Saturday, 2 July 2016

The Black Stone, Nick Brown

Publishers: Hodder & Stoughton

Pages: 470

Main Characters:

Cassius, Indavara, Khalima

When the sacred Black Stone of Emesa is stolen by a mysterious enemy of Rome, Cassius is set the task of recovering it for his Emperor.  The identity and location of the thieves are unknown. Nevertheless, Cassius must create a small task force to gain information from an imperial spy in Petra and then use that information to track down the stone. However, the Corn Man soon finds out that the theft of the sacred object could be linked with Rome’s allies the Tanukh: a confederation of Arabian tribes that traditionally guards Rome’s frontier. Cassius must come up with a plan to return the stone to Rome and ease relations with Rome’s old ally, ensuring another rebellion does not spark in the Empire’s eastern provinces.

Yet again Brown has managed to create a captivating and thrilling historical fiction book. I think the Agent of Rome series is by far my favourite Roman series out there at the moment. This is because Brown creates excellent characters and actually gives them personalities that make them feel human. 

Typically in Roman novels of this type, there are always two main ‘chalk and cheese’ protagonists that really shouldn’t get along. Usually it’s a young buck that has been thrust into leadership and throughout the books that follow, the youngster grows into an amazing warrior and leader. Then there is the old veteran, who has distain for the young officer because of his quick elevation to command, but then over time gains a sense of respect for the young man as he develops into this great leader.

I believe Cassius and Indavara aren’t like that. Sure, Cassius was thrown into his position but he was literally bred from birth to deal with these situations as he comes from a rich family. Nevertheless, he is no hero and honestly not a character I like, as he is cowardly and very self-centred. However, this makes him a great character to read about as he is someone different from the usual zero-to-hero protagonist that defines this genre of historical-fiction. His partner in the books is also unusual because at times I don’t think he even likes Cassius. In addition, there is an air of mystery around Indavara, which I’m excited to learn more about in future novels. This again makes him interesting to me because he is not the two dimensional character you usually see in this genre. We don’t really know what his motives are because we don’t know that much about him, which is great for the reader as this factor sometimes makes him unpredictable.

Finally, another character that shone in this book was Gutha, the German mercenary working for the Arabians. I thought the small parts in the book about his past were very interesting and I would love to read more about him in a short story, so Nick if you’re reading this, please consider it because I’d be the first to review it!

To conclude this was a great edition to the Agent of Rome series and I can’t wait to read the next two books. I would suggest it to fans of authors like Ben KaneAnthony Riches and Simon Scarrow. If you are a historical fiction fan please check out this series, it is a true gem in a genre that I am starting to feel more and more disillusioned with.

For the author's offical site click here.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Five Awesome Books that Need Your Help: The Best of Kickstarter June 2016

Kickstarter is a great way for ordinary, creative people to crowd source money to help fund projects and publish them to the world. I initially heard about Kickstarter a few years ago as many video game developers and publishers were using the platform to gain millions of dollars to fund their games. Since then, a whole range of different categories have developed on the website. There is music, technology and most importantly (for me anyway) publishing.

How Kickstarter works is that each project sets a goal it has to reach within a certain time. The goals range from $10 to literally MILLIONS of dollars depending on the ambition of the creator. Fans or ‘Backers’ pledge money to help a project reach its goal. There are usually several different tiers, each of which is set at a different price point and normally, each tier has a special reward linked to it. 

These rewards are sometimes small, such as free artwork or they can be huge; gaining you special perks with whichever project you supported.  Kickstarter is a great way to support ‘indie’ publishers and usually if you are willing to wait a while, it is an excellent way to get a bargain.

So here are five awesome books that need your help to get published from June 2016. Some may have gained their goal by the time you read this. However, if you’d like to help the authors, please check out their Kickstarter pages!

1. Bastion of Sun, Matthew Wolf
This is the third book in Wolf’s Ronin Saga and I believe his third book to be Kickstarted. As Wolf says, the book is ‘Lord of the Rings meets the Knights of the Round Table’ with Japanese Samurai undertones flowing throughout the series. From his ‘pitch’ video, the novel sounds very intriguing for fantasy fans and the artwork from the book looks magnificent. If you’re interested in Bastion of Sun by Matthew Wolf then check out his Kickstarter here.


2. The Boy in the Castle, Inkylizard

I think this is the most unusual book in this list and the hardest for me to define.  The Boy in the Castle is a fairy tale picture book for all ages. The book is written by Scottish song writer Matt Johnston and illustrated by Katie Rebecca Siegle. A love story that tries to tackle and challenge the stigma around depression, The Boy in the Castle seems like a beautifully illustrated novel with much more depth than first appears. The artwork is wonderful and worth checking out even if you don’t want to support the book. Find Inkylizard’s Kickstarter here.


