those events are not the essence of the story. It’s not so much a mystery or an adventure story, it’s more like a travel report, giving the reader a first impression of a new and fascinating alternate earth, where the last ice age never ended and Europe is nothing more than icy, barbarian wilderness.

Luckily I didn’t take the book up based on the back cover. Being a big fan of all things Steam-punk I’m always searching for new reading material. So, some time ago I came across “The Burning Sky” by Joseph Robert Lewis which was the first part of the “Halcyon-Trilogy”. The description sounded quite interesting and I marked that book as to be read. Then many things came in between and I all but forgot about the book. When I came back to it just a few weeks ago I had to realize, that those books were no longer available. Out of interest I looked up what other books Lewis might have written and stumble upon “Assassins of the Steam Age” being the first part of the “Aetherium-Series”. What caught my eye was the blurb because it was the exact same as the one of “The burning Sky”. Lewis obviously took the “Halcyon-Trilogy” and the following “Europa-Trilogy” and “Chimera-Duology” which are set in the same world, gave them new titles and a new order as the series “Aetherium”. I really wanted to read “Assassins of the Steam Age” then, but when I found out, that there was a prelude (and that I might get the whole series for free if I read and review said prelude) I decided to start at the beginning and took up “Wreck of the Frost Finch”. And I think that was a good decision.

Writing/Storytelling: The Story is told from the hero’s point of view. The narrative voice however is mostly unjudging, free of anything what might be the hero’s personal opinion or emotions, regaling anything that happens on the airship journey in the same neutral, slightly distant tone. Landscape or murder seemingly doesn’t make any difference to the narrator. As I said, the whole story seemed more like a travel report, than an adventure or mystery. On the one hand that made it difficult for me to connect with the hero, one the other hand it gave me a great, unbiased view of the narrative world.

World/World building: Being a builder of fantasy and science fiction worlds myself, the world and the way it’s build are of great importance to me in any book I read. A wonderful and care-fully crafted world with an inherent logic can do much for me, even amend for a not so well crafted story. I don’t expect a fictitious world to follow our universe’s laws of physic, but I ex-pect it to have its own “natural laws” – how strange they ever may be – and stick to them. And in that expectation, this book rewarded me greatly. I will not say its world is perfect for I have never encountered one so far (Not even Tolkien’s Middle Earth), but from the glimpse I got in this book, it sure as hell has the potential.

It’s fresh and inventive, with a premise I’ve never encountered before: The last ice age never ended. Europe is mostly buried under tons of ice and snow, with only very few coastal valleys being inhabitable. There never was a Roman Empire, nor the many middle age kingdoms or the vast British Empire. The centre of Civilisation in the world are the kingdoms – or more accu-rate “Queendoms” for they obviously have female succession rules – of northern Africa and the Middle East. These countries are technologically advanced, having airships and being able to generate electricity from sunlight or wind. No timeframe is given for reference, but from the feel of it, it seemed like late nineteenth century to me. And while there are nations highly advanced there are other regions of a merely barbaric technology level with prehistoric creatures still roaming the vast, cold wilderness. And with the “Aetherium”, the sun-steel, and the souls of the dead wandering the earth and even interacting with the living the world holds an interesting mystical and even magical element that waits to be fleshed out in the following novels.

The world building didn’t seem too obvious to me, but then, sending the hero on a trip into the unknown, letting him tell what he sees, what he encounters on his travels is a neat trick. Albeit I have to say if seen this gone wrong many times. Not so here. While the narrator gives the reader lots of information of this world, there are no info dumps and never once the narrative voice tells something just to inform the reader. So even if many facts about the world are told, others remain hidden or at least vague for the narrator never explains in detail what the hero already knows or is common knowledge in the world.

Hero/Heroine: The main character is Omar Bakhoum, nicknamed “Omar the Immortal”, some kind of a scholar from the Empire of Eran. He is on a quest to discover the origin of the “sun-steel” and its mystic qualities. He is sure, the answer to his questions lays on the island Ysland far up in the North and he accompanies an airship expedition across the frozen wilder-ness of Europe. As I said narrative voice made it a little difficult to really connect to Omar, to understand what’s driving him for it’s too impassionate and distant. From what little the reader got to know his quest for understanding one of the founding pillars of his world sounds definite-ly interesting. But for now one can only hope that his story will continue in one of the later books since there are most of the questions still open.

Conclusion: This book is not so much a story on its own but more a prelude to a much bigger story, opening up quite a few story lines but resolving almost none of them. It gives a first glance of a new, inventive and quite intriguing world and it most certainly got me hooked.

PS: For anyone who wonders: This book was first published under the title “Omar the Immor-tal” as first part of the “Europa”-Trilogy.