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Dead Things
Dead Things
by Stephen Blackmoore
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
39 used & new from $0.91

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Can I Give it 7 Stars? Please?, August 23, 2014
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A few pages into Stephen Blackmoore's DEAD THINGS I realized I would want to start reading the sequel immediately after finishing so I took a risk and ordered BROKEN SOULS. Having finished DEAD THINGS I now recognize this was a wise decision. Yay me! Based off the cover alone my eyes would have likely skipped past this novel on a store shelf -- there's nothing wrong with it but there are a hundred trillion other urban fantasy novels with Christian McGrath covers and who has the time to sift through them all? Alas, DEAD THINGS comes with a recommendation by M.L. Brennan, whose American Vampire series turns me into a squealing fangirl. I enjoy Brennan's work because she diverges from the typical hard-boiled style urban fantasy. I enjoyed Blackmoore's novel because he embraces it with aplomb.

DEAD THINGS is a real bastard of a novel. It's edgy, it's gritty, it's bloody. It's a story about a necromancer that doesn't shy away from the black part of black magic. It's a suitably grim detective story with lots of color (mostly shades of grey) and a hell of a kick. Blackmoore succeeds in blending urban fantasy and noir in a way that many authors try and few accomplish. I've finally got the novel I originally expected of Richard Kadrey's SANDMAN SLIM, with a badass anti-hero who has seen a lot and done a whole lot worse.

Eric Carter is a necromancer. To say he's damaged goods would be an understatement. In a world where those with magical aptitude are notoriously narcissistic, Eric takes the cake. He's an angry young man with a whole lot of power and life he can't stop running away from -- even if that means associating primarily with the dead. In other words he's the perfect noir protagonist: cynical, fatalistic, and morally ambiguous. He comes with a nasty bag of tricks and he's not afraid to use it. I suspect Eric Carter would get far in an urban fantasy cage match.

Hard-boiled though he may be, Eric is also vulnerable. He left L.A. to protect those he cares about from harm. Only problem is they don't see it that way -- Eric abandoned them. But Eric isn't back in L.A. to make good with those he's wronged, he has returned to investigate the brutal murder of his sister and avenge her death. When I say brutal murder I mean absolutely freaking brutal. The investigation takes him all over the seedy underbelly of the city searching for answers to questions he's afraid to even ask. Eric even takes a journey to Mictlan, the underworld of Aztec mythology, a version of hell that's especially fitting for Los Angeles.

Along the way Eric encounters old friends and enemies. He receives the help of his old friend Alex and his ex-girlfriend Vivian. Once a petty con, Alex is now a respectable business owner who has personally seen to Eric's responsibilities in his absence. Vivian, a magician whose talents lie in healing the living, is now a doctor. Then of course there's the crime boss that scared Eric away in the first place, and he's curious to see why Eric made a return. Eric also comes into contact with the patron saint of violent death, Santa Muerte, and if ever there was a deity you wanted to avoid the attention of it's Santa Muerte. Eric takes a beating along the way, both physical and emotional but he can give as good as he gets.

Blackmoore thrusts readers into a world of violence and necromancy and it's awesome! The magic system of DEAD THINGS is especially well executed. Magic is dangerous and has a cost. Different locations have different magical flavors -- L.A. has a distinct taste. Eric can talk to the dead but that doesn't necessarily mean that the dead have much worth saying. There are limits to what can and cannot be done but Blackmoore never trots out a rule book and bludgeons readers with the mechanics of it all and yet it all has a logical application. Eric has a trick with a Sharpie marker and an adhesive name tag that I found especially useful.

DEAD THINGS is a devilishly good read. Blackmoore's tight, clipped prose and dark wit bring Eric Carter to life and his portrayal of L.A. is morbidly enchanting. This is urban fantasy noir at its best. I am so glad I ordered BROKEN SOULS in advance because once I finish typing up this review I'm picking up where DEAD THINGS left off.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Oh yeah, there's some profanity.
Violence: It's a pretty violent and gruesome read.
Sex: It's referenced though nothing explicit.

Buy DEAD THINGS and go ahead and order BROKEN SOULS while you're at it so you don't have to wait. No need to thank me, it's my job.

Nick Sharps
Elitist Book reviews
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 29, 2014 7:23 PM PDT


