Saturday, May 30, 2015

Shadow Revolution: Crown and Key # 1 by Clay & Susan Griffith

Having read the Vampire Empire stories by Clay and Susan Griffith and immensely enjoyed them, this new series, Crown and Key was something I was eagerly waiting to get started on. Set in a steampunk-ish early Victorian London and featuring some mind-bending magic mixed with alchemy taking on fearsome monsters, the first instalment in this series kicks some serious ass and then some. The story plays out non-stop - like a full-throated nitro-fuelled jet ride straight into an action-junkie’s nightmare even as we fall in love with the new lead pair of characters the author-duo paint up effortlessly. For those pining for Adele and Gareth from their earlier books, now you got the dashing Simon and beautiful Kate to cheer for!

The realm’s last defence are an unlikely pair of magicians – a roguish womanizer who’s actually the last of the “scribes” left in England matched up against a self-possessed earnest alchemist.  Samuel Archer apprentices to the enigmatic and reluctant Nick – and is actually the very few “scribes” left alive. Those who can effectively use runes and access the strength and power of ‘aether’ for magical deeds. Nick, as he loves saying is a jack of all trades and master of none – is a bit of a mystery and prefers his glass of whiskey to running after damsels in distress or otherwise.

However the dark grey streets of London are being haunted by a darkness – an otherworldly force slowly spreading its tentacles – and riding this darkness is werewolf Greta: a monstrously powerful werewolf who’s had some history with these two and now is hell bent on consolidating all the werewolves into some kind of a devil’s army. A werewolf attack in the streets of London accidently puts the duo in contact with another werewolf hunter, Malcolm Macfarlane. And the party-circles of London which Simon frequents to keep his fa├žade up – introduces him to the charming and beautiful Kate Anstruther, a self-possessed and brilliant alchemist. When her sister gets abducted by the same werewolf gang that Simon and Co were chasing after – the conspiracy takes a darker and more personal turn. After this, the story takes wings and no prisoners. Hurtling along at a breakneck pace, the rest of the story follows Simon and his band take on the might of Greta and her army – some secrets spilling on the sides, a lot more questions raised about this conspiracy, a bit of backstory and world building in process and hell of a lot of swashbuckling adventure and action sequences that should excite any Michael Bay- Guy Ritchie disciples to sit up and take note. Won’t be surprised if this one gets commissioned to be on the big screen soon!

So what the Griffith couple do well is build up endearing characters whom we grow to love and care for. With Simon Archer – going through an existential crisis and coming to terms with his powers and destiny, they give us an excellent lead character who slips between the roles of an effective charmer and the reluctant hero effortlessly. Kate Anstruther, the other lead is a strong female character – completely in control of her life, self-made and possessed of such ferocious self-confidence! There is a sweet little romantic sub-plot going on here hidden behind all that throwaway violence that permeates the entire book. The others like Malcolm, the gruff straight-talking hunter or the resourceful ass-kicking Penny who runs a “weapons” shop or the silent and loyal Hogwarth are all worthy additions to the plot and provide for most of the colour in the story.

That said, this isn’t a book that pretends to have a depth of world building and characterization. It makes no bones about what it is. Pure unadulterated fun. That’s what you get. Like a summer blockbuster with the bombs flying and CGI effects galore. This one’s like that. Taking no breather, the book reads like a runaway action movie and features some mind-blowing action set pieces. It’s the first book and so sets in place a lot of the staples that will drive the plot forwards in the coming books ( and hey they are coming fast and furious right on the heels of this one!)

Bill it as either an urban paranormal mystery or a gas-lamp fantasy, The Shadow Revolution definitely delivers the goods. What it promises is oodles of light-hearted fun and non-stop action. Full of monsters straight from your worst nightmares pitted against a bunch of dashing heroes and beautiful heroines who can kick butts. Add some elements of steampunk and a wild dash of adventure, this forms the perfect summer read for 2015. This one releases on June 2nd - Go grab your copy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Interview with Ishbelle Bee, author of The Singular and Extraordinary tale of Mirror and Goliath

So a few weeks back, I had decided to try my hands at reading a debut novel - from Angry Robot - The singular and extraordinary tale of Mirror and Goliath - a book that simply blew me away with its twisted dark fairy-tale cum horror story narrative set in a Victorian England and featuring some of the most enigmatic and unforgettable characters.

