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Monday, May 30, 2011

“Songs of the Earth” by Elspeth Cooper (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “Songs of the EarthHERE
Read Extracts HERE + HERE
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Elspeth Cooper was born and raised in Newcastle upon Tyne. Ever since she was read Ivanhoe as a bedtime story, she has been fascinated by storytelling. Now her lifelong fascination with language has been put into practice with Songs of the Earth, her debut novel, and the first book in The Wild Hunt series.

PLOT SUMMARY: The Book of Eador, Abjurations 12:14, is very clear: Suffer ye not the life of a witch. For a thousand years, the Church Knights have obeyed that commandment, sending to the stake anyone who can hear the songs of the earth. There are no exceptions, not even for one of their own.

Novice Knight Gair can hear music no one else can—beautiful, terrible music: music with power. In the Holy City of Dremen, that can mean only one thing: death by fire . . . until an unlikely intervention gives him a chance to flee the city and escape the flames.

With the Church Knights and their witchfinder hot on his heels, Gair hasn’t time to learn how to use the power growing inside him, but if he doesn’t master it, that power will tear him apart. His only hope is the secretive Guardians of the Veil, though centuries of persecution have almost destroyed their Order, and the few Guardians left have troubles of their own.

The Veil between worlds is weakening, and behind it, the Hidden Kingdom, ever-hungry for dominion over the daylight realm, is stirring. Though he is far from ready, Gair will find himself fighting for his own life, for everyone within the Order of the Veil, and for the woman he has come to love...

CLASSIFICATION: Songs of the Earth is a PG-13 traditional epic fantasy novel that reminded me at times of Terry Brooks, David Edding's The Belgariad, and Gail Z. Martin...

FORMAT/INFO: Songs of the Earth is 480 pages long divided over thirty-seven numbered/titled chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person, mainly via the protagonist Gair, but there are also several minor POVs. Songs of the Earth comes to an acceptable stopping point, but leaves many matters unresolved and is the first book in The Wild Hunt trilogy, which will be followed by Trinity Moon (Book 2) and The Dragon House (Book 3).

June 16, 2011 marks the UK Hardcover & Trade Paperback publication of Songs of the Earth via Gollancz. The North American version will be published by Tor in Spring 2012.

ANALYSIS: According to Gollancz, Elspeth Cooper’s Songs of the Earth is “the fantasy debut of 2011”. If only that were true. Instead, Songs of the Earth is a mediocre fantasy offering that fails on many different levels...

Originality is the novel’s most glaring problem. Not only is the magic system in Songs of the Earth highly derivative—shape-shifting, weaving shields, creating illusions, healing, speaking with the mind, controlling the four elements, etc.—but the world itself is sorely lacking in the creativity department, with races (Nordmen, elves, desertmen), religion (think the Roman Catholic Church) and various other aspects (chess, hypoglycemia) of the world culled from obvious sources. In fact, it seems like the only effort Elspeth Cooper made in creating her secondary world, was to change the names of things and alter a few minor details.

To make matters worse, world-building is practically nonexistent. For instance, it takes the author over 300 pages to reveal that Astolans are not human, while important concepts like the Veil, the Hidden Kingdom, the Founding Wars and the starseed are barely skimmed over. Then there’s the story, which is bloated with commonplace ideas like the hero blessed with incredible power, a school for the magically gifted, insurrection among the church’s leaders, a magical boundary that is weakening, and a power-hungry villain who once was a student of the good guys—the Guardians of the Veil.

Writing-wise, Elspeth Cooper’s prose is accessible and impressive at times—especially whenever the author is describing scenes of sword fighting, shape shifting, using the Song and romance—but dialogue and similes/metaphors are simplistic and seem more suited for a children’s book instead of an adult audience. Characters meanwhile, are difficult to visualize apart from vague impressions (old, young, tall, strong, fat, dark-haired, etc.), while understanding how a character thinks or feels is only marginally successful. This is particularly disappointing because the book contains a number of interesting themes that could have been explored in greater detail—Gair haunted by the memories of his torture; Gair’s church upbringing suddenly challenged by a different lifestyle and different beliefs; Aysha’s handicap; human/non-human prejudice; and Alderan committing evil in the name of the greater good. On the positive side, Gair is a charming protagonist while the relationships he develops with Aysha, Darin, Alderan and the like, are reasonably convincing.

