The Black Lung Captain, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-52250-4, 536 pgs., $16.00

English: Flag of pirate Edward England Polski:...

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This is the sequel to Wooding’s Steampunk inspired Retribution Falls.  Darian Frey, Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship that is mostly involved in pirate activity, is basking in the glow of his previous accomplishment, ironically a non-piratical event that did service to the empire.  His disparate crew seems to be coming together, his ship needs some work but is still flying, and he’s feeling a lot better about his lot than he has in a long time.  Then he meets Grist, a fellow pirate captain who has a lead on treasure.  That the treasure is in the heart of Kurg, a region known for huge, mysterious and blood thirsty beasts is one thing.  That Kurg’s ship is ten times the size of the Ketty Jay and more heavily armed is another.  That Grist is specifically looking for him is the third.  All of these things Frey ignores because of the treasure, boredom, and a need for cash.  Grist needs a daemonist to open a door on a ship that has been found in the jungles of Krug and Frey just happens to have one on his crew.  What is found beyond that door is not what is expected and the actions that lead to the door and come afterward have far-reaching consequences for Frey and each of his crew members.  Before he knows it, Frey’s crew is falling apart; two have left, one has had her secret outed, another has come unglued because of a cat, and Frey himself feels like it’s all coming to an end—especially since a woman from Frey’s past, now the most feared pirate in the sky, has returned once again to taunt him and take everything away.

There are two things about The Black Lung Captain that make it worth reading; the universe and the characters.  Wooding has constructed a fun universe of lighter than airships, pirates, war, empire, intrigue, magic and politics that serves as a superb background for adventure.  And then he has populated it with interesting, likable and intriguing characters that are fun to hang out with.  Each of the characters is following their own storyline as well so there are multiple paths being followed from beginning to end and these paths weave in amongst themselves on and off.  And, by the end of the book there is resolution, or, at least as much resolution as you can expect in these cases where you know there is a third book in the outing so something needs to be saved for that and we don’t really begrudge Wooding’s doing so because we want there to be another book as well.

The Black Lung Captain is well written and entertaining.  Picking up this book allows you to set aside the world you inhabit and be transported to a world of Wooding’s creation.  There are fewer and fewer books out there that do this well it seems.  This book is perfect at it.  I can’t recommend it highly enough.  You should definitely pick up the first book, Retribution Falls, and read it first.  Not that it contains all that much information that you will need to understand this one but more because you owe it to yourself to discover  not one but two books that are worth buying and reading.

Buy this book by clicking here: The Black Lung Captain

Aloha From Hell, Richard Kadrey, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-171432-0, 438 pgs., $23.99

Cover of "Sandman Slim: A Novel"

Cover of Sandman Slim: A Novel

This is the third Sandman Slim novel and it continues the story of James Stark, the human who was sent to hell, only to become the baddest, bad ass killer of demons in Pandemonium.  While you don’t need to have read the first two books, you should.  First because it helps to have all the story behind you and second because they are very good.  This time Stark needs to return to hell to find and kill Mason, the guy who sent him to hell in the first place.  Along the way Stark has a few adventures and needs to get a few things straight and manages to save a few people in the process as well, sort of a typical week for Stark in Los Angeles.

When Stark returns to hell, and getting there is quite the journey in and of itself, he has to find his former girlfriend Alice, who has been kid-napped from heaven, stir up a rebellion by releasing certain demon generals from Tartarus, then track down Mason.  And he has to do it without being recognized by the thousands of hellions who are on the look out for him.  Good think Stark has a few tricks up his sleeve and the help of a few wild cards of his own.

I really enjoyed this boo. It’s a rousing adventure with a protagonist who has a sick sense of humor and a twisted way of looking at the world.  Not that you would not expect this from someone who went to hell and spent a decade as the plaything of demons.  Kadrey has created a world full of magic and menace and tempers it all with dark comedy.  The writing is crisp, the pace at time frenetic, and the plotting is always interesting and deep.  The dialogue especially is fun to read.

