By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I, Joseph Nassise, Harpoer, ISBN 0-06-204875-2, 345 pgs., $14.99

The Red Baron

The Red Baron (Photo credit: jarrodvk)

It’s 1917 and the Kaiser‘s scientist’s have stumbled on a new type of gas to be used in the trenches–one that turns the dead into zombies. They’ve also discovered that if they use it on a battlefield devoid of their own living then all of the reborn dead attack those who are living, primarily the enemy soldiers. But there’s an oddity as well, and that is that occasionally, one of the new-born dead remains conscious of thought. One of these is the Red Barron, who continues to fly and shoot down British planes even though he died in a crash. When veteran American Ace, Major Jack Freeman is downed behind enemy lines and taken captive, Captain Michael, Madman Burke is recruited to go in and get him back.  Burke, and his merry band of oddball madmen, have to work their way behind enemy lines, break into a prison camp, and then return with Freeman to the allied front.

Okay, so Zombies in World War One may be stretching the whole zombie experience a bit too far, but, hey, if it’s fun then it’s worth it.  Nassise does a credible job with taking what could be just a really silly premise and keeping it pretty straightforward.  A couple of the characters are pretty stereotypical but no more so than you would find in any war movie of the period.  Making the Red Barron one of the aware zombies is a bit of a stroke of positive intelligence as you get not only a known name villain but a pivot point for some of the action.

It’s an interesting book, entertaining, fairly tight in it’s plotting with decent characters.  There is one major error in the book however. At one point the allies have one of the bad guys tied to a chair in the prisoner of war camp and they are working him over for information.  One of the Americans says, “let’s shoot him.”  And then there’s a noise outside, they leave the room.  Never to return.  I assume the guy is still sitting there, tied to that chair.  Kind of a bone head error.  I assume the book was read at least 3 times for errors so it got through each time. I read that passage 5 times just because I was sure I was missing something, some word, some thought, that would make this behavior okay.  Nope, not in there.  Ah, well, I suppose when zombies are involved you have to expect the occasional brain error.

I’d recommend it but only conditionally. If you’re not a zombie fan then there’s not going to be much here for you.  Otherwise, it’s worth picking up.

And, to get your own copy, just click here: By the Blood of Heroes: The Great Undead War: Book I

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A Soldier’s Duty (Theirs Not To Reason Why), Ace, ISBN 978-0-411-02063-8, 422 pgs, $7.99

Spaced babe (Intergalactic Beauty)

This is the first book in a new series (how do they know that prior to publishing a book? Is this hopeful thinking on the part of the publisher?  Are there other books already written?  Bought?  What if this book tanks?  So many questions!).  Ia is a pre-cog.  That is she has visions of the future, or possible futures.  The closer the future the more she can adapt to the situation to either change it or make it happen.  She also has visions of the far future. In these the path is less visible although there.  For Ia her vision requires her to join the military and to not just succeed but to excel–and to do it in a way that keeps her pre-cog ability under wraps.  Ia must, essentially, cheat to create an ideal that is not her.  It’s a dilemma.  Of course if your life takes you somewhere are you not the one who is there?

Jean Johnson is best known for her ‘Sons of Destiny’ paranormal series.  With this series she veers off a bit into Sf although with a distinct paranormal flavor.  The writing is very good and if the story is a bit straightforward and linear then it’s a tough plot to wrangle, having your character know the future but needing to walk that line between what the character knows and what the reader wants.  It’s tough as well to build tension in this kind of situation.  But Johnson manages it through the device of multiple futures so that there is not one way but multiple ways , although in a book this long it’s fairly obvious that the main character succeeds and it’s the writer’s job to keep the reader guessing as to how exactly that happens.
I liked the book.  It is fairly fast paced, the characters are interesting and while it occasionally dips into fannish socialism it does not happen enough to become too annoying and those who don’t know the reference may not even notice.  I’m definitely planning on reading the next book out to see how Johnson manages things.  For those of you still at the beach it’s a good choice.  Would also make a great book to read on the train or plane.  Definitely recommended.
To get your own copy of the book, just click here: A Soldier’s Duty (Theirs Not to Reason Why)

The Fall (The Strain Trilogy), Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, Harper, ISBN 9780061558252, $9.99

Master (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

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This is the second book in Del Toro and Hogan’s trilogy retelling of the Dracula mythos. Eph Goodweather leads a ragged band out to destroy the vampires which have infected Manhattan–and the world. The Master, an aged vampire who has gone against centuries of vampire culture to make a play for world domination, has come to New York in order to put his plan in place. He’s going to get rid of the rest of the other old vampires and build things new again.
Humans don’t stand a chance since it seems that many of the weapons talked about in vampire lore don’t work. Even direct sunlight only made the master smolder and did not kill him. Now, Eph and a few others, are faced with a growing vampire population in the city that they have to work through to try to find and kill the master. If they succeed the world may survive, but only if they do it fast enough. If they don’t then everyone is doomed.