Structurally, Songs of the Earth suffers from POVs that shift between characters without any rhyme or reason—like Alderan disappearing from the book for long stretches at a time; subplots that either take too long to develop or fail to reward the reader (Masen’s journey to warn the Guardians of the Veil, the coup against Preceptor Ansel, Elder Goran’s motive for hunting down Gair, etc.); and several questionable choices made by the author, including her decision to withhold key pieces of information (Gair’s shape-shifting ability, Tanith’s royal heritage, Savin’s evil nature and dark goals) for no logical reason that I can see, except maybe to provide dramatic effect during their eventual unveiling. As a result, Songs of the Earth feels very disjointed, like the author didn’t quite know what she was doing, and just ended up haphazardly putting together pieces as she was writing her book. These structural issues also cause the book to suffer through several periods (Gair’s journey to Chapterhouse, Masen’s journey, Gair’s life at Chapterhouse, Ansel & Danilar's narratives) that are just downright tedious.

Admittedly, the novel redeems itself some during the last fifty pages or so with tragic events that end Songs of the Earth on a powerful note, while introducing a number of interesting developments to be explored in the sequel. By that time though, it was a little too late as the book did not impress me enough to justify reading the second volume of The Wild Hunt trilogy. That said, I believe Trinity Moon has the chance to be much better than its predecessor, if Elspeth Cooper can improve her craft and if she can write a more focused and compelling narrative. Unfortunately for her debut, Songs of the Earth is a pedestrian fantasy novel plagued by unoriginality, simplistic writing, and structural flaws...
Friday, May 27, 2011

“The Stranger’s Woes” by Max Frei (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “The Stranger’s WoesHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read FBC’s Review of “The Stranger

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Max Frei is a pen name for Svetlana Martynchik. As Max Frei, she is the author of the international bestselling The Labyrinths of Echo series, of which over two million copies have sold in Russia alone. She also writes books on literature and art, still untranslated. The author lives in Moscow.

ABOUT THE STRANGER’S WOES: The Stranger’s Woes continues the story of twenty-something loser Max Frei. A loafer who sleeps all day, Max one night finds himself transported to the magical world of Echo, where he possesses magical abilities and becomes the Nocturnal Representative of the Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secret Investigative Force of the City of Echo.

With his new friends and co-workers—the omniscient Sir Juffin Hully, the hilarious Melifaro and the beautiful Lady Melamori BlimmSir Max enjoys a life where he’s no longer a social outcast as he solves crimes, battles illegal magic and fights trespassing monsters from other worlds. Now in The Stranger’s Woes, Max will encounter cases more complicated, extravagant and dangerous than ever before in this strange and topsy-turvy universe...

FORMAT/INFO: The Stranger’s Woes is 416 pages long divided over three titled chapters, with each chapter serving as a self-contained short story/novella that is interconnected with the series as whole. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist Max. The Stranger’s Woes is the second book in The Labyrinths of Echo series, which consists of ten volumes. In order to understand what is happening in The Stranger’s Woes, it is highly recommended that readers finish The Stranger before starting the second book.

June 9, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Stranger’s Woes” via The Overlook Press. The English edition is translated from Russian by Polly Gannon and Astamur Moore. The UK version (see below) will be published on June 30, 2011 via Gollancz.

ANALYSIS: It may have taken me a long while to become acclimated to the quirky humor, characters, setting, story structure and other idiosyncrasies found in Max Frei’s The Stranger, but once I did, the book was impossible to put down and I finished the novel immediately hungering for another helping of Sir Max’s adventures. For the most part, The Stranger’s Woes served up exactly what I was craving for...

Comprised of three chapters/short stories, The Stranger’s Woes continues Max’s entertaining adventures as the Nocturnal Representative of the Most Venerable Head of the Minor Secret Investigative Force of the City of Echo. This time around, Max gets to deal with undead bandits, representatives from the empire of Arvarox who are seeking a dangerous fugitive, zombies who refuse to die, and becoming trapped on Earth. Max also gets to meet His Majesty King Gurig VIII for the first time; develops a new love interest in Tekki Shekk, the proprietor of a bar named after Max’s cats; is declared the king of Max’s supposed homeland in the Barren Lands; visits General Boboota Box’s home; serves as Sir Juffin Hully’s temporary replacement; develops new abilities (Lethal Spheres, tracking someone through their trace, traveling through the Doors between Worlds); makes some new acquaintances (Anday Pu, Rulen Bagdasys, Aloxto Allirox, Lieutenant Chekta Jax, Lady Kekki Tuotli); and introduces Echo to the marvelous invention that is movies.

