Genre Fiction


Book Reviews


Our Lady Of DarknessOur Lady Of Darkness by Fritz Leiber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

OUR LADY OF DARKNESS isn’t an exciting read. It’s a slow burner, a mass of details, all seeming inconsequential at first, that build and grow into something that is ultimately rich and strange and terrifying.

There’s a lot going on here, in the range and depth of characters that remind me of some of Raymond Chandler’s or Ross MacDonald’s lost people in California, in the details of the occult nature of city building, and in the secret pasts of famous genre writers such as Jack London and Clark Ashton Smith among others.

It’s all wrapped up in a mystery being solved by a broken man, trying to put a jigsaw of pieces back into some kind of order that might make sense to him.

It’s compelling stuff, and the denouement is the stuff of nightmares for bibliophiles.

One of the great works of modern supernatural literature, it deserves to be much better known than it is.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to GHOST TRAIN by Stephen Laws

Ghost TrainGhost Train by Stephen Laws

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was my introduction to Stephen Laws way back when, and led me to seek out everything he has written.

It’s based on a great premise… that the main East Coast rail line from London to the North of England is on a ley line that can channel power to the London End, with a view to waking an ancient demon.

Strange deaths abound on the line. Our protagonist, himself a survivor of a strange experience on a train, has to try to stop the energy building up.

The climax is a tour-de-force as the train hurtles to London, the demon grows ever more powerful, and the deaths pile up.

Laws has a wild imagination, and he likes to kill people in very gruesome fashions, but if, like me, you like your horror fast and action packed, then he’s the man for you.

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Book Review: 5/5 stars to FEVRE DREAM by George R R Martin

Fevre DreamFevre Dream by George R.R. Martin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best written vampire novels I have read. A real pleasure after having waded through so much tripe elsewhere.

GRRM knows how to write, and how to plot.

The main character in this book isn’t really a person at all… it’s a steamboat, the Fevre Dream. It is built by a Captain, and his strangely pale partner. Together they take to the river, getting involved in trying to set fast times and race other steamers.

Things hot up when it becomes obvious that the pale partner has night-time interests. He is hunting for others of his kind. And when he finds them, we get to some of the most vicious vamps in literature, along with their equally vicious human “pet”

The characters are all vividly drawn, especially Abner, the steamboat captain who just wants to be on the river, in a big boat.

And GRRM has enough twists and turns in the plot to keep the reader interested through until the end, which comes with a perfect grace note. There won’t be a dry eye in the house.

They really should make this into a movie… just to show what “Interview with The Vampire” COULD have been.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to THE SIX MESSIAHS by Mark Frost

The Six Messiahs (The List of Seven, #2)The Six Messiahs by Mark Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I first read THE SIX MESSIAHS, I was more than a bit disappointed with it. I wanted a sequel to the excellent LIST OF SEVEN. I wanted Jack Sparks and Conan Doyle, hunting down the bad guy, with all the appropriate Sherlockian nods and winks that would entail. What we get instead is a dizzying host of characters, hardly anything of Jack Sparks, and not much at all of Doyle.

If you’re looking for Sherlock in this one, you’re really looking in the wrong place. THE SIX MESSIAHS is a different beast entirely. It’s more about suffering, and redemption, and the power of cults than anything else.

On this second reading I got the point a lot quicker than on the first, and I raced through it. Frost is great at pacing, has an eye for what makes a character memorable, and an inventive imagination that keeps the whole thing careering along.

There’s a bit too much head-hopping around the point of view characters for my liking, and even a couple of places where it gets confusing trying to figure out which head we’re supposed to be in at the time. And in the rush to the finish, a couple of characters get sidelined and don’t really get to finish their part of the story.

But that’s just quibbling. All in all, it’s a fine romp. And despite what I said earlier, there is indeed a glimpse of Sherlock, right at the end, when the right thing is done and most of the threads are tied up.

I keep hoping for another sequel from Frost to see what Doyle gets up to next, but the new Twin Peaks will do just fine in the meantime.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to HIDE ME AMONG THE GRAVES by Tim Powers

Hide Me Among the GravesHide Me Among the Graves by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a big Tim Powers fan for many years now.

I adore the way he attacks a plot with exuberance and bravado. In this one we’re tossed into the lives of the Rossetti family, a veterinarian, a prostitute and an adventurer in Dickensian London all plagued by a family blood curse that has come back to claim its own. It’s also a sequel to an earlier work, but you don’t need to know that to enjoy this one on its own merits.

19th Century London is a locale Powers has detailed before of course, in THE ANUBIS GATES in particular. HIDE isn’t quite in that league of baroque brilliance – then again, what is? – but it’s a glorious, almost breathless romp that throws snatches of poetry and music hall at you, draws in legends of London from the Roman era onward, dances in the bars and descends into the sewers and caverns beneath the Old Lady to meet the denizens, natural and supernatural who live there.