Half a King (Shattered Sea)
Half a King (Shattered Sea)
by Joe Abercrombie
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $16.45
62 used & new from $14.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Abercrombie Goes YA, July 16, 2014
HALF A KING by Joe Abercrombie is one of the most hyped novels of the year. Check out some of the author blurbs and you'll see what I mean. Patrick Rothfuss, Rick Riordan, Robin Hobb, and Brent Weeks are among the fantasy heavyweights heaping praise on the novel. When Abercrombie first announced HALF A KING I was anxious. He's my second favorite author and my very reason for returning to the fantasy genre, but I couldn't see how well his brutal wit and grim perspective would translate to a YA novel. You'll no doubt notice that this review has been filed under "Books We Love," but it didn't start out that way. HALF A KING is the story of Yarvi, the younger son of the king of Gettland. With only one good hand Yarvi has chosen to embrace the path of a minister rather than that of a warrior. The murder of his father (the king) and brother (the natural heir) sees Yarvi ascend to the throne. He is looked upon with contempt by his people for a perceived weakness, but he takes an oath to avenge his family regardless. Betrayed in his quest for vengeance Yarvi must use the greatest and only asset at his disposal (his mind) in order to defeat his enemies and reclaim what is rightfully his. Because I read this on my Amazon Kindle I was able to track my progress through the novel in percentages. It was also in percentages that I noticed HALF A KING gradually improve. I will openly admit that I was underwhelmed by the first 20-25% of the novel. Yarvi had all the makings of a true Abercrombie hero. He was unconventional and bore a physical handicap and he had suffered as a result. Still, Yarvi had a vanilla flavor that matched the rest of the beginning of the book. The setting of HALF A KING, the Shattered Sea, is has the trappings of a "Viking saga" (as author Myke Cole points out in his blurb) but there's little to differentiate this world from any other generic Norse-inspired fiction, save for the religion. The beginning fifth of the novel is too YA for my liking, it's like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON without dragons. It doesn't read like Abercrombie. It reminded me why I was reading books like THE BLADE ITSELF when other kids my age were still carrying around the latest Charlie Bone book. And yet... "What can you think about a cause," muttered Jaud, "when all the decent folk stand on the other side?" And yet it gets better. I continued reading because Abercrombie has never failed me before. The further I got into the novel the easier it became to forgive the bland opening. With each new conflict Yarvi encounters he became more and more compelling. It got to the point where I started thinking of him as Yarvi Sevenfingers or The Bloody-Seven (no small compliment given I consider Logen of The First Law Trilogy my all time favorite character). In Yarvi exists the literary-DNA of Abercrombie's former protagonists, and still he manages to stand on his own merits. He may not be a great warrior but he is a formidable thinker and the lessons he learnt from his mother (the queen and treasurer) and the king's minister (his mentor) frequently pop up over the course of the novel. Yarvi matures over the course of HALF A KING, growing from naive boy to wise man in a short amount of time. It is an extremely satisfying character arc, one of Abercrombie's best. "What is the world coming to when an honest man cannot burn corpses with suspicion?" asked Nothing. The other characters come to distinguish themselves as Abercrombie characters as well, especially Sumael, Shadikshirram, and the man they call Nothing. Sumael channels two of Abercrombie's extremely strong female characters, Ferro (The First Law Trilogy) and Shy South (RED COUNTRY). Shadikshirram brought to mind the fan favorite mercenary captain Nicomo Cosca (BEST SERVED COLD). And then Nothing...well I won't ruin that for anyone. Yarvi forms strong bonds throughout the book, assembling quite a band of misfits on his quest. The cast is colorful and tinged with the sadness that permeates Abercrombie's work and makes for such believable characters. The plot is largely reactive throughout the novel but once the final third kicks HALF A KING is impossible to put down. Updating my companions as I read the novel I went from "not impressed" to "getting interested" to "not bad" to "hooked" and finally "bravo!" There are a series of twists and betrayals -- the first is predictable but the rest will shock you. The violence so common in Abercrombie novels is toned down. Combat takes a backseat to cunning and negotiation, though it is by no means absent. As always the case when he writes fighting, the edges are sharp and there are no winners...only survivors. Losses present new opportunities and victories are generally Pyrrhic. There are consequences for each and every action and it is this that Abercrombie expresses so well above all other genre writers. Even his YA novel has elements of Greek tragedy and moral ambiguity, understated though they may be in the midst of his other work. This and humor. The wit on display is as dark and sharp as ever, and this is what finally won my affection. Starting out I was not a fan of HALF A KING. I saw my worst fears for the book realized but I stuck with it and my patience paid off. I wish that the book had been written twice the length as some scenes seem to end abruptly and I would have appreciated more world building. But HALF A KING isn't a novel about setting so much as it is about character, and character is something it has an abundance of. It is also perhaps the most film-friendly Abercrombie book to date. Given the current popularity of movie adaptations of YA books I can see this one getting the big screen treatment (and what a breath of fresh air that would be in the midst of all these yawn-inducing dystopias). I would hesitate to call HALF A KING a masterpiece (and it's still not my favorite Abercrombie novel) but I love it anyway. It starts out like a typical YA novel but transforms into something much greater. I can see this being a gateway drug for new readers. And who knows, HALF A KING is but the first in a trilogy and the end of the novel sees some interesting developments on the horizon. Recommended Age: 14+ Language: Nothing worse than you get on prime time television. Violence: The level of detail in the violence is on par with THE HUNGER GAMES though there is considerably less of it and the consequences are far greater. Sex: There's some hand holding, that's about it. - See more at: http://elitistbookreviews.blogspot.com/2014/04/half-king.html#sthash.WrhtDFow.dpuf


Veil of the Deserters: Bloodsounder’s Arc Book Two
Veil of the Deserters: Bloodsounder’s Arc Book Two
by Jeff Salyards
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $18.29
55 used & new from $9.00

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just Desserts, June 4, 2014
VEIL OF THE DESERTERS is the sequel to SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER by Jeff Salyards, a Sword & Sorcery novel that earned a spot in our Best of 2012 lineup. The first book in Bloodsounder's Arc unexpectedly blew me away (so much so that I read it and reviewed it twice) and I've been waiting for the sequel ever since. In the time that has passed I've read a lot of books but SCOURGE has managed to remain vivid in my imagination.

I've also come to understand (if not completely agree) with some of the criticisms leveled at the first book. This time I've got some criticisms of my own to share, though they hardly kept me from loving, what is shaping up to be, one of my favorite fantasy book series of all time.

