Half Off Ragnarok : Seanan McGuire

When I started Fox Spirit Books, I officially stepped down from reviewing. I sent polite emails to everyone explaining that I no longer had the time and could not go on accepting books knowing that I would not have chance to review them. Occasionally I have to resend due to staff changes.

There was one exception. I never sent such an email to DAW. The thing is DAW have only ever sent me books for one of their writers, a certain Seanan McGuire. Add to that, the fact that Seanan is one of those rare writers whose books I turn to when ‘I can’t find anything to read’ (in a house full of read, re read and many as yet unread books). It doesn’t matter how restless I am, or what mood I am in a new Seanan McGuire book will always hit the mark.

As such I make an exception. So here is a review.

download (1)Half Off Ragnarok by Seanan McGuire

Half Off Ragnarok is the third in the Price family cryptozoology series which kicked off with Discount Armageddon. It picks up after the events that left Verity dating a member of the covenant and her cuckoo cousin Sarah badly mentally damaged from saving Verity’s life.

The third book moves location and focus, picking up with Alex Price, Verity’s brother who is working in a reptile house at a zoo and tracking the population decline of amphibians in the area. His work is disrupted by a death at the zoo. Something is turning people to stone and Alex really doesn’t want to believe it’s the local Gorgon community.

Taking a different character POV for the book works brilliantly, not only in keeping the series fresh and interesting, but allowing us to focus on different characters and other elements of the world building. The change helps to really develop the bigger picture.  It’s just as action packed and gripping as ever but Alex approaches things differently to Verity and obviously has other circumstances to deal with, including a small girl who keeps breaking into the zoo to see her fiancé, a king cobra, an assistant whose hair becomes irritated under stress and a sort of girlfriend who is entirely human and doesn’t know who Alex really is.

In all her series Seanan continually nails exactly the things I love about urban fantasy down onto the pages. Investigation, adventure, characters and settings that balance every day familiar with utterly other. The Price books bring all the things of myth and legend into the fore, dragons, gorgons, little froglike things with feathers, staying away from the fae worlds of the Toby Daye books. Her characters continue to be fun, flawed and multi faceted as people rather than endlessly powering up super heroes.

Always well written and tightly plotted this is quite simply some of the best urban fantasy out there.

Review: Chimes at Midnight by Seanan McGuire

chimesThe latest October Daye novel once again raises the stakes for our heroine as Toby’s always tempestuous relationship with the Queen comes to a head.

Toby is investigating the distribution of the incredibly dangerous Goblin Fruit. 100% addictie and eventually deadly to all except purebloods and someone is letting it into the mortal world. When her investigation leaves her faced with banishment and questioning the Queens claim on the throne Toby has to find a way to save herself, reverse the decree and remove the goblin fruit from the streets.

This series never fails to be action packed, fun adventure. Toby and her friends are a fantastic cast of unusual characters and things never go smoothly, but they are resourceful and determined and should not be underestimated. The world Mcguire has built is complex and detailed and manages to blend the modern mortal world with the fae worlds soothly and consistently.

This latest instalment is due out in September 2013 and if you haven’t discovered the series yet go back to the beginning, it’s a treat.

 

Review: Between two Thorns by Emma Newman

imagesI’ve had a run recently of books i’ve really ripped through and another was the first Split Worlds novel by Emma Newman.

From the moment Sam’s beer bladder takes him down a backstreet in Bath in the opening pages I was hooked. A rebellious fae girl determined to make it in the mortal world, family politics, fae lords and ladies up to cut throat shenanigans, a human male in the wrong place at the wrong time and all the murder, mystery and intrigue you would expect from worlds colliding and urban fairy tales.

Newman has created a well considered universe, balancing our reality and the Fae world convincingly, and creating compelling characters and plots, written with a wry humour. Right from the beginning I needed to know what Sam really saw and what Cathy’s fate would be. On finishing my first thought was when is the next one?

if you are looking for a new urban fantasy series that’s about character and adventure then   start here.