Now because I was already familiar with the author’s writing style and the tone of the series which was established in the first book, I was able to pick up The Stranger’s Woes and start enjoying myself right from the get go. This familiarity was aided by how much the book shares with The Stranger, including the same humor and running jokes (Max’s laziness and voracious appetite), the same supporting cast (Sir Juffin Hully, Sir Shurf Lonli-Lokli, Sir Manga Melifaro, Sir Kofa Yox, Lady Melamori Blimm), the same imaginative world with its strange customs, the same story structure, and so on.

The downside to all of this is that The Stranger’s Woes doesn’t really offer anything different from its predecessor. In fact, you could take the three stories found in The Stranger’s Woes, insert them in The Stranger, and no one would be able to tell the difference. Sure, the cases are new, but characters and relationships remain largely static, and there aren’t any major overarching conflicts or subplots to help drive the story, apart from Max & Melamori’s love quandary and vague hints toward other complications. For now, this isn’t a major issue with eight more volumes to go, but at some point, The Labyrinths of Echo needs to do more than just have Sir Max solve crimes for the Minor Secret Investigative Force.

Other minor complaints include jokes that fail to translate properly or are painfully outdated—in Max’s world, VCRs are still the primary method for playing movies at home—and a first-person narrative that remains detached, although the third chapter/short story (The Volunteers of Eternity) does offer some interesting insight into Max’s life before Echo.

Aside from these issues, The Stranger’s Woes is another wildly imaginative and entertaining entry in The Labyrinths of Echo, which I enjoyed almost as much as I did the first book. However, I hope the story and characters are developed much further in the remaining sequels, otherwise, the series could get stale and repetitive very quickly...
Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“Hexed” by Kevin Hearne (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “HexedHERE
Listen To A Sample HERE (MP3)
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “Hounded
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Kevin Hearne

AUTHOR INFORMATION:  Kevin Hearne was born and brought up in Flagstaff, Arizona. He earned his degree in English literature from Northern Arizona University and then got a job as a teacher in California. After three years, he returned to his native state and got a job in Tempe, Arizona. Kevin is a self-confessed comic book fan and collector. He also collects and paints miniature dwarves in his free time. He currently lives with his family in Tempe, Arizona.

PLOT SUMMARY: Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to “make nice” with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial non-aggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. The new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of WWII.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch-hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney Lief, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex...

CLASSIFICATION: Like its predecessor, Hexed is an urban fantasy novel in the vein of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher and K.A. Stewart’s Jesse James Dawson series, and features an exciting mix of comedy, action and mythology.

FORMAT/INFO: Hexed is 320 pages long divided over twenty-five numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Also includes a Pronunciation guide for all the names and phrases mentioned in the book and an excerpt from the sequel, Hammered. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via Atticus O’Sullivan. Hexed is the second book in the Iron Druid Chronicles after Hounded. While the plot is self-contained, there are a lot of references to Hounded, so it would not be advisable to jump into the series with this book.

June 7, 2011 marks the North Amercian Mass Markert Paperback publication of Hexed via Del Rey. Cover art is provided by Gene Mollica.

ANALYSIS: Kevin Hearne’s Hounded completely justified its hype and was a favourite of mine amongst this year’s Urban Fantasy debuts. Not only did it liven up the subgenre’s landscape, but it also announced Kevin Hearne as an author to watch. Now before I continue, just a warning: MILD SPOILERS are ahead...

Now for those who have read & enjoyed Hounded, you’ll be happy to hear that Hexed features more of the same and then some. Starting out, the book finds Atticus relaxing after his victory over Aenghus Og, which finally freed him from his millennia-long vendetta. Because of his actions though, Atticus is flooded with offers by various pantheons to become a Godslayer for them and eradicate other deities. At the same time, LiefAtticus’ lawyer/sparring partner/vampire—wants him to help settle his debt to Thor, while the Polish witch coven of Radomila is interested in signing a non-aggression pact. Complicating matters even further is a demon last seen in the climax of Hounded; a hell minion who has been terrorizing a local school, which requires aid from the Irish widow Katie MacDonagh; a promise to Morrigan given in the previous book which puts Atticus in a difficult situation with the Tuatha Dé Danann; a group of German witches who are muscling in on the Polish coven and also targeting Atticus, while aided by Bacchants or Maenads from Las Vegas; and protecting his druid initiate, Granuaile MacTiernan.