So the folks at Angry Robot were kind enough to connect me to Ishbelle Bee for a Q&A on her novel, her writing and lots more! Let's give a rousing welcome to Izzy!

1. First of all, for those who are not familiar with your work, tell us a bit about your new book, The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror & Goliath. 
Mirror & Goliath is a fairy tale set in the Victorian period.  A little girl is locked inside a grandfather clock and she is rescued by a policeman who becomes her supernatural guardian. The Lord of the Underworld orders his assassin/son Mr Loveheart to hunt her down because he wants to eat her and absorb her powers.
2. How did you go about drawing up the characters of Mirror & John LoveHeart?
Mirror was inspired by the powerful, matriarchal Bene Gesserit in Frank Herbert’s DUNE of 1965. I wanted a ‘Reverend Mother’/ priestess type character in the guise of a little girl. I was also interested in creating a character who was vessel for something else and which played with the idea of exorcisms and demonic possession.
Mr Loveheart was inspired by Gene Wilder’s portrayal of Willy Wonka and David Bowie’s portrayal of Jareth in the film Labyrinth. There are also some elements of Peter Pan about him. I wanted him to have an obsession with good quality cake as I get really naffed off when I eat a dry bit of sponge!
3. While there are tons of interesting side-characters I want you to expound on, I will not be greedy and for now settle just on Goliath, who has been my absolute favorite in the book. Tell us the inspiration for Goliath.

The character of Goliath was going to be priest as I wanted, initially, to write a book about exorcisms and the idea of having a demon inside a child. Goliath is huge, hairy and wondrous.  I suppose the inspiration behind his character is King Arthur’s Knights which reflect his purity and bravery. He encompasses elements of the chivalrous and has a huge heart and great love for his ward Mirror.

4. Is this going to be a standalone? Or can we expect another visit to the weird and wonderful fairy tale world of Mirror and Goliath?

No, this book isn’t a standalone. The second book in the series  is being published in August and I have written a further two books of the Peculiar adventures of Mr Loveheart, and I will be working on another one this year. I have also written a ‘Christmas Special’ book - set oddly enough at Christmas! - which features an adventure with Mr Loveheart whilst he’s doing his Christmas shopping. The characters of Mirror and Goliath however (at the moment) don’t appear in any future books, but I have been thinking of a possible story set in Egypt which I might write next year involving them.

5. How did you start writing ? Was there a particular book or moment that spurred you on?

Boredom and isolation spurned me on.  I have been writing since I was a little girl - really crappy poetry, short stories and weird film scripts. I was in my late twenties when I started writing novels.

6. Tell us a bit about the whole publishing story behind your debut. I’m sure there’s a tale there.

I wrote Mirror & Goliath and its sequel The Butterfly Girl in 2012 whilst I was working full time and when I had completed them I started looking for a literary agent. It took me 6 months to find representation. I signed with Bryony Woods in 2013 and six months later I signed a two book deal with Angry Robot.

7.  Any insights you want to share to the aspiring authors out there?

Only write what you want to write and don’t seek a career as a writer because you want fame and fortune. That really pisses me off, when people just want to make millions. I recently had a conversation with an aspiring author who was purely concerned with how much money he would earn. If your prime concern is money and a huge twitter following then you’re not a writer- you’re just a fame seeker. Find a different career path.  You should do it because you love to write and for no other reason.

8. What is the hardest thing about writing? Writing Urban-Fantasy in particular?

In relation to urban-fantasy my main concern is characters. The world around them is a theatrical backdrop so my world building is secondary and adapts for the characters.

9. What kind of books do YOU read? Any favorites?

Here’s a few of my favourite books-
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Martian Time Slip by Philip K Dick
Mary Reilly by Valerie Martin
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

10. What’s next? What are you working on now?

I am currently writing my fourteenth book, so I am sitting on a rather large pile of books, like a grumpy wizard in an occult library. The book I am writing at the moment is about the Scottish witch trials. It’s based on historical accounts whilst blending fairytale elements and I’m really excited about it. Sadly, I can’t tell you any more, but watch this space!

THANK YOU very much for the interview!

Monday, May 18, 2015

TV Trailer: Supergirl

It's a great time to be a Superhero fan, right? After the brilliant Avengers-2: Age of Ultron and all the good stuff on TV around Arrow, Dr. Who - Now comes another super-hero franchise that introduces us to the cousin of the most famous flying hero on Earth ( albeit from Krypton!): Yup. Supergirl, cousin to Kal-El.

