Review, Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Review of The Six Gun Tarot by R.S. Belcher

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I can’t say that I have read many, if any Westerns. And I definitely haven’t ever read a supernatural/paranormal themed Western novel. The Six Gun Tarot was a new and unique experience for me, and definitely one I would happily repeat. Golgotha initially seems like a small, typical mid-Western town of the late 19th century, but soon it is clear that it is a magnet for all that is unusual.

The main character, Jim, ends up in Golgotha after trekking through the 40-Mile Desert, fleeing a crime he committed and perhaps others. The sheriff is a man who has evaded death countless times, his deputy seems to have an affinity with coyotes, the mayor hides ancient treasures and a respected lady of the town is not quite who she seems. The Six Gun Tarot has a wide range of interesting and diverse characters, each of whom have some kind of secret. Jim, whilst shown as the main protagonist, is often put aside in favour of the other denizens of Golgotha, and this is not a bad thing in the slightest. I have to say that my favourite character was definitely Maude Stapleton, a respected lady of Golgotha who is trained in the art of assassination. Belcher really focuses on the back story of each major character, bringing them all vividly to life.

The evil blight that overtakes the town reminded me a little of something from Leviathan Wakes, and the origins all tie in nicely with the religious beliefs of that particular period and location. However, the religious elements are not overpowering and do not feel at all ‘preachy’ – this was important to me, as someone who would find that a complete turnoff. It felt like, whilst this was happening to Golgotha now, it was not the first time something out of the ordinary had taken place in the town. Additionally, the author also recognised social issues that would have taken place in that era, such as sexism and many of the inhabitants’ prejudice against Mutt, a Native American character.

I’m so glad I finally got round to checking out The Six Gun Tarot – several months after it was chosen as my book group’s Book of the Month! I will definitely be looking out for the next book in the series, and may have to delve further into this newly discovered, rather niche genre.

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Sci-Fi Month

Sci-Fi Month 2015: Steampunk

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This post is part of Sci-Fi Month 2015, a month long event to celebrate science fiction hosted by myself and Over the Effing Rainbow. You can view the schedule here, follow the event on Twitter via the official @SciFiMonth Twitter account, or the hashtag #RRSciFiMonth.

If you’re not really familiar with the term ‘steampunk’, here is a quick definition:

Steampunk is a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. Although its literary origins are sometimes associated with the cyberpunk genre, steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century’s British Victorian era or American “Wild West”, in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. — from Wikipedia

Steampunk is something I’ve only recently started getting into. I think I first delved into it when I started blogging three years ago, so whilst this may not seem recent, it is fairly recent compared to the amount of time that I have been reading science fiction. Yet so far, every single steampunk book I’ve read has surprised me and enraptured me.

It really draws me in because it is a mixture of two of my favourite things: history and science fiction. Often, steampunk titles are set in the past and involve futuristic elements, or set in the future with elements of the past. Another fantastic feature of steampunk is when it is used to create an alternate history, like in Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan series.

Here are some fantastic steampunk reads that I have enjoyed:
Leviathan Incarnation by Emma Cornwall The Six Gun Tarot

This selection alone demonstrates the variety that comes with steampunk. We have an alternate history of the First World War, a Victorian vampire novel that is a semi-retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and a steampunk Western.

And others that I can’t wait to try out:
Karen Memory The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack The Aeronaut's Windlass

One of my absolute favourite steampunk themed video games is Dishonored. Here’s a short summary from Wikipedia:

Set in the fictional, plague-ridden industrial city of Dunwall, Dishonored follows the story of Corvo Attano, bodyguard to the Empress of the Isles. He is framed for her murder and forced to become an assassin, seeking revenge on those who conspired against him. Corvo is aided in his quest by the Loyalists—a resistance group fighting to reclaim Dunwall, and the Outsider—a powerful being who imbues Corvo with magical abilities. — from Wikipedia

It is a truly fantastic game, and gives the player the option to undertake missions in a variety of different ways, including ultra-violent options and much more peaceful ones. Each choice the player makes has an effect on the outcome of the game.