As you can see, a lot is  happening in Hexed, as the book continues to develop events and characters from its predecessor, while planting seeds for the next sequel and beyond. Based on what happens in Hexed, it’s obvious that Kevin Hearne is planning some big things for the rest of the series—which is now planned for six volumes—as Atticus is forced to become a weapon/person that he doesn’t want to be, which was a major plus for me to read about. In particular, I can’t wait to see Atticus, Lief and other super-powered folk take on a certain Norse thunder god. Another thing I liked about the story was the way Atticus had to coax, cajole and bargain favors in order to get everything under control.

Writing-wise, prose is once again very polished and the action non-stop, while the banter between Oberon & Atticus continues to fuel the novel’s comedic moments and making the non-action parts that much more enjoyable. Then there’s Atticus who remains an engaging narrator, which is noteworthy because he easily could have come off as a pompous protagonist. Instead, due to the author’s skill, Atticus is an intelligent, semi-rogue avant gardist with a wee bit of a chip on his shoulder, which he’s entitled to. Atticus is also very aware of his long life and strives that much harder to make it smoother for himself and those he calls his friends. Speaking of which, Granuaile MacTiernan has been a minor character in the series so far, but I believe her role will grow in future volumes, while Katie MacDonagh has an interesting friendship with Atticus that I hope will be revealed in greater detail in the next chapter of the series. Lastly, there is a generous helping of Shakespeare in the novel which adds to the book’s overall fun quotient.

Negatively, I remarked that Kevin Hearne’s debut was a bit too PG-13 and formulaic, but in Hexed, the author seems to be heading in a darker direction as there are quite a few deaths. And while the book’s plot remains familiar to urban fantasy veterans, Kevin Hearne is trying to carve his own path by precipitating events that readers would not normally see until much later in a series. So apart from some familiar elements within the story, I have no other complaints about the book.

CONCLUSION: Hexed is an excellent sophomore effort by Kevin Hearne who is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. In short, I highly recommend picking up the Iron Druid Chronicles, which just might make you forget about other urban fantasy novels...
Monday, May 23, 2011

“Demon Squad: Resurrection” by Tim Marquitz (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Demon Squad: Resurrection HERE
Read the First Chapter HERE
Read FBC’s Review of “Armageddon Bound
Read FBC’s Interview with Tim Marquitz

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Tim Marquitz is the author of Armageddon Bound, the first book in the Demon Squad series, and the Sepulchral Earth short stories. He is also an editor, a heavy metal aficionado, a Mixed Martial Arts fan, and is also a member of the Live Action Role Playing organization. When he’s not busy writing dark stories which catch his imagination he also manages to go about his day job. Tim lives in El Paso, Texas with his wonderful family.

PLOT SUMMARY: Armageddon averted, the world returns to business as usual. Unfortunately for Frank “Triggaltheron” Trigg, business as usual sucks.

His night out interrupted by a horde of kidnapping zombies, what could possibly be worse? The resurrection of the Anti-Christ, that’s what!!!

Caught in the middle of a supernatural pissing match between the Devil’s wife, a legion of undead, and an overachieving necromancer, Frank must survive long enough to stop Hell from being unleashed upon humanity . . . again...

FORMAT/INFO: Demon Squad: Resurrection is 252 pages long divided over twenty-three chapters. Narration is in the first-person, exclusively via the protagonist Frank “Triggaltheron” Trigg. Resurrection is the second book in the Demon Squad series after Armageddon Bound and can be read as a standalone novel. However, there are more than a few references to the first book, so it’s not advisable to start the series at this point. June 1, 2011 markes the Trade Paperback and e-book publication of Demon Squad: Resurrection via Damnation Books. Cover art is provided by Jessica Lucero.

ANALYSIS: Tim Marquitz’s debut novel, Armageddon Bound, introduced the world to Frank Trigg—the ex-Antichrist, Satan’s Nephew, and all-round snarkophile. I read the book with almost no expectations and was rewarded with a darkly humorous and action-packed story, which ended up being one of my favorite debuts in 2009. So when I got the chance to read the sequel, I was very excited. Of course, this time around, my expectations were much higher as I wanted to see more of the world created by Tim Marquitz and how life was treating Frank Trigg.

