Monday, 22 August 2016

Kings or Pawns, J. J. Sherwood

Publisher: Silver Helm

Pages: 383

Main Characters:

Hairem, Jikun, Navon, Ilsevel

Set in the fantasy Elven realm of Sevrigel, Kings or Pawns is the first book in J. J. Sherwood’s epic fantasy series Steps of Power.

With a young new king and a war that has lasted many lifetimes still furiously waging on, Sevrigel looks for a period of peace. However, the new king Hairem seeks to revolutionise the way Sevrigel is ruled and wishes to wrestle power away from the corrupt, selfish Council of Elders whom has controlled the capital city Elvorium for centuries. Nevertheless, Hairem must tread carefully as the council will not give up their powers easily. Hundreds of years of self-motivated policies have provided the Council with both power and wealth and they are not above murder to ensure that their demands are filled. The young king must look to his old and new allies for help as he tries to press his will on the council.

Jikun is the General and supreme commander of the Elvorian army. After fighting years against his nemesis Saebellus, he is growing weary of war and weary of the southern rulers he has been serving for a lifetime. Jikun wishes to return to the cold north of his childhood and hunt the wild and dangerous Thakish with his old comrades. However, with the cunning Saebellus on the loose in Sevrigel, Jikun knows he cannot leave the army until his duty is done. When an opportunity arises that seems too good to be true, Jikun snatches it in the hopes of finally defeating Saebellus and ending the war for good.

For me this was really a book of two halves. The first half had me totally engrossed with the political intrigue between Hairem and the Council. In addition, I extremely enjoyed Jikun’s back story. I thought Darvial was a unique part of the Sevrigelian world and I’m excited to learn more about his past and his upbringing in Darvial. I think Sherwood did a fantastic job of fleshing out her world in this half of the book and instantly had me engrossed with the situation in Elvorium and what Hairem’s plans were to try and fix it.

However, the second half took away from this and added new characters which we had not met before and completely forgets about some major plots points opened up in the first half of the novel, especially ones about Nilanis. All these new characters then go on a mission together to rescue a princess that has been captured. I felt this new plot point came out of nowhere with no real explanation as to why the princess was taken. Later on in the novel you find out why she was captured, however it still seemed a little random and strange and I honestly think the rescue mission didn’t need to be in the book. Then for no apparent reason, Jikun goes to fight a war against centaurs, which for me bogged down the plot line and again seemed kind of pointless. With both of these points I knew what the author wanted to do, but wish both sub plots could have been done a little differently or not at all to keep the pace of the narrative going.

Nevertheless, at the end of the book there was a great, though predictable twist, which had me speeding through the last 100 eBook pages just like I did with the first half of the book, so this was a redeeming quality after the slow and somewhat random second half of the novel.

All in all this was a good book and good start to the Steps of Powers series. The ending made me extremely curious for book two and I’m looking forward to reading it!

Kings or Pawns is like a mix of Tolkien and George R. R. Martin. So if you like political intrigue mixed in with high fantasy then I think you will really enjoy this book.

I’d like to say thank you to J. J. Sherwood for including me in her blog tour and providing me with a copy of her book. Can’t wait to start the second novel in the series Heroes or Thevies

For author’s official website please click here.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Black Stone, Nick Brown

Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 470

Main Characters:

Cassius, Indavara, Khalima

When the sacred Black Stone of Emesa is stolen by a mysterious enemy of Rome, Cassius is set the task of recovering it for his Emperor.  The identity and location of the thieves are unknown. Nevertheless, Cassius must create a small task force to gain information from an imperial spy in Petra and then use that information to track down the stone. However, the Corn Man soon finds out that the theft of the sacred object could be linked with Rome’s allies the Tanukh: a confederation of Arabian tribes that traditionally guards Rome’s frontier. Cassius must come up with a plan to return the stone to Rome and ease relations with Rome’s old ally, ensuring another rebellion does not spark in the Empire’s eastern provinces.

Yet again Brown has managed to create a captivating and thrilling historical fiction book. I think the Agent of Rome series is by far my favourite Roman series out there at the moment. This is because Brown creates excellent characters and actually gives them personalities that make them feel human. 

Typically in Roman novels of this type, there are always two main ‘chalk and cheese’ protagonists that really shouldn’t get along. Usually it’s a young buck that has been thrust into leadership and throughout the books that follow, the youngster grows into an amazing warrior and leader. Then there is the old veteran, who has distain for the young officer because of his quick elevation to command, but then over time gains a sense of respect for the young man as he develops into this great leader.