Here's the Amazon book description:

Braylar is still poisoned by the memories of those slain by his unholy flail Bloodsounder, and attempts to counter this sickness have proven ineffectual. The Syldoonian Emperor, Cynead, has solidified his power in unprecedented ways, and Braylar and company are recalled to the capital to swear fealty. Braylar must decide if he can trust his sister, Soffjian, with the secret that is killing him. She has powerful memory magics that might be able to save him from Bloodsounder’s effects, but she has political allegiances that are not his own. Arki and others in the company try to get Soffjian and Braylar to trust one another, but politics in the capital prove to be complicated and dangerous. Deposed emperor Thumarr plots to remove the repressive Cynead, and Braylar and Soffjian are at the heart of his plans. The distance between “favored shadow agent of the emperor” and “exiled traitor” is unsurprisingly small. But it is filled with blind twists and unexpected turns. Before the journey is over, Arki will chronicle the true intentions of Emperor Cynead and Soffjian.

So VEIL OF THE DESERTERS picks up immediately after SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER leaves off. VEIL is a much larger book (nearly twice the length) but in a lot of ways it reads like the next installment in a serial. Those who complained about the length and ending of SCOURGE can consider this PART II. Neither of these books should be read as a standalone, nor should they be read out of order. This isn't a condemnation (this is a series after all) so much as it is an observation. With this sequel Salyards further develops the characters and their relationships with the world and with each other.

The characters were my favorite part of the first book. Told from the perspective of Arki, readers learn to love and loathe the Syldoon soldiers. The beautiful prose brings Arki to life. If you're going to tell a story from the perspective of a scribe it's best to make the writing reflect that and Salyards succeeds on this front. He strings vivid sentences together with a mastery I consider unrivaled, even among my favorite authors. The world portrayed in these novels could be called grimdark -- characters bear surnames like Killcoin, inns go by titles such as the Grieving Dog and there's a Forest of Deadmoss, the capital of the Syldoon empire is called Sunwrack, and the gods are deserters -- but there's an undeniable beauty that can be attributed to the prose.

In his short time with Captain Killcoin and the crew Arki has endured personal loss, though he is still an outsider. The Syldoon don't trust him and the arrival of two Memoridons, magicians that manipulate memory, only serves to pique further suspicion. Those who complained about the lack of female characters in SCOURGE (despite the presence of Lloi, a wonderfully realized character) will find much to appreciate in the Memoridons. Both are strong characters with agency, but for different reasons. Soffjian is sister to the prickly Captain Killcoin, and she can match him verbal blow for blow. Then there's Skeelana, a woman out of her element, much like Arki. These two new characters provide new opportunities and dangers for our narrator to navigate through.

Those who survived SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER make a return. Captain Braylar Killcoin continues to be vastly compelling. I've never read a character that better exemplified bipolar disorder. It's impossible to predict Braylar's moods and there's an aura of danger that permeates his every action and word. The presence of his sister throws a wrench into all of his careful scheming and we even get a glimpse of Braylar's back story.

With VEIL OF THE DESERTERS Salyards spends time building on all the delicious bite sized morsels he teased at in the first book. We get to learn more about the Syldoon and their recruiting practices, the Memoridons and their magic, Bloodsounder with its ties to the Deserter Gods, and even the governing practices in the Capital of Coups. All of these details and more create an irresistible and absorbing setting. Reading SCOURGE I suspected that what at times appeared to be the trappings of typical Eurocentric fantasy concealed something much deeper. It's good to see that I was not mistaken. And still I want more. Visiting the Syldoon city of Sunwrack, Capital of Coups, was marvelous but short lived. Such a grand city(the likes of which has not yet been experienced in the series) deserves a larger section of the book for exploration. I get the feeling that we're still only catching a glimpse of what Salyards has in store and I hope the series is long lived so that we can delve into all its nooks and crannies.

There's plenty of action (as to be expected when dealing with the Syldoon) and Salyards treats it with all the weight and authenticity it deserves. Fighting is fast and bloody, tides turn and fortunes reverse, and a slip of footing can mean the difference between life and death. No one is ever safe in the George R.R. Martin fashion, as Salyards made evident in SCOURGE. Previously this series was of the Sword and Sorcery sub-genre but with the exclusion of Bloodsounder it was missing the Sorcery. The addition of the Memoridons brings the heat. The memory magic practiced by Soffjian and Skeelana brings some interesting possibilities to play and I'm excited to see that develop as the series continues.

My biggest complaint about VEIL concerns the dialogue. I cannot deny that Salyards writes flowing dialogue that is sharp. The problem I encountered while reading VEIL is that no matter how well written it is it can at time feel repetitive. There's too much parry and riposte to feel completely natural. It makes for entertaining reading but after a while you can start to predict the general structure of conversation. I believe that SCOURGE balanced this a lot better, though perhaps it became more apparent to me reading VEIL because the sequel is so much longer.

In all other areas VEIL OF THE DESERTERS is bigger and better. There's more action, more character, more world building, more danger, more plot development, more everything really. Salyards is hitting his stride, dodging the sophomore slump and playing the long game. Readers get some answers and pose new questions, all the while rooting for the unlikely hero Arkamondos and his deadly allies within the Jackal Tower of the Syldoon Empire.

Recommended Age: 16+
Language: Heavy and frequent.
Violence: Heavy and bloody.
Sex: None.

Nick Sharps
Elitist Book Reviews


Threat Vector (Jack Ryan, Jr. Book 4)
Threat Vector (Jack Ryan, Jr. Book 4)
Offered by Penguin Group (USA) LLC
Price: $5.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Rare Book I'd Give MORE Than 5 Stars, April 13, 2014
I don't usually read thrillers (mainly fantasy and sci-fi these days) but I have always had a healthy respect for Tom Clancy. My dad's favorite book is Red Storm Rising. I still have his original copy, a beat up paperback missing the cover. He gave it to me to read years ago and it became one of my all time favorite novels. I haven't read all the Clancy novels but Threat Vector feels like a worthy addition to the Ryanverse. In a lot of ways Threat Vector even feels like Red Storm Rising for the 21st century. Cyber warfare is the way of the future and in traditional Clancy fashion all the details are there. There's gripping spycraft, geo-politics, and thrilling combat. I love reading more about Jack Ryan, Jr., John Clark, Ding Chavez and the Campus.

