There is a hint of Armageddon in the air. According to the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (recorded, thankfully, in 1655, before she blew up her entire village and all its inhabitants, who had gathered to watch her burn), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. So the Armies of Good and Evil are massing, the four Bikers of the Apocalypse are revving up their mighty hogs and hitting the road, and the world's last two remaining witchfinders are getting read to Fight the Good Fight. Atlantis is rising. Frogs are falling.
GOOD OMENS is a collaboration between Pratchett and Gaiman. According to the introductory interview with them at the start of the book, it came about because Gaiman wrote half a short story, but he didn't know how it ended. He sent it to Pratchett, who didn't know either. But he did know what happened next. So half a short story became one very very good book.
Originally published in 1990, GOOD OMENS was written as a collaborative novel in the days before high speed internet connections - in fact according to the same interview a 1200/75 baud modem (yes kiddies, we used to use them - and we had electricity and everything), was eschewed as a communication method as it proved slightly less efficient than underwater yodelling and instead a bizarre method of messages in different working times exchanged via Ansaphone's was employed. (Yes - we used machines with little tapes in them - in the house - to record phone messages.)
The problem with a Divine Plan is that there's always somebody that forgot to read the requirements specification. Nun's can get it wrong. Avenging Angels (who can be such fussbudgets) and Fast-Living Demon with a passion for posh cars don't have to look forward to the coming Rapture. When you've lived amongst Humanity for quite a while now and you're fond of the cushy gig, you may actually decide to interfere with the Plan. So as unlikely a pair as they seem, Crowley and Aziraphale are going to stop this silliness - even if they do have to kill the AntiChrist (who at this stage is really nothing much more than a naughty little boy). If they can only find him.
Obviously when you're writing high comic fantasy, the time in which the reader picks up the book becomes less problematic. But what really gives GOOD OMENS a life forever is that the central theme - the great battle of Good versus Evil - works no matter when you pick it up. Having said that, reading GOOD OMENS again in late 2007 / early 2008 and bingo - a timeframe in my human history at least - where the occasional consideration of Good and Evil, Frogs and Witches, Hogs and Devil Children - well lets just say between the hysterical laughter, just occasionally you read something that makes you go hmmmmm.
This edition of GOOD OMENS isn't the first one I've read. But it was absolutely no chore to read again. And again. And I might just pick that book up on a more regular basis for a bit of a re-read. For a collaborative novel it's hard to pick the who wrote what bits. As a novel about Good and Evil it works. As a reminder of Queen's Greatest Hits it was truly sobering. It's also dark and funny and pointed and clever and a darn good book!
ROMANITAS - Sophia McDougall
ROMANITAS, as the first book of a trilogy, is toying with a number of central themes.
There are actually 3 great empires covering the world - the Roman which now spreads into North America, parts of Africa and China. Sinoa - parts of China, parts of South-Asia, up into Mongolia and Russia and Nionia - spreading it seems almost from Japan, covering Australasia and elsewhere.
The empires all exist in a timeframe that feels a bit like current day; it was a car accident that killed Marcus' parents after all; but the technology is played with a bit in ROMANITAS as well - all the cities in the Roman Empire have massive communication screens, mechanised crucifixes dot the banks of the Thames. There is also a bit of woo woo - or the other worldly - Una, after all, can look inside other people's minds.
For all the sweeping nature of the world being built in this first book, the "action" of the book is actually pretty restricted. It centres on events surrounding 3 teenagers from very different backgrounds who are unexpectedly thrust together. Marcus Novius, orphaned Imperial heir. Una, watching the funeral ceremony on one of the giant screens in London, loathes everything Marcus stands for. She is on her way to rescue her brother, both siblings separated for most of their lives. Sulien is about to be crucified, falsely accused of rape - brother and sister are slaves, coming from a desperately poor and cruel background. As unlikely as it seems, all three become fugitives together.
In the initial stages of the novel, the reader is thrust immediately into this unexpected, mixed up world. That's slightly disconcerting and weird and you're immediately engaged, trying to understand what strange world is this. The book quickly shape shifts, however, into a sort of journey novel - the story of the 3 teenagers and how they meet and then escape their individual fates takes up a pretty hefty component of the central part of the book and the alternative world sort of disappears a bit. Whilst there is quite a bit of tension built up in this escape tale, it does move at snails pace. There is a then a final flurry of activity and some slightly odd positioning of explanation towards the end of the novel (for example the conspiracy against Marcus really only gets explained right at the end - giving it a bit of an afterthought feeling).