Review: Plague Nation by Dana Fredsti

PlagueNationCover_FinalThe second Ashley Parker novel pretty much picks up where Plague Town left off. The wildcards are clearing out pockets of remaining zombies within the quarantine zone, while the reader get to see a series of incidents that are definitely not in the area. The virus has spread.

A tragic incident sends events into a chaotic spiral that climaxes at the end of the book with classic ‘to be continued’ style cliffhangers. Dana manages to deliver satisfying story telling and humour as well as a few new twists to the classic zompoc in these books that leaves you eager for the next one.

The use of zom pop culture references helps remind the reader that these wildcards mostly aren’t experienced army recruits, they are just the people who happen to be immune, so they joke about, they make mistakes, they go back for the cats. it’s part of the joy of these books.

if you are a fan of zombie fiction, or even if you aren’t sure you are, I recommend the Ashley Parker novels.

Review: Zoe Sharp & The Charlie Fox Books

I reviewed the second Charlie Fox book a while ago and I ordered the third and fourth straight away. Some time later I finally had the chance to read them, back to back in record speed.

In Third Strike as Charlie prepares to go back into the field she finds her father is in the States and in trouble. In spite of their troubled relationship Charlie is determined to find out what is going on and soon discovers her parents are in serious danger. As she tries to figure it all out and help them she and her team are in a situation that is getting rapidly more dangerous.

Fourth Day sees Charlie under cover in a cult led by a charismatic and dangerous man, but all is not what it seems and as Charlie delves deeper, determined to find out who the real threat is,

I love these books, they deliver plenty of hard, fast, brilliantly visceral action. Sharp writes great fight scenes and plots with enough twists and turns to add depth to the drama and  make them solid memorable stories. The best thing about them remains Charlie. She’s a great character, far from perfect, too hard on Sean and herself, has a difficult relationship with her family, but she’s more compassionate than she has to be and utterly determined.

If you are struggling to find a thriller that packs enough punch I recommend the Charlie Fox series.

Dangerous Gifts by Gaie Sebold

This is the second Babylon Steel novel and once again it’s a triumph. Seabold’s Madam of the Red Lantern & sword for hire Babylon is, as usual, mixed up in political intrigue she could do without and with her loyalties split between her people and the client. Still money talks and Babylon needs it, urgently.

Babylon manages to blend tough as nails warrior and deeply sensual and sexual woman without either making her less of the other. She’s a great example of being what you want to be and what’s right for you. I don’t normally give much thought to gender politics in books, but if you cast you main characters in a whore house it’s hard to ignore. Seabold got it right.

I love this series not just for that though, but for the intrigue, the action, the wonderful full entertaining characters, the sheer joy of it really. I settled down with this at Christmas and flew through it. Strongly recommended if you like the feel of Urban Fantasy but want something a little different.

Review: Midnight Blue-Light Special by Seanan McGuire

Midnight Blue-Light Special
by Seanan McGuire
pub by DAW March 2013

Ok this one is a little early I know, but I couldn’t wait to read it and I certainly couldn’t wait three months to talk about it. Odd moment of wonderful synchronicity, the day before this arrived I was scouring my shelves (full of things I haven’t read yet) looking for something to read and thinking, I could do with something along the lines of ‘Discount Armageddon’. Next day the sequel pops through the door. I may have squeaked.

Anyway the book. It’s the second Verity Price novel but if you missed Discount Armageddon you could easily start here (then go back, because you’ll want to). It wouldn’t matter so much. Seanan produces exactly the sort of Urban Fantasy I love, a little humour, a lot of action, a touch of romance and this series delivers just as the Toby Daye books do, although the tone is a little more upbeat and fun.

Verity has been trained as a cryptozoologist from birth, a bit like a monster social worker and occasionally executioner, but she’s always wanted to dance. Now living on the East Coast away from her parents for a year (part of an agreement to let her choose her own path) she is torn between wanting to be her own person and the reputation and duty that comes with being a Price.

