Books

Books, short stories once again (again)

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so, another batch of short stories read through.

 
The Sleep of the Dead by Darius Hinks. Fantasy

A group of well to do individuals meet for a regular drink and smoke and to share stories of horror, chaos and other unseemly tales. One individual recounts the tale of his doctors journey north in the hunt for gold. The story was presented as a group of curious men with too much time and money looking into things they shouldn’t, yet the tale they heard (that scared them) was dull. It also gained little from the setting, and would have been better presented as just a standard tale over an anecdote within a tale.
Path of Warriors by Neil McIntosh. Fantasy

An origin story for the Stefan Kumansky books. I haven’t read them, but from the description I found they’re typical warriors. In this book the boys are young and face an invasion of Marauders. While they are hidden the men of the village prepare to fight off the enemy. The story was ok, but ended fairly quickly.
Rat Trap by Robert Earl. Fantasy

A mercenary is hired by a down on his luck merchant whose staff have been seeing strange ratmen in the well. Seeing easy money the mercenary heads down the well to look for the rats. I enjoyed this, the focus on the disbelief in skaven is always entertaining given the broade knowledge readers have of how serious a threat there is. The tension and danger is well placed too.

Rotten fruit by Nathan Long. Fantasy

A prologue to the Blackhearts novels (another series I haven’t read), setting a dirty dozen style suicide squad in amongst a beleaguered castle under seige by chaos forces. Seeing no way of victory the team look to escape and bring back reinforcements before they’re missed and killed. Unfortunately whilst they have the protection of their ‘controller’ the reinforcements may not be so lucky. I enjoyed this, the small squad focus is often fun and the not quite good guys allows for far more flexibility in its characters. 

Leechlord by Frank Cavallo. Fantasy

A fairly standard short story about Festus Leechlord, a character of the warhammer world Iv liked without knowing much about. A knight is recovered from a battle with horrendous wounds. His fevered shouting calls for his healers to kill him. Flashbacks show Festus enhancing the infections in the Knights wounds. Whilst the story itself was a little straightforward and predictable the sheer amount of description of Festus and his motivations and desires made it a really interesting one to read.

 
Necessary Evil by Rob Sanders. 40k

A sequel to the Atlas Infernal novels (another I haven’t read), as Bronislaw Cvezak lands on a world in the Eye of Terror in the hunt for a powerful relic. Taken in by the indigenous people/mutants he needs to find it quickly as the Thousand Sons are approaching to claim it for themselves. This was entertaining, I don’t know the history between the inquisitor and Ahriman but seeing another renegade from the imperium still fighting the good fight was nice. The open ending was interesting too, I may need to find Atlas Infernal to have a read.

 Faith by Robert Earl. Fantasy

A bretonnian knight is deep in the wilds with winter approaching and no sign of a visit from the lady, or of a suitable trophy to return home. With his brother recently having been graced by a visit the jealousy is driving him onwards to find glory. This story however is seen from the perspective of his servant, an ageing man who served the Knights father. Whilst the adventure is average, the point of view and observations are really good, and add some additional focus in the light of recent End Times events. There’s a semi twist at the end which highlights the pride of the Knights.

Portrait of my Undying Lady by Gordon Rennie. Fantasy

A worn out, out of favour artist is employed by a vampires to paint her portrait, if it’s perfect she’ll reward him, of its not he’ll be ‘rewarded’ in another way. These stories that focus on the non war elements of the warhammer world are often a nice distraction and this definitely provided that. If have maybe preferred a slightly longer story with more delving into the vampiress’ character as I feel this would have enhanced the painters finding her ‘true’ self.
The Rite of Holos by Guy Haley. 40k

A beleaguered female imperial guard / planetary defence force is reinforced by a force of Blood Drinkers in a a battle against Genestealer Hybrids, but as the Astartes head into battle they’re fighting their own red thirst too. A fairly standard storyline though the collateral damage and loss to guard life is well covered.
Death Stares Back by Alex Helm. 40k

Not strictly speaking a black library publication, but the winning entry in a spoken short story competition. A tank crew on a standard mission against tyranids suffers engine failure and are soon swamped and surrounded by ‘nid forces, slowly hacking through the armoured panels. This was over quickly (not surprising given the word limit) but the closed environment and issues that causes were well handled.

Books, Earth air fire and custard by Tom holt   

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So, my third read of Tom Holt’s fantasy comedy series- earth air fire and custard. It has become apparent that Tom holt has written these books with a very vague plan, as events shift and continue to become more and more convoluted as they progress- even more complicated book to book.

It’s amazing to realise Paul Carpenter only took his job a year ago yet has managed to die several times and become tangled up in various events where office politics has moved from backbiting to outright violence and murder attempts. After the events of the previous books everything begins to settle into place for Paul, with a promotion and pay rise before a goblin christening sees him in trouble as events become more and more overwhelming for him and he ends up in a sideways universe called custard space where everything’s just a little different.

