Monday, 29 August 2016

Dark Fire (Matthew Shardlake Book 1) - C.J. Sansom



Title: Dark Lake (Matthew Shardlake Book 2)
Author: C.J. Sansom
Genre: Historical Mystery
Published: 2004
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Dark Fire” by C.J. Sansom is the 2nd novel in his “Matthew Shardlake” series of historical mystery novels. In this novel, the hunchback lawyer, Matthew Shardlake is asked to defend a young lady who is accused of murdering her cousin. The case is difficult enough but his client is also refusing to speak and if she doesn’t make a plea at court, she will be forced to face the “Press” which is a rather unpleasant torture device. However, he is soon offered a reprieve and is given two weeks to investigate the case on the proviso that he carries out a job for Lord Cromwell. Unfortunately, no job for Cromwell is without its own risks.

As with “Dissolution”, the previous book in the series I found this novel to be written in an intelligent and competent manner. The pace starts off quite slowly but as the story progresses the pacing picks up and it becomes harder and harder to put the book down. The description of 16th century London is also exquisite and I could easily envisage the Tudor world, both in look and culture. But what really worked here is that Sansom manages to showcase this period without getting distracted from the actual art of storytelling. It never feels dry or boring; I was quite simply entertained from start to finish.

The characters themselves are realistic and varied, with a level of depth that it is quite impressive. Shardlake himself has mellowed somewhat since the events of the first novel and despite some of his viewpoints still being outside the norm for a contemporary person, his intelligence, modesty and honesty will still endear him to the reader, especially when you consider the world in which he inhabits appears to be lacking in these values. I also loved his new acquaintance, John Barak, a brash young man who works for Cromwell and provides a wonderful partner for Shardlake. I really hope to see more of Barak in future novels as I look forward to seeing how his relationship with Shardlake develops.

Overall, I found this to be another enjoyable and interesting mystery novel that provides both an entertaining plotline and a vivid image of Tudor London. I can’t wait to read the next book in the series as I expect it to be just as entertaining as the previous two novels, but also because I am beginning to really love the characters of Shardlake and Barak and want to see how they further develop.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Star Trek: Captain to Captain (Legacies Book 1)


Title: Captain to Captain
Author: Greg Cox
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 2016
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Captain To Captain” is the first book in the “Legacies” series of novels which are being written to mark the 50th anniversary of Star Trek. The novel is split across two time periods, in 2267 Captain Una (aka Number One from the pilot episode The Cage) visits the Enterprise on a supposedly social call, but soon steals an artefact known as “The Key” in order to complete a personal mission. The reason for this mission is explained by a flashback to 2249 in which the Enterprise, under the command of Captain Robert April discovers a race of creatures known as the Jatohr who have come from an alternate universe via the Key technology. Una and her away team are forced to find a way to deal with the Jatohr before they can use their technology against the Federation and the entire Universe.

The story is well written and nicely paced with overall drama of the story being complemented by a few entertaining action scenes. What I liked about the 2249 period is that beyond Una and Captain April themselves I had no idea who would live or die from the Enterprise’s crew which added to the drama. I also felt that Cox has done well in capturing the characters and in particular I found the adjustment of Number One's name to "Una" to be quite plausible.

One thing which was a bit surprising to me is that so much of the book was focused on Una (Number One) rather than the regular main characters. Whilst I was more than happy to learn a bit more about that enigmatic character, it wasn’t really what I would have expected from a book celebrating 50 years of Star Trek. Yes, many Trek fans will probably like this exploration of character that was cast aside after the first pilot episode, but for the more casual fans I suspect it would have better to create a story that gave more of a central role to Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

The ending itself was also a little bit disappointing as it didn’t really close any of the open plot points. I understand it is a series but the new twist revealed at the end would have been enough of a cliff-hanger to keep people wanting to read more. Instead I am a bit annoyed that there are new plot lines being brought into the story even when we still have plenty of others ones left open.

Overall, despite my minor issues, this was still an enjoyable and entertaining Star Trek novel. From my point of view, I enjoyed learning more about Number One although I do understand that for some fans the side-lining of Kirk et al won’t be popular. The lack of closure evident at the ending was irritating but the additional twist revealed has nicely set up the next novel in the series “Best Defense”.