Strangely enough for what started out as promising an alternative world scenario, and sort of ends up delivering a form of mixed reality; ROMANITAS morphs into a reasonable character study where the opportunity to get to know the 3 main characters becomes the focus, and even the supporting cast of characters are fairly well-drawn and involving. Add to that an engaging prose style, if you're willing to allow the Empire to be a mishmash of odds and ends from now and then; then there's probably enough to make you look to the second book to see where the current day Roman Empire is headed.
The second Book in the Trilogy - Rome Burning was released in 2007. You might also want to visit the website for the trilogy at http://www.romanitas.com/
DARK LOVER - J.R. Ward
Here we have it, another entry into a very crowded literary market. Jessica Ward has leaned her new series towards paranormal romance rather than gory vampire fiction, which does tend to lighten the plot load considerably while giving more of the good stuff with the relationship scenes of her gorgeous (of course!) characters. All credit must be given for the successful introduction of yet another variation on vampire lore, which is no easy task given there are that many of them. A thoughtfully included glossary at the beginning of this book makes it all that much simpler to process the vampire rules and regulations as you encounter them throughout the read.
It is difficult to pin down what it is that made these books a better prospect. DARK LOVER can be happily described, at the very least, as flat-out adorable. Not in the cutesy-pie way of other writers who have made vampires into vacuous dilettantes, but in the earnestness of the writing. It is impossible not to smile at some of the dialogue, though unfortunately not for the reasons, we're sure, intended by the writer. The men in this book behave like overgrown kids and what they say seems to have come straight out of "Speak and Act like a Gangsta for Dummies". Detailing so much what the characters listen to in popular music, for example, dates the read terribly. The Black Dagger brotherhood, despite whatever atrocities they inflict on others, manages to come off like a bunch of frat boys trying to act all tough and manly on us. There is something very TMNT about this lot, which is not necessarily a bad thing, if you prefer to your reads to be light on the angst. There is also something very dainty in new euphemisms being found for the erotic scenes, though this does reduce in subsequent series entries.
Each novel in this series centres around one of the brotherhood so unless new characters are introduced, there will only be six of these books for the series. Ward threads DARK LOVER with leads for the next, LOVER ETERNAL and provides worthy teasers of what might be expected in each future character study.
DREAMQUAKE - Elizabeth Knox
Dreamhunters can catch and broadcast dreams. They are able to enter a sort of alternative reality - “the Place” and hunt and catch all sorts of dreams. They can then bring those dreams back and broadcast them to an audience of people. These performances are entertainment, sometimes relaxation, amusement or even healing. They can also sometimes be very very threatening. In Southland, a location that seems to evoke New Zealand, The Rainbow Opera is a Dream Performance / opera house with a central stage that Dreamhunters project from into small chambers full of their sleeping audience. The Rainbow Opera has had problems in the past with dreams and they are very serious about the management of their performances and their security. Even people living close to The Rainbow Opera have sometimes even found their sleep disturbed by powerful dream performances.
Laura is a Dreamhunter, coming slowly into possession of her gift. She is young, idealistic and driven by her belief in what is right. DREAMQUAKE starts off with a performance in The Rainbow Opera that goes horribly wrong, orchestrated it seems by Laura. A gruesome nightmare “Buried Alive” is broadcast, and as bloodied and traumatised patrons emerge from the performance, the dream industry is put under threat because of it. Laura's friends and family struggle to understand what she has done, Dreamhunters are disappearing, civil servants are plotting nationwide control and disturbing voices are emanating from “the Place”.
DREAMQUAKE has a definite epic feel to it. The story is big, bold, imaginative, layered and elaborately plotted. There's a real feeling of mystery, the fantastic, a soaring ride through “the Place”, through dreams, through forming principles and gaining experience. There's a sort of gloriousness in the way that the story unfolds. It also beautifully captures that feeling of the teenage angst ridden years. If it's happening to ME it is SO important... SO big... SO dramatic. The world that DREAMQUAKE exists in is also tantalising. There is not much landscape describing going on in the book, but there is enough to have a feeling or sense of “the Place” and Southland, and there are maps at the front of the book to help in case you get a bit confused.