My opinion: The first look trailer seems a bit they're trying too hard. And the action-sequences are...clumsy..( and am being generous here) Not sure if these guys can pull off an entire season of Kara Zor-El playing mousy assistant and then playing the gleeful girl who discovers super-powers and then squeals in delight..sigh..I hope..I really hope things will perk up a bit!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Mad Max: Fury Road - The Best Epic Action Movie of the Year.

I watched Mad Max: Fury Road yesterday – one among the very few who ran to catch it on an early show Friday release, the coveted first day. The theatre was empty except for a few couples in corners and probably a few die-hards in the last row. With Mel Gibson’s iconic character still grinning gleefully in my head, I settled down as the lights doused and the movie started.

The Dust-bowl nightmarish version of a post-apocalyptic world with scarce resources and men turned into animals unfolded magnificently across the screen with the voice of Tom Hardy playing Max Rockatansky – savagely grabbing and biting off the head of a long-tailed two-headed lizard in the opening scene while reminiscing about the fact that he is the one who runs from both the living and the dead. It sets the tone for the rest of the movie. Weird and demented as only George Miller’s vision can be, unapologetically brutal - all brakes taken out, no punches pulled and gloriously riotous in terms of the non-stop action thrills. What a movie!! I am going on to lay my neck on the line and claim it to be Hollywood’s best offering in 2015. If ever a movie deserved to be watched on big screen ( try IMAX), then

The movie – a bizarro punk-rock fuelled incendiary fireball of a movie – is a welcome return of the iconic mad roadster, Mad Max to the big screen. A post-apocalyptic world where water is scarce and controlled by mad men, oil is precious and bullets are farmed. A beautiful and hostile ravaged world unlike any other where the dunes stretch for miles and canyon storms can be electrical and fatal – stray a little and you get fried.

So Max, our hero is a drifter taken prisoner by the War-Boys gang who need him as a universal donor. War-Boys are a devotional lot, each lusting for a brave death and entry to the “Valhalla” thus proving their alpha-maleness. They in turn look up to their leader, Immortan Joe – a patriarch residing like a mad emperor within his citadel, rationing water for the general populace and is proud of his male bastion. A demented soul who paints his face geisha white, needs a fearsome breathing mask and keeps a fresh stock of “breeders” to forward his war-lord legacy. [ All played by leggy supermodels including Rosie-Huntington Whitely and others ] So when his favourite Imperator Furiosa decides to “traitor him” and makes a run with his war-rig meant to scavenge for oil and bullets – along with his favourite set of breeders, things start off on a tense note. The levels of tension go ratchetting up as Joe sends his whole hunting party in hot pursuit across the arid desert – straight into a mad man’s nightmare, Frank Herbert’s Dune as painted by a raving lunatic. An absolutely gorgeous CGI-created electrical storm that envelopes them.

Into the fray comes Nux – a devout war-boy who lusts to attain the gates of Valhalla. Played almost to the level of furious maniacal genius of Joker, by Nicolas Hoult. And as he screams, What a day! What a lovely day! We are happy to scamper along right into the heart of this storm. An epic road battle that doesn’t give us a breather right until the end of first half.

The second half is slower. Nuanced. Surprisingly a lot of subtlety and heart thrown in between the action sequences – where George Miller brings in a glimmer of a plot where Furiosa is leading the girls to a promised ‘Green Place’. But as things are wont to go, dreams are reduced to dust flying away on the desert wind and they are forced to go back – And then things go straight into the mouth of an oil-fisted, gasoline-guzzling, death-cultist Hell. Complete with a bizarre guitarist who plays , death metal to the sounds of war-gongs and leads a legion of metallic four-wheeled monster vehicles running as much on gas as much as adrenaline on an epic road-battle that seems to last for ever.

The movie in spite of probably going to be looked upon as the perfect imprint for action-movies in the future is surprisingly feminist. Charlize Theron leads the troupe of strong feminist gang. A bald-headed, muscular tough-talking saviour-angel who reminds us of Sigourney Weaver (from Alien franchise). She’s probably going to an iconic figure, a woman road-warrior with enough grief and guilt in her outlook on life and still can shoot a mean blunderbuss or swing a machete. Tom Hardy is not a speck on Mel Gibson. He plays second fiddle to the tougher Charlize - speaking only in Bane-style grunts and lacks Gibson’s aura or panache. But he still makes up on the dead-pan dialogue delivery and then he lets his eyes do some talking. Hoult who begins pretty well, by the second half loses his God-struck attitude and is reduced to a spectator to the fireworks.

