Sunday, 26 April 2015

Book Review - The Vagrant by Peter Newman

The Vagrant tells the story of a lone Seraph Knight (The Vagrant) as he travels across a post-demonic and apocalyptic landscape with only a legendary sword and a baby for companionship. He must deliver this sword to the Shining City, the last bastion of humanity, if there is to be any hope of defeating the demonic plague. But the Shining City is far away, and the blasted lands are a very dangerous place. 

I was lucky enough to be the recipient of an early ARC of the Vagrant many months ago. At the time I was blown away by the ambition and scope of the story, and following its release my opinion has only grown after reading it again in its final form. The Vagrant is one of the most fresh and compelling books I've read in years, with Newman weaving an imaginative and enthralling story that is set in arguably one of my favourite worlds since I read Frank Herbert's Dune a long time ago. 

So what did I love about this book that warranted me giving it a full rating of five stars? Oh so many things. 

The titular Vagrant is arguably one of the most fascinating protagonists I've come across in years. A mute, he doesn't speak (although he can sing, which reminded me of people with speech impediments who can't speak but sing beautifully without any trouble) throughout the entire book. Instead, he communicates solely via facial expressions, gestures and cues, and body language. In fact Newman does a superb job of showing rather than telling throughout the entire book, and it made for absolutely enthralling reading. I adored how the Vagrant interacted with those around him, and a simple thing such as a waved hand or a raised eyebrow drove the story along and made for such a wonderful and unique reading experience. The Vagrant's background as a Seraph Knight also remained mysterious right to the end, despite the use of flashbacks throughout the book. This for me added to his mystique and compelling nature, but may leave some readers who want things fully fleshed out disappointed. 

I also loved the other characters in this book. Vesper, the infant on the cover, brought a real sense of innocence and fragility to the story. Her bond and relationship with the Vagrant is one of the highlights of the book. I adored how he watched over and protected her (as a stay at home father for my beautiful little girl I can relate) as they travelled, and I laughed out loud at parental moments like nappies that needed changing at the worst possible place and time. The constant struggle to feed and protect Vesper from both demons and humans alike was also incredibly vivid and real, adding a real tension as they travelled across the blasted lands. Harm was another fascinating character who joins the Vagrant and Vesper as they travel. His redemptive evolution into another surrogate parent of Vesper is wonderful, and made even more so by the fact that he is tainted by demonic energies. There are so many other compelling characters in this story, far too many for me to go into in this review. One however that has to be mentioned is the goat. A point of view character in some sections of the book, the goat provides many hilarious moments of stubbornness that made me laugh and shake my head at it all. I've had goats, and trust me they are infuriating buggers that somehow manage to find a way into your heart. The goat in the Vagrant is the same. 

The world building in The Vagrant is also stunning beyond belief. Weaving together elements borrowed from fantasy, science fiction, and apocalyptic fiction, Newman has produced one of the most amazing and jaw-dropping settings I've read in many years. The blasted lands come to life before your eyes in a way that reminded me of Stephen King's Gunslinger, the Warhmmer universe (the forces of Chaos especially) and the Fallout games. I felt very alone and alienated playing those games, and I got the same sense of hopelessness and danger around every corner from this book. The blasted lands are gritty, dark, and incredibly dangerous, with the demonic hordes and their leaders changing the face of literally everything. The humans that survived the invasion are mostly tainted (some by choice), and deformed cities and ruins that pockmark the landscape are shadows of their former selves. In showcasing this ruined world Newman also describes what existed before the invasion, a world where an advanced civilisation reigned supreme. Sky ships traversed the skies, armoured tanks and trains powered over the land, and the power of the Seven and the Seraph Knights was unchallenged. This distinction between the two worlds is also what makes The Vagrant so addictive. I loved reading about the broken and tainted remnants of humanity cannibalising technology in order to try and eke out a vestige of their former existence, and the environmental changes brought about by the release of demonic energies alone made this book worth it. 

The action itself is also top notch, and I licked my lips at the many battles and fights that unfolded throughout the book. The prologue, depicting the initial invasion from the Breach and the downfall of Gamma, was poetic and enthralling from the outset, and the fights that followed also were amazing and gruesome in nature. In fact I'd argue that Newman has a real knack for choreographing a fight scene (it comes as no surprise that he has a background in Drama), with his use of language, tone and emotion in these parts keeping me glued to the book from start to finish. The plot raced along at a fast pace, and at no stage did I feel that it laboured or slowed down. By the end of the book I still had many questions unanswered, but I felt that the foundations of what is truly going to be an amazing series had been well and truly laid. 

