I don't know why I continue to punish myself by reading Garth Ennis material. I should just face the facts and admit that his, er... style is not for...moreI don't know why I continue to punish myself by reading Garth Ennis material. I should just face the facts and admit that his, er... style is not for me and move on with my life. Thing is, I'm still curious just what it is the kids see in Ennis. Surely there can be no appeal found in his storytelling abilities, which are at best a lame Alan Moore pastiche. Is it just the violence? The coarse language? The anti-God, fuck-the-world, we're-all-gonna-die messages? Or maybe it's just the T&A? Horny teenagers tend to overrate anything with a healthy amount of boobs and booty on display.
With lowly expectations I delved into The Pro, a 2002 one-shot from Image Comics which asks the question that never once in the course of human history crossed anyone's mind - What if prostitutes had superpowers? A parody version of Uatu the Watcher, named the Voyeur (who sits in a cloaked ship in space and watches Earthlings doing naughty things with a box of tissues constantly at-hand - cue eye rolling), randomly decides to bestow superpowers upon a hooker who happens to catch his eye. Next thing you know, The Pro is forced into a parody version of the Justice League, named the League of Honor. Ohhh... I get it! Garth is so clever! Hee hee. The author is telling us just how dissatisfied he is with contemporary and evil mainstream comics! In the parody versions of the superheroes in the League of Honor, you'll read all kinds of unique, never-before-told jokes that are most certainly NOT worn out...
* Wonder Woman is secretly a lesbian! * The black guy always dies first! * Batman and Robin are actually lovers! * Superman is a big, virginal dork! * Nobody likes Flash!
Wow, Mr. Ennis! Tell me more!
As it turns out, all the villains the League encounters are lame, and neither they nor the heroes they battle are in-touch with any 'real-world' issues. I then discovered that The Pro, while attempting to bitch slap the comic book industry on one hand, is also secretly cavorting as a post-9/11 knee jerk reaction piece. Ennis wants us to know that it is pointless to have any hope for the world, and that if any 'heroes' are to succeed in this day and age, they need to be just as ruthless as a terrorist, because we need to take the fight to them... or something. The stance here is about as muddled and juvenile as the atheist gimmick in the Preacher series. The only thing missing was a few lines about how America brought 9/11 on itself. I'll switch on some cable news if I want to hear folks' dogmatic ranting about this sort of thing, thanks.
What of the more primal things then? You know, the aforementioned sex and violence? The real reason anyone actually reads this sort of stuff. Well, as expected, the blood and gore is amped up to eleven, the artists leaving very little to the imagination. You get to see terrorists with their arms ripped off or the lady villain get her face smashed in followed up by an open-mouthed golden shower finale courtesy of The Pro. Maybe I'm just getting soft and jaded in my old age, but none of this had any effect on me. The language is pretty much a f-word or s-word every few lines, which will be no surprise to readers of previous Ennis fare. And the sex... it's actually not as bad as I thought it would be, given the premise and all. Still, I didn't find it all that titillating to see panels of a hooker with a nasty crack rash giving faux-Superman a blowjob. Again, maybe that's just me.
Though the sex-starved fourteen year old boys will dig The Pro, it's not the sort of funny book I'd care to ever look at again. Not as woeful as Preacher, but I've still yet to find anything redeemable or remarkable about the scribblings of the highly regarded Mr. Ennis.(less)
This might be the first novel I’ve ever read that actually lived up to all the hype the blurbs on the front and back cover built up for it. You’re doi...moreThis might be the first novel I’ve ever read that actually lived up to all the hype the blurbs on the front and back cover built up for it. You’re doing pretty well for yourself if you’ve got Dean Koontz and Stephen King giving you the rub on your own book sleeve, but their quips are not just cheap hyperbole. Live Girls is a damn fine horror story, and probably an even better vampire story. This is a twisted, disturbing, and ultimately postmodern take on the fanged fiends, with a healthy dose of dark erotica thrown into the cocktail for good measure.
The setting is a wintry, slate gray New York City, sometime in the late 80’s. Davey Owen, an editor by trade, wanders through the cold perma-rain of the city streets, finding himself in the gaudy neon gestalt of Times Square. He’s lost his girl and then his job, but bad things always come in threes, don’t they? When he decides to ‘live a little’ and head into one of the sex joints at random, things will get much, much worse for poor Davey. He chooses a club called 'Live Girls', which seems a little more discreet than the others along the street. Inside, he encounters Anya, a stripper who allows Davey to get a little bit 'interactive' with the private show.