In her second outing, her year away is drawing to a close and the safety of every non human thing in her City is under threat from the monster hunters The Covenant. Unsure who she can trust and facing her toughest challenge yet, Verity has a choice between walking away from everything she knows or risking her life and giving up her dream.

I had my own dilemma with this one, read faster to know what happens, or read slowly to savour it. I am impatient so I went through it fast. It’s another superb offering from McGuire that perfectly hits its mark.

I’ve read a fair few of Seanan’s books now and they never let me down. A quick adventure, mixing warmth and fun with thrills and tension, characters that are easy to connect with (I particularly liked Istas with her bring on the mayhem and maiming attitude) and writing that carries you through everything smoothly delivering you to an exciting and satisfying conclusion.

A Long Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan

A Long Long Sleep
by Anna Sheehan
pub: Gollancz

Ok the blurb

‘Rosalinda Fitzroy had been asleep for 62 years when she was woken by a kiss.

Locked away in the chemically-induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten sub-basement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew. Now, her parents and her first love are long dead, and Rose – hailed upon her awakening as the long-lost heir to an interplanetary empire – is thrust alone into a future in which she is viewed as either a freak or a threat.

Desperate to put the past behind her and adapt to her new world, Rose finds herself drawn to the boy who kissed her awake, hoping that he can help her to start fresh. But when a deadly danger jeopardizes her fragile new existence, Rose must face the ghosts of her past with open eyes – or be left without any future at all.’

This all makes it sound terribly dramatic and there is a dramatic sub plot to the book, but for the most part it follows the same riffs as any other boarding school drama, be it fantasy, sci fi or st trillians. Ok technically Rose isn’t a boarder and there is the whole, might she die thing, but basically, she doesn’t fit in, she’s out of step with everything, trying to make sense of her life and has a crush on a boy. If you ignore the hovercars, the alien class mate who communicates by touch and the whole stasis thing, it’s nothing new. That’s not a complaint.

It’s very well done, with engaging characters, an appealing heroine and yes all those sci fi touches do make it a richer and more interesting setting than most novels of this type. There are some genuinely touching moments, it’s good fun, the pacing is pretty good and the world is absorbing. The Dark Times are an interesting device and not entirely out of keeping with the sort of problems the earth could well face in a pessimistic view of the future, giving a fairly solid history to the time Rose wakes up in. There is also the relationship with her parents and the careful handling of the readers knowledge and understanding of that, in line with Rose’s own.

All in all excellently done, an enjoyable and thought provoking read.

The return of cyberpunk!

We welcome Colin F Barnes novelist & micro publisher to talk to us about the return of cyberpunk.

Is Cyberpunk Coming Back in Fashion?

When we look around at technology today, we see things predicted by science fiction and cyberpunk stories of a few decades ago. Back then, mostly during the late 80s and 90s when cyberpunk and the techno thriller were at their peak computers were becoming affordable and regular household items. The early Apple machines, Spectrums and Commodores brought computing to everyone; including the spotty teen in the basement.

Not only did that technological singularity change the world—or at least put in place the elements for change—it brought with it a new way of thinking; the connected world. Writers such as William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, amongst others, took the idea of the connected world and extrapolated forward to a futuristic world of hacking, cybercrime, and virtual reality worlds.

As we approached the late 90s and 2000s it started to wane a little, but another decade on and we’re seeing more technothriller/cyberpunk stories return—in the form of books, films and even TV shows. The reason for the slump, in my opinion, was that the things predicted weren’t quite there yet in reality, and regular SF such as Star Trek, Stargate, and Battlestar Galactica filled that desire of stretching out in the future.

Now, though, we are seeing the things predicted, and this is inspiring another kind of singularity; that of the connected world as something that is established, something that humanity has come to rely on. In many instances, social media is this new singularity. And with it comes a lot of problems, and thus opportunity of us writers to explore and extrapolate what this means.