Monday, 1 August 2016

The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (The Stainless Steel Rat Book 4) - Harry Harrison



Title: The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You! (The Stainless Steel Rat Book 4)
Author: Harry Harrison
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 1978
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You!” is the fourth instalment in Harry Harrison’s amusing and at times quite ridiculous science-fiction series entitled “The Stainless Steel Rat”. If you have read any of the other novels in the series, then you will know the drill by now. Slippery Jim DiGriz is a con artist who’s been forced to work undercover for the Special Corps, an intergalactic investigating agency. When his wife is kidnapped by the revenue service, Slippery Jim picks up his two teenage sons from their military boarding school (and penitentiary) to free their mother and wreak havoc on the tax bureau. As is often the case with his adventures, this escapade leads to Jim finding himself commandeered to save humanity from galaxy-wide destruction.

Up until this point, Harrison’s series has been devoid of aliens which is remedied in this novel. And by remedied, I mean he overwhelms the Universe with an invasion of countless different slimy, tentacled creatures, all improbably banded together against us, united in their hatred and disgust for just how ugly we look. Honestly, I think he tried to cover every B-movie alien he could; he really did make up for his previously human centric Universe!

In regards to the writing itself, well it is fast paced and full of many witty and humourous moments, just like the other novels in the series. At times it did feel a little bit like Harrison was running out of new ideas however as the basic frame work of the plot is very similar to the other novels. And don’t get me started on the use of time travel again; I seriously think this gimmick is getting overused. The resolution’s also a little convenient, but it is in keeping with the tone of the novel so it didn’t bother me that much.

Don’t get me wrong, it is still an enjoyable romp and I probably liked this one more than the previous novel “The Stainless Steel Rat Saves The World”. However, it is just more of the same and there is probably only so many times you can enjoy following these parodies of golden age sci-fi novels before beginning to get a little bored.

Overall, this is another entertaining novel in “The Stainless Steel Rat” series that should appeal to those of you have who have already read the previous novels. Yes, the books are beginning to feel a bit samey but Slippery Jim DiGriz continues to be an enjoyable and engaging character who keeps drawing me back into his world, even if the originality is now slightly lacking.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Star Trek: Treaty's Law (Day of Honor Book 4) - Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch



Title: Treaty's Law
Author: Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 1997
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
“Treaty’s Law” by Dean Wesley Smith & Kristine Kathryn Rusch is the fourth book in the “Day of Honor” series, a collection of Klingon focussed cross-over Star Trek novels. Whilst it is the fourth book in the series, it is actually the first book chronologically and involves a standalone plot so there was no issue in regards to reading it out of series order.

The story is set during The Original series period on the planet Signi Beta, a planet ideal for farming which both the Klingons and Federation wish to claim. The Klingon’s have a stronger claim but Kirk really doesn’t want to lose it, especially when his old adversary, Commander Kor is involved. However, when the Klingon Colony is attacked by powerful, unknown aliens, it is up to the crew of the Enterprise to work alongside the Klingons in order to survive.

The story was well written and fast paced with a fair amount of action. It reminded me a bit of the usual Kirk centric action plots you would see on the TV series. This feeling I had was enhanced by the characters who are well captured and easily match what we know of them from the TV series. However, the authors also added in a few new characters such as the Klingon Kerdoch. He was a well-rounded character who was used well to add different views into the story without eclipsing the regular characters. In a way he reminded me of the usual “Guest Stars” you would have seen during the TV series, who have prominent roles but are used alongside the regular cast rather than instead of.

One disappointing aspect of the novel is in regards to Kor. He basically spends most of the novel injured and doesn’t really say that much. Therefore there is very little of the enjoyable verbal sparring that you would normally get to see between him and Kirk. It wasn’t a huge issue, but I would have enjoyed seeing a little bit more of him, especially considering he is quite prominent on the cover.