Big props to Mark Greaney, Clancy's co-author. This is the first book I read with his name on it but it prompted me to buy the entire Gray Man series that he wrote solo. This novel also prompted me to buy LOCKED ON and COMMAND AUTHORITY, and revive my interest in techno-thrillers.


The Fell Sword (The Traitor Son Cycle Book 2)
The Fell Sword (The Traitor Son Cycle Book 2)
Offered by Hachette Book Group
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Epic Sword & Sorcery, April 8, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Epic Sword & Sorcery.

MY RATING: 5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Freshly blooded from the defense of Lissen Carrak, the Red Knight and his company venture to Morea where they find themselves in the midst of a civil war. Elsewhere in the realm factions move one step closer toward total warfare. Alliances are made and schemes are fulfilled.

MY REVIEW

PROS: Larger-than-life characters, authentic descriptions, densely woven plot, bold scope, high stakes, complex and mysterious magic, and enthralling action.

CONS: The large cast of the first book is expanded even further, and while the characters are well developed, it results in a slowed pace.

BOTTOM LINE: The sequel to one of my favorite novels of 2013 continues to deliver on the promise of the first book. This series is bound to please fans of Epic Fantasy, Sword & Sorcery, and likely even Historical Fiction.

Along with Django Wexler's The Thousand Names, The Red Knight by Miles Cameron was my favorite fantasy novel of last year. This year both books get sequels (as does my favorite fantasy of 2012, Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards) leading me to the conclusion that 2014 is a good year to be a reader. What I loved most about the first book in Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle was the heart of chivalry beating underneath the blood and mud caked breastplate. The Red Knight and his company are mercenaries -- they fight and kill for payment. The combat depicted in these novels is of the gritty variety that is so popular in the Sword & Sorcery sub-genre with the added benefit of being written by a man who understands the restrictions of plate and the weight of a sword. And despite this the stories read like a contemporary take on old Arthurian legends.

The Fell Sword picks up right where The Red Knight left off. The realm is recovering from the massive clash at Lissen Carrak, an unexpected campaign that proved the Wild is still a threat. The Red Knight and his company have accepted a new commission from the Emperor of Morea, but before they arrive at the capital city they find he has been captured and the city is under siege. This new job comes with an array of complications...and opportunities. The siege is lifted but the usurper is not defeated outright and so he retreats to fight another day. The company enters the city and the Red Knight begins to enact plans to rebuild the empire, save the rightful emperor, and destroy his newest adversary. Surrounded by spies and assassins the company soon finds that fighting the creatures of the Wild is preferable to meddling in a civil war.

There's a ridiculous amount more going on in the world during the Red Knight's stay in Morea but for the sake of brevity I'll spare you all the details. The Red Knight boasted a cast much larger than I'm accustomed to reading and The Fell Sword only builds on this. There are a lot of plots and schemes and plans and agendas, and they are all woven together to create a tapestry of deceit and war. If you think there's a lot going on in George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire (sorry but I refuse to refer to the series as Game of Thrones) then just wait till you get a load of Cameron's Traitor Son Cycle. And honestly I hate to use the George R.R. Martin comparison because it feels so overused and cheap but it's difficult to talk about the current state of fantasy and ignore such an influential author/series.

The fact is that the two series have a lot in common. Both have that sort of historical weight behind them. Both are loaded with schemes and treachery, an aspect that I found could be every bit as thrilling as actual battle when I first read A Game of Thrones. Both have large casts of heroes you love and villains you love to hate. If you enjoy A Song of Ice and Fire then The Traitor Son Cycle is a must read. But the two series aren't exactly the same and The Fell Sword goes far to prove this. It is very much epic fantasy, in a way that I never felt A Song of Ice and Fire was. There is definite good and evil in addition to the moral ambiguity that permeates the novel.

Once you acclimate to the huge cast you'll likely find that you enjoy most every character. The Red Knight has been added to my list of All Time Favorite Characters. The Fell Sword sees our hero trying to rebuild a country while dodging assassination attempts and it displays a whole new aspect of the character -- suggesting that he's not just a brilliant strategist and fighter, but also a natural ruler. I've developed attachments to the various mercenaries of his company: Bad Tom, Sauce, Wilfull Murder, Ser Gavin, Ser Michael, Gelfred, Bent, Long Paw...the list goes on and on. And that's just his company. There are numerous POV's ranging from the Queen of Alba to the powerful sorcerer Thorn and. The Fell Sword gives a fair bit of attention to the Wild, giving it personality beyond monsters from the deep woods. The treacherous Galles also make an appearance, further complicating already complicated matters. What's great is that no matter the actions of the characters they are also so compelling that I love them all. Except for the King of Alba. I love to hate him.

The book is abundant with magic and most of the protagonists are practitioners of Cameron's magic system to some degree. In The Red Knight readers got a taste of how the system works but I found it largely obscure. In the sequel we get a much better grasp of what hermeticism is and how it functions through the perspective of Morgan Mortimir, a young man studying at the Academy in Morea. I still can't say that I completely understand Cameron's magic system but I now know enough that it makes sense. And it's awesome.