Guys, just think of the worst possible location a female vampire could drain blood from you, okay? Ray Garton goes there.
Our other main protagonist is Walter Benedek, veteran journalist for the New York Times (thankfully he’s not a complete liberal pussy… Oh, come on! I couldn’t resist!) and a straight-laced skeptic when it comes to all things supernatural. As the story unfolds, that skepticism quickly erodes, as Walter forms something of a friendship with Davey and the two are plunged into the vampiric underworld. Garton gets this part just right, as our protagonists start out with what we think is a mundane murder mystery, only to slowly unravel a world of violence and decadence that has apparently existed under the nose of humanity for an untold number of generations. This is part of what makes the novel a truly superb horror tale; the reader is under the illusion that everything is safe and calm, when suddenly all hell breaks loose, and there’s no going back after that.
Garton proves he can write for both ends of the spectrum, first with a number of brief, but still completely chilling sections of unadulterated, gruesome horror. If you thought his ‘normal’ vampires were bad, wait until you discover what’s living in the basement of 'Live Girls'. I couldn’t contain the gleeful feelings I experienced at the author’s horrific and grotesque creations, I was giggling like a madman. At the same time, there’s the erotica - at least half a dozen sexual encounters between the various characters throughout the novel. While I rarely applaud an author sexing a book up, especially male authors (because their scenes are either too flowery or too clinical or just downright embarrassing, and they’re usually doing it just for shock value), Garton appears to have a keen mind when it comes to penning highly sensual lovemaking while still capturing the visceral and animalistic qualities of doing the naughty.
What I really like here is how the author turns a great number of formerly commonplace myths about the vampire and turns them on their head. Sure, it’s been done to death nowadays (so much so that the rumors for an updated Dracula film indicate it’s going to be a hard adaption of the novel), but in ‘87, some of these ideas were fresh. Vampires don’t burst into flame if they’re caught in sunlight (although bright lights do seem to bug them a bit), they’re not warded off by holy symbols, they don’t need to be invited into a home before entering. The only typical piece of vampire lore that makes it into this novel is their aversion to garlic, which is explained away as an allergy. Indeed, Garton brings the legendary undead creatures into the contemporary by elucidating a number of the formerly muddy areas about their existence in scientific terms.
The ending is very satisfying, despite the fact that a number of loose ends still remain. It would take Garton damn near 18 years to get around to writing a sequel to Live Girls, entitled Night Life (which will shortly be on my 'to-read' list). I would say that if you’re yearning for a decent horror in an age when they’re in perilously short supply, Live Girls is one to look out for.(less)
You have your purists out there who won’t accept anything other than the source material as seen in Weird Tales in the 30’s. You also have your childr...moreYou have your purists out there who won’t accept anything other than the source material as seen in Weird Tales in the 30’s. You also have your children of the 70’s and 80’s who grew up on the Marvel Comics version of the character. Then you have idiots like me, who adore Howard’s work, but still want more of the awe-inspiring Cimmerian, not really giving a damn what medium he shows up in. Yes, there are a great many Conan novels out there that are nothing but cheap cash-ins, but there have been a number of quality releases by authors other than Howard over the years, despite what the surly purists might have you believe.
The elusive John C. Hocking wrote one hell of a Howard pastiche in Conan and the Emerald Lotus. It is with a heavy heart that I discovered a second Conan novel by the man, completed and ready to go to print, was axed because of some jive with the new owners of the license and their policy on the pastiche books. Regardless, we have this, his single Conan entry for the Tor line, to remember him by for the moment.
Conan finds himself tangled in a wicked web of feuding sorcerers, a plot in which the superstitious northerner had no desire to get involved with in the first place. Denying an offer of employment from the wicked Shakar, Conan finds himself magically ensnared by the angry mage, forced to do his bidding or have the life force sucked right out of him. Shakar’s task: assassinate his rival, the Lady Zelandra and steal her supply of Emerald Lotus, a potent leaf both casters have found themselves addicted to recently.
There is a reversal of fortunes though, as Conan is soon released from Shakar’s curse by Zelandra, who retains the Cimmerian’s services herself. She wishes to travel into the Stygian desert to defeat the evil Ethram-Fal, an insidious sorcerer who introduced both Zelandra and Shakar to his supply of Emerald Lotus, a drug with exceptionally dark origins which can greatly increase the power of any magic-user. Ethram-Fal’s reason for hooking two rival sorcerers on the drug seems to be nothing more than a horrible petri dish experiment to determine how long a person can live once their supply runs out, but the wretch also seems to have some pretty nefarious plans for the Lady Zelandra if he can indeed lure her to his impenetrable palace.