There are lot of small touches of Miller to this fantasy movie – with the outlandish costumes, bizarre sets, mutant crow-like beings on stilts walking across dried ponds, a baby’s mask on the back of a muscular hunk, the characterization of Rictus – Joe’s idiotic son whose is a WWE wrestler with as much brains. It’s manic genius – when it comes to the inventiveness and bottomless depravity. So much so that I’m hoping Allan Moore pens a graphic novel spin-off to the series. Maybe my only complaint would be that things were tied up too neatly at the end without any room for deduction or speculation.

Nevertheless, this ranks as one of the best action movies I’ve witnessed in sometime. A rocket-fuelled romper that stomps home the message of environmental decay, pits matriarchal societal values against a tyrranical one without being overly preachy – Hell, there’s no time to take a breath even as the non-stop epic road battle rages on -  gloriously painted on screen by riveting CGI and some mind-numbing skull-splitting badass action sequences. A totally worthy addition to the Mad Max franchise. One that I hope has many more additions to it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Red Country by Joe Abercrombie

The Red Country by Joe Abercrombie has been the only book written by my favorite grimdark author which I had not read. Perhaps I had been saving the best for the last. I had left the World of the First Law far behind and already switched loyalties to the cunning Father Yarvi and his rag-tag bunch of rebels in the cruel and cold Viking-esque world of the Shattered Sea. But I had to come back – a full circle to the blood-drenched black and vile country that Joe has so vividly and expertly created in his past few books. The Circle of the World – where all his First Law based books are set in. This time, for one last plunge. Back into familiar grounds – a surfeit of bloody corpses, chopped heads and brutal violence – all laced with dark black humor and razor-sharp banter that digs deep and comes up with bitter truths about life. 

 Red Country is Western spaghetti by way of the good, the bad and the Joe Abercrombie. It is truly amazing how he manages to subvert the tropes (This time – a lot of strong ones that smack of the Wild West during the Californian gold rush period) we are familiar with  [ the lawless western frontier town run by a Mayor, the bar where all the ‘shoot-outs’ happen, the wagons and the large groups that trudged west to dig a gold nugget and find their calling ] and how he maims the predictability associated with such. Not just maims. He has a habit of taking an axe and then chopping off body parts without remorse.

Much like Lamb. Who is Lamb you say? A man who’s made his mark on Fantasy literature a few years back with his fearsome repute of being Bloody Logen Ninefingers. While Abercrombie never comes out in the open and gives us his name, for anyone familiar with the First Law trilogy shouldn’t have issues relating to this man. Berserker, mad raging killer let loose – we’re still not privy to his secrets. As to whether this is indeed a mental makeover he does himself or is it the Spirits getting inside him?

But am getting ahead of myself here. Red Country is basically a tale of redemption. Every main character in the book ( and there are quite a few ones we have come to know from his earlier books!) is broken, has had regrets in the past that they are guilty or ashamed of and in a lonely outpost town at the very edge of civilization, they all yearn to attain that redemption. Make no mistake, there are villains in the story – characters so vile and black that you can see them from miles off – but they only serve as the rein-posts on which the main guys would rest their galloping black stallions and try to rein in. to do good one last time before the wide open gully of guilt swallows them whole.

The story starts with Shy South, a young woman with a colorful checkered past trying to live straight – with her adoptive father, Lamb – some sort of a coward with a mysterious past – coming back to their farm. Only to find their farm burning, a body swinging in the air and Shy’s younger siblings, Pit and Ro missing. It’s a spectacular start to the book and Abercrombie sets the tone straight on – this isn’t going to be a picnic. On the trail of a gang of child kidnappers who are casual about killing and loot – out into the Ghost-ridden plains and the Far Country – their eventual destination being a lawless and unpredictably violent Frontier town called Crease. Enroute, they join up with a Fellowship – a merry band of men and women looking to make their living in this town caught up in the feverish gold-rush.  However the town throws up its own band of merry-makers who want a piece of the pie and have their own hidden agenda. Like pit Lamb in a circle of death against another Northman. Much like old times.  And into this swirling mad chaos steps in the infamous soldier of fortune, Nicomo Cosca. With his mercenary company looking to capture the rebels against the Union. You would assume this is madness enough – with Joe setting in climactic action set-pieces with its dizzying highs and frustrating lows. Only to plod on again. And the mire only gets murkier.

