Sunday, 8 January 2012

City of Light and Shadow by Ian Whates

Reviewed by Emilia Etherheart

The third book in "The City of a Hundred Rows" series, this review is based on the electronic version supplied by Angry Robot.

What has gone before ...

Book One (City of Dreams and Nightmares) introduces our heroes - Tom, a street nick (urchin) and Kat, a fellow street nick but older, wiser and tougher. Tom gets lost in the lower levels of Thaiburley, the city of a hundred rows, and Kat is employed to return him to his rightful level. As they make their way across the city they find all is not well, uncovering plots against both the city and the Prime Master, leader of the city.

Book Two (City of Hope and Despair) introduces a new enemy, the Soul Thief, a nightmare from Kat's childhood. We learn more of Kat's background, the political structure of the Heights, and how daily life works in the under-city. At the end of the book the two companions have separated, Kat staying in Thaiburley and Tom going north to the Citadel of Thaiss.

Book Three follows our heroes Tom and Kat as they go their separate ways to save the citizens of Thaiburley from a mysterious ailment, bone flu, and the Soul Thief respectively. Towards the end of the book, various threads had come together, and I was looking at the percentage bar on the Kindle thinking, "It can't end here". And it doesn't. As I'm a friend of Ian's on Facebook, I asked him about whether there was a sequel on his launch thread ... he's remained mysteriously quiet! I hope so, as it raises more questions than it answers.

The lead characters are strong and well realised, with a good supporting cast. Overall the books explore the political structures created by a ruling class and its impact on the under-class, friendship, betrayal and what happens when people meet their idols (or even their goddess).

Looking forward to reading the next book, assuming there is one, and anything else Ian brings out.

Temeraire

The first of the Temeraire novels by Naomi Novik is, if I were forced to use one word to describe it, charming. Set in a well imagined world, during the Napoleonic War, where dragons coexist and are trained by humans (or maybe its the other way around) to serve as messengers, fighting dragons and so on and so forth the novel takes a naval captain and promptly drops him into an alien situation when he captures a French frigate and discovers a dragon egg in the hold.

The characters are well realised and the dragons, in particular, are beautifully written and well wrought. The relationships they have with their riders is particularly interesting and Novik's dynamic is well thought out, if perhaps slightly flawed. The conflicting natures of the dragon corp and the navy are well illustrated and set out, with the navy perhaps winning out slightly over the dragon riders in terms of discipline and kindness.

If the book does have a flaw its that the twist is too obvious; it really didn't come as a surprise to me.

All in all though Temeraire is a charming read.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Graphic Novel Reviews

Back to work today (so naturally I'm blogging... perhaps not my wisest move). I managed to do a little reading over my break and thought I'd post some reviews (as much to get more posts on the site as anything else).

First up we have Victorian Undead 2: Sherlock Holmes versus Dracula (with a slight detour through Jekyl and Hyde), an alternate Victorian world where the great detective deals with various undead threats (the first series had a zombie outbreak in London with Moriaty as its mastermind). Ian Edginton has a fairly good handle on Holmes and Watson's voices and his world building is logical and ties in to the first miniseries. Importantly his Holmes joins the investigation of Dracula's appearance in Britain with a sensible reason for doing so rather than simply being shoehorned in, and Edginton ably contrasts the logical methods that Holmes employs and Van Helsing's faith based perspective. It's not perfect, there are places where the narrative jars a little and a few parts do seem very like Kim Newman's Anno Dracula series; although I can't tell if that's simply because modern writers look at Dracula and give him similar motives (Bram Stoker if I recall never really gives the Count a reason for coming to England, aside possibly from him seeking new blood, literally).

Gladstone's School for World Conquerors is somewhat different, a school for supervillains in a world where a truce between heroes and villains means that superhero and villain battles have been reduced to entertainment; there's just one hitch, the kids at the school don't know it and think its all real. If we step over the issues this raises, like why any self respecting supervillain would keep villaining if they were always going to lose, the comic is enjoyable, the children suitably bratty and the situation that grows up out of both the ban on real villaining and the children's discovery that their parents are both laughing stocks and losers makes for a good read. Villavert makes you like the kids and care when their illusions are shattered. The place he takes the first volume to is interesting and sets up things for future issues (to put it bluntly, it looks like the truce is over by the end of the first volume).