Review: The Burning Man by Mark Chadbourn

Title: The Burning Man
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 17 April 2008
Review Copy

The Burning Man brings the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons closer to the end of the world. And after eight books (three in Age of Misrule, three in The Dark Age and this is the second in The Kingdom of the Serpent.) it has been a long and challenging fight. The lives of the characters have been torn apart and rebuilt, as has the world around them. Magic has been released and it’s now being extinguished. The Brothers and Sisters have one final chance to stop the magic and hope in the world being extinguished forever.

As hinted at in Jack of Ravens the Tuatha Dé Danann are not the only Gods to be awakened in the world. As events have spiralled the quest of the Brothers and Sisters of Dragons brings them in contact with other Great Dominions some aren’t as friendly to the cause as others.

Mark Chadbourn is one of the best writers I have ever read regardless of genre. He manages to mix characterisation and storytelling so that one feeds off the other and neither is sacrificed. Not an easy thing to manage as stories need an emotional core without being emotional and soppy and characters need a journey and purpose no matter how much you like then.

In The Burning Man the pace never slows. That’s partly down to Chadbourn’s non-indulgent style. He gives just enough information and moves on. So this whole section is told in 329 pages and at no point do I feel short changed. He’s crammed in a lot.

It’s partly style but mostly he’s built up so much momentum that the story carries you forward. It’s rarely that I pick up a book just to see what happens next whilst waiting for a computer to boot or software to install (I got a new computer and usually I’d be staring at the machine keeping an eye on progress) or in ad break or choosing to read over everything else.

There were several sad and surprising moments, events happened where I wanted our heroes to hold on to their happiness a few moments longer and twists came seemingly without warning (though the signs I think were there if I’d have been paying a bit more attention).

Chadbourn has managed to make each of the characters rounded; they have their flaws, their own strengths and their own agendas. They act and react in their own and sometimes surprising (but not out of character) way.

I’d love to say more but if you’ve read this far it’ll only spoil it and if you haven’t it’s not going to make much sense if I said more about the plot apart from he ends The Burning Man in such a way that I have no idea if or how are heroes are going to save the world and what world they’ll end up saving.

I can’t wait until Book Three of The Kingdom of the Serpent.

10/10

Additional:

Here are links two reviews of books two and three of The Dark Age cycle.

A review of Jack of Ravens is here.

An overview of the series so far by me is here.

Review: The Hounds of Avalon by Mark Chadbourn

The Hounds of AvalonTitle: The Houds of Avalon
Author: Mark Chadbourn
Publisher: Gollancz
Published: 08 June 2006
Price: £6.99

There are some writers who build whole new worlds and some who raise questions about the world we are already in. Mark Chadbourn has created his own brand of urban fantasy by building a story around the myth and legends surrounding the British Isles and asking what if these old Gods and creatures of myth and legend returned?

The Hounds of Avalon sees a diminished British government coping as best it can when an unstoppable army of mystical creatures attack with intention of eliminating everyone in their tracks as they march towards Oxford, the government’s new home. Their only hope of salvation is the actions of those chosen to be champions of humanity; those known as the Brother and Sisters of Dragons. But the government doesn’t realise how important they really are.

To say more about the plot would end up with me getting in a muddle, giving away spoilers and confusing you. Because, unofficially, this is book six in the series and book three in the second story arc, so a lot has gone on already to get to this point (see here for details).

You can read it as a standalone but some of the significance of the events and characters might pass a new reader by. Though saying all that Chadbourn does a grand job keeping the events self-contained enough so that the story works in its own terms and is accessible enough for new readers and those of us who has left it a while between books.

What’s impressive is the amount of action, information, and emotion that Chadbourn builds into each page. His skill is how he weaves the exploration of what it is to be human with a story of what could be the last moments of the human race. He shows how we all deal with situations differently; some of us hide away, some of stand and fight, but in the end we all have a role and we can’t always see the role we play or how vital it is.

Chadbourn’s other strength is that he sets a lot of different threads in motion, some placed books ago, as he recalls to the roster characters who had fulfilled their jobs in previous books and it seemed that they had no further role to play.

