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Book Review- “A Song of Shadows” by John Connolly

November 5, 2015 Leave a comment

song-of-shadows-225I try to keep all my reviews spoiler free, but John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel picks up directly from the explosive conclusion of the last book in the series, “The Wolf in Winter.” It also answers some questions about the larger supernatural story the writer has been telling over the course of the series, while raising more interesting questions. So I’m going to have to kick this review off with a very large SPOILER WARNING! If you haven’t read any of the books in Connolly’s Parker series go read them, and if you’re behind get caught up! you’ll be glad you did!.

So now that that’s out of the way let’s dive into the latest Parker novel “A Song of Shadows.” It’s quite an interesting read seeing how for most of it our lead character is trying hard to recover from the near fatal shooting he suffered at the end of “The Wolf in Winter.” So Parker is broken in body, but not mind or spirit. Connolly picks things up with his protagonist renting a house in a Small Maine vacation style town named Boreas So there’s a cool and almost melancholy vibe when things begin. It’s almost like the fascinating first season of BBC’s “Broadchurch”; not in terms of plot, but initial mood or tone.

Parker is in this town trying to get better with the assistance of his friends (two of the best supporting characters in crime– and heck any genre fiction!) Angel and Louis. It’s nice to have Angel and Louis as part of the story from the get go. It makes sense too considering these guys would be there for Parker as he’s trying to overcome his devastating physical injuries and decide if he’s going to go back to his old job as a private detective or become something different.

So Parker is testing himself physically day by day with walks and strengthening exercises and then trouble arrives to test him mentally and spiritually. That trouble appears in two forms; a body that washes up on shore and a haunted single mother neighbor whose sick daughter Parker bonds with. That connection opens the door to the emergence of a character who has become a regular reoccurring character in these books, Parker’s daughter, Samantha, who comes to visit him and has a playdate with his neighbor’s daughter.

I’ve always liked Sam. She’s been a cute and interesting character, but in “A Song of Shadows” you get a glimpse of just howImageHandler.ashx interesting Sam really is. Questions are raised like does seeing and communicating with ghosts run in Parker’s family? And like Parker, does Sam have a larger supernatural destiny? Connolly provides some definite answers to some of those questions and some cool, creepy, and tantalizing hints about the others.

The parts with Sam were some of my favorite sections of the book, but the main mystery is fairly interesting as well. The washed up body puts Parker in the sights of hitman and a sinister conspiracy of people who have lots of blood on their hands; blood that’s decades old. So it’s not his reoccurring foes, The Believers, but it’s a conspiracy of people who are arguably just as evil, if not more so.

Investigating those crimes and recuperating brings Parker back into the circle of some other fun and fascinating faces, both old and new. Characters like the Fulci brothers and Parker’s Ex Rachel make some entertaining appearances, but I also enjoyed spending time with Parker’s state police contact Gordon Walsh, who finds himself becoming even more immersed in the Detective’s dark and sinister world. I also liked the Chief of Police in Boreas who found herself strangely drawn to Parker.

As far as big cases and explosive action go the one in “A Song in Shadows” is relatively quiet. Some people might be disappointed in that, but it makes sense. Ultimately, the novel is not about that. It’s a more quiet piece about a wounded man finding his way back and deciding what kind of destiny he wants for himself, while also discovering if he has any choice in that destiny. What Parker finds in those last pages of the book are both chilling and exciting. It sets the stage for some truly epic stories and takes the series in a new and interesting direction. As always, I can’t wait to see where the series goes next.

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Book Review- “The Ultramarines Omnibus” by Graham McNeill

October 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Ultramarined OmnibusThe Warhammer 40,000 universe is such a massive and entertaining one that it takes awhile to get to know it’s major players. As you read and become acquainted with the various heroes, villains, and armies that populate it you start to hear intriguing things from other fans about characters and concepts you may like. So when you finally get a chance to read about something like a Space Marine Legion you’ve heard so much about it you wonder if what you’ve heard will live up to the hype.

That’s what happened to me with the Ultramarines and writer Graham McNeill’s novels about their 4th company and it’s heroic leader Uriel Ventris. When I started the first “Ultramarines Omnibus” that contained McNeill’s novels “Nightbringer,” “Warriors of Ultramar” and “Dead Sky Black Sun” the Salamanders were my favorite Space Marine Legion thanks to their humanity and Nick Kyme’s great novels about the Sons of Vulkan. I was very curious about the Ultramarines though and their battle cry of “Courage and Honour” it seemed to me that they might be like the Captain Americas of the 40K universe.