It’s all driven along by Powers’ at times poetic language and feel for a story. You’ll find death, romance, seances, exorcisms, high magic in Highgate Cemetery, ghosts by the Thames and derring-do in Cheyne Walk.

It’s a fine addition to Powers’ catalog.

Reading him always makes me feel like a rank amateur in my own writing – but it also makes me want to strive to do better, so I’m off to try.

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Book Review: 4/5 Stars to REVIVAL by Stephen King

RevivalRevival by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been a constant reader of the man since CARRIE – over forty years now, and in recent years have found his work a bit hit or miss for me – I loved 11/22/63 for example, but was terribly disappointed in Dr. Sleep. So there was some trepidation when I picked up REVIVAL, having read scathing reviews.

I’m glad I ignored them though for, despite being another slow burner, there is much to enjoy in this tale of broken people, redemption and mad science. King references Arthur Machen’s THE GREAT GOD PAN but I found echoes of other works here, from Theodore Sturgeon’s THE DREAMING JEWELS to Shelley’s FRANKENSTEIN, and also B Movie nods to the likes of THE MAN WITH THE X-RAY EYES and even I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF.

As I said, it’s a slow burner, and it’s only as we approach the climax that all the threads come together and we see why we needed to look so closely at history, family, young-and lost-love and how life changes as the years grow. Then it’s a rush riding the lightning to the bitter-sweet end.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit myself now, having been on this journey with the writer since I was 16 myself, but this book spoke to me, and I liked it a lot. It reminded me in style of another much maligned King, FROM A BUICK 8, and, yes, I liked that oneĀ a lot too.

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Book Review: 4/5 stars to Medusa’s Web by Tim Powers

Medusa's WebMedusa’s Web by Tim Powers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another one-sitting read from the great Tim Powers.

I’ve been a fan since reading THE DRAWING OF THE DARK in 1980, and over the years since he’s never failed to astonish and entertain me with his skill and imagination. This is no exception.

Medusa’s Web initially sets itself up as a Gothic horror, with its rambling old house and disfunctional- and weird – family members, but Powers quickly spins things off into fractured time streams, plots within plots and a mystery dating back to 1920’s Hollywood. A word of warning though – if you’re an arachnophobe, it’s probably best to avoid this one, as there are spiders here that’ll haunt your dreams.

As ever, it’s all heady stuff from Powers. There were a couple of places where I felt the complications of the mythos he built, and the amount of exposition needed to keep the plot going, was in danger of bringing the whole thing crashing down – but Powers is a master juggler, and keeps all the balls in the air just long enough to speed us along to the finale.

A very enjoyable way to spend the day.

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Book Review – 5/5 stars to The Nickronomicon by Nick Mamatas

The NickronomiconThe Nickronomicon by Nick Mamatas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s a keen intelligence at work in Nick Mamatas’ fiction, and he’s not afraid to let it show. This collection of Lovecraftian works of his shows off his various talents in great fashion. His voice is distinctive, with noir touches mingling with philosophical musings, and a hint, and often more than a hint, of razor sharp sarcasm.

There’s tentacles here, and Mi-Go, nameless dread and ancient books, but it’s the shifting nature of reality that gets much of the focus in these stories, and the ground is rarely solid underfoot.

It’s a great collection, and heartily recommended to anyone wanting to see how Lovecraft’s vision can be molded into fiction relevant for a new day and age.

Great stuff.

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Book Review – 5/5 stars to THE ABOMINABLE by Dan Simmons

The AbominableThe Abominable by Dan Simmons

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was wary approaching ABOMINABLE. I liked his other recent works, DROOD, and THE FIFTH HEART but felt both were bogged down somewhat by too much detail. And judging from the reviews I’d seen, ABOMINABLE was getting tarred with the same brush.

But I needn’t have worried. There is indeed plenty of detail here, especially of climbing gear and clothing, and the acts of climbing itself, but it serves the story better than in the other books, and where DROOD especially felt somewhat claustrophobic and dense, ABOMINABLE feels much more expansive and open, and gives a real idea of the joys of being on top of the world, and the freedom that can be felt there.

I hate heights. They make me go weak at the knees, and just reading some of the scenes here had almost the same effect, a testament to Simmons’ way with a descriptive passage.

Simmons’ prose is as excellent as ever, and the narrator, Jake, feels fully formed and alive. It’s a tale of derring-do on the world’s highest peak of course but it’s also about friendship, and adversity, and conquering obstacles. There’s also much in the latter part of the book that reminds me of some of Alistair Maclean’s adventures, with skullduggery in snowy landscapes.

It takes twists and turns I wasn’t expecting, and the title of the book might seem like a misnomer to some, as expectations of snowmen are a bit of a red herring. That doesn’t detract from the story. It’s a hefty book, but it doesn’t seem like it, and I thoroughly enjoyed Simmons’ return to the cold landscapes he evoked so wonderfully in THE TERROR.

Quality stuff, and highly recommended.

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