Joining Zelandra and Conan on their quest into the desert wasteland are Zelandra’s hulking mute bodyguard and lover Heng Shih and her sultry scribe Neesa. If one wanted to nitpick, it could be said that Neesa serves little purpose other than as a wench for Conan to bed throughout the adventure, but her skill with a throwing knife does in fact end up saving the party on a couple of occasions. Hot on the heels of Zelandra’s pack is Shakar’s undead bodyguard, Gulbanda, a frightening wraith-like creature who can never truly know death.
Hocking may not have completely emulated the more poetic side of Howard’s prose, but he certainly has the same gritty, in your face style as the king of sword-and-sorcery. There are also some Lovecraftian hints about the book, such as the grotesque Lotus plant, which grows as it consumes flesh, the supernatural nature of the sorcerers (I appreciated that a fire spell had Cthuga as one of the command words), and the bizarre, drug induced mind voyages said sorcerers embark on. Hocking is no slouch on the action either. Whether it’s the clashing steel of a sword fight or a down and dirty brawl, the author is relentless, keeping up a masterful edge of your seat pace during the action.
This novel is a potboiler, and I say that with no negative context whatsoever. What a fabulous page-turner this is. If you’re already open to the idea of the pastiche books, you should add Conan and the Emerald Lotus to your reading list.(less)
**spoiler alert** I approached this novel with a certain amount of trepidation, given its somewhat lowly reputation amongst Ravenloft aficionados (des...more**spoiler alert** I approached this novel with a certain amount of trepidation, given its somewhat lowly reputation amongst Ravenloft aficionados (despite the fact that it was one of the few books in the line chosen for a short-lived 2003 reprint from WotC). Now that I’ve read the book, I sit here wondering why the fans have such a problem accepting it. Sure, it’s laced with a number of touchy or graphic subjects, including but not limited to: rape, torture, and infanticide, but certainly not to the pornographic levels that others had warned me to expect. When did the Ravenloft fans become shut-in Puritans, anyway? I thought the ultimate goal with these books was to deliver the most chilling, twisted, scary tales to keep you awake long into the night, correct? If so, Tapestry of Dark Souls is a feverish nightmare just waiting to happen.
The first third of the story follows the exploits of a woman named Leith, as she recounts the sheer terror of her encounters with an artifact of immeasurable evil. It takes a couple of chapters before the author finds a rhythm, but once she does this portion of the story becomes a real page-turner until its rather abrupt conclusion. Leith, traveling across the land of Tepest with her miserable, unloving husband, finds sweet, sickly seduction in the aforementioned artifact, known only as the Tapestry, when it calls out to her. In retrospect, I think the author did an amazing job whenever the Tapestry and all its dark powers were described, because ultimately the thing is nothing more than a fancy bed sheet. The Tapestry cannot be destroyed by conventional means, nor magical, so a gathering of priests known as the Guardians have pledged their existence to ‘protecting’ it, so to speak, keeping the vile artifact safely stored within the confines of their stronghold and undergoing nightly rituals to prevent it from reaching out to any other souls in their sleep.
Leith and her husband conspire to steal the Tapestry, and for a time after doing the deed, the two reside at the inn located in the nearby village of Linde, where we are introduced to the characters Ivar, Andor, and the gorgeous yet dangerous vixen Maeve. Yet the lure of the Tapestry plagues Leith’s thoughts constantly. Although one of the Guardians arrives to reclaim the artifact, it is too late, the dark powers within the Tapestry turn Leith’s unconscious contempt for her husband into pure hatred and loathing, causing her to murder him. Leith attempts to flee the land with the cloth, but is slowed in her travels when she is attacked by some kind of wolf creature, which eventually allows the remaining monks to catch up and retrieve the Tapestry. Leith recovers from her ordeal, only to discover that she is carrying a child and the wounds she suffered have infected her with a lycanthropic disease. The source of the lycanthropy is revealed to be Maeve, who wishes Leith to stay with her and be her lover; the father of her child, however… Leith is not so sure of.