The Fell Sword features a lot more talking and negotiating than actual action. Considering that The Red Knight was pretty much one endless, awesome siege I can't complain. With this series Cameron is building towards a cataclysmic war, or more likely given the vast number of moving parts and agendas, wars. What fighting there is to be found is authentic, as I've come to expect after the first book. Cameron's background gives him the knowledge to properly write about pitched combat and he does so with style. Armed combat is brutal. People get hurt. People die. Cameron doesn't shy away from depicting the butchery of battle and the realities of war and he never celebrates it. He is an author with respect for the subject and it is clear from his writing.

I only have two real complaints to air. The first problem is that because of the abundance of POV's I felt as though I didn't get enough of the Red Knight. There was plenty to explain what was going on in his part of the world but I felt somewhat removed from the character himself. This can be attributed to his condition at the end of the first book and his alienation from the rest of the company but as much as I love the character I'd have preferred to spend more time from his perspective. My second problem is a POTENTIAL SPOILER so skip ahead to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it. The Red Knight and his men (and women) do not trust the Princess of Morea, the daughter of their kidnapped employer. It isn't revealed until near the end why they don't trust the Princess and it shocked me from the plot. It's not a surprising reason but the fact that I had read that far in the book without it being mentioned seemed odd. Something that important really should have been expressed more clearly, earlier on.

Alas, these are two minor complaints when considering how much sheer awesome The Fell Sword has to offer. I would not recommend reading this book without first reading The Red Knight and I'd go so far as to expect re-reading The Red Knight if it has been more than six months since you first read it -- I had trouble remembering some slightly important things when I first picked this up. If you enjoy fantasy books I cannot recommend The Traitor Son Cycle enough. Miles Cameron is steadily building up toward something amazing and I eagerly await the next book in this series.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal


Age of Shiva (Pantheon)
Age of Shiva (Pantheon)
by James Lovegrove
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.93
52 used & new from $1.90

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Gods with Capes!, March 27, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Possibly Lovegrove’s best yet.

MY RATING: 5 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A team of godlike super-powered beings based on the ten avatars of Vishnu from Hindu mythology is assembled, but are they in fact a harbinger of apocalypse?

MY REVIEW

PROS: Original take on superheroes, exploration of a vivid and colorful religion, sympathetic protagonist, deft plotting, great action.

CONS: Not enough development of the Avatars.

BOTTOM LINE: A combination of science fiction and mythology, superheroes and deities, further solidifying Lovegrove’s title as Godpunk King.

I’ve been a devoted fan of James Lovegrove since I first read The Age of Zeus, his second Pantheon novel. Each year I anticipate the release of the next Pantheon novel. As far as running series go, this is one of my favorite. Six novels and three novellas (collected in one omnibus) in and Lovegrove continues to thrill. There’s no over-arcing plot and no recurring characters. It’s a series united in theme rather than narrative, a technique that results in a cohesive whole while continually managing to change up the dynamic that makes the Pantheon novels so compelling. With Lovegrove novels you always know what to expect and yet he still manages to subvert these expectations. You’re always going to get solid prose, dry English humor, a gripping mix of science fiction and mythology, and ultimately a clever plot. Age of Shiva is tied for my favorite novel in the series. Here’s why…

The first hook of Age of Shiva? This time around Lovegrove explores Hinduism. With each new Pantheon novel Lovegrove delves into a whole new…well, pantheon. It’s worth noting that this is always done in a respectful manner. Lovegrove does his research and, in doing so, encourages readers to do their own. Going into Age of Shiva I knew next to nothing about Hinduism. After having read the book I’m intrigued by the religion and intend to read more on the subject. With each new Pantheon novel Lovegrove also examines a new way for humans to interact with these deities — this is the core of the godpunk subgenre. In doing so science fiction is often married with mythology to present a whole new take on age old tales.

“We had been telling ourselves tales about super beings and their outlandish feats for centuries. Comic book superheroes were just the latest iteration of an age-old trope.”

The second hook? The Hindu pantheon in Age of Shiva is a superhero team — and it fits. This book is like The Avengers meets The Watchmen, but with an Indian twist. In the Hindu belief, the Dashavatara refers to the ten avatars of Vishnu, the God of universal preservation. In Age of Shiva, the Dashavatara is a team of superheroes assembled by the Trinity Syndicate (a trio of billionaires with grand designs). I don’t want to spoil anything so I’ll avoid explaining too much about the team, save that the Dashavatara (or Avatars as they are also known) makes for a really cool group. It would seem that the devas (or deities) of Hinduism translate well into the world of comic book superheroes. Likewise the asuras (portrayed as a type of demon) make for great super villains. The whole dynamic is colorful and exotic — this is where the third hook comes in.

Introducing Zachary “Zap” Bramwell, comic artist and geek extraordinaire. Zak is a diligent artist, a perfectionist even, but a bad boyfriend. On his way to the cafe one day he receives an offer to design the costumes for the Dashavatara — an offer he literally cannot refuse. And why would he? A chance to work with real superheroes and the responsibility to create a look that will represent them to the world! It’s a nerd’s wet dream come true. Of course, an offer so good is bound to come with strings attached… Zak Zap is a strong protagonist. His perspective is a highly readable mix of geeky references and dry English snark. Zak Zap is perhaps Lovegrove’s most down-to-earth hero to date, an everyman in a way that falls back on the mantra, “What would Jack Kirby do?” In my case, and I suspect in many others, Zak Zap represents the reader him/herself.