DREAMQUAKE is the sequel to DREAMHUNTER, and both of these books appear to be written for a Young Adult audience, although they should have a wider appeal. Initially reading DREAMQUAKE this, long way from young adult reviewer, was a bit disconcerted by the style of the book, but that was only for a few chapters. Once you are into DREAMQUAKE you find yourself immersed in this other world environment.
UNDEAD AND UNPOPULAR - Mary Janice Davidson
UNDEAD AND UNPOPULAR moves the vampire queen Betsy Taylor just a little bit
further down the line to being married, and to being more like a reigning
monarch over her people. This little read is very much a one room drama - the
characters hardly leave the house and spend their time bumping into each other
in the hallways to throw out some sass and then move on. As will be the wont
with vampire novels, there isn't a lot further up in the predatory chain to a
competant vampire so therefore there's no threats coming from above. The
warring factions approach has been attempted here but it is all so haphazard and
casually done that you would feel a greater sense of tension from not
remembering where you last saw your bookmark.
This series had an explosive start, and suffers now from the problem of what to
do with Betsy. The marriage card can only be dragged out so long, and it's hard
to feel much for two people who drink blood from each other anyway. This book
is more of a quick character catch-up for the regular readers with a
barely-there plot which would do little to draw in a new readership.
THUD! - Terry Pratchett
The origins of the Battle of Koom Valley between the Trolls and the Dwarves is obscure and the subject of much debate, but every year, the anniversary celebrations of the battle spark off tensions between the two communities. This year, this celebration, tensions are rising in Ank-Morpork.
Dwarf extremists are undermining (literally) the city and the Watch is starting to fall apart. When extremist leader Hamcrusher is murdered deep underground in the mines, seemingly by a Troll, Vimes must hold together the Watch; investigate the murder; prevent an outbreak of war between the Trolls and Dwarves of the city; keep the peace between Angua and a new Watch Member who just happens to be a vampire; and be home by 6.00pm every night to read "Where's My Cow?" to his young son Sam. Just to complicate matters, not only has The Patrician forced Sam to take on Sally, the vampire, he's also called in a pencil pushing bureaucrat to audit the Watch's operations. Needless to say Sam Vimes is on a pretty short fuse and it's not helped one tiny little bit when matters escalate and his own family is threatened.
In the true nature of any Terry Pratchett novel, there are more twists and turns than there are windy passages in dwarf mines in THUD!. Commander Vimes is a dedicated commander who takes his position in Ankh-Morpork very very seriously and his management of the Watch is part inspiration, part perspiration and part sheer lunacy. All the supporting cast of Watch members are here in all their assorted oddness, although, to be honest, as you read these books these characters are less odd and more realistic and endearing.
Whilst it almost seems impossible for Terry Pratchett to write a bad entry in the Discwold series, THUD! is undoubtedly one of the best books to come out of the eccentricity that is the Discworld recently.
THE 50/50 KILLER - Steve Mosby
The 50/50 killer, so tagged because of the choices he put to his victims, was almost the downfall of police homicide investigator John Mercer. The man still commands and investigates, but to new boy Mark Nelson, Mercer lacks the focus, with some part of the man having been forever broken. Mercer’s team welcome Nelson into their ranks and are candid with him about their boss, showing their loyalty at the same time while showing their concern. It turns out to be a hell of a first day on the job for the new homicide recruit.
Opening Sentence: "...BlackWidow has entered the room..."
PD Martin's second novel is simply amazing. It is so chillingly plausible it leaves you feeling very uncomfortable. Most internet users belong to some sort of online discussion group or forum. Many of these forums are for the use of its members only. THE MURDERERS&#
Now about author Steve Mosby (third novel in, more to come). It can be said with certainty, after reading THE 50/50 KILLER, that the man has a nice hand with the British police procedural and isn't too shabby at the finer points of characterization either. There is just enough of the peeking behind the parlour curtains, observing as we do here the private details of a marriage, which satisfies some voyeuristic urge to spy on the ripple effects with what might be imagined happens to the afterhours relationships of homicide detectives. The viewing and investigation of some seriously disturbed crimes - we expect that to have a kick-back into an officer's personal life. It all balances beautifully with the relentless drive forwards of the police investigation, though it can come across unexpectedly as a little prim and restrained in its execution (good and solid British reserve, even as things go to pieces). This is a finely worked novel, so the attention to order remains in keeping with how the many personal relationships are meticulously examined.