Hooked yet? I know I was. Unfortunately, this section comes to a screeching halt after about ninety pages. Suddenly, the storytelling shifts from Leith’s first person account to a third person omnipresent narrator. We are plunged forward in time, to follow Leith’s son Jonathan, a silver haired nancy boy who has an aptitude for magic. Left by Leith in the care of the monks, they raise the child as best they can. The Guardians decide it wise not to reveal too much about Jonathan’s mother, nor his ‘father’, for fear that the Tapestry will also call out to him. Jon’s eventual quest to discover his roots turns out to be one of the driving forces behind the second part of the novel.
When the boy comes of age, he is given the choice to stay on with the Guardians or follow his own path. The monk closest to Jon, burly Hektor, encourages the youngster to experience life a little and stay in Linde for a time to contemplate his true calling. While in the village, Jon is taken under the wing of Ivar, who secretly practices the arcane arts himself. He falls in love with, and eventually becomes betrothed to Ivar’s daughter, Sondra, and develops rivalries with the temptress Maeve and Mishya, an alcoholic young man who saw himself as Sondra’s suitor. Despite Jon’s attempt at a normal village life, something dark and sinister calls out to him, willing him to come back to the Guardians’ stronghold and discover the ‘truth’ about his mother and father… something that wants to be released from the Tapestry…
The author takes the time to flesh out the supporting cast of characters, to give them compelling backstories and emotions and motivations. It can be tricky navigating through a large Dramatis personæ, yet the author manages it well enough, shifting the focus at appropriate moments, never dwelling too long on one particular character. Granted, the swollen cast list does force the pacing of the main plot to slow at times, but the reader is actually encouraged to care about these folks. When they start dropping like flies, one by one, at the grim and cataclysmic climax, an actual sense of loss can be felt.
Tapestry of Dark Souls succeeds on all levels as a dark fantasy novel. If anything, it was marketed wrong as a gothic horror story under the Ravenloft line. Change a few things here and there, remove or replace a couple of names, and this novel could’ve been printed on its own, without a TSR logo stamped on the side. The D&D connection actually holds this book down. I’m not trying to insult the D&D players who enjoy these novels (I am one myself, after all), but Tapestry of Dark Souls achieves a sense of depth rarely seen in a tie-in novel. This is a truly original storyline, not a facsimile of Frankenstein’s monster or Count Dracula, influences that have clearly been aped for other Ravenloft adventures. I highly recommend this book to the horror fans and any open-minded Ravenloft fans willing to give it a chance. It’s one hell of a chiller.(less)
**spoiler alert** "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
As far as first lines go, it ranks right up there with Martin...more**spoiler alert** "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed."
As far as first lines go, it ranks right up there with Martin Sheen lamenting "Saigon. Shit! I'm still only in Saigon." or Robert Smith howling "It doesn't matter if we all die." at the beginning of The Cure's Pornography album. There is beauty in simplicity at times, and the teenage author captured it here as if he were a seasoned professional. The first line to this novel is beautiful because not only is it immensely evocative, but also because it tells you everything you need to know about the two characters right from the outset. The gunslinger - relentless, determined, mysterious. The man in black - evil, elusive, a terrifying force of nature.
Stephen King readily admits he did a liberal amount of pilfering when he wrote this, as all the best authors do. Indeed, the gunslinger's mission is a sort of mixture of the search for the Holy Grail meets the quest to destroy the 'One Ring' meets the chase to get to the gold in Arch Stanton's grave first. Post apocalyptic and western elements blend almost seamlessly into the dark fantasy world that Stephen King creates, a world so full of depth and diversity, it rivals those universes created by luminaries of the past such as Tolkien or Moorcock. The denizens of this world are a mostly sullen, ill-tempered lot; druggies and drunkards and snarling Bible-bashers, all products of their harsh environment.
I first read this novel when I was about eight years old. I seriously doubt I truly 'got it' at that age, but then again... At any rate, what I do remember is how enamored I was with the gunslinger's ambiguity and amorality. It was probably the first encounter I'd had with an anti-hero, and I've been hooked on them ever since. Here we have a man who shoots his lover in the head, and although he does it to 'save' her from a fate that could've been worse than death, he does it without any hint of compunction or second thought. He shoots the whole goddamn town up, children included, and yet he's still the hero, because the man he's after... now that's a villain.