The book is alive and brimming with broken people with a past haunting their actions. A ghostly whisper at their shoulder guiding their flawed decisions – driving the plot forwards like runaway stallions celebrating their freedom from the wagon-yoke.  Take Shy – our leading lady. A fine reversal of tropes wherein she is initially presented as the tough as nails lady who needs no protection. Only softening a bit towards the end – her feelings for Temple, a disgraced lawyer who is ashamed of his past for not having stood by for what is right – a clear indication of the warm-hearted girl beneath that prickly hard exterior. Temple is a delight. I loved this character the most [ after Lamb of course!] A man who does a 180-degree U-turn on his disgraceful life and develops a semblance of dignity by the end of the events described. It is easy to despise him in the beginning and even right through the book, he makes no bones about being courageous or standing up for what is right. He leads his life – like a leaf loose in the wind – battered by fate, going wherever the tide turns. But as is with most characters in Joe’s world, this is the guy who undergoes the best transformation and for the better.

Nicomo Cosca, embittered by his fall from grace in Best Served Cold, is back in blazing form in Red Country. He is like a spring – all bravado and blustering  drunk, the Old Man makes the best quips about life’s uncertainties and is a pleasure to get back in touch with. There are countless others who make their mark in their brief appearance in this long tale – Dab Sweet, the scout with a legend larger than life, Savian the silent tough guy with his own secrets, Majud the merchant who wants to carve a living in the slushes of the Gold-rush town, Nicomo’s miserable bunch of mercenaries with their own batch of eccentricities. All of them add their unique stamp to the proceedings.

Lamb – sadly though doesn’t have a POV. In spite of being the clear star of the whole narrative. Indeed, driving most of the plot and majority of the action forward like an unstoppable freight-train. While this may have robbed us of his own internal demons, I think witnessing the fearsome bloody acts through the eyes of others itself was reward enough to have read this book. For those who were left in the lurch at the end of the First Law trilogy wondering about the fate of the man they all loved, here he is in blazing red hot form. With dollops of quiet wisdom and skull-splitting badassery on the display, it should be enough to keep us fans satisfied for sometime now.

Of all the standalone novels, I think the Red Country is indeed the finest by Joe Abercrombie. But in someways, I frankly felt like the book was never going to end. It was like being caught in the middle of a tsunami – being thrashed around, flung up high to dizzying heights only to be crashed down deep to frustrating lows. A meandering journey for close to two hundred pages – wherein the initial sense of urgency and helplessness of having lost the kids and the need to track down the kidnappers is smothered over – by other fears and adventures aplenty these guys face. In fact, each time I felt I reached the climax of the book only to be cheated and the narrative to plunge back again to another harrowing journey. It served well in terms of expanding Joe’s world – all the way from Near Country at the border of Union and the Kingdom – across the dangerous plains where Ghosts raid the parties crossing – to the Far Country. And beyond. In to the realms of the Dragon People. Now that was a mystery I would have loved to learn more but I cannot reveal without spoiling it for folks who haven’t read this one.

Red Country is vintage Joe Abercrombie in piping red form. A scarlet tide that bursts forth and lets loose to form a torrential torrent of blood that never lets up. A novel that redeems a few characters and then some that don’t. It’s like a refreshing plunge back into pools we know and are familiar with. The vile and the black splattered with blood. Getting another chance to witness the scintillating acts of a bloody hero.  One last time.  You know you want to dip your hands back into this mire of cynicism and misery deep unto your elbows knowing full well that the warmth and wit would never stray far. Moments of love and laughter, few and far between the harrowing visceral action set-pieces but still there. A great book as all other Joe’s fine works.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

COVER REVEAL: The Last Mortal Bond by Brian Staveley ( Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne # 3)

Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series is shaping up to be one of the finest works in epic fantasy - with book two ( Read my review here) having raised the expectations to beyond the Kent-kissing stars, I have seriously been smitten by Brian's writing.  Yeah. He knows how to stick a knife in your gut and then wrench it hard - imagine that pain. The wait for the third book is perhaps akin to that. Only a thousand times worse. But hey good news!!