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However, a game like Dishonored does remind me that steampunk is such a versatile element of science fiction. It is hard to believe that something like Dishonored and a title such as Star Wars could be considered part of the same ‘family’ – which shows just how varied science fiction is a genre. It contains so many different elements and facets that there must be something for everyone. Steampunk could be a fantastic way to introduce someone to science fiction, particularly fans of fantasy fiction.

What are your thoughts on steampunk? Do you love it or hate it?

Review

Review: Thief’s Magic (Millennium’s Rule #1) by Trudi Canavan

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Yet again, I have found a book that I really wish I had picked up earlier.

Thief’s Magic had been sat on my Kindle for a while, one of my many Netgalley requests from when I was still really getting to grips with the whole system (i.e. not thinking through what I could read and when…). Unlike some of these requests, it was one that I knew I’d get around to – the question was just when.

A story that features archaeology? Check. A setting that includes a magical school/university? Check. Those are pretty much the two main factors that drew me to this one, and although the archaeology element is very minor, it was a good way to set up the story and introduce the reader to Tyen and Vella. Thief’s Magic is, at its current place in the series, more like two separate stories that do not really meet, but sooner or later you know they will. Although the two points of view did not combine as I hoped, they showed two very different worlds in which magic is seen and treated in two very different ways. In Tyen’s world, magic keeps things running – literally. It pretty much does the job of electricity in our own world. It is not seen as a negative thing. In contrast, Rielle’s world sees magic as something only Angels, and their priests, can use. If anyone else uses magic, they are seen as ‘stealing’ from the angels, and are punished.

However, in both worlds the use of magic has a similar result – a black cloud or void in the area where the magic was used, the size of the cloud depending on the strength of the magic. In Rielle’s world it is known as the ‘Stain’, reflecting the negative associations with magic, whereas in Tyen’s it is just referred to as ‘Soot’, a byproduct of industry. I personally enjoy magic systems where the use of magic demands a sacrifice of some kind, such as in The Name of the Wind. Whilst the magic in Thief’s Magic did not, I have a feeling that something will come into play later on in the series that reveals what the ‘Stain’ or ‘Soot’ actually is, and it won’t be a good thing.

Whilst at the beginning of the book I much preferred Tyen’s chapters, Rielle’s really started to pick up later on, and I was just as happy to read either point of view. Tyen’s world had a sort of fantasy-steampunk feel to it, whilst Rielle’s felt more like a ‘traditional’ fantasy world. From Tyen’s chapters especially I got a real sense of exploration and adventure, and overall found Thief’s Magic to be an extremely fun read. It made me feel as though I hadn’t read a good old fashioned fantasy adventure novel in a while, and I was glad to amend that.

Strangely enough, it seems I actually picked the right time to read this – the second book in the series is due to be published next month. I will definitely be looking out for it!

Review

Review: Camelot Burning (Metal & Lace #1) by Kathryn Rose

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

What’s not to like about an Arthurian steampunk novel? I was instantly intrigued by the premise of this story, and it didn’t let me down. I was so engrossed that I read half of the book on the train journey to and from London (three hours total). Weaving various characters of Arthurian legend into an original steampunk-based tale, as well as introducing some new, I thought it worked really well.

There are the familiar figures of legend such as King Arthur himself, Merlin (a bit of a drug-addled hippie, no surprise there), Guinevere, Lancelot and various other Knights of the Round Table. From the description of the knights with their dragon tattoos, leather outfits and bars through their ears, as well as kohl-rimmed eyes, I was constantly imagining them as bikers! Somehow this fit in pretty well with the steam and metal filled version of Camelot.

Vivienne, the main character, managed to fit into two sides of society: high society, as the queen’s handmaid, and a secret life as apprentice to Merlin. She was passionate about this secret side of her life, clever and inquisitive, and I just wanted her to completely step away from the court with its dresses and curtsies, embrace something that she obviously loved doing, and screw the consequences. She didn’t mope, she didn’t constantly fawn over her love interest and she just got things done. Talking of the romance, it was a blossoming interest, rather than insta-love (yay!), so much more enjoyable to watch develop – although it would be nice to learn a little more about Marcus.