As a storyteller he keeps the reader moving along a roller coaster that could come off the tracks any second and the characters could fail in their missions and the world could end before they have chance to fight back. One thing he does show is that there is always hope. Oh, and the end really isn’t the end.

Personally I’d say read all the previous books as Chadbourn is a master storyteller and all the other books in the series are tell different parts of the tale but stand in their own right as masterpieces of fantasy.

An excellent end to The Dark Age sequence and sets us up for the next one with The King of Serpents and the first book, Jack of Ravens.

Score: 10/10

Review: Dead Men’s Boots by Mike Carey (Orbit)

Dead Men’s BootsTitle: Dead Men’s Boots
Author: Mike Carey
Publisher: Orbit
Published: 06 September 2007
Price: £7.99
Review Copy

Felix Castor, exorcist, doesn’t like funerals and at the start of Dead Men’s Boots that’s exactly where he is when a lawyer turns up to exhume the deceased (a former exorcist and someone Castor avoided before he died) so he can be cremated and it’s only the start of his problems. His new client is the wife of a man who is accused of murder only she’s convinced that he didn’t do it and it was done by a woman that’s been dead for forty years.

Told in the first person we follow Castor’s investigations as he figures out clues left by the deceased and wonders how a ghost can wield a hammer though the poor fella doesn’t know what he got himself into. Trouble finds Castor like a drunk finds a chippie. It’s part of the deal when you take that first drink.

As I said in my review of Vicious Circle, the second book of this series, Carey is a master plotter. His plots are focused and well planned though with enough clues that you mentally kick yourself when you start to see the connections.

Dead Men’s Boots is a stand alone title but it’s probably better to start at the beginning as you get to see more of Castor’s make-up as well as the history behind the some what’s going on and his history to some of the other characters. And there are some great fully formed secondary characters.

The subplot from the previous books is kept ticking over quite nicely with a few teasers that I hope are going to make an appearance soon.

It’s a great read. You can’t help yourself from wanting to know how deep in shit Castor can go before he drowns.

If I have one negative I’d say that some things are a little too neatly tied off at the end but I don’t really care as it’s a great read that keeps you thinking and guessing all the way to the end. And it’s left me wanting more.

Debut Review: HeartSick by Chelsea Cain

Heart SickTitle: HeartSick
Author: Chelsea Cain
Publisher: Macmillan
Published: 3 August 2007
Price: £10.00
Review Copy

I said in a recent review that plotting takes practice and I want to know where Chelsea Cain took her lessons. Heart Sick is more than a catch-the-killer detective story. It plays with your mind.

What would happen if the serial killer you were chasing captured you and then tortured you for ten days before calling 911 and giving herself up just in time to save your life?

How would you cope if after two years a reporter shadows you and asks you questions about secrets that only you and your torturer share as another person is killing young girls and you’re running out of time?

I’m seriously impressed by how Cain explores these ideas. Not only does she put the reader in minds of the Archie, she also shows us him through the eyes of a reporter, at the same time as keeping up the pace on an investigation into a serial killer.

It’s just one more chapter reading until you come to the twisted end, which isn’t even where the ending should be. You need to know what comes next. Cain is a perfect poker player laying out the right cards at the right time but giving nothing away.

Cain has left plenty of scope to explore the strange (sick) relationship between Gretchen and Archie in a sequel.

It can’t all be good right? If I was being picky I could say something about the lack of development time for the secondary characters but that only because the pace doesn’t let up and Cain has made them interesting enough to want to know more about them and I hope they appear again in a future book.

Cain’s kicked off her career with a sky high performance. They don’t get much better than this.

Review: Already Dead by Charlie Huston

Already DeadTitle: Already Dead
Author: Charlie Huston
Publisher: Orbit
Published:
Price: £6.99
Review Copy

There are writers you slip into and writers you have to work at and Charlie Huston is as smooth as warm butter. I was hooked from the opening line, ‘I smell them before I see them’. That’s how we’re introduced to the Vampyre and P.I. Joe Pitt though he doesn’t have a licence and I don’t think they have a licence for what he does.

In this series opener, Already Dead, he has to find a missing girl who just happens to have very rich parents and likes hanging out in places where 14-yeard old girl shouldn’t go. He also has a mess to clear up. And people aren’t making it easy for him.