To put it simply... I cannot find any fault with this book. I loved every single part of it. It is that bloody good! Newman has achieved something truly magical with this book in my opinion, and I haven't been as excited for a series since I first read Frank Herbert's Dune back in high school. 

The Vagrant is a unique tale that is both wondrous and epic in scope and execution. An amazing debut, with an amazing future ahead. The Vagrant will now take pride of place on my bookshelves, and I cannot wait for more. An absolute must read!

5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

My recent trip... and how my faith in humanity was restored in a bookshop

I've been itching to write this post for the past week or so. If you are one of the few who follow my twitter feed then you would have noticed that my partner and I recently had our first trip away since the birth of our daughter. To say it felt weird leaving her behind with family is an understatement, but it was a good opportunity to go and have a couple of days RnR in Canberra and do some things that aren't possible with little kids (such as the simple pleasure of going out to dinner and seeing a late movie afterwards). 

We both enjoyed our adventure, but it was our visit to a bookstore that arguably was the highlight of the trip. Canty's Bookshop is an ACT institution. In 2014 BuzzFeed listed it as one of the 17 book bookshops in Australia that you should visit before you die. And after spending almost 5 hours of bliss in there I can safely say BuzzFeed was right. Tucked away in the suburb of Fyshwick, Canty's storefront is as unassuming as you can get. In fact it looks more like the frontage of an appliance outlet store then one of Australia's premier used bookshops. It's only after you enter that the magic of the place unfolds before your very eyes. Books, literally tens of thousands of them stacked from floor to roof, greet you. And nestled next to the cash register and surrounded by piles of more books and a warm beverage is Luke Canty, one of the most gentle and charming hosts I've ever stumbled across in a bookstore. He made my partner and I feel like we were browsing our shelves at home, and never once hassled us as we settled into his store for the long haul of unearthing treasures everywhere we looked. It was an amazing experience, and both my partner and I had to return to the car to retrieve bags to carry our hauls in. 

A quick run down of my haul included books on military history, sports biographies, gardening, and naturally fantasy and science fiction. I was able to pick up an entire set of the Harry Potter books in mint condition for $30 to gift to my daughter when she is a little older, and I managed to score titles by Adrian Tchaikovsky, Adam Roberts, Jim Butcher and many more to add to my overflowing collection here at home. But it was an experience I had whilst browsing over the SF/F titles that blew me away and restored my faith in humanity. 

Before I go on some context. Where I live I don't see many kids reading, or showing that much interest in reading for that matter. The local library is small, and when I notice kids in there they mainly are on the computers playing games rather then borrowing books. There is no bookstore in town either, and the nearest one outside of town is an hour away by car. So when I heard the following squeal from the people next to me my curiosity was piqued...


I peeked out of the corner of my eye, and I saw a mother and her young daughter browsing the SF/F section alongside me. The girl was bouncing up and down in excitement, and her mother was smiling broadly as she took the book down from the shelf and added it to the basket they were carrying. 

"Thanks so much mum! I love Kate Forsyth.. I wonder if they ha... OH MY GOD... OH MY GOD... THE RHIANNON'S RIDE SERIES!!!!!!!" 

And on it went for the best part of 15 minutes. The daughter would find a book she had heard about or author whose work she loved, and she would let out a squeal of delight and infectious excitement that just restored my faith in humanity. My partner had wandered to my side by this time, and we just were struck at how passionate this young girl was about books and reading. It really made us both feel good, and it was a random event that really drove home for us the importance of giving our daughter the opportunity to share our passion for books and reading as well. 

As we left I noticed the mother and daughter pair snuggled together on one of Canty's numerous couches reading the afternoon away. It is my hope that one day I will see something like this where I live.

Faith in humanity restored... and parenting done right!

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Book Review - The Iron Ghost by Jen Williams

When I think of Jen Williams and her writing a few words spring to mind... adventurous... fun... and balanced. The Iron Ghost, the sequel to the very successful The Copper Promise, is all of these and so much more. 

The Iron Ghost picks up on the adventures of protagonists Lord Frith, Sebastian, and Wydrin as they find themselves in high demand following the events of The Copper Promise. When a job comes up in the distant city of Skaldshollow it looks like an easy way to make money. But things are never easy, and an infamous mage appears alongside enemies old and new to threaten the heroes in ways they could never imagine. 