In my novel, Artificial Evil, the world has suffered a great cataclysm and just one million survivors are left living in a dome city that is tightly controlled. Individuals are now one with the network, and are effectively nodes; this is kind of what is happening now, but on a much lower level. With out smart phones and always-on connections, as we move around and manipulate the virtual world, we are becoming nodes and routers of information and content. What would happen if that technology and that idea was integrated directly into the conscious mind?  How much of your free will would be give over to  the network? And what would that mean for the individual?

If you did lose some of your humanity, but gained the benefits of a wider network, are you still human? or another species altogether? This is partly what I explore in Artificial Evil. Our evolution might not be a biological one, but a technological one, and that, in my opinion, makes a riveting story.

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Colin F. Barnes is a writer of dark and daring fiction. He takes his influence from everyday life, and the weird happenings that go on in the shadowy locales of Essex in the UK. 

Growing up, Colin was always obsessed with story and often wrote short stories based on various dubious 80s and 90s TV shows. Despite taking a detour in school into the arts and graphic design, he always maintained his love of fiction and general geekery. Now, as a slightly weathered adult, Colin draws on his experiences to blend genres and create edgy, but entertaining stories. 

He is currently working on a Cyberpunk/Techno thriller serial ‘The Techxorcist.’ which combines elements of Sci-Fi, Thriller, and Horror. 

Like many writers, he has an insatiable appetite for reading, with his favourite authors being: Stephen King, William Gibson, Ray Bradbury, James Herbert, Albert Camus,  H.P Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith,  and a vast array of unknown authors who he has had the privilege of beta reading for.

Website: www.colinfbarnes.com
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/ColinFBarnes

Quotes:

“Artificial Evil: Book 1 of The Techxorcist sees the revival of everything we used to love about cyber punk, repackaged with new twists in this tech thriller. This is a brilliant tale that combines fantastic characters, great tech and a little bit of good old fashioned possession” – Adele Wearing, Un:Bound

“The Techxorcist project piqued my interest for a couple of reasons. First, it is the brainchild of Colin F. Barnes whose work has, to date, always lived up to expectation. The second reason is the title; not only is it fun to say, but it also sets the tone for a grim cross-genre design.

Having had the pleasure of reading Articificial Evil: The Techxorcist Book 1, I can honestly say I was not disappointed. The quality of the writing, the originality of the ideas – they blend together to show Barnes’ work at his best. The passion behind the project comes through every description and in every brilliant character – once you meet Petal, you’ll understand.

Artificial Evil reads as multiple stories at the same time. On the surface a fantastic plot-arc following a post-apocalyptic virtual battle against an evil AI, the brilliance is in the layers of interpretation going on behind the scenes. There are elements of a dozen classic tales intricately woven into the characters, the concept, and the dialogue, and the combination creates a story that is so rich in meaning and allusion it’s impossible not to connect with this seemingly distant and unrecognizable world.

A story that opens the mind to possibilities, crazy ideas that somehow seem plausible, Texchorcist is an exploration of how much we’re willing to give up to be free, and how far we’re willing to go to keep that freedom.” – Krista Walsh, Raven’s Quill.

Review: The Techxorcist pt 0.5 – The Rebirth

The Techxorcist Pt 0.5 The Rebirth
by Colin F Barnes

More information here

The novellette that kicks off the Techxorcist series is available for free to download and I strongly recommend you take advantage of that.

This first installment sets the scene for the upcoming trilogy, but it’s also a tale in itself. Gerry Cardle runs the death lottery so when his numbers come up something is definitely awry. Having spent is whole life in the system Gerry is at a loss to know what’s gone wrong or what he can do about it. Desperate and afraid he falls in with a couple of hackers who offer a ‘kill or cure’ answer, well he’s dead anyway right?

Rebirth did a really fantastic job of getting the reader ready for the world they will be visiting in the series, having you rooting for Gerry and his companions and asking all the right questions for what’s coming next. A short but satisfying read that will leave you eager for the forthcoming trilogy.

Officially billed as a tech thriller, the Techxorcist series will also appeal to fans of 90′s cyber punk (like me), offering adventure, an element of old fashioned horror and plenty of post cataclysmic grimness and entertainment.