I believe Cassius and Indavara aren’t like that. Sure, Cassius was thrown into his position but he was literally bred from birth to deal with these situations as he comes from a rich family. Nevertheless, he is no hero and honestly not a character I like, as he is cowardly and very self-centred. However, this makes him a great character to read about as he is someone different from the usual zero-to-hero protagonist that defines this genre of historical-fiction. His partner in the books is also unusual because at times I don’t think he even likes Cassius. In addition, there is an air of mystery around Indavara, which I’m excited to learn more about in future novels. This again makes him interesting to me because he is not the two dimensional character you usually see in this genre. We don’t really know what his motives are because we don’t know that much about him, which is great for the reader as this factor sometimes makes him unpredictable.

Finally, another character that shone in this book was Gutha, the German mercenary working for the Arabians. I thought the small parts in the book about his past were very interesting and I would love to read more about him in a short story, so Nick if you’re reading this, please consider it because I’d be the first to review it!

To conclude this was a great edition to the Agent of Rome series and I can’t wait to read the next two books. I would suggest it to fans of authors like Ben KaneAnthony Riches and Simon Scarrow. If you are a historical fiction fan please check out this series, it is a true gem in a genre that I am starting to feel more and more disillusioned with.

For the author's offical site click here.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Five Awesome Books that Need Your Help: The Best of Kickstarter June 2016

Kickstarter is a great way for ordinary, creative people to crowd source money to help fund projects and publish them to the world. I initially heard about Kickstarter a few years ago as many video game developers and publishers were using the platform to gain millions of dollars to fund their games. Since then, a whole range of different categories have developed on the website. There is music, technology and most importantly (for me anyway) publishing.

How Kickstarter works is that each project sets a goal it has to reach within a certain time. The goals range from $10 to literally MILLIONS of dollars depending on the ambition of the creator. Fans or ‘Backers’ pledge money to help a project reach its goal. There are usually several different tiers, each of which is set at a different price point and normally, each tier has a special reward linked to it. 

These rewards are sometimes small, such as free artwork or they can be huge; gaining you special perks with whichever project you supported.  Kickstarter is a great way to support ‘indie’ publishers and usually if you are willing to wait a while, it is an excellent way to get a bargain.

So here are five awesome books that need your help to get published from June 2016. Some may have gained their goal by the time you read this. However, if you’d like to help the authors, please check out their Kickstarter pages!

1. Bastion of Sun, Matthew Wolf
This is the third book in Wolf’s Ronin Saga and I believe his third book to be Kickstarted. As Wolf says, the book is ‘Lord of the Rings meets the Knights of the Round Table’ with Japanese Samurai undertones flowing throughout the series. From his ‘pitch’ video, the novel sounds very intriguing for fantasy fans and the artwork from the book looks magnificent. If you’re interested in Bastion of Sun by Matthew Wolf then check out his Kickstarter here.


2. The Boy in the Castle, Inkylizard

I think this is the most unusual book in this list and the hardest for me to define.  The Boy in the Castle is a fairy tale picture book for all ages. The book is written by Scottish song writer Matt Johnston and illustrated by Katie Rebecca Siegle. A love story that tries to tackle and challenge the stigma around depression, The Boy in the Castle seems like a beautifully illustrated novel with much more depth than first appears. The artwork is wonderful and worth checking out even if you don’t want to support the book. Find Inkylizard’s Kickstarter here.


3. Delta Vol 1, Ryan Nichols
As you can probably guess from the title, Delta Vol 1 is a comic book. Based in a world created and neglected by a cruel God and with artwork from over 30 artists, Delta is packed full of unique characters and brutal stories. The thing that drew me to this comic was its range of different art styles and the huge variety of characters in the comic. In addition to the comic itself, the perks are pretty awesome too! If you pledge enough money you may be added as a character to the book. This is a great opportunity to get into a new and original comic book and if you’d like to learn more about Delta Vol 1 click here.


4. Angelarium: Book of Watchers, Peter Mohrbacher
This is the second book in the Angelarium series and boasts almost twice the content of the original book.  Angelarium is based thousands of years ago when angels came to Earth to help teach mankind. However, with their descent from the heavens, the angels also brought catastrophes no one could have foreseen. This book is a collection of amazing gothic-style artwork coupled alongside short stories and poems from the world Mohrbacher has created. Such a cool concept for a book! Find out more at Angelarium: Book of Watchers’ Kickstarter here.