I enjoyed this one, the regular deaths were well written- as was the dialogue between Mr Dao (deaths gatekeeper) and Paul getting sharper with every visit. The love story between Paul and shoe felt a little weak as it was the third time revisiting the same struggles. It all feels a little too copy paste and I’d rather they just broke up if they couldn’t develop themselves further.

The custard space bit was wacky and added a new element to the story (and existence) allowing for the usual chaos to become increasingly more manic with multiple Paul’s running around and a mysteriously appearing goblin called Colin appearing at the wrong moments. I’d have liked to have seen more of Rosie Tanner as she’s always a fun element to the books, but hopefully she’ll see more pages in the next one 

Books, in your dreams by Tom holt 

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So, after finishing The Portable Door by Tom Holt I immediately moved onto the sequel, in your dreams. At the end of the portable door Paul Carpenter had finally got the girl so I anticipated him messing things up very soon into this book. 
Turns out I was wrong, he didn’t actually do anything wrong, she left him. What follows is Paul trying his best to cope without her, whilst also getting caught up on the quite literal war of office politics, plus of course making sure he was out do the door before the goblins came out to play.
This book did something sequels often do, it got longer. Much much longer, which I’m never sure I like. If I like a book I will likely order the sequel, but to find it significantly longer always worries me that what attracted me to the first book will be stretched and/or absent from the second. Fortunately I was wrong in this case, there was no stretching, instead more events were included adding to Paul’s suffering. I believe I’d read this previously as some moments felt very familiar, but my memory didn’t retain much so it was good to go through the twists and turns without knowing what’s coming next. Another reason to keep your eyes open in charity shops.

Books, meltdown by Ben Elton

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So, I haven’t read a Ben Elton book for a few years, but the first I read- Stark- was excellent. Whilst on holiday in Wales I came across Meltdown in the cottage bookcase so took it, placing a few of my read books in its place.

The book focuses on a group of friends who were carried along on the 90s financial boom, all making a lot of money, and subsequently losing it when the global recession takes it all away. The primary focus is on a stock trader who borrows against everything he owns to make more money, and ends up defaulting due to the complete loss of funds. He was a bit of a dick but you still felt almost sorry for him.

The story was ok, nowhere near the standard of stark, but it had Ben Eltons usual smart social commentary, which felt as though it was accurate and cut close to the bone. The big criticism id have is that it jumped forward a few too many times, missing the conversations that were needed to fully expand on the characters during consequences.

Books, the Portable Door by Tom Holt

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So, I always laugh at Rox for reading and rereading the same books over and over, but Iv just reread The Portable Door by Tom Holt. With a holiday fast approaching I didn’t fancy anything on my to read shelf, so browsed around and found this one. “Iv read some Tom Holt before” I thought and promptly ordered it, and only on its arrival did I realise this was the Tom Holt book Id read. Fortunately as I read I couldn’t remember how it ended, and even now it’s only starting to come back to me that I do indeed know the story.

The story focuses on Paul Carpenter, who is interviewing for a job with a company he knows nothing about, depressed in the knowledge he hasn’t got a chance of getting the job. However, somehow he does indeed get the job alongside an equally inept woman who automatically becomes the love of his life due to her being female and forced to sit in a small office with him. The job progresses dully before gradually becoming more and more peculiar and strange, when Paul realises things aren’t quite so boring and ordinary as he thought.

I enjoyed reading this, especially as I couldn’t remember the ending, which was vital as it all got a little crazy. The main character as a complete loser is a fairly common template, but it was handled well, with several moments of me mentally shouting at him to just shut up and do something about each current predicament / pathetic situation.

The fantasy situations were a little tame, but I suspect as the Company needed to get weirder it was also a growing level of curiosity for the reader as well as the completely moronic Paul Carpenter. 
Due to the holiday being relaxed and providing a fair amount of time to read I was able to get started on the sequel so look forward to that review coming soon

Books, ready player one by Ernest Cline

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So, it isn’t often a recommendation from my friend gareth gets any serious attention, he’s got a reputation for poor taste despite is sharing many interests. However, he actually bought me a copy of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and sent it to me so I would read it and as it arrived between books I went straight into it, despite a dull blurb

 
The book is set forty years from now when poverty, squalor and energy deficits has resulted in the majority of people ‘living’ in a virtual reality computer program where anything is possible. A young man called Wade lives as Parzival, a student, but doesn’t have the income to do a great deal within the game- not that it stops him spending all his time there. In doing so he stumbled upon a hidden area and solves a clue to the ownership of the game. The creator died years before and set up Easter eggs within the game to give users the opportunity to discover them and take inheritance of the entire gaming system. Parzival’s discovery kindles interest in the quest and soon he’s in a race against other in game characters to find the next clue before they do.

