jeudi 28 août 2014

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows by Tim Siedell


When Hock, a former clone trooper left for dead during the Clone Wars, hears of a great warrior, he decides to seek him out and enter his service. Motivated by a powerful hatred for the Jedi he feels abandoned him, Hock wants nothing more than to come to the attention of the Emperor’s lieutenant, Darth Vader. Called into battle during a mission against a group of remnant Separatists, Hock finds himself fighting side by side with the dark warrior, a battle that will finally lay his own ghosts to rest…

A small graphic novel, Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows is a bit of a dull dud as far as I was concerned. Focused on a former clone trooper, disillusioned and broken by the events of the Clone Wars, the comic mini-series follows Hock as he fights his way back into the imperial army, determined to place himself in Vader’s service. As such – and despite the graphic novel’s title – Darth Vader is only seen in brief glimpses: the majority of the storyline is devoted to flashbacks of Hock’s time in the clone army and what brought him to his hatred of the Jedi and the separatists. Unfortunately, Hock’s story just wasn’t that interesting. Beyond a nice twist to the separatist/rebel idea, the novel did not bring anything new to the Star Wars universe. While the artwork was ok, there were no moments that stood out. A quick read, Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows was far away from being a must read.

I gave Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Cry of Shadows 2 stars.

mercredi 27 août 2014

Completement cramé by Gilles Legardinier


When widower Andrew Blake realises that he no longer feels comfortable in his old life, he abandons the company he owns and starts a new life… as a butler in France, the country where he met his wife. Hiding his true identity from his new boss, the wealthy widow Nathalie, and the other members of staff on the Beauvillier estate, Blake tries to recapture some of the taste for life he feels as though he has lost. But his new life will force him to turn away from thoughts of the past to embrace a future he had not at all expected…

The second of the French books by Gilles Legardinier that my wife convinced me to read, Completement Cramé is a very different beast to Demain j’arrete. The main character changes from a twenty-something woman to a middle-aged man going through a mid-life crisis, one that pushes him to change his life completely, abandoning the company he has built to start afresh as a butler on a French estate. Not as funny as Demain j’arrete, Completement Cramé (translated as Completely Insane, basically) is a deeper, more rounded book that packs more of a punch than the first one. The characters are more developed, the plot stronger, but the writing remains as glorious as in the first one. The dialogue sparkles, playing on Blake’s Englishness, a fact that gives an extra kick to an Englishman living in France and reading the book. Though less crazy than Julie, Blake is not a man to be trifled with, willing to go to some impressive extremes to protect the new family he has built for himself (the scene with the two estate agents is especially funny in this regard!) Throughout, Legardinier ponders the importance of the past, the pain of growing old and reminds us that it is never too late to make a fresh start. Although it didn’t make me laugh as much as Demain j’arrete, I loved Completement Cramé just as much, for very different reasons.

I gave Completement Cramé 5 stars.

dimanche 24 août 2014

New on the Library Shelves 24 08 14

AKA Showcase Sunday

A new segment here, participating in the Showcase Sunday meme over at Books, Biscuits & Tea.

The most exciting book to arrive on the Library Shelves this week: the new Star Wars novel, A New Dawn, setting up the new canon and leading in to the Rebels tv series due in October. Very excited!

For review:
The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley (fantasy)
Star Wars: A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller (sf)
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian (literary)
The Hunger of the Wolf by Stephen Marche (thriller)

Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph by Jan Swafford (biography)
One Kick by Chelsea Cain (thriller)
The King in the North by Max Adams (non-fiction)

So, what's new on your shelves this week?

samedi 23 août 2014

Demain j'arrete by Gilles Legardinier


Let me tell you about the stupidest thing I ever did…

So begins the story of Julie, a young woman in a dead end job, whose chance encounter with her new neighbour’s name on his post box pushes her into taking more and more insane risks in an attempt to meet him. From spending days pressed to her peephole to organising a heist, Julie’s insane imagination will lead her into more and more extreme situations. All in the order to answer the one question we all wish we could find the answer to: for whom would you do the stupidest thing in your entire life?

Over my summer holidays, I often looked up to find my wife laughing hysterically, her nose lost behind her Kindle, as she read three books by a French author I had never heard of. Over the week’s holiday, I watched as she alternately laughed, cried and then laughed again, constantly looking up to tell me: “You have to read these.” Now I’m not a big fan of reading in French (I am bilingual so it isn’t a question of not being able to) mainly because I don’t like the way French books are laid out and also because reading in French reminds me too much of school! Still, considering my wife’s reaction and how rare it is for her to suggest a book to me, I decided to make an exception. And boy I’m glad I did! The first of those three novels, Demain j’arrete (I’ll Stop Tomorrow), turned out to be a hilarious, touching novel about how far we are willing to go for the people we fall in love with. Told in first person by the eponymous Julie, the novel is one of those rare beasts: a real laugh-out-loud affair, dangerous to read on public transport unless you want to be taken for a mad man! I read it partly at my inlaws and partly on the train back to my home and I got quite a few glances from people as I snorted my way through the story. Julie is a fantastic character, completely crazy in an incredibly touching way, who I defy anyone not to fall in love with as the story progresses. With a cast of fantastic secondary characters and a mystery to boot, Demain j’arrete has something for everyone… As long as you can read French! Unfortunately, as of writing, neither of these novels have been translated into English, which is really a shame for the English-reading world. These are great!