3. Delta Vol 1, Ryan Nichols
As you can probably guess from the title, Delta Vol 1 is a comic book. Based in a world created and neglected by a cruel God and with artwork from over 30 artists, Delta is packed full of unique characters and brutal stories. The thing that drew me to this comic was its range of different art styles and the huge variety of characters in the comic. In addition to the comic itself, the perks are pretty awesome too! If you pledge enough money you may be added as a character to the book. This is a great opportunity to get into a new and original comic book and if you’d like to learn more about Delta Vol 1 click here.


4. Angelarium: Book of Watchers, Peter Mohrbacher
This is the second book in the Angelarium series and boasts almost twice the content of the original book.  Angelarium is based thousands of years ago when angels came to Earth to help teach mankind. However, with their descent from the heavens, the angels also brought catastrophes no one could have foreseen. This book is a collection of amazing gothic-style artwork coupled alongside short stories and poems from the world Mohrbacher has created. Such a cool concept for a book! Find out more at Angelarium: Book of Watchers’ Kickstarter here.


5. Sherlock Holmes Re-Imagined, Steve Emecz
Perhaps the quirkiest book on this list, Sherlock Holmes Re-Imagined is a picture book which re-enacts original Sidney Paget illustrations (from the Sherlock Holmes books) in LEGO! I think this is such a great idea to get kids interested in Sherlock Holmes and anything with Lego is cool to me! To learn more about this book check out their Kickstarter here.

"I found Holmes fast asleep" (Case of Identity) from Kickstarter

So there you have it, Five Awesome Books that Need Your Help! Please let me know what you thought of the books I’ve listed and what you thought of the list itself. 

I plan to do one every month so any feedback would be great! Just reach out to me on either Facebook or Twitter.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Howl's Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones

Publishers: Greenwillow Books

Pages: 336

Main Characters:

Howl, Sophie, The Witch of the Waste,

I first read this book after seeing it beautifully visualised in Studio Ghibli’s and Hayao Miyazaki’s movie adaptation Howl’s Moving Castle. The artwork of the film was breathtaking and after finding out the author of the book was actually Welsh, I really wanted to see for myself how the Japanese movie differed from the novel.

Trailer for the movie

The book is based in a fictional kingdom called Ingary and the main character is a young girl called Sophie Hatter, who as the name suggests, is a hat maker’s apprentice. After a chance encounter with the local wizard Howl, Sophie is cursed by one of his jealous old lovers and turned into an old woman. The worst part of the curse is that Sophie can’t tell anyone that she was cursed and therefore the curse cannot be lifted. 

Overcome with anger and fear, Sophie decides to leave her home town of Market Chipping and wander the wastes surrounding the city, looking for the witch that cursed her. However, what she finds is something much more peculiar; a magical, mechanical castle the roams the wastes on its own free will. Sophie is forced to shelter inside the castle and there meets the wizard Howl again. After making an agreement with Howl’s fire demon Calcifer, Sophie decides to stay on as the Wizard’s house maid, which leads her on a magical fairy-tale of love, jealousy and tragedy.

This novel is great but for the first time ever, I think I have to say that I preferred the movie more. The artwork is so beautiful in Miyazaki’s masterpiece that I think the film is one of the best ever. The book was really enjoyable too but I think Miyazaki did a fantastic job of trimming some of the fat from the novel which I think was not necessarily needed. For example, there is some inter-dimensional stuff that happens in the book which I didn’t like. I thought Jones’s world was so incredibly imagined that she didn’t need to bring the plot into our actual world. I thought doing this made the plot line increasingly confusing and killed the pacing of the novel. Almost like the weird scene in The Empire Strikes Back where Luke fights Darth Vader in that strange cave. As this book is part of a trilogy maybe this inter-dimensional stuff is explained in the last two novels, however, I still believe that in this novel it made no sense.

To conclude, this was an extremely enjoyable and imaginative fantasy/ fairy-tale but I really can’t stress enough how beautiful the movie is, so make sure you check it out too. I’m very interested to see what happens in the following novels in the trilogy and will hopefully review them one day soon!

For author’s official website click here.

Friday, 13 May 2016

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Eastman,Waltz, Duncan (Comic Book Review)

I decided to give this comic book series a try as I was such a huge fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV show when I was a kid. Plus, the fact that a new TMNT video game is getting released in a few weeks also swayed me to pick up these comics. This is because one of the lead artists on the game also worked on the comic books. As the game looks amazing, I thought I’d love the comics too.