Overall this is an enjoyable original series novel although I don’t think it adds that much to my knowledge of Klingons. Still, if you are interested in Klingons you may as well still pick it up for a read as there are the odd interesting elements present. Like in regards to the non-warrior aspects of Klingon culture.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Star Trek: Vanguard: Declassified - David Mack, Marco Palmieri, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore



Title: Declassified
Author: David Mack, Marco Palmieri, Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 2011
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
The Book Depository
Amazon UK

Review:
“Declassified” is a collection of four novellas that form part of the Star Trek: Vanguard series. As with most stories set in this series the novellas are based around the crew of the Vanguard Starbase which is located in the Taurus Reach, a highly contested region of space.

The first story in the collection is “Almost Tomorrow” by Dayton Ward which takes place prior to the events witnessed in the prequel novella, “Harbinger”. The main aim of this novella appears to be in providing the reader with some backstory regarding the relationship between Vanguard’s Commander, Deigo Reyes and it’s JAG Officer, Rana Desai, and the one between T’Prynn, the station’s Vulcan security chief, and Anna Sandesjo, a Klingon agent and member of the ambassadorial delegation.

Personally, this was probably my least favourite story in the collection as it was all rather slow paced, and to be honest it was lacking in any real excitement. I also have to say that I have never really felt any desire to learn more about the two relationships it focused on. Yes, the way in which Sten’s influence on T’Prynn affected the level of relationship she entered into was interesting to see but outside of that, I don’t really think that anything here was actually necessary.

Next up in the collection is “Hard News” by Kevin Dilmore which takes place just after the events in “Reap the Whirlwind” and details the motivations as to why Tim Pennington decides to join T'Prynn on her journey to Vulcan. I was quite appreciative of this story as whilst it doesn’t really advance the overall Vanguard plot, it does provide the reader with some much needed detail as to why Pennington travels to Vulcan.

The third novella is "The Ruins of Noble Men" by Marco Palmieri and it is my favourite story in the collection. It takes place after the events of the previous novel, “Precipice” and follows two plotlines. The first of these is in regards to exploring how Reyes first met the Klingon, Gorkon when he was Captain of the USS Dauntless several years past. It explores how Reyes came to learn more about the Klingon mind-set and motivations and provides some backstory to explain why Gorkon decides to use Reyes for his own purposes in the future. I enjoyed that we also get to learn a bit more about the bonds between Reyes, Fisher and Gannon, the captain of the USS Bombay who dies in the prequel novella, “Harbinger”.

The 2nd element of this novella follows Desai and the Chief Medical Officer Ezekiel Fisher as they investigate the mysterious death of a Starfleet Officer who was trying to persuade some colonists to relocate. This sub-plot intrigued me on two levels, first up; I loved seeing Fisher and Desai actually out and about in the world as normally these two tend to be stuck on the Starbase. Further to this, it was also nice to see an author further explore some of the paranoia that people do have to Starfleet and what they may use research and scientific progress to do.

The final novella in the collection is David Mack's "The Stars Look Down" in which we follow Quinn and Bridy Mac on a mission to explore the re-emergence of the Jinoteur wave pattern. This is probably the story with the fastest pacing and it is full on fun and adventure but it suffers from some of the same issues I had with the previous novel, “Precipice”. Namely, we get to see lots more of the Super-heroic Quinn with his improbable skillset that just seems far too fanciful to be believed. I have to admit, that the irritation and incredulity of the plotline meant that the ending didn’t have as powerful an effect on me as it probably should have. On the positive front, the story does advance the overall Vanguard plot and I was still left looking forward to see what is going to happen in the next full length novel.

Overall, I do continue to enjoy the Vanguard Series although this collection was a little bit hit and miss for me. Everything was well written but some of the stories either seemed a bit dry and unneeded or required just too much suspension of disbelief to really appreciate. If you are a fan of the series, then you will enjoy “Declassified”, but I think it is probably the weakest book in the Vanguard series to date.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

The Land That Time Forgot (Caspak Book 1) - Edgar Rice Burroughs


Title: The Land That Time Forgot
Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 1918
Formats: Hardback/Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
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Amazon UK

Review:
“The Land that Time Forgot” by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a classic novel set during WWI in which a group of people from both sides of the conflict find themselves stranded in a strange and mysterious land called Caspak. They soon find that Caspak’s seclusion from the world means that there are prehistoric animals and vegetation still surviving there alongside some primitive human tribes. It soon becomes obvious to this group of both allies and enemies that they must face many dangerous adventures if they are to one day return home.