I gave Demain j’arrete 5 stars.

vendredi 22 août 2014

Le Roi de Fer (The Iron King) by Maurice Druon


When Philip the Fair, King of France, sentences the Templar Grand Master Jacques de Molay to be burned at the stake, he thinks he is removing an obstacle from his path. When the Grand Master curses him, though, Philip discovers that he may have placed his entire dynasty on a dark and dangerous path to destruction. While he continues to rule the realm with an iron hand, his family begins to fall apart: his sons are weak and their wives adulterous, his cousins fight and conspire to gain power. As a web of scandal and murder weave around him, though, it is the Templar curse that may signal his ruin…

I had heard about Les Rois Maudits a few years ago when French television released a mini-series adaptation. It wasn’t until I saw this review on Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist that I discovered the link between the series of novels and George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. I decided to go and dig out the novels in French and found a good Kindle version. Starting on the first volume, I quickly found myself dragged into the story of Philip the Fair and his family. Full of the same vast cast of characters as Martin’s fantasy epic, Le Roi de Fer (or The Iron King) begins the tale of the downfall of the Capetian line, rulers of France since the 10th century. Weaving together adultery, intrigue, conspiracy and a dark curse, Maurice Druon sets up his series with aplomb, painting a picture of a different time with great skill. The characters are fantastic creatures, full of honour and malice and dark desires, and the Starks, the Lannisters and the Targaryens are their worthy successors. It is a well paced book that truly brings history to life. Definitely worth checking out!

I gave Le Roi de Fer 4 stars.

jeudi 21 août 2014

The Heist by Daniel Silva


When one of Gabriel Allon’s long-term allies stumbles upon a murder, the Israeli spy is roped in to investigating the murder by the Italian art police. The victim, it seems, was not only a former British spy – he was also involved in the theft, forgery and sale of stolen artwork. And he may hold the key to the holy grail of the stolen art world: a Caravaggio that vanished decades before. But as he tracks down the movements of the dead spy, Allon begins to uncover a conspiracy that hits much closer to home, one that has allowed a brutal Syrian dictator to continue to kill his own people with near impunity. So begins a new game of cat and mouse as the legendary spy gathers friends, allies and former enemies to pull off what could well be the heist of the century…

Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series is one of the best thriller/spy series out there at the moment. Already clocking in at a hefty 14 volumes, our spy/assassin/art restorer hero does not show any signs of flagging, and neither does the man who has brought his adventures to life. In this latest novel, Allon once again finds two worlds colliding: that of the art theft world he has often been involved with in the past with the deadly world of international terrorism he lives in daily. What begins as an attempt to recover a lost masterpiece quickly becomes much more complicated, as Allon discovers ties between a worldwide criminal art ring and an unnamed Syrian dictator whose identity is very loosely hidden in Silva’s novel. Once again, Silva manages to create an exciting, tense thriller that crosses countries and continents, painting fantastic pictures of every city his hero visits and peopling them with both the good and the sinister. At the same time, Silva continues to force his character to grow and change – having accepted the post of head of the Israeli secret service, Allon begins to use his newfound position to great effect, pulling together a team of allies that begin to plan the sort of theft only Gabriel Allon could manage. Resonating even more due to the current events in Israel and Gaza, Silva’s novel gives us a hero for our age, one we wish was out there somewhere protecting us from the shadows.

I gave The Heist 5 stars.

mercredi 20 août 2014

Seal of the Worm by Adrian Tchaikovsky


The new world had undone the follies of the old... 

The world is coming to an end… In the aftermath of the Wasp Empire’s final victory and the fall of Collegium, all seems lost. In Capitas, Empress Seda stands victorious, her archnemesis cast down into a dark underworld from which there is no escape. But her victory has come at a price – in her pride, the Empress has shattered the Seal and unleashed the Worm on the world once again. As it stirs, entire villages and city districts vanish. As Seda attempts to find a way to undo her mistake – willing to go to inhuman lengths to achieve her goal – Che and her companions struggle to survive in the Worm’s lair. While their fight for their lives turns into a war for the very world itself, unexpected allies and old friends gather in the shadow of shattered Collegium, prepared for one last roll of the dice to end the Empire’s threat once and for all…

Ten books later and we come to the end of the Shadows of the Apt series. One of the most inventive, mind-bending, action-packed epic fantasy series of recent years, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s story of human nations who share abilities with the insectine kinden they have adopted has been a rollercoaster of a ride. Constantly surprising, the Shadows of the Apt has seen the rise and fall of empires, while each and every one of the characters has been dragged through the wringer to become someone completely different. Seal of the Worm is a fantastic ending to this series, tying together all of the disparate story threads and themes that have been present from the beginning, providing closure to the characters, the all amidst an action-packed, thrilling story that shatters everything. The best word to sum up Seal of the Worm is post-apocalyptic and that feeling emanates from every part of the novel. Tchaikovsky does a great job inventing an entirely new world beneath the surface, the lair of the Worm, full of dark, nightmarish, horrific imagery that will stick with me for a long time! He never loses sight of the heart of his series, though, a fact made more than clear in the quote you can find above. A wonderful ending to one of my favourite modern fantasy series, one that definitely establishes Tchaikovsky as a leading star in the epic fantasy firmament. I for one cannot wait to see what he does next!

I gave Seal of the Worm 5 stars.