Tor revealed the fantastic cover for the third book, called The Last Mortal Bond. Along with a very insightful story behind-the-scenes of how this came about. You don't want to miss up reading this one.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

A book pitched as The Hunger Games meets The Road, the marketing blurbs raise such ludicrous hopes, don't they? While Katniss Everdeen hasn't been my favorite hero/heroine, Cormac McCarthy's powerful and evocative exploration of the human drama set in a post-apocalyptic setting really rocked it for me when I read it years back.

So, the question that plagued me before even I started with The Fire Sermon, Francesca Haig's debut novel that saw a bloodbath between major production houses to acquire the movie rights and is now commissioned to be a movie soon from Dreamworks, is it really that good?

The story is a suspense chase-thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world - where timelines are split into the Before and the After ( when the world was destroyed by fire - "Before the blast, they say there'd been sermons about fire, about the end of the world. The fire itself gave the last sermon; after that there were no more" ) and the society split into the Alphas and Omegas. Everybody born are twins, one a perfectly healthy baby while the other deformed with a hand or eye missing or one too many. Cass, our protagonist however is born without any deformity. and thus compared to Zach, her twin - she seemed perfectly normal. until the visions came. She was a seer, not uncommon, with the ability to witness the future. But Cass ultimately has to pay the price that every other Omega does. Ostracized and forced to live in an Omega settlement - where poverty and famine are the order of the day, Cass resents her twin his 'rights'. This anger and fear snowballs through the entire book - and this bond between Cass and Zach is what drives the narrative forward. Cass is captured and locked in a prison - by Zach who has risen through the ranks and now is a hot-shot among the Council, a sort of tyrannical ruling society. 

But Cass is not your typical Omega ( of course not!) - Francesca sets her up for the Hero's quest: a mythical island where Omegas live free of fear and oppression. To this end, the narrative sees "journeys" as Cass and Kip, another inmate from the jail whom she saves - seek to get to the mythical Island - aided by Cass' prophetic vision. There are problems aplenty, adventure and the suspense holds till the end. The plot-twists in the end nicely set up things for the next book in the series trilogy.

What really blew me was the stark, desolate world of the After - four hundred years after a nuclear meltdown - how it comes alive in Francesca's poetic writing and begs to be a character that remains with you after you're done with the book - It is textured world-building done commendably well. The ruined landscape, the claustrophobic tight spaces, the divisive nature of a crippled society living in fear and anger - all of this is very beautifully laid out by Francesca.

But apart from this, I found little of interest that "hooked" me. Her characterization really didn't do it for me. Cass as the main character was strictly okay. Confused and never aware of her "special" powers, she was a classic trope. I really didn't think she had changed much throughout this journey. Her love-story with Kip too left me flat and cold. The side-characters  - (Hello Piper! You were an after-thought to bring in a love-triangle?) too didn't really pique my interest. That said, the antagonists Zach and The Confessor were pretty interesting. I felt the novel could have done exceedingly well to have a dual narrative. One from Zach's perspective as well. [ Kind of doing justice to everything else in the book, right? Like History cleaved in two, Society cleaved in two, the Narrative also could have benefited from an extra perspective.]

While the premise of twins connected inexplicably to each other [ If one died, the other too dropped dead] was pretty intriguing, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why an Alpha would want to kill an Omega - knowing that it would kill anyways another Alpha too. Francesca, who's had numerous poems published before this, has a clear and forceful manner of writing. Lucid, beautiful expositions timed well enough to keep the suspense from flagging. However - my lack of investment in the lead character really made this read a bit uninspiring. Plus a world where Technology is abhorred for the evil it wrought about, there are still power-hungry ass-wipes who don't learn a thing from history and want to bring back the machines? Arghhh. Nope.

Also in a genre - bursting with too much drivel right now [The term 'YA post-apocalyptic' brings out a yawn from me, not to mention innumerable comparisons to some books I haven't liked!] this book does nothing to bring in "wow" factor and change my opinion. In spite of most characters being in their twenties, the treatment is mostly young-adult and that doesn't win my vote either.