The story is told at a decent pace and I thoroughly enjoyed the initial portions of the novel which covers the capturing of a German U-Boat by the Brits and Americans. This section of the novel was written wonderfully by Burroughs and I found the plot to be quite interesting and engaging. However, once the novel moves onto Caspak itself, the story soon descends into a rather pulpy adventure fantasy which jumps from one crisis to the next. Yes, it is action packed and moves along quickly, but the plot itself just becomes rather flimsy and lacking in depth as Burroughs becomes more interesting in giving the reader action and adventure. For me, the sections of the story set on Caspak were only made bearable due to the wonderful setting itself which Burroughs does make quite atmospheric and I also found the evolutionary aspects of the human tribes quite interesting to observe.

The characters themselves seemed rather too rigidly defined with an obvious hero, love interest and villain there to see. There are no surprises with any of them and to be honest they are all quite lacking in detail. There are no complicated, multi-facetted characters here; they are more or less caricatures that exist just to ensure there is someone there who can be used to fit the various plot points.

My final gripe, is in regards to the ending itself. It is very abrupt and we don’t really get a proper resolution. It feels like an attempt at creating a cliff-hanger to make sure we read the next book, but it just didn’t feel like a truly natural ending to the novel which was a bit disappointing.

Overall, this is an action packed adventure that is interesting enough but it feels rather dated with a rather pulpy plot and quite uninspiring characters. I will probably read the sequel just to find out what happens next and whilst I expect it to be competently written, I am not expecting anything more than a light pulpy fantasy adventure.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Star Trek: The Case of the Colonist's Corpse - Bob Ingersoll & Tony Isabella



Title: The Case of the Colonist's Corpse
Author: Bob Ingersoll & Tony Isabella
Genre: Science-Fiction
Published: 2002
Formats: Paperback/Ebook

Available at:
Amazon
Amazon UK

Review:
"The Case of the Colonist's Corpse" by Bob Ingersoll and Tony Isabella is an interesting departure from standard Star Trek literature. There is only a brief cameo from the Enterprise and its crew with the majority of the novel being devoted to telling a mystery/courtroom drama story set on a colony world with a story centres around Sam Cogley, the lawer who defended Captain Kirk in the TV episode “Court Martial”.

The events of the novel take place on Aneher II, a planet whose ownership is being contested by both the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Under the terms of the Organian Peace Treaty whichever government is deemed to have best developed their portion of the planet will be awarded the planet and both groups are therefore trying to prove their abilities. The uneasy peace between the two groups is shattered however by the murder of the Federation Administrator, Daniel Latham, seemingly killed by the Klingon Commander Mak'Tor. In order to provide a fair trial, Sam Cogley volunteers to defend Mak’Tor and must face off against his previous foe in the courtroom, prosecutor Areel Shaw.

The plot follows a classic mystery template with the reader knowing who is dead and who is going to be accused right from the earliest moments. They also know that the accused is obviously innocent and the fun lies in trying to pick the real culprit out a list of suspects who all have clear reasons for wanting to kill the victim. If you have ever read Perry Mason mystery novel then you will have a good idea what type of novel this is as it is very similar in style.

In regards to the writing itself, on the whole it felt quite simplistic but I don’t think that this distracted from the simple fun of seeing the Trek Universe explored in such an original and enjoyable way. However, this decision to concentrate on a small and little explored element of the Trek Universe instead of just re-hashing the standard Trek formula does result in one issue which may disappoint some readers. Basically, there is very little time put aside for the traditional characters of The Original Series. Personally, I didn’t mind this but I know there are some readers of Trek lit who mainly read these novels because of the Enterprise and its crew.

Overall, this was an enjoyable novel which provides readers with a Trek novel that doesn’t follow the traditional template. The fusion of Star Trek and Courtroom drama is an interesting one that had me entertained although I suspect the Science-Fiction elements may put off regular readers of the Mystery genre. In addition, any Star Trek fan who regular reads Trek books due to the Enterprise crew will also probably have some issues.