Archive for April, 2015

raising steam

Nothing yearns to be something, and small entrepreneurs are complaining of the distance and travel time between Ankh-Morpork and the food sources. Enter Dick Simnel, whose father had disappeared in a cloud of pink steam and shrapnel after a furnace accident, a lad armed wi’ a flat cap and Iron Girder, a furnace that moves. On tracks. In Harry King, the waste merchant’s yard. There’s also a problem with factionalism among the Dwarfs. Not all are happy with the settlement Lord Vetinari imposed on them and the Trolls at Kroom Valley.

This is Terry’s 40th (and penultimate) Discworld novel. It is a multithreaded tale, with Dick Simnel, the Goblins, Moist von Lipwig and the Dwarves all facing various challenges. For those that haven’t guessed from the title, the tale is ostensibly about the arrival of rail transport on the Discworld, and the demand is driven by the wealthy of Ankh-Morpork for fresh produce from their fisheries and market gardens. So naturally the opportunity for international incidents abound. A competing thread is the disaffection one faction of Dwarves has for the Kroom Valley settlement. This has Lord Vetinari concerned. More than Moist von Lipwig is when The Patrician has charged him with securing the smooth implementation of various rail routes. And we learn something interesting concerning the Low King of the Dwarfs.

The story seamlessly flips between the various threads as rail travel comes to the Discworld. To my taste, the story lacked a little focus with so many competing threads it was difficult to decide which was the primary tale – the rail road, Dick Simnel or the threatening war among the Dwarfs. An enjoyable read, it probably isn’t Terry’s best. But then, it isn’t his worst either. Good, lightweight Discworld fun.

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Steve

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A Fatal Tide

Gallipoli, 1915, and Thomas Clare is hunting the murderer of his father, a rural Queensland policeman. The trail began in Barambah Aboriginal Mission Station and continued to Turkey, and the only way for Thomas and his friend Snow to follow it was to enlist. And the story of Breaker Morant is bound up in it too. As is a piece of evidence probably written by Lord Kitchener.

Sailah deftly weaves a tale of deduction, replete with homages to Arthur Conan Doyle, misdirection and political military shenanigans going back to the Second Boer War. His characters are a believable bunch of youthful Australians with a scattering of imperial nationalities thrown in. The war and the fighting serve only as a backdrop to the story, not its central theme.

I enjoyed this story, which was a page-turner, with the name of the murderer not revealed until the final act. There is an enjoyable subplot concerning whether Breaker Morant acted under written or unwritten orders prior to his court-martial and execution. Those interested in his case should check any of a number of on-line encyclopaedias to confirm details. I have the impression the story is the beginning of a series of adventures featuring Thomas and Snow.

Bantam

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Review by Steve

the slaughter man

HE’S BACK!!!

A wealthy family has just been gruesomely executed inside their exclusive gated community, their youngest child abducted. Detective Max Wolfe is assigned the job of hunting down the killer and bringing him to justice, aided by his homicide team. Quickly forming a theory that the family was targeted because they were too perfect, they are stunned when the crime’s M.O. matches one of 30 years ago. Could the killer be the same man?

The Slaughter Man had done his time and is now old and dying though. Could he really be back killing families? Could this be a macabre tribute by a copycat killer – or a contract hit that is intended to frame a dying man?

Then another boy disappears……

Again, I couldn’t put this book down and was a zombie the next day due to lack of sleep.   The story was told in three parts and the plot was fast paced and very very clever. Full of twists and turns, most of which I didn’t see coming, despite being a crime novel devotee. The ending was satisfying and wrapped things up nicely. Max needs to change jobs if he plans to keep his promise to Scout though.

Read it, the series is excellent but you don’t need to have read the first to get lost in this.

Century

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan

Read my review of The Murder Bag here

steelheart

Wow! Brandon Sanderson takes the superpower meme and makes it epic! Literally, because “Epic” is what Sanderson calls superpowered individuals, and metaphorically because this novel reads like an epic fantasy. Urban fantasy, because like most stories featuring superpowers, this is set in the immediate future. But not any future you’d recognise. You’ll notice that I’ve avoided the term “superhero” in this review and there is a reason for that. Sanderson has chosen to take Lord Acton’s adage that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” and apply it to superpowers. So the use of Epic powers turns an individual to an insane megalomaniac? Pretty much.

An Epic named Steelheart rules Newcago with a steel fist, with a coterie of other Epics, among them Nightwielder, Conflux, and Firefight. Our youthful hero lives with the knowledge that as a child he saw his father wound Steelheart and then be killed by him. Consequently, he hates Epics with a passion. But Steelheart, like many Epics, is invulnerable to almost all attacks. Somehow, David’s father had found his weakness. And so he seeks out the Reckoners, an underground group fighting the Epics, and finds them in the process of taking down an Epic named Fortuity. I have no intention of giving away any more of the plot – suffice it to say that there is no lack of action, a dose of mystery, plenty of wit, and a great twist at the end. Sanderson has a refreshing take on the science of super powers: “Too much about them breaks what science says should happen. I sometimes wonder if they came along because we thought we could explain everything.” In fact, there are a lot of great lines in this novel. Very quotable. And very cinematic. Not surprising, since Sanderson is clearly angling for a movie with this one.

I requested this volume from the library after the local publishers kindly sent a review copy of the second book in the series, “Firefight”, and a cursory look round the internet convinced me that for once it really would be worth my while to read the first book before embarking on the second. I was not disappointed. And, now I suspect I might have to go and purchase a copy of this book!

Delacorte

Supplied by Auckland Public Libraries

Reviewed by Jacqui

watched

Superheroes seem to enjoying a surge in popularity in visual media right now, with a number of big movies and expensive TV series in production, and I’ve noticed a growth in their appearance in print, and in books without pictures at that. The advantage for the writer is that they are able to get into the head of the nascent superhero, and explore how the individual feels about their prodigal powers. This is something that Tihema Baker does very well; showing great skill at getting inside the minds of teenagers and their relationships. Perhaps too much; I spent a great deal of time while reading this novel wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. When it did, only a few short chapters from the end, it did so with a vengeance, and a great deal of action was squeezed into the last few pages.

The real difficulty is that this is essentially a “school for superheroes” story, and that has been done, very thoroughly by the X-Men and Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and by numerous others. Even Disney has done this trope, in the movie “Sky High”. It doesn’t help that the young supers in “Watched” have essentially the same origin story as the X-men; it may be called a “prodigium” gene, but it’s still a genetic mutation, and that equates prodigies to mutants. It would have helped if the author had come up with a more creative origin story, maybe even something we hadn’t seen before.

That said, the manipulation of dark matter (as opposed to darkness) is a power that you don’t find in many of the comics – at least it’s something I don’t recall having come across previously. As is the use of the black robots called Stalkers as assistants and as punch-bags in the training rooms. Though there is no explanation for the advanced technology (some of it decidedly weird science) that they represent. Or for the location of Castle Infinity, and what keeps it hidden from the eyes of the world – or what keeps it supplied with food and materials. I was also a bit dubious about the power groups as they became apparent late in the story. If a super-powered individual sees fit to create a hurricane in a populated area it doesn’t say much for their humanitarian values.

So, I shall give good marks for characterisation, good for writing style, average in plotting, but poor for a lack of originality and of coherence in the world-building department. I suspect that teenage boys will enjoy the action here, and it is certainly nice to see a superhero story that kicks off in Wellington. Oh, and the author does set up for a sequel.

Huia Press

Supplied by Huia Press

Reviewed by Jacqui