Del Toro and Hogan have taken Stoker‘s Dracula and revamped it, as it were, for the modern age. The book suffers a bit from middle book syndrome in that the pacing is a bit off, the story is in a flat period–the introduction is all finished and you know a third book is coming which contains the big finish so what is going to happen in this, the second book? And it’s a big book. They’ve also trapped themselves a bit by stretching this over three books. Certainly it is a big story but not big enough for three big books. Heck, Stoker did it in one medium sized book.
As for the story itself, it has all the implausibility of a movie script. But this should surprise no one since Del Toro is a director. I’m leaning heavily now on not letting movie directors write books. Sure the imagery is great, I mean, that’s what they do, but the plot is always full of holes because they are going for the pretty picture and not what makes sense for the characters to do.

I really liked parts of this book but I also yawned through big parts of it too. I thought the first book was very well done and I imagine the ending will be a big Hollywood finish, but getting there is going to be a bit tedious. There is a real lack of energy in this book. I found myself skimming page after page of description. The flashbacks did not move the story forward and the characters became uninteresting at times. This is very hard to do considering we’re talking vampires taking over Manhattan. But, if you remember, movie directors have done this in the past with the American Godzilla movie which was made to be tedious and illogical.

If you are a hard core vampire or Del Toro or Hogan fan then I guess you have no choice. Otherwise I think your time is better spent elsewhere.

The Strain Trilogy
* The Strain
* The Fall
* Eternal Night

To get your copy, click here: The Fall (The Strain Trilogy)

Den of Thieves: The Ancient Blades Trilogy: Book One, David Chandler, Harper Voyager Mass Market Paperback ISBN 9780062021243, $7.99

Universal Studios Uniglobe

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Malden is a young thief, trying to make his way in the free city of Ness. In a very short period of time he finds himself called before the master of criminals and then, in a separate instance, hired by a barbarian and a sorceress for a particularly nasty job that could net him a fortune. All he has to do is steal the gold coronet of the Burgrave, the ruler of Ness. The coronet, it seems, is kept in a tower, guarded by traps and monsters, surrounded by a castle, with a nearly impenetrable facade, and full of soldiers.
Malden, of course, takes the job. How else to pay the initiation fee of the master of criminals so that he can become a full member and, a truly, free man. It also helps that the sorceress who hired him is very attractive, even counting the living tattoos that writhe over her arms and face. Malden does the job, nearly gets killed a couple of times, has to escape through a sewer and then swim to freedom, and then gets his reward. He returns to the master of criminals the next day and pays his initiation fee and everything is good. Well, not so much. Seems the coronet was more than just a crown and it seems that the real party behind the theft is a master sorcerer and it seems that the Burgrave is just a lump of meat without the crown, and generally there are some really pissed off people who want it back.
This is the first book of a trilogy–The Ancient Blades Trilogy to be exact–although it reads fine as a stand alone. The ending is a conclusion to all that has come before, there is no cliff hanger that will leave you waiting, and all of the plot problems are resolved in a satisfactory way. David Chandler has created an interesting world in the free city of Ness and populated it with even more interesting characters. This is not Chandler’s first novel (he writes horror as David Wellington) and it shows in the craftsmanship, plot development, pacing, and story.
I enjoyed this book. Fans of sword and sorcery will find a welcome home here as Chandler plays with all of the familiar material but does so in a way that re-energizes the subgenre. The characters are also intriguing and beguiling, leading one to want to continue forward with the story in order to find out what happens next. And, perhaps the most skillful accomplishment is that, while the first book of a trilogy, the book works very well as a stand alone novel. I don’t think many who read this book will want to stop here but, on the other hand, you also aren’t going to be getting just a partial plot with cliffhangers used solely to get you to the next book. Highly recommended and a very fun read.