I loved many things about The Iron Ghost. Like The Copper Promise, it is a very fresh and modern take on the classic fantasy adventure that we all know and love. Firth, Sebastian, and Wydrin are as rich and vivid as I remember them, and the cast of new characters (Joah Demonsworn especially) have added a real depth to the adventure. The story is propelled along at a cracking pace, with action aplenty and magical and bestial mayhem on every page. Williams has also managed to weave a sense of purpose and meaning into this book, and you find yourself immersed not only in the action that leaps out from the pages but also in the thoughts and motivations of the characters. I especially loved gaining an insight into the mind of Joah Demonsworn, and his slip into madness was depicted brilliantly by the narrative. The world building again is filled with detail and depth, and Williams has taken her writing to another level by incorporating a sense of grit and realism that wasn't as present in The Copper Promise. I adored reading this book as my eyes lit up at the many mage battles, demon infused children, dragons and walking stone statues! The Iron Ghost has literally taken all that is good about Dungeons and Dragons and added an enthralling sense of character and fun to it that has brought the genre of quest fantasy into the 21st century. I finished this book in one sitting, and the ripping and fun filled banter between the characters kept me glued from start to finish. 

Jen Williams has an amazing gift for storytelling, and The Iron Ghost highlights this. It is amazing to think that she is still a relatively new writer on the scene, with only two books under her belt. All in all The Iron Ghost is a vibrant and inventive fantasy filled with addictive characters and action. The Dungeons and Dragons for a new generation, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with even a remote interest in speculative fiction.

4 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Book Review - The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett

Epic in scale and execution, Peter V. Brett returns with a bang with his latest instalment of the Demon Cycle series entitled The Skull Throne. As a reader and reviewer I had been looking forward to this book for a long time. The final pages of Brett's previous instalment (The Daylight War) left me, like everyone else, hanging, and I just wanted to know what happened to Arlen and Jardir! Well The Skull Throne answers both this question and more, as the demon infested nights grow more dangerous and humanity fights both itself and the demonic threat from below. 

I loved many things about The Skull Throne. The action was magnificently choreographed and written, and the epic and personal battles were once again grand in scale and riveting . Brett has a real knack for writing cracking action scenes, and I was mesmerised whilst reading the battles between characters like Arlen and Jardir and their demon opponents. I also thought the world building in this book was both grand and epic in scale, with a large swathe of this book being devoted to events occurring in places like Angiers, Docktown, Everam's Bounty and Hollow County. I adored learning more about the nuances of Krasian society (I loved this in The Daylight War as well), and whilst the Hollow County chapters got a little long at times I still was interested in how this former little village was growing rapidly into a major player in the region both politically and militarily. Brett's foray's into new locations really fleshed out the world for me, and it really set the stage for the final book in the series. 

Brett's characterisation was again very solid in this book, with Abbhan, Rojer, Inevera, and Leesha all getting plenty of page time to shine and develop. I loved the machiavellian plots and counter-plots of the Krasians, and seeing Asome and Jayan grow and manoeuvre within the upheavals taking place in Everam's Bounty and other locations was both fascinating and enthralling. The character twists also left me stunned and shocked, with Brett weaving some massive changes into this book in the final third in Angiers that will have major ramifications on all of the players involved. 

The Skull Throne also rockets along at a fast pace, and once I was able to sit peacefully and just read I found myself ripping through the pages at a rapid rate. I also appreciated the inclusion of a glossary at the back of the book in regards to the Krasians because at times it was hard to keep track of them all and their complex relationships with each other. 

However there were some parts of The Skull Throne that left me frustrated. Where were Arlen and Jardir? I desperately wanted to see more of them, and their absence as the driving forces behind the story really prevented this book from reaching the dizzying heights that I thought it would at the start. I understand why Brett left them out, and I know the next book will be insane, but I still couldn't help feeling a little disappointed at their absence. I also thought that Brett could have spent more time delving into the demons and their society. The tidbits that I have gleamed from previous books have left me hungry for more, and I found myself frustrated at not really learning anything new in The Skull Throne (except for the final page... that final line from the Consort left me with goosebumps). That said, this did not detract much from my overall enjoyment of the book. 

All in all The Skull Throne is another cracking instalment from Brett that should satisfy most fans and leave them hungry for more. Brett skilfully continues to build upon the layers of his world as he sets things up for the big finale in the next book. I for one cannot wait to see what is going to happen next, and I would recommend this book to anyone with even a remote interest in speculative fiction. 

4 out of 5 stars!

A review copy was provided. 