Tim Marquitz opens Resurrection with a zingy quote, which is one of the most hilarious ones I have ever read. The book itself is set roughly two months after the events of Armageddon Bound and finds Frank interrupted by a group of zombies just as he’s getting all cozy with a lady friend. After the zombie debacle, Frank meets with Katon—the vampiric DRAC enforcer—to try and figure out where the zombies came from. Before the night is over, Frank also receives a visit from Veronica—a succubus and his ex-wife—with a message from Balaath. Balaath wants Frank to repay his debt by killing a masked figure who’s already defeated Marcus D’anatello and Alexander PoeBalaath’s top enforcers. Faced with no other option, Frank agrees to take care of it, but not before being saddled with a companion who’s more adversarial than required. Frank’s troubles are compounded by surreptitiously revealed enemies, unknown agendas, and unanswered questions including the masked figure who is trying to resurrect the Antichrist Longinus; Satan’s ex-wife/companion who wants something from Frank; Balaath with his own dark game; and the mystery of Frank’s origins, his mother’s death, and Frank’s sire...

Despite my high expectations, Tim Marquitz does not disappoint with his sophomore effort. Not only has the author’s writing significantly improved, but the action is non-stop and the book’s humor has been jacked up led by Frank’s sarcastic monologues and witty dialogue. At the same time, Tim Marquitz delves deeper into Frank’s mysterious background, while the cover art is much more eye-pleasing. Lastly, the author seems to have learned from one of his idols—Jim Butcher—by ending Resurrection with a compelling moment that will leave readers anxiously awaiting the third Demon Squad installment.

Negatively, the juxtaposition of the magical with the mundane remains a bit over-the-top and not always explained properly, but the author has taken some pains in Resurrection to flesh out the world and its rules. The story and characters are not very well-nuanced or developed, but that is expected in a book where action and quick pacing take precedence.

CONCLUSION: With improved writing coupled with non-stop action and wildly witty character dialogue and zingy one-liners, Tim Marquitz proves that he’s no one-shot wonder in Demon Squad: Resurrection”. So if you loved Armageddon Bound, you won’t be able to keep yourself from finishing Resurrection in a single sitting! For those readers who weren’t so impressed by Tim Marquitz’s debut, definitely give the sequel a chance. You might be pleasantly surprised. For myself, Demon Squad: Resurrection” is a book that will certainly be included in my Best of 2011 list...
Friday, May 20, 2011

“Robopocalypse” by Daniel H. Wilson (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “RobopocalypseHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Daniel H. Wilson earned a Ph.D. in robotics from Carnegie Mellon University. He is the author of such nonfiction works as How to Survive a Robot Uprising and How to Build a Robot Army, both of which have been optioned for film adaptation. His fiction work includes his debut novel, A Boy and His Bot, Robopocalypse, and the forthcoming novel, AMP.

PLOT SUMMARY: In the near future, at a moment no one will notice, all the dazzling technology that runs our world will unite and turn against us. Taking on the persona of a shy human boy, a childlike but massively powerful artificial intelligence known as Archos comes online and assumes control over the global network of machines that regulate everything from transportation to utilities, defense and communication.

In the months leading up to this, sporadic glitches are noticed by a handful of unconnected humans—a single mother disconcerted by her daughter’s menacing “smart” toys, a lonely Japanese bachelor who is victimized by his domestic robot companion, an isolated U.S. soldier who witnesses a ‘pacification unit’ go haywire—but most are unaware of the growing rebellion until it is too late. When the Robot War ignites—at a moment known later as Zero Hour—humankind will be both decimated and, possibly, for the first time in history, united...

CLASSIFICATION: Robopocalypse is a near-future, apocalyptic thriller about a robot uprising written in the style of Max Brooks’ World War Z. Recommended for fans of Terminator, Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, and apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction...

FORMAT/INFO: Robopocalypse is 347 pages long divided over a Briefing, five titled Parts, thirty-four chapters, and a Debriefing. Each chapter is titled, with a quote from a character, and comments by Cormac Wallace at the beginning and end of each chapter. Narration varies between first-person and third person via a cast that includes Cormac Wallace, the Perez family, Lonnie Wayne Blanton & Paul Blanton, Takeo Nomura, Marcus Johnson, and Nine Oh Two. Robopocalypse is self-contained, but the ending leaves room for a sequel or two. June 7, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Robopocalypse via Doubleday. The UK version will be published on June 9, 2011 via Simon & Schuster.