Arguably the greatest bad guy Stephen King ever created, the man in black (or Walter O' Dim or Randall Flagg or a number of other aliases) is a Molotov cocktail of anarchy and chaos, as if the very act of disorder is what stimulates him. He's just as evil as your average Sauron, but so charismatic and irresistible that even the most kind, charitable of souls can be swayed over to his side. The necromancer would go on to appear in a number of other King works, including later books in the Dark Tower series, but also crossing over into stories like The Eyes of the Dragon, Hearts in Atlantis, and The Stand. Hell, damn near every Stephen King novel since he wrote The Gunslinger has some sort of vague connection or cameo from the Dark Tower series.
There are those who read The Gunslinger and want to slam their heads up against the wall for various reasons. Perhaps because they just can't connect with the novel, perhaps because it lacks the usual Stephen King vigor, or perhaps they were just expecting every King novel to be set in Maine. No doubt, this is not an easy read for fans who know the horror writer King only. The protagonist is a stock, nameless anti-hero for the first hundred or so pages, you're never sure what exactly it is he's after, and the world he inhabits is completely foreign to us, despite containing a number of 'real world' references. The writing is hardnosed, the plot bizarre and drug addled. Fans of Lovecraft and Howard will connect with this story more than fans of contemporary slasher tales will. The story will also resonate with those who can still remember or currently live in the vinegar of youth. The Gunslinger was written by a teenager who wanted to stand on top of the tallest building he could find and shout "FUCK THE WORLD!" for no particular reason at all, or as he so eloquently put it in the novel, "Fuck you and the horse you rode in on."(less)
Oh dear, oh dear. No, this just doesn't work. This is why 2nd edition went to shit towards the end of its life. A sequel to the classic Keep on the Bo...moreOh dear, oh dear. No, this just doesn't work. This is why 2nd edition went to shit towards the end of its life. A sequel to the classic Keep on the Borderlands just goes straight into the "what were they THINKING?!" category.
You know how a return to the keep should have been done? If they could've somehow turned it into a high level adventure where old characters have to return to the Caves of Chaos, the site of their first adventures. Maybe some lich or beholder moves in, redesigns the place a bit, installs new traps and brings in new minions. A number of cave-ins and such could make the player knowledge of the original layout a moot point. The keep itself could have a new ruler who frowns upon adventurers, just to make it more interesting and to take away that 'safe' resting place. But the mad hermit with the pet lion stays, dammit, I don't care what you say. Even if your PC's killed them the first time around... another mad hermit and pet lion spawns. Or something.(less)
"Whatever's going on, I can sense that it's evil." His voice dropped to a cold whisper. "And evil must be fought."
The Doctor, Ben, and Polly get invol...more"Whatever's going on, I can sense that it's evil." His voice dropped to a cold whisper. "And evil must be fought."
The Doctor, Ben, and Polly get involved with a murder mystery, a quasi-religious cult, a slimy movie director, a crooked police chief, and a sinister propaganda film that is certainly more than it seems. Welcome to the City of Angels, Doc!
Many have claimed that Dying in the Sun is just Doctor Who meets L.A. Confidential. Good thing L.A. Confidential is one of my favorite films. To be fair, the novel only starts out like a typical noir-ish crime story. By the second half, the novel reads more like the usual science-fiction adventure you would expect.
The regulars are well-portrayed, even if Ben doesn't have much to do in this one besides hanging around with the Doctor and shouting "Oi!" at people if they threaten his Time Lord pal. Polly, although under the psychic influence of the baddies in the second half, also comes across like she did on-screen. Then there's the Doctor, who is portrayed magnificently in this novel. I could hear Pat Troughton's voice every time the Doctor had a line of dialogue, and Jon de Burgh Miller gets all the mannerisms correct too -- gleefully rubbing his hands together, pulling silly frowny faces, sneaking about and popping out directly in front of someone (usually scaring the living daylights out of them). Much like he did on-screen, the Doctor is not afraid to play the fool, not afraid to appear weak or make the baddies think he's on their side. Suffice to say, there's no 'bland' 2nd Doctor curse in this particular book.
As for the main plot, it's fun and would've probably fit in well with some of the more mind-bending Troughton era stories. A new film, Dying in the Sun, is soon to be released. Through a typically haphazard turn of events, the Doctor and friends are invited to the pre-release screening party. They soon discover that the film has a seriously potent amount of psychic power over those who watch it, and the special effects are just too ahead of their time to be in a film from 1947. Mayhem ensues as the Doctor tries to get the film shut down before it's public release.