There are few books out now that I immediately put to the top of my reading list.  Sandman Slim gets put there the minute it comes in the door.  Highly recommended.  Go out and get them all if you haven’t read this series yet.  And if you have been waiting for book three, it’s here so clear a few hours off your schedule and enjoy.

And, since you will want to get the book right this very instant, I have included the following link:

Aloha from Hell: A Sandman Slim Novel

Bloodshot, Cherie Priest, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0345-52060-9, 359 pgs., $15.00

Raylene Pendle is a vampire and a world-renowned thief. Go figure. She does not hang out with other vampires, until she does, because she is too busy stealing priceless art and rare jewels for clients. I guess because she has a lot of time on her

cherie_priest

Image by Cherie Priest via Flickr

hands, what with being immortal and not doing any hanging out.  And, while her heart does not beat, it is soft as she allows a couple of street urchins to inhabit the vacant warehouse she owns where she stores a lot of the stuff she steals. She’s also incredibly paranoid which explains why she has chosen a low exposure vocation like grand theft. In any case, one day the urchins who live in her warehouse notify her that there is a thief in the building. She investigates and just barely manages to

kill him. Seems the thief was a parcour aficionado and who knew that this skill was a vampire neutralizer. So, while investigating the thief and how the thief came to be in her building she also gets recruited by one Ian Stott, another vampire who asks her for help. Luckily for him, Raylene is not avoiding vampires on that day and agrees to help him retrieve missing government files related to secret biological research that was done on vampires. Before you know it, Raylene is involved with a cross dresser, hanging out in gay bars, trailing after power-hungry scientists, and trying to avoid all the government agents who, apparently, have no trouble locating her whenever they want, except when it’s not convenient to the plot.

Wait, I need to take a short break and find pry my tongue out from my cheek where it has become imbedded. There, now we can move forward.

Don’t get me wrong. The book is entertaining. It’s just got a few plot holes in it. If you can manage to ignore them then you’ll do fine. Otherwise it’s going to be a tough haul for you.

The writing is fine here. Cherie Priest does a good job of developing her character and creating an interesting story to set her in. The pacing is fairly fast and the dialogue flows in a natural way even if the character motivation is a bit suspect at times. And, unlike in the human race where people can do all kinds of things with little reason, logic or motivation when we read we expect these things to be there otherwise our ability to suspend disbelief cracks.

This is the first book of a series and it’s somewhat obvious in places that Priest is setting the stage for that to happen. Maybe you see that when you read it and maybe you don’t and maybe it bothers you and maybe it doesn’t. The bottom line here is that if you like vampires and you like female protagonists and you like urban fantasy and you like a bit of crime noir thrown in you will probably enjoy this book. I managed to get from page one to page end so that says something as nowadays I am likely to fling a book across the room after 40 or 50 pages of unsatisfying prose.

In the end you need to make these decisions on your own. You can still do that, right? Go, do, enjoy.

And, if you want to buy a copy you can use the link below.

Bloodshot

The Hollows Insider, Kim Harrison, Harper, ISBN 978-0-06-197433-5, 301 pgs, $25.99

This Witch For Hire

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Kim Harrison is nine books in on her Hollows series. The books twist on Clint Eastwood movie titles and are best classified as urban supernatural fantasy since they involve witches, werewolves, vampires, pixies, elves, and other fantastical creatures living in an alternate version of Cincinnati. The series has generated a loyal following and, I have to admit, I have enjoyed the books myself, at least up to the one before the most recent (which I have not read yet). The writing is done skillfully, the characters are well developed and interesting, and the setting is uniquely enjoyable.

Now we have this book which contains new fiction, facts, maps and a plethora of tidbits large and small about the Hollows universe. You’ll find memos from the characters to each other, newspaper articles, spell recipes, cookie recipes, case files, inside dossiers, and much, much more. For those of you who just can’t get enough then this is the book for you. And there is plenty of book to be had here. It’s hefty, illustrated and chock full of stuff.

I’m always of two minds when it comes to books like these. On the one hand it’s an artifact of overindulgence. Do you really need to see memos from one character to another or fictional security reports? It’s a bit of unhealthy obsession. On the other hand it is interesting to see just how deeply authors develop their worlds and just how much material is created to put together a work of fiction.