One of my few disappointments was that the members of the Dashavatara felt underdeveloped. This is understandable, given that there are ten Avatars in all. It would have taken a much larger book to detail the backstory behind each deva — but that’s something I would have appreciated. As a comic reader I find that the most interesting stories involve the personal lives of the heroes, and how their caped crusading conflicts with these lives. Age of Shiva feels like the first book in the series that could be further expanded into its own mini-series. Perhaps this can be attributed to its ties to comics, but I would love to read about the further exploits of the Dashavatara. The world is very much changed by the end of the novel and though it wraps up nicely there are a number of directions that Lovegrove could go in. I don’t expect Lovegrove to do this, but if he were to I think it would be very cool. He has an excellent superhero team on his hands, one of the more interesting and original concepts I’ve seen even. And if he wanted to pursue a comic adaptation that would also be very, very cool.

The plotting, as always, is fast paced and clever. As I said earlier, readers know that to expect from Lovegrove and yet he still manages to deliver surprises. No two Pantheon novels are alike, and Age of Shiva is probably the biggest departure to date. There are twists, turns, brinkmanship, WMD proliferation, and plenty of super-powered action. The sci-fi elements are grounded in comic book science. The real kicker here is the mythology. Towards the end of the novel there’s a lump of exposition that combines Hinduism and conspiracy theories…it’s told in such a convincing manner that for a second I was prepared to start watching the History Channel programming again (not with incredulity but acceptance). Well done Lovegrove.

On another note it’s a shame that Marek Okon is no longer providing the cover illustrations for the Pantheon series. Jake Murray turns out to be an excellent replacement. The Age of Shiva cover is top-notch, successfully visualizing the Dashavatara. Add to this that he’s able to match Okon’s style, keeping the covers of the series consistent. I only wish that I could see Murray’s interpretation of each of the ten (eleven) Avatars.

Age of Shiva is simply awesome. Once again James Lovegrove has subverted and exceeded expectations. Hinduism is one of the most interesting belief systems the Pantheon series has yet explored, and throwing super heroes into the mix turned out to be the coup de grâce. This novel proves that there are plenty of original ways to explore godpunk — may there be many more Pantheon novels to come!

Nick Sharps
SF Signal


Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel
Code Zero: A Joe Ledger Novel
by Jonathan Maberry
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.41
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Return of the Return of the Dead, March 25, 2014
REVIEW SUMMARY: Code Zero? More like Code Awesome!

MY RATING: 4 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: A new foe has resurrected old threats. With DMS already spread thin, can Joe Ledger and Echo Team end a wave of bio-terrorism that is sweeping the nation?

MY REVIEW

PROS: Best villain in the series to date, nice buildup, Joe Ledger’s trademark wit, phenomenal finale, big potential changes in store for the future.

CONS: Pacing issues due to interludes.

BOTTOM LINE: The series is still going strong and Code Zero is one of the best entries yet.

Another year, another Joe Ledger Novel — the sixth in the series to be precise. It’s a series I’ve been following since the beginning, a series that has had its fair share of high and low points. Joe Ledger’s dry wit and Jonathan Maberry’s twisted imagination keep me coming back repeatedly. The Joe Ledger novels are like 24 meets X-Files; it’s like Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter series rooted in science rather than mysticism. The bio-terror threats that Captain Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Sciences face are chilling and creative. Code Zero is, in many ways, a culmination of the past five novels as well as a more direct sequel to Patient Zero (book one). Code Zero is also among the better novels in the series, ranking just below Assassin’s Code (my favorite) and Extinction Machine.

Code Zero is a slow-burner in comparison to the rest of the series, though I consider this a good thing. Maberry takes his time setting up the dominoes before he goes about blowing them to splinters. As Joe states early on in the novel, “This one started weird and stayed weird, and for most of it felt like we were swinging punches at shadows.” Thus far in the series, Joe Ledger and Echo Team have tackled zombies, genetically altered super soldiers, vampires, and (maybe) alien technology. Code Zero sees our heroes fighting threats from the nightmares of their past, with an emphasis on the Seif al Din pathogen that kills and then reanimates, turning its victims into zombies.

A lot of Joe Ledger fans will consider this reason to celebrate — I tend to find zombies boring and groan-inducing and yet I can admit that Maberry has a real knack for writing them. Still, I was a little disappointed that Seif al Din would be making a return. I’m more interested in Maberry trying new things, after all this is the man that made vampires terrifying again in Assassin’s Code. The combined threat keeps things spicy however, and Code Zero’s big baddie is the best villain Joe has faced yet.

The following may be considered a minor spoiler. I figured out the identity of Mother Night rather early on in the novel, but if you’d prefer not to chance anything go ahead and skip the next paragraph (in italics).

Maberry develops Mother Night, the “anarchist” mastermind, over the course of the novel. Readers get to follow Mother on her descent into evil. Often the baddies of the Joe Ledger novels come across as cartoony Bond villains. Mother, though over-the-top in true Maberry fashion, is fully developed. There are true motivations behind her actions and her story is, if not tragic, then at least unfortunate. She is the most devious enemy the DMS has ever faced and it makes for compelling reading. The development is expressed via interludes that progress the story but break up the action and pacing due to the frequency. It’s a double-edge sword.

Okay, it’s safe to read again! Everyone’s favorite characters return, from Captain Joe Ledger (gold medalist of the Sarcasm Olympics) to his dog Ghost. Church, Aunt Sallie, Top Sims, Bunny, Doctor Rudy Sanchez, Doctor Hu, Bug, Violin, and Junie all make appearances. Being spread thin, DMS recruits some new shooters though I wouldn’t bother getting attached to any of them — by now any operators that aren’t Ledger, Top, or Bunny can probably be considered red shirts). Ghost is as cute as ever and Rudy isn’t nearly as annoying as I’ve come to expect (dios mio!) and I’ve even come around to liking Junie. I feel as though I judged her relationship with Joe unfairly in my review of Extinction Machine, book five. The fit between Joe and Junie is actually quite convincing and adds an unexpected layer of complication to affairs. Junie is a much-needed calm-in-the-storm for Joe, a man whose fractured psyche is barely held together, a man who is growing more weary and cynical with each case.