The author could've hit everyone over the head with the underlying themes here: the powers of propaganda and Hollywood influence, but he just leaves it be and tells the story, and the novel is all the better for it. Later in the story, the Doctor encounters the aforementioned cult, and it's quite obviously a send-up of the current Scientology craze in Hollywood, but Miller again restrains himself and doesn't go for any real low blows or cheap shots.
The only serious complaint I have about Dying in the Sun is how the era the novel was set in wasn't tapped into very much at all. It didn't exactly scream '1947' to me. The descriptions of the setting, Hollywood, are perfectly fine, but it could've been set in modern times without altering much of the story at all. Where are all the cars from 1947? The clothes? The headline stories? There's not even that many movie-related references from the time period, which is strange given the subject matter of the novel. There's just a lone reference to King Kong (which was out decades before this is set), and a couple of Disney films from that period.
However, flaws aside, Dying in the Sun is still an enjoyable page-turner, especially for long-suffering Troughton fans looking for another good 2nd Doc tale to sink their teeth into. Highly recommended.(less)
Venusian Lullaby has frequently earned praise for the unique exercise in world-building that author Paul Leonard utilized. While I really admire the a...moreVenusian Lullaby has frequently earned praise for the unique exercise in world-building that author Paul Leonard utilized. While I really admire the amount of work Leonard must have put in to creating the race of Venusians from scratch (their customs, their dress, sciences, philosophies, architecture and so much more), much of it left me feeling cold. Most of this novel felt like reading the little footnotes throughout the Lord of the Rings books discussing silly pieces of minutae about Middle-Earth's features. While a number of Doctor Who novel plots are either silly, far-fetched, or just repetitive, the plot in Venusian Lullaby doesn't even start until 150 or so pages into the book. At least give me something to follow along with!
Many readers have seemed to be enthralled with the Venusians, but I was just not impressed. They're not very clever, trying to make rocket ships out of wood. Oh, you're supposed to feel sorry for them because they're allergic to most all metals, but they've had millions and millions of years to work on these things, and have apparently made no progress in that period of time. Maybe I just didn't 'get it', but the entire race just seemed a bit slow in the head to me. Then there's the infernally annoying Venusian children ("Bud-mother! Bud-mother! Waaah!"), who are supposed to be much more intelligent than human children, but act way more immature in the process. How does that happen?
And the Venusian names! Don't get me started. I know it's meant to be a completely foreign culture, but at least give your readers a chance to be able to pronounce some of them. A few of the character names, just to give you an example: Kontojij, Mrodtikhil, Trikhobu, Jofghil... not bad if you had just one or two to keep up with, but there's about twenty or so Venusians we're introduced to throughout the story. You lose track very quickly of which one is which (especially during the final 100 pages of mayhem). There's also another alien race introduced later in the novel called the Sou(ou)shi -- complete with obnoxious parenthesis inserted into their names.
The plot, when it finally gets around to revealing itself to us, involves the Venusians trying to find a means of escape from their doomed planet. It's about three billion years in the past (at least from Ian and Barbara's relative time), and Venus is at this point starting to get just a tad too hot for life to exist. In their desperation, the Venusians turn to the Sou(ou)shi, who arrive at the eleventh hour and offer to take the Venusians away to a safe planet -- Earth. The Doctor, realizing Venusians have never existed on Earth, knows something is rotten in Denmark, and begins his typical meddling in an effort to stop the Sou(ou)shi, whilst dodging Venusians out to kill the Time Lord and his companions. Would've been a fun plot if it was introduced from page one, but I was already snoozing my way through the book at the halfway point, when the action finally starts. Too little too late, in my opinion.
Here's something Venusian Lullaby does well though: characterization of the regulars. Ian and Barbara actually come across like the characters that appeared on screen! It's amazing how many authors seem to have troubles getting those two right. Then we have the 1st Doctor, who is nothing short of brilliant in this novel. We get a rare glimpse into the 1st Doctor's mind at certain points, which is always exciting. This story, set right on the heels of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, shows the Doctor feeling pangs of guilt about leaving Susan behind. The reader comes to understand just how much he misses her company in the TARDIS. Meanwhile, Ian and Barbara bicker with the Doctor about his inability to steer them back home to 1963, wondering if they're going to be the next ones 'left behind' like young Susan. The novel gives a rare glimpse into the 'family life' aboard the TARDIS in between the crew's adventures.