Having finished the first “Ultramarines” omnibus I now realize the warriors of Ultramar are not quite like my favorite super hero, but they are fascinating and fun heroic characters and I loved reading about them. I’d say their now my second favorite Space Marine Legion.

For me part of the appeal of the Ultramarines is they’re consummate heroes. Their fun guys to root for when the chips are down and they refuse to let themselves be broken, but what makes their Legion especially interesting is that they’re literally the most “by the book” Space Marine Legion ever. That’s because their Primarch, Roboute Gulliman wrote the “Codex Astartes,” a sort of 40K version of “The Art of War.” A number of other Space Marine Legions follow the “Codex Astartes,” but to the Ultramarines it’s almost a sacred text. So it can hamper their effectiveness in the field.

That means characters like Uriel Ventris are faced with a great challenge. What happens when they’re put in a conflict whereGraham McNeill following the rigid instructions of the “Codex Astartes” means innocents and fellow battle brothers will die? Is Ventris’ duty to “Codex” alone or the larger principles of courage and honor?
Those are some of questions Ventris wrestles with over the course of the three novels. It’s fascinating to watch him grow as both a leader and a person as he sometimes decides he has to break away from the “Codex.” It’s also exciting to watch him deal with the consequences of his actions. And even though Ventris is an eight foot tall genetically engineered super soldier and no longer technically human he’s still easy to identify with. He suffers moments of doubt, uncertainty, sadness and horror as he navigates the three novels.

Uriel isn’t the only great character in the Ultramarine Omnibus. We also get to know a number of his battle brothers like Sergeant Pasanius; a big bruiser even for a Space Marine, and Uriel’s best friend. I have a soft spot for loyal strongmen types I think because of my love for Marvel Comics Thing, and Pasanius does share some of Grimm’s qualities especially when it comes to sticking by your friends. That loyalty was pretty moving and by the third book there’s almost a Frodo and Sam vibe to Ventris and Pasanius that is especially poignant

I also grew to really like Uriel’s sort of rival in the 4th Company, Sergeant Learchus. In the second book, “Warriors of Ultramar” McNeill gives him some scenes that shows just how cunning, capable and badass he is. McNeill also populates each book with an interesting cast of characters that inhabit the particular world Ventris and his battle brothers are fighting for or fighting on; like the law enforcers of the Adeptus Arbites in “Nightbringer,” the soldier and physician who is haunted by survivor’s guilt in “Warriors of Ultramar,” and the renegade Space Marines that Ventris and Pasanius encounter in “Dead Sky Black Sun”

As for the actual stories of the novels? They’re a lot of fun and it’s great that each book is a very different kind of tale. In “Nightbringer” Ventris and the 4th Company find themselves embroiled in a mysterious alien conspiracy that could spell doom for an entire planet and perhaps the galaxy. “Warriors of Ultramar” finds the 4th Company battling the Ultramarines most hated foe, the savage, ravenous bio organic monstrosities of the Tyranids. The fallout from that battle is felt in the final novel “Dead Sky Black Sun” where Ventris and Pasanius suddenly find themselves stranded on a demon world in the heart of the infernal “Eye of Terror.”

Of the three novels I think “Dead Sky Black Sun” is probably my favorite. I don’t want to spoil anything, but it reads like “Return of the King” if Mordor was turned up to 11 and Frodo and Sam were ass-kicking sci-fi warriors relying on nothing but their courage, cunning, and combat skills. Yes it’s that fun. McNeill has a great and cinematic way of writing fast and furious action scenes that reminded me of something that you’d see in a Matthew Vaughn film.

So, once again, yes the “Ultramarine Omnibus” did live up to the hype for me. It was an exciting and action packed read full of diverse stories and characters I really cared about. I can’t wait to tackle the second volume, which features the next three adventures in the saga of Uriel Ventris.

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Book Review- “Salamanders Omnibus” By Nick Kyme

Salamanders-the-Omnibus Tie-in fiction has an unfortunate stigma attached to it. Like the fact that because it’s a story from a pre-existing world, usually attached to a game, that it’s no where near as entertaining, imaginative, or as worthy as original fiction. Having read a number of tie-in fiction books over the years I can tell you whole heartedly that tie-ins can be just as fun and exciting as original fiction. In fact in recent years I’v discovered a series of tie-in books that I’ve become utterly addicted to even though I have no interest in playing the tactical miniature game that inspired it. I’m talking of course about Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40,000 universe.