5. Sherlock Holmes Re-Imagined, Steve Emecz
Perhaps the quirkiest book on this list, Sherlock Holmes Re-Imagined is a picture book which re-enacts original Sidney Paget illustrations (from the Sherlock Holmes books) in LEGO! I think this is such a great idea to get kids interested in Sherlock Holmes and anything with Lego is cool to me! To learn more about this book check out their Kickstarter here.

"I found Holmes fast asleep" (Case of Identity) from Kickstarter

So there you have it, Five Awesome Books that Need Your Help! Please let me know what you thought of the books I’ve listed and what you thought of the list itself. 

I plan to do one every month so any feedback would be great! Just reach out to me on either Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Publishers: Greenwillow Books

Pages: 336

Main Characters:

Howl, Sophie, The Witch of the Waste,

I first read this book after seeing it beautifully visualised in Studio Ghibli’s and Hayao Miyazaki’s movie adaptation Howl’s Moving Castle. The artwork of the film was breathtaking and after finding out the author of the book was actually Welsh, I really wanted to see for myself how the Japanese movie differed from the novel.

Trailer for the movie

The book is based in a fictional kingdom called Ingary and the main character is a young girl called Sophie Hatter, who as the name suggests, is a hat maker’s apprentice. After a chance encounter with the local wizard Howl, Sophie is cursed by one of his jealous old lovers and turned into an old woman. The worst part of the curse is that Sophie can’t tell anyone that she was cursed and therefore the curse cannot be lifted. 

Overcome with anger and fear, Sophie decides to leave her home town of Market Chipping and wander the wastes surrounding the city, looking for the witch that cursed her. However, what she finds is something much more peculiar; a magical, mechanical castle the roams the wastes on its own free will. Sophie is forced to shelter inside the castle and there meets the wizard Howl again. After making an agreement with Howl’s fire demon Calcifer, Sophie decides to stay on as the Wizard’s house maid, which leads her on a magical fairy-tale of love, jealousy and tragedy.

This novel is great but for the first time ever, I think I have to say that I preferred the movie more. The artwork is so beautiful in Miyazaki’s masterpiece that I think the film is one of the best ever. The book was really enjoyable too but I think Miyazaki did a fantastic job of trimming some of the fat from the novel which I think was not necessarily needed. For example, there is some inter-dimensional stuff that happens in the book which I didn’t like. I thought Jones’s world was so incredibly imagined that she didn’t need to bring the plot into our actual world. I thought doing this made the plot line increasingly confusing and killed the pacing of the novel. Almost like the weird scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke fights Darth Vader in that strange cave. As this book is part of a trilogy maybe this inter-dimensional stuff is explained in the last two novels, however, I still believe that in this novel it made no sense.

To conclude, this was an extremely enjoyable and imaginative fantasy/ fairy-tale but I really can’t stress enough how beautiful the movie is, so make sure you check it out too. I’m very interested to see what happens in the following novels in the trilogy and will hopefully review them one day soon!

For author’s official website click here.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Eastman,Waltz, Duncan (Comic Book Review)

I decided to give this comic book series a try as I was such a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show when I was a kid. Plus, the fact that a new TMNT video game is getting released in a few weeks also swayed me to pick up these comics. This is because one of the lead artists on the game also worked on the comic books. As the game looks amazing, I thought I’d love the comics too.

Artwork from game

Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The art style in the video game was very bright and easy to look at and enjoy, whereas I found the comics to be almost monochrome, limited to blacks, greens and reds. It gives the art style of the comic a much more grown up feel, which it could be argued is the comic’s target audience as most of its reader would have grown up with the Turtles as kids (like me). However, I felt it was too harsh for me because the limited colour pallet didn’t distinguish each individual tile of artwork from one and other. This led me to mostly just read the text in the book and not look at the corresponding pictures because I enjoyed the story more than the artwork.

The story is the origin story of the Turtles and their master Splinter. Though some parts of the story were ridiculous; like Splinter (as a rat and not a mutant) defeating two Ninjas as they try and steal the Turtles, I still thought it was very original and more dynamic than the original origin stories from the TV show and numerous movies following it. The loss of Raphael was interesting and used well as it gave the writers a chance to introduce other key characters in the series, which I thought was an refreshing sub-plot and really enjoyed.

I won’t be continuing this series as I feel it’s not for me. However, if you are a TMNT fan I think you should give Vol 1 a try, as it is quite short and actually has an ending where you can walk away from the series feeling content.

To buy the comics click here.

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