However, characterization alone cannot salvage the entire book. If you're interested in this novel though, you should perhaps seek out some other reviews beforehand, as my lowly opinion of Venusian Lullaby seems to be the minority.(less)
Shadowborn, a story that started life as a module in Dungeon Magazine, was one of the final books produced for the line of Ravenloft horror/fantasy no...moreShadowborn, a story that started life as a module in Dungeon Magazine, was one of the final books produced for the line of Ravenloft horror/fantasy novels. Ahhh yes. The good old days of TSR.
Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good with this particular novel. I felt like I was reading a generic D&D novel rather than something from the gothic horror Ravenloft setting. There's nothing gothic about this novel at all, unless you count about two hundred repetitive descriptions of a 'heart of ice'. Shadowborn is about as spooky as saying 'it was a dark and stormy night'.
Despite the fact that it's not terribly scary, the plot is somewhat intriguing. Young, would-be paladin Alexi Shadowborn is rejected by his god, Belenus, and thus denied his status as a holy knight. Alexi, believing his god denied him because he has a different path to take, is directed towards a quest to discover who murdered his birth mother (also a paladin) some twenty years ago, while also unravelling the mysteries behind an evil entity known only as Ebonbane. Joining Alexi on his quest are his squire, Ferran, love interest Dasmaria, and mysterious cleric Lysander. The pacing of this novel is truly excellent, and is one of the reasons why I fretted about giving Shadowborn a low score. However, things will get worse...
For starters, most of the characters are either annoying (the Shadowborn family, Das), or simply have no depth (Ferran, the villain Ebonbane). The love interest, Das, is a complete moron. If she had real D&D stats, she would probably have an intelligence score of about five. Spoiler alert: I was so pleasantly surprised when she was killed off... and in a very gruesome way, I might add. On the other end of the spectrum, we've got Ferran, who is just there to clean off his master's armor and wipe his arse if required. A truly one-dimensional little chap.
The only character remotely interesting in Shadowborn is Lysander, the mysterious cleric always wearing a hood over his head, keeping to the shadows, and muttering cryptic warnings to the youngsters that they mostly ignore until it's too bloody late. There are a number of twists and turns to Lysander's storyline that one wouldn't expect at the beginning of the novel. One of the strengths of Shadowborn is the fact that it can and will make unexpected plot twists and u-turns. When so many fantasy novels simply stick to convention, this was refreshing to read.
Oh, but I haven't really talked much about our main character, Alexi. What can I say? If you actually liked Anakin Skywalker on-screen in the Star Wars prequel trilogy, I suppose you would like Alexi Shadowborn. These two have so much in common, it's flipping ridiculous.
Here's a shortlist of silly comparisons I made whilst reading through:
- Both have the initials A.S. - Alexi wanted to become a paladin, but was rejected by the Circle of Paladins / Anakin wanted to become a Jedi Master, but was rejected by the Jedi Council - Alexi wields 'Corona', a sword of light / Anakin wields a lightsabre - Alexi uses the power of Belenus / Anakin uses the power of the Force - Both are initially warriors of light who fall into darkness - Both have clumsy and unlikely romances with an uncharismatic female character - Both are incredibly thick, ignorant, and completely wooden - Both have quasi-mullets of the same hair color
Alexi also seems to have some canine blood in his veins, because I counted at least six or seven times throughout the novel where he "tilted his head to the side, curiously." when something was confusing or baffling to him. Dogs tilt their heads to the side like that, not people. Nobody does this in real life. NOBODY.
The resolution is satisfying enough, I suppose. There's room for a sequel, which I believe with the demise of the Ravenloft setting at the hands of Wizards of the Coast, will never materialize. Fine by me. I won't shed any tears if I never hear of Alexi or Ebonbane again. It did have a few nice things going for it, but I can really only recommend Shadowborn to the diehard Ravenloft collectors and fans.(less)
There are a number of reviews of this novel already, so there's little I can say without repeating what others have said.
I'll throw my lot in with the...moreThere are a number of reviews of this novel already, so there's little I can say without repeating what others have said.
I'll throw my lot in with the camp that found The Gun Seller difficult to read. Hugh Laurie has a wonderful sense of humor, and his jokes in this novel are very funny indeed, but they don't always fit in with the narrative so well. In fact, most of the time, they're clearly forced. The baffling plot also leaves something to be desired.