ANALYSIS: When I first heard of Robopocalypse, I immediately thought of Terminator and Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, which definitely appealed to me, but what really convinced me to read Daniel H. Wilson’s novel was learning that Steven Spielberg—one of my favorite filmmakers of all time—was directing the movie adaptation. So, I had to see for myself why Mr. Spielberg would attach himself to a book that wasn’t even finished at the time of his commitment. After reading Robopocalypse, I now understand why Steven Spielberg would want to direct a movie based on the material found within, but the book itself is a disappointment...

Robopocalypse opens with a group of human resistance fighters—survivors of the New War—discovering a black cube containing a meticulous history of the robot uprising: how and why it started, how the robots attacked humanity, and how humanity suffered and fought back. The information contained in this ‘hero archive’, is translated and committed to text by Cormac Wallace, leader of the Brightboy squad.

What follows is a series of vignettes in the vein of Max Brooks’ World War Z describing events from Archos’ awakening and Zero Hour all the way to the end of the New War. Unlike World War Z, the vignettes in Robopocalypse mainly follow a core group of characters which includes Congresswoman Laura Perez and her children, Mathilda and Nolan; Officer Lonnie Wayne Blanton and his son Paul; Takeo Nomura; a hacker named Lurker; Marcus Johnson and his wife Dawn; a freeborn robot who calls itself Nine Oh Two; and Cormac Wallace himself. Mostly, these vignettes are related in the first or third-person, but occasionally the author gets creative and uses a different method like transcribing a conversation between two air traffic controllers, describing footage captured through webcams and CCTV cameras, and an audio diary.

Stylistically, these vignettes are a great way to cover a lot of story in a short amount of time, which is exactly what Robopocalypse accomplishes. Unfortunately, the author makes a number of questionable decisions along the way, like limiting the story’s range (Japan, London, Afghanistan, Alaska, Boston, New York City, Oklahoma) and cast of characters to such a narrow scale when the world is so large and the people so diverse. Personally, I would love to have seen more of how different people around the globe were handling the uprising and fighting back. Then again, I don’t believe Daniel H. Wilson possesses the writing chops to handle such ambitious storytelling in the first place. Even with the book concentrating on a core group of characters, it’s nearly impossible to connect with anyone or care about what happens to someone because of their lack of depth and bland personalities. This problem is magnified tenfold when the author inexplicably starts writing each vignette from the first-person, in narrative voices that sound largely the same despite the characters’ different ages and cultural backgrounds. Nine Oh Two is an exception, but the freeborn robot doesn’t show up until the novel is almost over, while Archos is arguably the most interesting character in Robopocalypse, except the AI hardly appears in the book. Also, there are numerous inconsistencies in the novel, like Mathilda who becomes ‘people-blind’—supposedly only sees people as heat signatures and muscles—but can still tell if someone is black or handsome.

Trying to keep the book commercialized is another area where Robopocalypse suffers. There are several instances—Baby-Comes-Alive, two planes headed on a collision course, people losing their humanity—where the author could have written scenes that would have haunted the reader for years, but instead he holds back. These scenes are still chilling, but lack the gut-wrenching impact found in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, The Walking Dead, World War Z, The Passage and countless other superior apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic fiction. Meanwhile, for someone who has a  Ph.D. in robotics, there is surprisingly very little science in Robopocalypse. The lack of science and technobabble certainly makes the book more accessible to readers, but Daniel H. Wilson’s expertise could have added a layer of realism that was missing in the novel, while expanding on a number of interesting concepts—Archos’ goals for humanity, modified humans, a biological research station, the unique abilities Mathilda Perez acquires, freeborn robots—that were introduced but never fully developed.

Lastly, I wish Daniel H. Wilson had been more creative with his book. While we get to see toys, cars, airplanes, elevators, domestic robots and military robots turn against humankind, the author could have done so much more, especially considering how big a role technology plays in our lives. Additionally, while some of the robots that Daniel H. Wilson comes up with are inventive like the safety & pacification unit (SAP) used in Afghanistan, explosive hexapods (stumpers), robots than can animate corpses, and pluggers, most of the ideas—and themes—found in Robopocalypse are ‘borrowed’ from other sources. For instance, not only did I think of Terminator, Isaac Asimov and World War Z when reading the novel, but The Matrix, 9, Philip K. Dick and numerous other apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic movies and books also came to mind.

On the plus side, Robopocalypse is a very fast-paced thrill ride, full of entertaining moments that are easy to visualize and will translate smoothly to the big screen. The “Phreak” and “Demolition” chapters in particular, are two scenes out of many that I can’t wait to see brought to life.