A friend of mine once describe 40k as a “jungle juice of cool genre fiction.” You’ve got elements of Star Wars, Dune, Tolkeinesque fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, and an often noirish outlook on morality. On top of that it’s got a visual aesthetic that appeals to the heavy metal fan in me. So of course I’d be drawn to the Black Library’s series of Warhammer 40K fiction. So far I’ve read some fantastic stuff by Dan Abnett and Sandy Mitchell. For Christmas I got a mammoth tome of 40K fiction that I just recently completed reading, the “Salamander Omnibus” by Nick Kyme. It’s a collection of three novels and like 10 short stories for the cover price of $17.50 in the U.S. So it’s a great value, but on top of that it’s a thrilling and epic read.

All together the stories in “The Salamander Omnibus” run about 1014 pages. So reviewing all that and keeping it spoiler free is going to be tough, but let’s see what I can do.

The titular characters of the “Salamander Omnibus” are the 17th Legion of genetically engineered soldiers known as Space Marines. They serve as sort of the elite forces of the Imperium of Mankind a sprawling interplanetary empire that is under siege in the 40th millenium by a host of rival alien empires and corruptive supernatural forces that turned several Space Marine Legions into marauding malevolent forces often capable of arcane feats. What makes the Salamnders unique is the fact that they’re one of the most altruistic and “human” of the Space Marine Legions. Each Legion has it’s own set of customs and beliefs and the Salamanders credo urges them to protect, sacrifice for, and try to elevate the humans they live side by side with.

Making the Salamanders even more interesting is the fact that they hail from a volcanic home world in a constant state of nick-kymeturmoil. The planet “Nocturne” is dubbed a “Death World” because of how inhospitable and dangerous life there is. It takes a hardy stock to survive and an even more resilient individual to survive the arduous trials that lead to initiation into the Salamanders.
So Kyme already has some great building blocks to forge the characters of his “Salamanders” stories and he uses them to build some fascinating and fun characters to follow. The chief protagonists of the stories are Zek Tsu’gan and Hazon Da’kir. When we first meet Tsu’gan and Da’kir they’re bitter rivals because of who they were before they became Space Marines. Tsu’gan hails from a city of wealth and power and believe Da’kir, who is the only member of a nomadic tribe to become a Space Marine, is unworthy of the genetic gifts he’s been given.

With that set up you’re instantly geared to like Da’kir who is a noble and heroic guy. You’re also left with a feeling of anger and hatred towards Tsu’gan. It’s like he’s a William Zabka character from an ’80s teen movie. I believe that’s intentional though. Over the course of the three novels and 10 short stories things change drastically for Da’Kir and Tsu’gan. They undergo many heartbreaks and perilous adventures and over the course of these exploits I started to understand Tsu’gan a little more an empathize with him. Plus he’s pretty bad-ass.

Da’kir and Tsu’gan aren’t the only Salamanders that figure into Kyme’s stories. You meet a whole host of fascinating characters that occupy a variety of positions through out the Legion; every one from the leader of the entire chapter, Tu’Shan, to the Captains and Sergeants of the various companies. Some of my favorites include Sol Ba’Ken, a giant even for a Space Marine, who is Da’kir’s best friend; and Pyriel, a Space Marine Librarian which means not only is he a genetic super soldier, but he also possesses a whole host of psychic abilities.

Kyme also gave his heroes a fascinating cast of villains to do battle with. Over the course of the novel the Salamanders go to war against Orks (imagine the bad guy armies from the Lord of the Rings armed with steampunk technology), Dark Eldar (evil sadomasochistic space elves armed with technology that is almost magical) and Space Marines that have been corrupted by the malevolent Chaos Gods. The Chaos Space Marines that are a recurring force of villainy throughout the “Salamanders Omnibus” are war band called The Dragon Warriors.

Nihlian, the leader of the Dragon Warriors, used to be a Salamander before he became corrupted by Chaos so he has a personal grudge against the Legion. Over the course of the three novels we follow his various schemes and plots to get revenge on his former Legion. These schemes makes him and his lieutenants bad guys you love to hate.

Describing the various clashes between the Salamanders and their enemies takes us into spoiler territory so instead lets talk about where these clashes take place. One of the things I’ve grown to love about 40K tie-in fiction is they’re also travelogues of fantastic and otherworldly places. You feel transported to strange and fascinating alien worlds. That’s exactly what happens here. In addition to the Salamanders home world of Nocturne Kyme takes us to such fascinating and fun locales as a twisted Dark Eldar port city located in the ethereal realm known as the Webway, a massive alien haunted ghost ship or Space Hulk, and a mysterious ancient world somehow related to Nocturne.