Mother Night’s reign of terror is…well, terrifying. The chaos that she and her minions unleash on America during Labor Day weekend is extensive. There were moments while reading Code Zero when I was forced to put down the book and fight cold chills. This is bio-terrorism at its worst and the body count reflects it. The action of Code Zero is somewhat understated, reflecting the slow-burner nature of the book, but it’s as grisly and high-octane as ever. Given the nature of the threats that Joe Ledger faces and his training you would suspect that he’d carry along something more potent than a puny little 9mm, but aside from that the rest of the action reads right. The finale is spectacular! It’s the sort of finale that begs to be played out on the big screen. The rest of the book’s end, the epilogue, left a bit to be desired. After 400+ pages of buildup and an action sequence to put the rest of the series to shame, the book ends too quickly.

Minor complaints aside, Code Zero is a great addition to the Joe Ledger novels. Joe Ledger fans are bound to love it, it’s a game changer. I fully expect to see some big changes by the time Predator One, book seven, comes out next year. And with a title like Predator One, how can it not be awesome?

Nick Sharps
SF Signal


Pandemic: A Novel
Pandemic: A Novel
by Scott Sigler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.16
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars World War P (for Pandemic), February 21, 2014
This review is from: Pandemic: A Novel (Hardcover)
REVIEW SUMMARY: Broader appeal and grand in scope.

MY RATING: 4 stars

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: The Orbital may be gone, but when its legacy resurfaces it's up to Doctor Margaret Montoya to put an end to the alien nightmare forever.

MY REVIEW

PROS: Strong characters, large scope, intense action, intelligently written science fiction.

CONS: Slow start, lack of a shock-factor, weak ending.

BOTTOM LINE: A global biological disaster thriller that neatly wraps up a beloved series.

Pandemic is the third Scott Sigler book I've read. The first Sigler novel I read was Infected, the beginning of the trilogy that Pandemic closes out. The body horror and psychological thrills exhibited in Infected shocked me to say the least. It read like an Eli Roth adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Despite the protagonist's compelling personal plight I found the overall plot to be lacking and the characters largely unsympathetic. The second Sigler novel I read was Nocturnal, the start of a different series. I wasn't completely sold on Nocturnal but I could recognize Sigler's improvement as an author. It was a much tighter story with better plotting. Unfortunately it seemed to suffer the same issues with unlikeable characters. I'm happy to say that Pandemic continues the trend of improvement, delivering a solid bio-horror thriller, large in scope and populated with sympathetic characters.

Yes I skipped Contagious, the middle book in the trilogy, and it has been a couple years since I read Infected but I didn't feel too out of my element when I picked up Pandemic. Through the perspective of Doctor Margaret Montoya, maligned savior of the human race, Sigler steadily fills in the details of the second book for those who might have missed it. In the time since the conclusion of Contagious, Montoya has been wallowing in self-loathing for her decision that led to the nuking of Detroit and the deaths of her friends. She is thrust back into action when Director Murray calls on her to investigate a new outbreak of the alien virus, believed (or at least hoped) to be eradicated. Montoya is rushed off to a Navy task force stationed in Lake Michigan -- a task force responsible for quarantining the remains of the alien "Orbital" responsible for so much death and destruction. This is where, through a series of unfortunate events, the virus escapes containment and spreads across the world...

I don't remember liking Margaret Montoya when I read Infected, but then again I don't remember liking any of the characters of that book. The Margaret of Pandemic presents someone I can empathize with. She is damaged. She has done her duty, fighting against the spread of this alien doomsday weapon, and has little to show for it. Her friends are dead, her marriage in shambles, and much of America hates her. She spends her days cooped up in the house reading the hateful comments of trolls online when she should be celebrated for her quick-thinking and heroism. And despite all this, when the alien threat rears its ugly head once more Margaret barely hesitates to jump back into the fray. She's a doctor, a scientist, first and foremost. It's admirable. And if I don't remember liking Margaret Montoya I don't remember Agent Clarence Otto at all. I can't say he makes much more of an impression in Pandemic, other than being a dutiful, abuse-taking lackey of Margaret's.

Pandemic does introduce several new characters, my favorite of which was Doctor Tim "Feelygood" Feely. Tim provided the necessary levity (the possible end of the humanity is some heavy stuff) and acted as an interesting foil to the duty-bound Margaret and the patriotic Clarence. Through self-deprecation and self-interest Tim feels like a real person, a brilliant scientist that doesn't mind living ostentatiously off the government's dime. Tim flirts with Margaret and antagonizes Clarence, all the while keeping his own survival in mind. He's a bit of a weasel at first but he has the most satisfying character arc of all.

What I really appreciate about the characters of Pandemic is that no one is safe. To fans of the series this should already be abundantly clear given the deaths of several main characters in Contagious. It adds a sense of danger to proceedings that is welcome in such a tense, thriller environment - if Sigler could kill "X" and "Y"in the second book, who is he willing to kill in the finale? And the answer to that is...well a good portion of the world. My girlfriend says she likes it in books and movies "when the bomb actually goes off." What she means by this is that things get really interesting when things don't go according to plan, when the hero fails to prevent the terrorist and there's a catastrophic loss of life. It's grim, but I can't say I disagree. Especially when it comes to thrillers. I've had enough of these near disasters, what do the heroes do when Pandora's Box is opened? That's sort of what Pandemic is. The entire trilogy is about escalation. Infected is very personal, it's about one man's struggle for the most part. Contagious is about a city. Pandemic is about the world. Granted, the world is at stake in each of these stories but the stakes never seem higher than they do in this third and final novel.