It's not a terrible novel, but probably something you'd really, really have to be in the mood for to enjoy. Either that, or be an absolutely diehard Laurie fan.(less)
I recall attempting to read Tomb of Valdemar well over a year ago, but couldn't quite remember why I seemed to abandon it so fast. When I recently pic...moreI recall attempting to read Tomb of Valdemar well over a year ago, but couldn't quite remember why I seemed to abandon it so fast. When I recently picked it up again, I instantly knew why: This novel has perhaps the worst opening chapter to a book I've ever read. No doubts about it. In fact, the second chapter doesn't improve upon things much. You're left wondering, with these wretched chapters and the unsettling perspective this novel is written in, how anyone could eventually enjoy such a book.
Somehow, against all the odds, it gets better. Much better.
Although this story takes place during the Key to Time arc, Simon Messingham manages to recreate the Hinchcliffe era of Doctor Who. This is partly a horror story, the gothic images dripping with disgusting black ichor throughout. However, Messingham perfectly captures the 4th Doctor, especially the supremely funny comedic moments Baker was capable of. The Doctor's quips whilst staring down the barrels of guns are there to lighten the mood just a bit.
The Doctor and Romana are charged with another quest while searching for the segments of the Key -- they are to prevent the 'god' Valdemar from being let loose on the universe, which he would surely devour. Typical DW fare, really... but not all is what it seems. Messingham does a good job of throwing in all kinds of twists and turns you wouldn't normally expect from this era of Doctor Who. The Doctor screws things up badly at one point, mostly because he is more concerned with getting back to finding the Key than bothering with this Valdemar business. In doing this, the author seems to acknowledge that it's a bit silly wedging some of these PDA's into gaps that shouldn't really be there, but manages to turn it around and use it to the novel's advantage.
The non-regulars introduced are mostly a ghastly lot: Messingham takes the derranged butler from City of Death and turns him up to eleven with the character Kampp, who has all sorts of torture devices on hand and a number of disturbing fetishes to boot. Of course, he's just a henchman to a bigger fish -- Neville, a dark necromancer type who has serious rage issues. Feuding with Neville is another villain, Hopkins, the general who hunts down witches (very cute Mr. Messingham). Both are twisted individuals, whose hatred of one another rivals the Sharaz Jek/Morgus feud in Caves of Androzani.
I'm not going to spoil anything here, but the twist ending... wow. It took me awhile to figure out just what the hell happened. Even now, I'm still a little confused by it.
If you're a patient reader with a love for the Tom Baker era, Tomb of Valdemar is a must-read.(less)
Tons of action. Chase scenes, gunfights, dinosaur attacks, aerial combat... you name it. It may not be the most poetic or literate novel in the NA ser...moreTons of action. Chase scenes, gunfights, dinosaur attacks, aerial combat... you name it. It may not be the most poetic or literate novel in the NA series, but when it comes to heart-pounding action and adventure, Blood Heat is damn near perfect.
The NA series had gone on a bit of a rough stretch up until Blood Heat was released. A few of the books weren't bad, but from the previous six novels you had Deceit, which was drab, Shadowmind, a complete disaster, and Iceberg, a tad boring with a slightly out of character Doctor. Leave it to Jim Mortimore to get things back on track with the start of a great story arc that would run for the next five books.
The action starts on page one and doesn't let up until the bitter, bitter end (and I do mean bitter). The TARDIS dies, Bernice is flung into the time vortex, and the Doctor and Ace crash land on Earth, 1993... although judging by the dinosaurs roaming around outside, not the Earth as they remember it. What a great way to start a Doctor Who story! There's no silly prologue, no waiting around for the regulars to show up -- Mortimore gets straight to the business at hand, and I love it.
There are plenty of references to the 3rd Doctor and the Pertwee era throughout Blood Heat (the 7th Doctor even aquires his alternate self's sonic screwdriver and TARDIS before the adventure is complete). This novel channels influence from Inferno (one of my all-time favorite serials), Invasion of the Dinosaurs, The Sea-Devils and naturally (given the baddies in this story), Doctor Who and the Silurians. Like Inferno, this story takes place on an alternate Earth. However, the returning characters we encounter are not outright evil, eyepatch wearing fiends -- they're simply the product of a world gone wrong. In this Earth, the 3rd Doctor was permanently killed twenty years prior. Liz Shaw, the Brigadier, Benton, Jo Grant, Harry Sullivan, et al -- all had to go on without the Doctor in an ongoing battle against the Silurians. The Brig in particular, is characterized so well, it's frightening. He's both a bloodthirsty, revenge-seeking madman and a loyal, brilliant hero at the same time. In fact, it's almost more of a Lethbridge-Stewart novel than a Doctor novel.(less)