Vivienne’s family were present but negligible – her parents a lord and lady, her brother a squire – and there is a nice twist in the story about three quarters of the way through that would have really benefited from knowing her family better. As it was, it just wasn’t shocking because I didn’t know anything about the family member in question.

One of my main issues with the book was the world building. Apart from Camelot and its immediate surroundings, the reader wasn’t really told much about the outside world. Jerusalem was mentioned, as was Lyonesse – but world felt so small. As as a result, Morgan le Fay’s threat didn’t seem too great, seeing as the whole ‘world’ pretty much just encompassed the castle of Camelot – how many people would it really affect if she took over? Another problem was magic – or more specifically, why magic was taboo. This wasn’t explained anywhere, so I never really got a sense of just how much danger Merlin or Vivienne were putting themselves in by practising. All I understood is that it was suddenly banned, not why or how, or even when. Magic could also be stolen, which was another thing that wasn’t explained.

A highly enjoyable take on Arthurian legend, recommended for steampunk fans or anyone interested in retellings/alternate tellings of mythology. Despite the lack of world-building, it has a fast-paced and thrilling conclusion, some great steampunk inventions and a clever interpretation of the mythology – the Metal & Lace series is definitely one I’ll be continuing.

Review

Review: Ironskin (Ironskin #1) by Tina Connolly

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4 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I received a copy of this book for free from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

I recently re-read Jane Eyre for the first time since school, and it was like reading a completely new book. Without the need to analyse every scene, I was completely and utterly wrapped up in this world, following Jane’s story and heartbreak. I couldn’t get enough of it: I read the book in two days, I watched the Mia Wasikowska/Michael Fassbender film adaptation twice in those same two days, and listened to the soundtrack of said film on repeat endlessly. And that was when I remembered: I had this book on my Kindle, a paranormal retelling of Jane Eyre.

So it was with great excitement that I dove into Ironskin, hoping to rediscover some of those feelings and familiar moments. And whilst Ironskin is a retelling, it doesn’t stick quite so closely to original events as you’d think, and Tina Connolly plays really cleverly on Brontë’s work. In Jane Eliot’s world, fairies and other creatures such as dwarves are real – but fairies are most definitely not the cutesy little magical beings we know from fairytales. Five years previously, there was a Great War between the fairies and humans, and many people were killed or injured. Those injured by the fairies become cursed – Jane’s particular curse is rage – and she must wear a mask of iron to keep the rage in.

Whilst Jane is not a penniless orphan, as the original Jane is, she is an outcast in her own way. She is Ironskin, which immediately pushes her to the edge of society. She has a younger sister who is the total opposite – where Jane is plain, quiet, conservative but also strong-willed, Helen is outgoing, fun-loving and very much determined to integrate herself into high society. She is a representation of how important these people perceive appearance to be. There was definitely much more of a focus on Jane’s appearance in this book – in the original Jane Eyre she is occasionally referred to as being rather plain, but Brontë doesn’t dwell on it. However, in this one, Jane becomes a little fixated on her appearance and there were a couple of moments where it felt like she’d moved on from being this sharp, witty and fiercely independent character, to someone more like her sister.

Rochart was a lot less fickle and mysterious than Mr. Rochester. It was obvious that he had feelings for Jane, he wasn’t constantly pulling away which I felt left a lot to be desired with the romance. There just wasn’t very much chemistry between the two – why is Jane interested in him? Because he’s the only male she knows? I also didn’t understand how she was so surprised by his ‘big reveal’, when half the book had pretty much given it away. Hint: it’s not a mad wife in the attic. The ending also felt a bit… lacklustre. Although it was a big event with lots of action, there was just something missing.

However, I really did enjoy this book. It may follow the events of Jane Eyre and take plenty of inspiration from it, but it’s also very much its own story. I guess it’s a big task to try and live up to the original book, but Connolly gets close. There were plenty of little references in the story – like the room where Rochart and Jane meet is the ‘red room’, and when Jane has to go away for her sister’s wedding Rochart says he was expecting a ‘madeup story about a dying aunt’. My favourite thing however, was how in the original book, Mr. Rochester is constantly referring to Jane as an imp or a fairy, and when she meets him outside Thornfield he asks if she was ‘waiting for her people’. This took that idea and expanded on it hugely – to great success.