To buy the book just click here: Den of Thieves: The Ancient Blades Trilogy: Book One

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

Black Magic Sanction (Hollows Series), Kim Harrison, Eos, ISBN 9780061138041, $7.99

Cover of "Black Magic Sanction (Rachel Mo...

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This is the eighth book in Kim Harrison‘s Hollows series. This time witch Rachel Morgan has to deal with the coven, which has shunned her and wants her imprisoned or at least lobotomized so she’s no longer a black magic problem for them. Rachel also has to deal with Trent Kalamack, elf and tycoon industrialist who wants Rachel on a short leash or incapacitated as well. And then there’s the demon who has marked her and who is showing her black magic. Add in Pixie Jenks who has his own issues to manage, Ivy who is a vampire and similarly engaged, Pierce a dead witch in another person’s body who is a black magic user and apparently on his own side, and some men from Rachel’s past who are proving much more trouble than they are worth and there’s a lot going on that Rachel has to manage.

Rachel’s plans seem to continually come to bad endings and her power over her own destiny seems small. If she’s not able to pull together many of those who are working against her then there is no way she’ll be able to get the coven to change their mind. I’ve enjoyed this series up to now. This time though the book feels overly fat, overly fluffy, and in need of a good edit. It’s hard to tell whether this is the writer going on unchecked or a change of editors
or just market forces which say bigger is better, but as I read I could not help but keep saying to myself this should be shorter. There’s a lot going on but much of it is ancillary to the main plot which could have also been tightened and made sharper in focus. The one feeling I kept coming away with was that the author didn’t have a solid plot but did have three subplots and decided to weave them all together. This is pure speculation on my part of course but that’s certainly what if feels like.

I think that there is enough here for long time fans to still enjoy. The characters that they have come to know are all present, and if the overall situation for Rachel has not significantly changed it is at least a side note which they could enjoy.

If you are new to the series, I would not recommend this book as the jumping in point. Go back to the first book and start there. By the time you get here you will have decided for yourself. I have the next book in the series in my read pile and I do plan to read it so take that into consideration when you read this.

Buy Black Magic Sanction by clicking here

More by Kim Harrison
The Hollows:
* Dead Witch Walking
* Every Which Way But Dead
* The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
* A Fistful of Charms
* For a Few Demons More
* White Witch, Black Curse
* Black Magic Sanction
* Pale Demon
Graphic Novels:
Blood Work
Madison Avery:
* Once Dead, Twice Shy
* Early to Death, Early to Rise
The Anthologies:
* Dates From Hell (anthology with other authors)

A Hard Day’s Knight, Simon R. Green, Ace books 978-0-441-01970-0, $25.95

The Lady of the Lake gives Excalibur to King A...

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This is the eleventh book in Simon Green’s Nightside series. John Taylor, private investigator, has just inherited the role of administrator of the Nightside. He did so by killing Walker, the previous head. The job involves keeping things in order and also dealing with anything unusual that comes up, such as the sword shaped package that was just delivered to Taylor’s door. The sword shaped package contains a sword, Excaliber to be exact, and while Taylor is not worthy to carry it, dispensation has been made for him to do so until the task is completed.

The task takes Taylor out of the Nightside and into London, the home of the Last Defenders of Camelot–the London Knights. King Arthur must be returned (first he must be found), the civil war of the elves must be stopped (before it destroys everything), and the Nightside must continue on. Taylor not only has to figure out how to find King Arthur but he has to convince everyone that he’s the guy who’s meant to do it.

Simon Green writes with a good dollop of humor, most of it dark. It keeps the plot moving and makes the story interesting. Not that a story about Excaliber, elves, and the London Knights would be uninteresting without it, but consider it like paprika, you’d know something was missing if it wasn’t there. It’s hard to keep a series going and Green has done an excellent job keeping things moving and adding new touches to the universe as he goes along. The writing is pretty crisp, the characters are fun and involved, and the story is pure entertainment.

I came to the Nightside fairly late–the series was well up and running by the time I got to it–but had no problem jumping in and catching up. Green does an excellent job of maintaining the universe but not requiring you to read every book in order to enjoy the one that’s just out. Not that he wouldn’t mind if you bought them all, just that the story does not require it. I enjoyed it, thoroughly and I look forward to the next entry in the series.
Highly recommended. A great read.

Hard Days Knight (buy it here)