In the end I find these more interesting than not. I don’t think I have ever read one from cover to cover but they are fine coffee table books and interesting to skim through, stopping here and there to absorb the brief tidbit of fictional fact. In the long run I find that I would rather be reading the next novel in the series though.

Definitely recommended. If you are a fan you positively, absolutely will not be able to do without this. If you are not yet a fan you might be more interested in picking up the first novel in the series. If you’d like to buy the book just click the link below.

The Hollows Insider: New fiction, facts, maps, murders, and more in the world of Rachel Morgan

Retribution Falls, Chris Wooding, Ballantine Books, ISBN 978-0-345-522511, $16.00, 461 pgs

Steampunks - models Liza James and Jared Axelr...

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Darian Frey is Captain of the Ketty Jay, an airship running the lesser ports and landings of Vardia. He and his crew all have checkered pasts–smugglers, criminals, murders, oddities–and reasons to stay away from the law, authority, and remembering. It’s a marginal living–carrying marginal cargo for marginal profit, occasional low level piracy, doing the odd job for the odd price for the odd customer–but it keeps them flying and keeps them away from the past.

Until Frey takes on what looks like a fairly simple job for a large payoff. All he has to do is ambush a ship in a desolate region of mountains and make off with the cargo. The payoff would be enough to keep him happy for the rest of his life. That he’s going to keep the payoff from his crew hardly bothers him. He figures there will be enough other plunder to keep them happy. Besides ,they’re just crew. And then it all goes horribly wrong. The ship to be ambushed has fighter protection, more and better than expected, and a shot that should have simply disabled it instead destroys it, and everyone on board. Shortly after, the Captain and crew of the Ketty Jay find themselves the most wanted individuals on the planet.

Now, Darian Frey has to use all his wits and skills, as well as those of his crew, to figure out what happened and how to get out of it. That they were set up is obvious, but the who and the why still eludes him. And it looks like the secret may lie in Retribution Falls, legendary hidden pirate town and safe refuge for all who manage to make their way there. Of course, first he has to figure out where it is and then he has to avoid getting shot out of the sky on his way there.

This book is almost classic steam punk. It’s an adventure on an unknown world where great ships ply the airways using chemical reactions and steel nerves. The characters are a hodge-podge of criminals, people caught on the wrong side of the law, circumstances gone horribly awry at the wrong time, and one or two who just have no where else to go. Essentially, the book is about two processes; figuring out the mystery of the set up and the gelling of a group of disparate individuals into a crew.

I found the book very entertaining. The universe that Chris Wooding has developed is intriguing and bigger than the book. This is a good thing. There are bits around the edges that are mentioned but never really explained which lends a credibility to the plot. The writing is sharp and to the point, the pacing is generally quick, and the characters are definitely an interesting bunch.

I recommend the book to anyone looking for a steam punk fix or just a rousing good adventure.

To get the book go here:

Retribution Falls

The Griff, a Graphic Novel, Christopher Moore and Ian Corson, William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-197752-7, $22.99

Map of USA with Florida highlighted

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So, Earth has been invaded.  Not by giant robots or by little gray men or by huge spaceships but by eggs.  Turns out the eggs contain alien dragon-like creatures that immediately go on a rampage of destruction.  They take out infrastructure of importance and lots of people.  Lots and lots of people.  Turns out our defenses don’t work because they are based on attacking things made of metal and not meat.  (I’m going to have to check on that since I’m pretty sure the heat seekers would still work and there are plenty of missiles that are still point and click and lots of things are made of ceramics or carbon fiber and can still be targeted and destroyed pretty easily by missiles).  In any case, they don’t work here and soon there is aught left but big, alien dragon like things and a few humans.  Two of the humans are Steve and Mo in New York.  Two others are Oscar and Liz in Florida.  The trick they have to figure out is how to survive in a world that is nearly destroyed and which is now ruled by serious predators. 