Prose & Pixels

Prose & Pixels #1: Books That Would Make The Best MMOs

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After Asti’s recent post on trying new features, I was inspired to finally work on a feature I’ve been considering for a while, one that merges video games and books. So here it is, Prose & Pixels! It won’t be a regularly scheduled feature, but one that I post when I feel like it, rather like my discussion posts. My hope is that this new feature will allow me to combine my two loves: books and video games. I’ve spoken about video games quite a bit in the past, so surely they deserve their own feature on my blog. Before reading Asti’s post, I decided that maybe I shouldn’t post about video games – after all this is a book blog, and it might put some of my readers off. But after reading her post and thinking about it, I decided – why not? It’s MY blog, for my interests – and I’m still including books!

Today I want to discuss an idea I’ve been thinking of for a while: books that would make the best MMOs. I’ve even mocked up some ‘log in’ screens for these potential games.

I’m assuming that most of you know what MMOs are, but if not: they are massively multiplayer online games. Think World of Warcraft… I played MMOs for years, not so much recently but in the past. I’ve tried so many of them, and a couple of them I stuck with for several years (Maple Story, Dream of Mirror Online, Grand Fantasia, Eden Eternal and Lord of the Rings Online and more recently and casually, Neverwinter). I’m even still in contact with some of my old guild mates from seven years ago (my wonderful DOMO guild <3). Most MMOs are 'sandbox' games, meaning you can choose your own path and go anywhere at any time. There is no linear story you HAVE to follow at a given time. If you want to explore or craft, or just sit around and chat to people, you can. Imagine being able to do that in one of your favourite bookish worlds…

1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling

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I think this is my most wanted book to MMO – the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. You could start off the game by touring through Diagon Alley and buying all the basics you need, before heading off to Hogwarts and being sorted. The houses could work like factions do in lots of games, duels would be a form of PvP (Player versus Player combat), and each level bracket (every ten levels perhaps) would advance you a school year, for a maximum level of 70. I guess the main issue would be PvE content (Player versus Enemy), but this could be done in a similar way to the console games that were released to accompany the series – lessons provide various beasties to fight. Or they could deviate from the original series and have students ‘protecting’ areas from attacks (dungeon runs)? However, I guess the main audience of this particular MMO would not be your typical hardcore MMORPG fan, but rather lots of Potter fans wanting to finally get their chance to attend Hogwarts. Basically, if a proper Hogwarts MMO existed (Pottermore was not quite what I wanted) I would never leave my room. So, er… maybe it’s for the best?

2. A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin

The World of Westeros

Maybe this one would be tricky, but an MMO of the series A Song Of Ice And Fire by George R.R. Martin would be AMAZING. I could imagine it either be an open-world fantasy game or more of a tower defense sort of game, but I’d prefer the former. You could swear allegiance to any of the major houses, which would affect where you start, who your enemies are and perhaps some ‘typical’ stats, e.g. Stark bannermen are more hardy, Lannister bannermen might have something that increases the gold they make or better mercantile skills, Baratheon bannermen could be more agile. Obviously within this world, magic classes wouldn’t fit too well as they’re pretty rare within Westeros, but all sorts of knights, warriors, rogues and archers would work. Perhaps an Elder Scrolls style ‘build your own class’, where you can choose from various skill trees.

3. The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld

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The Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld would make a great steampunk MMO. When making a character you’d have to choose whether you want to be a Darwinist or a Clanker. As in the series, choosing Darwinist will allow you to fly and ride genetically enhanced creatures, and choosing Clanker will allow you access to machines like Walkers. I guess the majority of this game would be PvP combat, perhaps it could be some sort of MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) on a huge scale. I imagine classes would matter less than the machines or creatures you use. And then I could finally have my own perspicacious loris!

4. The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett

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The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett would work quite well as a tower-defense (or rather village-defense) game, in my opinion. Successfully defending hamlets, villages, towns and cities from demon attacks would grant experience, and the bigger the place you’re defending, the more you earn. Or for the really brave, there could be a ‘wilderness mode’ where you just go out and fight, with a small ward circle to help you, and it would be pretty perfect for guild fights. Perhaps there could even be a mode where you fight as a demon, like the PvP in Lord of the Rings Online where you fight as an orc or Uruk. As you level up you could learn different wards, and of course the series already has loads of different types of demons, some more challenging to fight than others.