The line between gratuitous descriptions of the horrific acts man commits against fellow man, as opposed to more clinical observation is treaded with caution. Showing restraint here (considering his background in horror) Mosby includes just enough to have his reader squinting and wincing but reading on regardless. As we near the pointy end, as with all good crime/thriller novels, Mosby delivers his major plot twist beautifully.
Into British police procedurals? Can't stomach a crime novel that's all about the heinous act itself? Scratch your itch for both with THE 50/50 KILLER. This is smart and absorbing stuff that will have you flicking over to the author's website clickety-click to see what's next on Mosby's plate.
39; CLUB opens in one such forum - only this one consists of four members - and they are all established serial killers.
There's a slightly odd feeling about sitting down to read a book that if somebody asked you why you were reading it - the best explanation you could come up with was ... well ... "it sort of sounded slightly mad - and besides the central character wants to become part of a book.... ". You've got to be intrigued by that premise.
THE END OF MR Y doesn't telegraph what sort of a book it is from the cover blurb - it sounds a bit like a mystery, it could be fantasy, there's even some elements that sound a bit like traditional science fiction. It's all of those things and a lot more because at the basis of everything else in this book there is the story of somebody's life that is fascinating, there are characters that you can care about. There's a story of disaffection and alternative ways of living your life that is intriguing. THE END OF MR Y is unpredictable, brash, exciting, slightly edgy and ever so slightly odd.
At the centre of the book is Ariel. Ariel's a great character and narrator - she's very much in control (sort of), she's very focused (sometimes) and she's somebody who knows where she's going (okay now I'm stretching...) Ariel's engaging, she's fascinating, she's also slightly crazy, but what she really has is acute self-awareness. She's an impoverished PhD student from a decidedly dodgy background, she's got a very active sex life - many might say it's a very dangerous and unorthodox sex life. Some people might find a building dropping into a hole in the ground a bit unexpected but Ariel can let that roll, just as she can discover a copy of a mythical long lost book and not question where it could have come from. She can find a way to handle her odd sex life with her married lover becoming increasingly risky. She can even develop an attraction to Adam, the ex-priest forced to share her University office because of the collapse of the other building. And finally she can enter the Troposphere and find it threatening and comforting all at the same time. But Ariel is used to the unexpected. In fact she really doesn't know what is supposed to be normal - life is just what happens. There's a great quote on the back of the book which explains her attitude perfectly:
"Real life is regularly running out of money, and then food. Real life is having no proper heating. Real life is physical. Give me books instead, give me the invisibility of the contents of books, the thoughts, the ideas, the images. Let me become part of a book".
It's impossible to read THE END OF MR Y and not consider the possibility of the Troposphere. And compare the possible absurdity of the idea of an alternative reality with a current day obsession like Second Life. Fantasy and science fiction blurring into reality in a very intriguing way?
Along the way Ariel must try to find out about the two strange men and their two childish offsiders pursuing her. She must find her PhD supervisor - Professor Burlem - because he alone also seems to understand the ramifications of the Troposphere. She must work out what she wants with the equally troubled Adam. She must also decide how or where she wants to live her life.
Australian FBI Profiler, Sophie Anderson, is taking a break in Arizona with a colleague and friend, Detective Darren Carter. He knows her secret. That she can mentally connect with the victims through visions and dreams, she actually sees them through the eyes of their murderer.
No sooner has Sophie arrived in Arizona than a body shows up at the University - followed by a second and a third. Darren is assigned the case and Sophie joins him in the investigation . Can her visions of a woman's horrific death help solve the crime and stop any more victims?
The story is propelled through two main points of view. The investigators and the murderers. The reader soon knows what is going on - there is a group of captives that are locked away in an underground bunker. They are being watched by the four members of the murderers' club as they vie for the chance to murder their favourite captive through an auction. The hairs on the back of your neck stand up as you read the lighthearted discussions between the criminals - the complete lack of compassion and guilt.
Sophie and Darren have to work out the secret behind their latest serial killer and then try and catch them and stop them. There are twists and turns right up to the very end.