It’s a compulsive read. He’s created a believable underworld of Manhattan where Vampyre clans have carved-up the island and have ways of keeping their existence out of the sunlight. One of those ways is Pitt.

Huston doesn’t let up with the action but still manages to slip in moments of reflection from Pitt’s recent and not so recent history. For a blood feasting Vampyre Pitt has a quite a heart.

I sucked this book dry and I’m craving my next fix.

Debut Review: The Good Thief’s Guide to Amerstdam by Chris Ewan

Good Thief’s GuideTitle: The Good Thief’s Guide to Amsterdam
Author: Chris Ewan
Publisher: Long Barn Books
Published: 2007
Price: 12.99
Bookshelf

I’ve been meaning to get my hands on this book for quite some time. Any book that can survive the fire of Susan Hill has got to be good, right? Yes, definitely. Is it a big blockbusting bestseller? Not really and I don’t think it’s meant to be.

Charlie Howard writes crime novels about a career thief; a career he also dabbles in from time to time. So when someone asks him to steal two monkey figurines he can’t turn it down can he?

Chirs Ewan has created a wonderfully entertaining character in Charlie Howard. He has an English whit and good manners for someone who breaks into houses for a living. And in any detective novel a good main character is a must. The other essential is a mystery and Ewan’s storytelling is compelling and compulsive.

It’s not a blockbuster thank god as there are no big car chases, fire-fighting shootouts, or explosions. Instead he’s built a complex tale from a few simple building blocks with enough false bait to keep you hooked even when you find out you’ve been pulling on the wrong line for quie some time. It harks back to tales where it’s brains that count like the tales of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Colon Doyle and the detective stories of Agatha Christie.

I’d usually be wary of a writer writing about a character who writes but in this case it allows some interesting conversations and some insight into both the main character and the unfolding events. Ewan also manages to capture the spirit of Amsterdam making the city a vital character of the story.

I’d whole heartedly recommend this book for anyone who loves detective stories with a definite English twist and for anyone who loves a great read I’d say you should buy this too. There is loads of potential for a sequel and I personally hope it’s not going to take too long to come. I guess the only to make sure there is is for enough people to go out and buy this book first. What you waiting for?

Debut Review: Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips

godsbehavingbadlyTitle: Gods Behaving Badly
Author: Marie Philips
Publisher: Jonathon Cape
Published in Hardback: 02 August 2007
Price: 12.99
Review Copy

I hardly know where to start with this stunning debut so let’s start with the illustration. The dust jacket, endpapers and the first few pages all contain wonderful illustrations by Suzanne Dean. They really set the tone for this book. She’s reimaged the art of Ancient Greece for a modern age, which is exactly what Marie Philips does in Gods Behaving Badly.

The Gods of Olympus have been living in North London for the last few hundred years. It’s not easy being a God. Their house is overcrowded and in need of a lot of TLC. They have modern-day jobs (Artemis, Goddess of Hunting/Professional Dog-Walker; Apollo, God of the Sun/TV Psychic; Dionysus, God of Wine/Night Club Manager) and even then they are struggling to make end meet. This is all until they employ a cleaner and that’s when things so wrong.

 

There is much to admire about GBB. It’s funny for a start. I mean laugh out loud funny though the first time was out of shock so it might have been more of a giggle. It’s clever. Marie has really thought out the storyline. There are so many links and parallels that it leaves wonderful ‘oh’ and ‘ah’ moments. It’s sweet. The characters of Alice and Neil are just the right mortals to show up how ‘bad’ some of the Gods are. There is more but I don’t want to spoil it.

I really can’t think of anything I didn’t like about it. It was a wonderful easy read that managed to be both entertaining and thought provoking. The characters are wonderfully imagined, though I would have liked to have seen a bit more of a few of the Gods as there was so much more I wanted to know about them.

I’d love to see if Marie can manage a sequel – she’s created a wonderful cast and there are so many Greek myths she could draw on. If not I’m looking forward to what she writes next.

This is going to take some beating for Gav’s ‘Entertaining Read of the Year’.