So in conclusion, while The Fire Sermon marks a good debut for Francesca Haig - set in a wonderfully imagined scorched-earth-after-apocalypse setting coupled with strong lyrical writing that brings the suspenseful chase alive - things bode well enough for a second book. But for me, personally, this book dropped below expectations. But it's just me. If you love a desolate world, social commentary on the divisiveness of haves and have-nots, a heroine who gets the visions of future and is out to save the world while being desperately on the run - then perhaps this one's for you.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Unseemly Science ( Fall of the Gas-Lit Empire # 2) by Rod Duncan

Elizabeth Barnabus continues to plot the downfall of the Gas-Lit Empire, being a pivotal cog in that wheel of Revolution and Unseemly Science, book two in the series by Rod Duncan transports us back to the wonderful Victorian-era England split into the Kingdom and the Republic.

The first book, Bullet-Catcher's Daughter was a pretty fascinating and solid read - giving us Elizabeth a spunky heroine leading a double life back in the Republic having escaped the clutches of the  notorious Duke of Northampton ( Still to make an appearance, guessing Rod's going to bring him in the finale!) back in the Kingdom who's had an arrest warrant out for her. Now Elizabeth ( and her false identity twin brother, Edwin) poses as an intelligence gatherer - with quiet some reputation in closed circles. However the events of the first book forces her into days of seclusion, leading a quiet life on Betsy, her houseboat moored in the Canal.

The second book opens with her witnessing the hanging of Alice Carter, the false duchess and then her protege Julia Swain - wanting to escape domesticity and marriage - signing up to volunteer for a new charitable organization in town. Run by the mysterious Mrs. Raike, Elizabeth egged on by Julia, decides to attend a volunteer march and the warning bells don't stop - as she suspects that Mrs. Raike is hiding more than what she is letting on. And then things come to a head - with a new law passed that would extradite the immigrants from the Kingdom living now in the Republic - back home. And then there are these letters from Julia - now in the northern stretches of the Kingdom, trying to solve the mystery of missing ice-blocks from the ice-farming community of Derbyshire.

To escape the clutches of law, Elizabeth flees to Derbyshire - along with some harrowing adventures on the way - and then realizes the mystery surrounding Mrs. Raike and the missing ice is much deeper and murkier than appears at the surface. How she comes across an "unseemly science" in uncovering this process and runs foul of some really vile guys forms the rest of the story.

Some characters from the first book reappear here - most refreshingly, John Farthing of the International Patents Office. Rod is playing it slow and steady with Elizabeth and John and I am pretty curious to know where the footsie dance is going to lead to. Julia Swain has a much larger role in this one but sadly, she still remains a character yet to strike a chord with me. A paler shadow, earnest student but nevertheless two-dimensional. New characters are introduced and chief among them that I loved was the pompous lawyer Yan Romello and his references to the "Piano falling from the sky".

The pace of this book is more sedate - in fact it takes about two-thirds of the story before it really starts to sizzle and simmer. The charm and mystery of the travelling circus from the first book is missing, Indeed, the ice-farming techniques of the Derby farms up north failed to hold the same level of interest for me. Another thing that sorely disappointed were the nuggets of truth from the Bullet-Catcher's Handbook. Here too, chapters started off with fascinating observations from both this handbook and another one called 'From Revolution' - but those lacked the biting stark feel as those in book-one. Let's just say some of the aphorisms or observations didn't sit well with me, maybe its just me. Elizabeth's suspicions about Mrs. Raike and her adventures with dodging the law by pure ingenuity takes up majority of the first half of the book. But where Rod departs from the first book significantly is the storytelling and headlong pacing by the last thirds. The atmosphere suddenly grows colder, darker and the tunnels within the ice-farms form the perfect setting for gothic horror. It's a lot more brutal - with the mystery surrounding the "Unseemly Science" being revealed to us in the final few chapters.

But Elizabeth still remains a fascinating character - spunky, bold and imaginative in her pursuit of truth and justice. Rod Duncan's world is fleshed out a little more by the second book and we know we are in for a calamitous ride before the Revolution tips things over. The author boldly touches on topics of gender equality and women empowerment - as Mrs. Raike's organization strives for these - but keeps the reading light and interesting. Fans of steampunk and alternate history are going to dig this mystery novel - that has shades of horror as well liberally thrown in towards the end. A solid addition to the Gas-Lit Empire series and I'm purchasing the ticket for the next stop for sure!