While we visit these places we’re treated to really cool moments of character development, and intense action. There are some battle scenes that made me stand up and cheer. Most of these battle sequences are fought man to man or army to army, but in “Nocturne,” the final novel in the Omnibus, Kyme gives readers some fun outer space battles between capital ships.

So the “Salamanders Omnibus” is an epic, fun, sci-fi, fantasy story packed with great characters and thrilling moments. My one real complaint, and to be fair Kyme mentions this in the book’s introduction, is that not everything wraps up by the time the book is over. On one hand that’s a little frustrating, but on the other I was definitely left wanting more. With the “Salamanders Omnibus” Nick Kyme made me a fan of of the 17th Space Marine Legion and I can’t wait to see where he takes them in future books.

Book Review- “Hell & Gone”

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

ImageI try to avoid any types of spoilers when I do a book review, but sometimes that’s just not possible. Like when you’re reviewing the second book in a three part trilogy and the action picks up right where the first one left off. That’s the case with writer Duane Swierczynski’s latest crime novel, “Hell & Gone” and I’m about to review that book. So consider this a spoiler warning. In fact, if you haven’t read “Fun & Games,” the first book in Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy, stop what you’re doing and go read it right now. You won’t regret it. Don’t worry we’ll wait . . .

Ok, everybody ready? Just in case one last big SPOILER WARNING!!!!!!

All right then, away we go! When we last left ex-Philadelphia Police consultant and tough guy extraordinaire Charlie Hardie he had saved the host of an “America’s Most Wanted” style program from a group of incredibly stealthy assassins dubbed the “Accident People” for their knack for making their crimes looks like accidents. As it turns out though the “Accident People” are just foot soldiers for a large and very powerful organization, an organization that’s not very happy with Charlie Hardie.

“Fun & Games” ends with Hardie falling into this organization’s custody and in “Hell & Gone” they enact their vengeance upon Hardie by sending him to a strange, underground, ultra secure prison. Complicating things even further is the fact that upon his arrival at the prison Hardie discovers that he’s the facility’s new warden and if anybody escapes from the prison on his watch everyone inside will die.

So there’s a lot of stuff going on in “Hell & Gone” and all of it is pretty awesome. One of the most interesting things is the very nature of the prison itself is a mystery. Its true nature is revealed near the end of the novel and the revelation is a fun mix of science fiction, classic prison movie elements, conspiracy stories, and academia.

Another great thing is that Swierczynski uses the set up of the prison to reveal even more about his Imageprotagonist. We got to know and root for Charlie in “Fun & Games” and in “Hell & Gone” we get to know even more about his past and what makes him tick. We get to see how he holds up under a great amount of physical and mental oppression and best of all we get to see him fight back. That’s because Swierczynski know all the best prison stories involve jail breaks.

You also get to learn a lot more about another character who only played a minor role in “Fun & Games,”  Hardie’s FBI contact  Special Agent Deke Clark. Clark spends much of “Hell & Gone” searching for Hardie and dealing with the enigmatic and powerful forces behind his disappearance. Clark’s reactions are believable and he’s a very likeable character that you enjoy spending time with.

The supporting cast of “Hell & Gone” is also populated by several interesting new characters especially the inmates and guards of the prison Hardie is trapped in. All of them have intricate and interesting back stories that are revealed as the novel unfolds. I can’t confirm this but based on the character’s names and some of their stories it feels like Swierczynski includes some fun homages and Easter eggs to his fellow crime writers and some of their characters.

So reading “Hell & Gone” was a lot of fun. The only thing that seemed out of place was an opening scene that didn’t look it had any relevance to the larger plot, but towards the end of the novel Swierczynski comes back to it and weaves that scene into his larger story in a very compelling way.

In Summary “Hell & Gone” is the best kind of sequel, one that’s even better than the first chapter in the story. It’s pacing, action, and characters were all great.  As a long time fan of Swierczynski’s work I think it’s his best novel to date.

So the bar is set pretty high for the third chapter in the Charlie Hardie trilogy, “Point and Shoot,” which arrives in March. Swierczynski gives the novel a hell of a set up with the final pages of “Hell & Gone” and even if it’s only half as good the previous novel’s it’s bound to be a lot of fun.

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