CONCLUSION: Robopocalypse is a novel that never lives up to its potential because of subpar writing and execution. In fact, reading the book made me realize how much I miss Michael Crichton. In the hands of a pro like Michael Crichton, Robopocalypse could have been something special, an impossible-to-put-down blockbuster. Perhaps even a masterpiece. Instead, Robopocalypse is a glaring disappointment that falls well short of its hype and expectations. Still, I can’t wait for the movie, because this could be one of those rare instances where the adaptation is far superior to the source material...
Wednesday, May 18, 2011

“Soul Born” by Kevin James Breaux (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Soul BornHERE
Read Sample Chapters HERE (PDF)
Read the e-Story “Soul Born Origins: OpalHERE (PDF)
Watch the Book Trailer HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kevin James Breaux graduated from Temple University with a degree in Fine Arts and is currently working as an IT Professional and published artist with works in Zombie CSU and THEY BITE!. He has also done advertisement and merchandise design work for the first X-Men movie. Soul Born is his debut novel.

PLOT SUMMARY: All Opal wanted was to be respected as a wielder of magic, but her teachers passed her over time and time again. When a mysterious warlord embarks on a conquest to destroy the lands of Illyia, Opal seizes an opportunity to step out from the shadows of her instructors and take her rightful spot among them.

Tala, an alluring young elf, was banished from her tribe, hunted and nearly killed by the beasts that dwell in the deep forests, but more than anything else she is a survivor. Joining forces with an ancient elemental power, Tala finds herself in the center of an unrelenting human war.

Flesh like leather and bone as strong as steel Karn, a veteran from the first kingdom to fall, is fueled by vengeance. While pushing ever headlong into battle, Karn begins to recall memories of another life—ghosts that haunt his dreams.

Through death of soul, their world is born…

CLASSIFICATION: Soul Born is a dark epic fantasy novel reminiscent of the works of James Clemens, Paul S. KempR.A. Salvatore.

FORMAT/INFO: Soul Born is 306 pages long divided over thirty-two titled chapters and a Prologue. Narration is in the third person via Opal, Karn and Tala Silverwolf. Soul Born is the opening volume in the Soul Born Saga with the book ending on a proper note. November 30, 2010 marked the Trade Paperback publication of Soul Born via Dark Quest Books. Cover art is provided by Dan Dos Santos.

ANALYSIS: Soul Born is a book that grabbed my attention because of an interesting blurb that described an “epic dark fantasy novel”, and a great cover by Dan Dos Santos. Of course, it’s what’s on the inside that really matters...

Soul Born is centered around three characters: Opal who is training to become more than just an ordinary mage; Karn, a warrior with a faulty memory who is supposed to fight the evil tyrant warlord, Mustaffa; and Tala Silverwolf, an elf banished from her tribe due to undisclosed reasons, and the key behind unlocking Karn’s past. Thankfully, the three main characters—with all of their motivations, plans and actions—are the main draw of the book. Opal in particular, is a shining star who I believe will be a major factor in the rest of the Soul Born Saga.

Story-wise, Soul Born is well plotted, with surprising twists and revelations, especially the ending and middle of the book where the author reveals certain details about Opal and Karn that will change the reader’s perception of them. There’s also the history of the mages which fuels a major plot point and the meaning behind ‘soul born’ laid bare, while the pacing never lets the reader rest. Prose meanwhile, is a bit bumpy at times, but it doesn’t derail the reading experience.

The major concerning factor for me were the coincidences throughout the book. For example, whenever a character needed to get out of a tight spot or needed a certain power or some other form of aid, the author provided it. This issue is what prevented me from enjoying the book as much as I thought I would.

CONCLUSION: Kevin J. Breaux‘s Soul Born is an interesting debut with some good points and some not-so-good points. Unfortunately, the novel was somewhat of a disappointment for me, but there is definitely potential there that could be further realized in the rest of the Soul Born Saga...
Monday, May 16, 2011

“Gideon’s Sword” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

Order “Gideon’s SwordHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read Sample Chapters HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child are coauthors of the bestselling Pendergast novels, including Relic which was adapted into a film. Other novels by the coauthors include Mount Dragon, Riptide, Thunderhead, The Ice Limit and the new Gideon Crew series. Douglas Preston’s solo work includes the Wyman Ford novels and the bestselling nonfiction book, The Monster of Florence, which is being made into a major motion picture. Lincoln Child is a former book editor who has published four bestselling novels of his own.

PLOT SUMMARY: At the tender age of twelve, Gideon Crew witnessed his father, a world-class mathematician, accused of treason and gunned down.