The book was really entertaining to read, largely due to the constant stream of 80s and 90s pop culture references, creating a nostalgic experience. This also keeps the story interesting at points when things slow down as the brain constantly searches out obscure memories.

Towards the end things became a little predictable and formulaic, but it still threw in a few shocks and twists to keep things not entirely dull. 

Without the pop culture references it’s possible the story would be incredibly dull, yet as they’re an essential story point it isn’t an issue.

Books, more short stories again

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so, despite my issues deciding what I want to read I’m still hitting the short stories regulary 

  
Nightspear by Joe Parrino. 40k

The first in a related trilogy published in The Carnac Campaign, this story focuses on Illic Nightspear and his eldar exiles attempting to ambush an awakening necron force. Unfortunately it goes wrong and becomes a race back to their webway portal before the Necron Deathmarks kill them all. This story was basically pants. There was no real insight into a major character of the Eldar, no real background or insight into the history of the exiles, Rangers or characters and no actual story. Illic lines up a kill shot, necrons disappear, necrons ambush the ambushers. Beyond that point it became an exercise in introducing an Eldar before having him killed by necrons, there wasn’t even any detail to that.  I’m hoping it was acting as a prologue to a meatier story in the other two short stories but I’m not holding my breath.

Sky Hunter by Graeme Lyon. 40k

Well that’s the way to drag me right back into interested. Set fairly soon after Nightspear this story focuses on the pilots of Eldar- the Crimson hunters and the pilots of the hemlock wraith fighters which apparently the Eldar consider to be anything from heretical an abomination, but that have a use against such foes as the Necrons. The story jumps quickly from character to character opening up so many distraught personalities before a segment in  which a spiritseer jumps (mentally) from mind to mind of various warriors on the battlefield of Carnac witnessing death and destruction through the eyes and bodies of basically every kind of Eldar warriors in the armies Codex army book. Far better than Nightspear with a large set up for the final story of the noon. However I’m leaving that one for the moment to catch up on a different book.

  

The Sound that Wakes You by Ben Chessell. Fantasy

A small forgotten village on the outskirts of Bretonnia is ruled by a tyrannical former knight and his henchmen. Everyone accepts this as the norm except the troublesome son of a blacksmith, he gets a bit overexcited and attempts to start a rebellion by burning a rose bush and his father is killed before he realises acceptance isn’t the same as patience. It was ok, no real surprises and the ending was too obvious, but it was an ok little tale of Bretonnia. It feels a bit weird reading these now that The End Times are coming and the relevance will be gone, it’ll be interesting to see where the background is taken.

Spirit War by Rob Sanders. 40k

After reading the previous two stories in the Carnac Campaign book I’d had a poor experience and a better one so was interested to see where a longer ‘short story’ would go. This one sets an army of Wraithguard, Wraithblades and Wraithlords against a Necron invasion force. The ‘dead’ warriors are sent to hold back the Necrons until Eldar civilians can retreat from the world via a Webway portal. This story could have been an interesting conflict between two unliving forces, but instead just seemed to be a blur of action without giving enough detail to actually explain what was happening. When the story reached a ‘last stand’ of the Wraiths I really lost interest.

 
The forever kitten by Peter F. Hamilton. Science fiction.

A geneticist in prison for breaking too many ethical boundaries is freed and whisked off to an obscure tropical island by a rich sponsor who wants him to complete his research, but his motives aren’t purely financial. This was a four page short story (so genuinely a short story) and initially felt a little too much like a standard accusation levelled at big pharmaceutical companies funding research outside of the law, but the twist midway through suggested some additional potential consequences of genetic manipulation. The twist made it very enjoyable.

 
 Dead Mans Party by Josh Reynolds. Fantasy

When you’re trusted with showing a potential donator a good time and he’s assassinated what do you do? Strap him to you and fight through a city of other assassins of course. This one was stupid, but a really fun read- as well as revisiting Dubnitz of Mananns blades.

The Mouth of Chaos by Chris Dows. 40k

An Elysian Imperial Guard force drop into a fortified volcano to take out a rebel force. The idea was very James Bondesque, and it worked well initially as the high speed drop allowed for a fast pace, however the lack of breaks in the text meant it felt too much. Perhaps if I’d read it through in one sitting I’d have enjoyed the non stop pace, but as its a human force I don’t want superhuman stamina. There was a nice Imperial Guard moment at the end as the debriefing leads into the briefing for the next war zone as the survivors are directed into another battle.

The Butchers Beast by Jordan Ellinger. Fantasy

A unit of Imperial Greatswords hold the line against the forces of chaos, post battle a chaos monstrosity rampages through their camp, bringing the attentions of a vindictive Witch Hunter. The story felt too much as though it had been taken from 40k, with the witch hunters replacing the inquisition.