I had a love/hate relationship with the first half of the book. I find the science behind the alien virus to be extremely engrossing. I won't pretend to understand it all, but Sigler does a good job of making it digestible to even the layman. I really enjoyed the tendency of the alien virus to adapt and learn from its mistakes, resulting in some creations straight from the video game Left 4 Dead. I loved reading about the lab research conducted by Margaret and Tim -- from the precautions they had to take to the procedures they used. Unfortunately this left the book feeling a little static. The more active part of the story involves Chinese American college student Steve Stanton, a very skilled robotics engineer and spy for China. Steve approaches a pair of failing businessmen capable of deep water salvage operations on Lake Michigan in order to get near the Orbital crash site. Steve, and the two entrepreneurs (Cooper and Jeff) are all interesting characters. These characters add some motion to the plot early on, but the first half of the book still felt slow. This is remedied by around the midway point with the proverbial opening of Pandora's Box so to speak. From that point forward Sigler throws Pandemic into overdrive.

It's a full blown zombie outbreak, except that these zombies aren't mindless, can use tools, and are able to organize. So really it's not a zombie outbreak at all. It's much, much more interesting. Watching the world go straight to hell is a blast. Sigler paints a vivid picture of a nation and a world overwhelmed by the enemy within. There's courage and cowardice, insurgency and nuclear warfare. I also have to give Sigler props for not turning the religious conservative president into a lazy caricature, instead showing that dire times call for leadership above partisanship. I didn't pick up any overtly political vibes from Pandemic (aside from a bit of heat directed at anti-vaxxers) and I found that to be particularly refreshing. The action is intense and the Battle of Chicago is particularly awesome, with Navy SEALs and Apache helicopters...

There's lots of moral ambiguity, including medical testing on unwilling subjects and making tough decisions on the battlefield. The survival of the human race is on the line and the decisions made and the actions that result reflect this thoroughly. I will admit be disappointed in the lack of a shock-factor. With both of the previous Sigler books I read I was surprised at some of the content (specifically the self-mutilation of Infected). Keep in mind that Pandemic is gruesome but lacks some of that bite that I found at once disturbing and compelling. I will say that the toned-down nature of this book gives it a much broader appeal to people who aren't fans of the SAW brand of "torture porn," and that's a considerably wise move. My final complaint is that the book resolves a little too quickly and cleanly. After nearly 600 pages the ending is slightly abrupt.

I mostly enjoyed reading Scott Sigler's Pandemic. It's always cool to watch an author's craft progress over time and it's evident that Sigler is getting better and better at what he does. Pandemic is large in scope and well written, with the best characterization I've yet seen out of Sigler. It reads like Invasion of the Body Snatchers meets The Crazies but on a global scale. It's smart but fun, a fitting conclusion to a well-loved series.

Nick Sharps
SF Signal


Dead Eye (A Gray Man Novel)
Dead Eye (A Gray Man Novel)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.42
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Thrilling Thriller!, January 28, 2014
I just spent the month binge-reading the Gray Man novels. It's going to be difficult to come off the adrenaline high, that's a guarantee. I still have two more Mark Greaney books to read, LOCKED ON and COMMAND AUTHORITY (both with Clancy), but I think I'll save those for when the withdrawal really hits. DEAD EYE is another great entry to the Gray Man series, it's tied with BALLISTIC for my favorite.

The series has gotten progressively better as it goes on. DEAD EYE doesn't delve into the character of protagonist Court Gentry in quite the way BALLISTIC does, but it does offer some really high notes in terms of action and overall series development. How Greaney imagines these crazy assassination scenarios, I have no idea but DEAD EYE starts off with Court's most insane hit to date. What I liked most about DEAD EYE is that it gives readers a look at those hunting Court. We get to see how they handle tracking the most dangerous assassin on the planet.

Oh, and Kiev? We finally get to find out about what happened in Kiev! It's pretty dang wild. Something only Court Gentry, the Gray Man, could pull off.

I'm really excited about what direction the next book might take. Really, really excited. I'll wait anxiously for Greaney's next awesome thriller.


Ballistic (Gray Man)
Ballistic (Gray Man)
by Mark Greaney
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.50
105 used & new from $1.60

5.0 out of 5 stars A Mexican Standoff, January 22, 2014
This review is from: Ballistic (Gray Man) (Paperback)
Mark Greaney's Gray Man series is an unstoppable juggernaut, much like Court Gentry himself. Three books in and it keeps getting better and better. The plots get deeper, the pacing better, the action more thrilling, and the characters more complex. BALLISTIC is easily the most personal of the Gray Man novels to date, with Court Gentry taking up a crusade in the name of a former friend. Mexico turns out to be the most dangerous locale yet, with all it's corrupt cops and cartel thugs.

Readers get a glimpse into Court's past. As a character Court is fleshed out even further. He's a killer with a heart (though he'll deny it) and his own conscience is his greatest vulnerability. The Gray Man is as efficient and creative a killer as ever but his skills are put to the test as he's charged with the responsibility of protecting others. Court even gets a brief, but well deserved, moment of tenderness before being thrust back into the killing field.

I'm churning through the series at a high pace. I'll be starting DEAD EYE, the latest installment in the series once I wrap up this review. It'll be torture to wait for the next book in the series, that's for sure. Am I the only one hoping for a prequel that touches on the events in Kiev? Anyway, enough review. Time to get on with DEAD EYE.


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