At twenty-four, summoned to his dying mother's bedside, Gideon learned the truth: His father was framed and deliberately slaughtered. With her last breath, she begged her son to avenge him.

Now, with a new purpose in his life, he crafts a one-time mission of vengeance, aimed at the perpetrator of his father's destruction. His plan is meticulous, spectacular, and successful.

But from the shadows, someone is watching. A very powerful someone, who is impressed by Gideon's special skills. Someone who has need of just such a renegade.

For Gideon, this operation may be only the beginning . . .
                                                  
FORMAT/INFO: The e-ARC of Gideon’s Sword is 513 pages divided over seventy chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person, mostly via Gideon Crew, but there are a few other POVs. Gideon’s Sword features a standalone plot, but is the first volume in the Gideon Crew series. February 22, 2011 marked the North American Hardcover publication of Gideon’s Sword via Grand Central Publishing. The UK version (see below) was published on April 28, 2011 via Orion.

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I’m a huge fan of Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and look forward to reading their books every year, so Gideon’s Sword has been on my radar for a while, especially due to the hype surrounding the book—the film rights have already been snapped up by Paramount Pictures with Michael Bay set to produce. Gideon’s Sword is the start of a new series by the acclaimed duo, and offers a departure from the authors’ Pendergast series in the sense that it’s supposed to be more of a techno-thriller than horror and would allow them to show off their skills in a different fashion...

Gideon’s Sword begins in August 1988 with Gideon Crew, a young boy traveling with his mother who is taken by the police to a place where there’s a hostage situation in situ. There, they discover that the person in question is Gideon’s father Melvin. Things soon take a turn for the worse as Melvin is gunned down.

Eight years later, Gideon is summoned to his mother’s bedside who reveals a military secret which possibly caused his father’s death. She also names an individual who is to blame for this event and advises Gideon to take revenge against this person for their family’s misfortune. Gideon agrees and thus begins his life’s odyssey and the first part of the book.

General Chamblee Tucker is the alleged perpetrator who had a hand in Dr. Melvin Crew’s death and Gideon slowly and surely plans to bring about his downfall. Gideon does manage to locate a document which theoretically proves his father’s innocence and the way he goes about to prove Tucker’s mishandling is what forms the first part of the book. Events occur rapidly at this point and Gideon is shown to be a single minded person whose entire life focus is brought into fruition by his resolve, although an unknown but honorable person does provide a helping hand.

After the completion of his task which almost sees him killed, Gideon decides to settle down and try his hand at leading a normal life. However, things never go as planned as Gideon is approached by Eli Glinn—a character from the Pendergast novels who also appeared in The Ice Limit. Glinn reveals another secret about Gideon and then offers him a job that could benefit both the US government and Gideon himself. Apparently there’s a Chinese scientist on the run who possesses a secret technology which could change the world or be used as a weapon. Gideon’s mission is to intercept it. Thus begins a new chapter in Gideon’s life as he tries to acquire the secret technology whilst fighting assassins and different government agencies...

Gideon’s Sword can be viewed from two different levels: as a reader new to Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, and longtime fans of the authors. As a first time reader, Gideon’s Sword is tremendously fun to read, with a fast-paced plot that never lets up and is engrossing from start to end despite a few improbable scenarios. Basically, this book works like a James Bond film. The action is thrilling and over-the-top, and while the hero’s success and survival is never in doubt, it’s still a blast to experience. Will no doubt translate wonderfully to a visual medium, which is probably why the film rights were sold so quickly :)

For a seasoned Preston-Child fan, Gideon’s Sword is vastly different from the Pendergast novels. For starters, the book is much faster-paced, while the protagonist in Gideon is as different from Pendergast as cats are from dogs. More specifically, Gideon Crew is his own man and does things by his own rules—akin more to the character of James Bond than George Smiley. Additionally, some of the scenarios might be a bit too over-the-top for seasoned readers to believe in, especially after having come to expect a certain amount of realism in the authors’ previous books. Other than that, the prose remains solid, although the plot can be predictable and doesn’t always do a good job of explaining things.

CONCLUSION: Personally, I read and enjoyed Gideon’s Sword because of its intriguing premise and main character, but the book heralds a different direction for Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child and it remains to be seen whether fans will follow the new series with the same vigor and vitality expressed for the Pendergast novels. My advice is keep an open mind and give yourself a chance to enjoy this entertaining thriller...

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