There’s one other book I would nominate, my favourite book EVER, but it already has an MMO, and I played it for several years…

The Lord of the Rings Online

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Yep, J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantastic The Lord of the Rings has an MMO, and it’s pretty astounding. I played it for 2-3 years but stopped because I’d made my way through all of the content too many times, and got a little bored with it. However, don’t let that put you off! Lord of the Rings Online is quite literally packed with tiny little details and references, the developers are clearly huge fans of Tolkien and have included so many things you won’t notice unless you look. You can find Gandalf’s rune carved into a rock on Weathertop, the stone trolls in the Trollshaws, buy a hobbit house (or elf, dwarf or man if you prefer), climb the flets of Lothlorien, sit and drink in the Green Dragon or the Prancing Pony (and many many other pubs), meet so many characters from the book including Tom Bombadil (his house is a beacon of hope in that HORRIBLE Old Forest map that is an actual maze). There’s a guide to hidden gems within the game, and I know there’s a thread on the forum somewhere where players have submitted all the wonderful lore references they’ve found, but I can’t seem to find the thread!

Oh, and that’s my hobbit hunter Isolde Bumblefoot above – I got her to level 85 before quitting. I also had a level 85 minstrel called Rinn Reede (har har har) who caused heart attacks during raids. Healing is TERRIFYING but also exhilarating. I had characters from most classes, but those were my two main ones.

What bookish worlds would you like to explore in an MMO? What do you think of my choices – do you have any suggestions on how they could work?

Review

Review: Behemoth (Leviathan #2) by Scott Westerfeld

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5 out of 5 stars | Goodreads

I read and reviewed Leviathan, the first book in this series, last year as part of Sci-Fi Month. The book had been sat on my shelf for some time, and I almost returned it to the library – but luckily I didn’t, because after reading Behemoth I’m pretty sure the Leviathan series is going to end up being a new favourite.

Unlike the first book in the series, much of the action in Behemoth takes place on the ground. This also allows the reader to catch more of a glimpse of the ‘Clanker’ side of life: we see walkers used to guard the ghetto, scarab beetle taxis, elephantine transport and a giant mechanical ‘sultan’ puppet. Each new reveal of technology fascinated me, and accompanied by the gorgeous illustrations (once again provided by Keith Thompson), Alek and Deryn’s world really began to come together.

The majority of the story was set in Constantinople/Istanbul, which opened up the opportunity to introduce some new characters. Alek and Deryn meet a group of people taking part in a revolution, most notably Zevan and his daughter, Lilit. Lilit is seen as ‘unusual’ by Alek, a girl who is trained to fight and do typically ‘unladylike’ things, which only makes Deryn more confused and unsure about revealing her true identity. Yet her feelings for Alek are becoming more and more clear, making things difficult – especially when he teases Deryn about Lilit’s feelings for her. And whilst Alek is convinced that Lilit has a crush on ‘Dylan’ (Deryn’s male identity), something Lilit says later on makes it quite clear that she knows Deryn’s secret – and that makes no difference to her attraction towards Deryn.

One of my favourite parts of the book was the introduction of the perspicacious loris, a fabricated beastie hatched by Dr. Barlow, who latches on to Alek. This adorable creature learns as it observes, often repeating snatches of conversation or useful words. In fact, the loris even catches on to Deryn’s secret, frequently saying”Mr. Sharp!” and then giggling. We also get to see that Deryn isn’t just street smart, but smart smart. After spending some time around Alek and his companions, she starts to pick up German (or ‘Clanker’) at great speed, and by the end of the book is able to have fairly complex conversations.

I loved Behemoth just as much as I loved Leviathan, and do not for a moment regret picking up this series. A wonderfully imagined alternate history with some fantastically developed characters await you in this book – along with some truly gorgeous illustrations.

This particular illustration reminded me of Bioshock Infinite.
This particular illustration reminded me of Bioshock Infinite.