Then, suddenly, one of the ships crashes.  (Did I mention that the plot is a bit weak in places?)  No one really knows why, it just does, although we do sort of find out later.  The Griff (short for Hippogryph).  (I know, I know, if you follow this logic they should probably be called The Drag, but you see where that goes.)  So, Mo and Steve are in NY and meet up with Curt.  (They do meet other people but they tend not to last long as the Griff chew ’em up pretty fast.)  Off they go to Florida because they heard of the crashed ship.   (Look, I don’t make up the plot, I just report on it.)  So, in any case, off to Florida.  Along the way they meet a guy in a tank (who ends up just fading away after a few pages) and continue on until they get to Florida and meet up with Liz.  Oh yeah, Oscar gets eaten too.  Liz, it turns out, has imprinted a few of the Griff and soon they are merrily on their way to sneak into the new spaceship that has arrived, evidently to investigate how the old one crashed.

I won’t give any more away other than to say that this is a graphic novel, which  anyone over the age of twenty should recognize by the old name, comic book.  And, remember, comic books have never been the residence of solid plot or logic.  That being said, it does have pretty pictures and it is word light so you can finish it easily in one sitting and it’s pretty much a straight line from beginning to end so not that hard to follow either.  It is definitely entertaining which, if you are buying one of these I would think you are looking for.  I enjoyed it and if you consider it akin to a B movie then you will probably enjoy it too.  Assuming, of course, that you like B movies.  Hey what do you have to lose.  Well, $22 bucks, but you know that going in so use the information wisely.

I should also mention that Christopher Moore is known for his humor and this graphic novel is full of funny stuff (well funny if you are a fourteen year old boy or happen to have the brain of a fourteen year old boy).  I have two.  In their original jars.  Rarely used.

Sure, it’s easy to make mock but I’m built that way.  Which is to say graphic novels are built this way so you should go in expecting nothing less.

Click below to go to Amazon and buy.

The Griff: A Graphic Novel

The Native Star, M. K. Hobson, Bantam Spectra, ISBN 978-0-553-59265-8, 387 pgs., $7.99

Hecate, illustration by Stéphane Mallarmé, in ...

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I try to keep an open mind when it comes to books. In other words I have to remind myself not to judge a book by its cover, or blurb, or title, or author, or any of the other ways we tend to quickly decide we are not going to like something. I have to admit that often my initial thought was a correct one. But, just as often (statistically speaking a negative often and a positive often are equal just as often as not) I find myself on the other side, glad that I decided to pick up a book and move past the cover.

This time it’s kind of a mixed bag. I did finish the book, which certainly says a lot. I don’t finish books that I find are not capturing my interest. On the other hand I have to admit that my bias toward language kept kicking in. I have a harder time getting my brain wrapped around Victorian set novels than any others mostly due to language.

So, Native Star is the story (the continuing story) of local Witch Emily Edwards. Emily has plans for a better life but they go awry when an enchanted artifact falls into her hands during a zombie outbreak. More accurately the artifact falls into her hand, becoming part of her flesh. The artifact is part of the vein of mineral that generates magic in the world and it has selected, sort of, Emily, to put things aright.

Emily is joined by one Dreadnought Stanton, a Warlock from New York City who has a shady past and is more full of himself than any could imagine. Emily finds she must join this Warlock on a journey all over the country to try to figure out what is going on with her hand and to, hopefully, set things straight. Along the way they run across giant racoons, a native American holy woman, nefarious evildoers, double crossing scoundrels, and more different kinds of magic users than you could shake a magic hand at.  There’s also a bit of love going around.

By the end of the book most things are resolved although the getting there is a bit complex as Hobson has created a multi-layered world where magic operates under differing properties and there is no real agreement on what it is all about or how it should be controlled, if at all.

The story is actually a fairly straightforward quest tale and the book is a combination of romance, fantasy and historical drama. I think you would have to like at least two of those to really enjoy the book itself. In terms of craft, it is well done, consistent, well paced and different enough in setting and character to keep it interesting.

I find myself wavering in how best to recommend it and to whom. My best suggestion would be to read a few pages and see for yourself. There is already a sequel out.

If you’d like to pursue purchase, you can just click here:The Native Star–Buy Me Now!!