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


Hey Peeps!

Well after a few weeks off due to family circumstances and illness I am back and feeling refreshed and raring to go.

Just a few things to get out of the way. I am still waiting to hear back from Daniel Polansky and Jay Kristoff in regards to their interviews. Both are extremely busy at the moment, but heres hoping we can sort something out as soon as possible. In the mean time you should all be reading their work! Both are incredibly talented writers and extremely down to earth and friendly. So get out there and buy their books!

I can announce that I will also hopefully be interviewing David M. Henley in the near future. I just have to finalise details with Harper Voyager in the near future, and my interview should coincide with the release of his upcoming book entitled Convergence.

I have plenty of reviews coming up too, including The Mechanical by Ian Tregillis, A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab, Those Above Daniel Polansky, and The Skull Throne by Peter V. Brett.

So stay tuned peeps... exciting times ahead!

Book Review - Hunt for Valamon by DK Mok

Every now and again an author blows me away. It doesn't happen often, but I can distinctly remember instances in the past when it has. Joe Abercrombie's The Blade Itself, GRRM's A Game of Thrones and Kameron Hurley's The Mirror Empire all feature in prominently in my memory. And now I can add DK Mok's Hunt for Valamon to that list. Recommended to me by author Mitchell Hogan (whose work is also amazing), I approached Hunt for Valamon with much excitement and some trepidation. Would I love it? Did Mitchell steer me up the wrong tree in his recommendation? Would I have to write a poor review for a book that failed to meet my expectations? Well, I am glad to report that I did love it, and that I now believe Mok is going to be one of the next big things in Australian speculative fiction. 

Hunt for Valamon tells the tale of Valamon, the Crown Prince of the Talgaran Empire. Considered by many to be a simpleton, he is deemed unfit to rule despite being the oldest son of King Delmar. When he is suddenly kidnapped by unknown forces the realm puts together a rescue effort made up of Elhan, a woman whose fighting skills are unparalleled, and Seris, a priest whose healing art is hindered by the rules imposed on him by his religious order. These two champions must work together and reconcile their differences if they are to rescue the Crown Prince, and in doing so prevent a bloody and violent war from breaking out.

Hunt for Valamon is an original, fast paced and fascinating tale that kept me riveted from start to finish. One of the first things I noticed when reading Hunt for Valamon was just how tight and enthralling the plot was. Mok brilliantly uses different points of view to add meat to the bone, and I loved how my perception of characters was turned on its head as the story unfolded. The idea of a quest fantasy is not new, but Mok uses it in such a way that it felt both fresh and yet wonderfully familiar. In fact, the more I read the more I became convinced that I was reading something very special. The story just got better and better, and at no stage did I feel any lull. 

Mok's characterisation is also top notch, and her ability to grab me emotionally and keep me glued to the tale reminded me of when I first read Robin Hobb many years ago. I fell in love with Elhan and Seris, and their changing relationship was one of the highlights of this book. I also adored the evolution and mystery that surrounded Valamon, and his point of view chapters raised many questions about him and how people perceived him. I also was amazed at how Mok was able to make me feel many different emotions at different stages throughout the story. This is actually harder then it sounds, and most writers cannot pull it off. Mok kept me so emotionally involved in the story via her characters that at times I literally felt like I was there participating in the events being played out on the pages before me. Even her minor characters were fascinating and had an impact on both the story and me as the reader. 

Hunt for Valamon also incorporates cracking action that is both well described and choreographed. I loved the fight scenes, and I thought they added a real layer of excitement to the story. The world building is solid and familiar (medieval fantasy setting) with a tinge of modernism via Mok's use of language and humour. I personally loved this, but some readers may prefer more traditional language. The conclusion to Hunt for Valamon was also very satisfying and surprising, and readers will be left happy yet yearning for more. 

If I had one small criticism it would be that I wanted a map to reference all of the destinations that were described in the book. I am a map geek, and I feel this would have added another amazing layer to an already stunning book. 

All in all Mok has stormed onto speculative fiction scene with Hunt for Valamon. It is hard to believe that this is just her second book (her first being The Other Tree). Hunt for Valamon is an amazing, refreshing yet familiar fantasy quest that left me floored and wanting more. I am now a converted Mokian (yeah that's right, all of you Whovians, Trekkers, etc... Mokians are a rising force!) who cannot wait for her next release. I highly recommend Hunt for Valamon for anyone even remotely interested in speculative fiction. It is truly something special. 

5 out of 5 stars.

A review copy was provided.