Artwork from game

Unfortunately this wasn’t the case. The art style in the video game was very bright and easy to look at and enjoy, whereas I found the comics to be almost monochrome, limited to blacks, greens and reds. It gives the art style of the comic a much more grown up feel, which it could be argued is the comic’s target audience as most of its reader would have grown up with the Turtles as kids (like me). However, I felt it was too harsh for me because the limited colour pallet didn’t distinguish each individual tile of artwork from one and other. This led me to mostly just read the text in the book and not look at the corresponding pictures because I enjoyed the story more than the artwork.

The story is the origin story of the Turtles and their master Splinter. Though some parts of the story were ridiculous; like Splinter (as a rat and not a mutant) defeating two Ninjas as they try and steal the Turtles, I still thought it was very original and more dynamic than the original origin stories from the TV show and numerous movies following it. The loss of Raphael was interesting and used well as it gave the writers a chance to introduce other key characters in the series, which I thought was an refreshing sub-plot and really enjoyed.

I won’t be continuing this series as I feel it’s not for me. However, if you are a TMNT fan I think you should give Vol 1 a try, as it is quite short and actually has an ending where you can walk away from the series feeling content.

To buy the comics click here.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Dead Eyes, N. H. Brown

Publishers: N. H. Brown

Pages: 40

Main Characters:

Mackay, Hayley Drasic, Donald Mathews-Vartini

Dead Eyes is a collection of three short sci-fi stories by author N. H. Brown. For fans of historical fiction, Nick also writes the amazing Agent of Rome series that I have reviewed here. The three stories are called: Dead Eyes, Four Numbers and Afflict. The stories are based on different characters whom seem to all co-exist in the same universe.

Dead Eyes tells the tale of Captain Mackay, a down on his luck Captain looking for his big break. Mackay and his crew are somewhat like bounty hunters but instead of hunting people, the crew look for rare resources on distant planets in the universe. Mackay finds his break on the planet of Chasseur-Malcom where a huge deposit of crude oil has been discovered. Mackay and his crew must race to the newly surveyed planet before his competitors can lay claim to the lucrative crude oil. However, what Mackay and the small crew of the Great White discover there is far more dangerous than their competitors.

Hayley Drasic is a soldier serving on Cygna 8, a small human colony on the far reaches of space. With a population of around 600, most people believed that the planet should have been abandoned when ruthlessly invaded by a mysterious alien race. However, orders are orders and the defence force fought valiantly against the ‘Sticks’(as the bionic aliens have become known). Nevertheless, the humans have been pushed back into a canyon and the future looks bleak for Hayley Drasic.

The final story is very short and I think the most intriguing. Donald Mathews-Vartini is met by a mysterious figure in his office. The strange looking man offers to take all of Earth’s most evil people and wrong doers and make them disappear. Though the offer seems too good to turn down, the stranger’s plan for the wrong doers are never revealed.  Could they come back to haunt Donald in the future?

I really enjoyed these short stories and it was very interesting to see Brown turn his hand to Sci-Fi. Each story teased me enough to want to know more about the characters and read more about them.

I also thought the stories were unique in their sci-fi setting because they weren’t too heavily focused on futuristic science. Different cultural identities still exist from Earth in Brown’s universe and their goals still feel human. What I mean by this is that Earth is still looking for oil on far off planets and still has problems that affect humanity today. In some respects, I found this limited the stories because I like my Sci-Fi to be epic and be withdrawn from the plights of humanity today. Nevertheless, I did like the stories and would be interested to read more about these characters, especially Mackay and the crew of The Great White.

Dead Eyes is priced at £0.99 on Amazon at the minute and is a steal at that price so go and get it! If you like Sci-Fi definitely check it out and let me know what you think of the short stories!

For author’s official website click here.

Monday, 4 April 2016

The Skull Throne, Peter V. Brett

Publishers: Harper Voyager

Pages: 786

Main Characters:

Arlen, Jardir, Leesha, Rojer,

The Skull Throne is the fourth book in this ever expanding dark fantasy world and takes places directly after the ending of The Daylight War. With the battle between Arlen and Jardir ending in the disappearance of both potential ‘Deliverers’, the whole of Thesa is thrown into chaos as rivalling powers struggle to fill the power vacuum Jardir leaves behind.

His two sons Jajan and Asome both set out on their own paths to seek glory and stake their claim to their father’s skull throne. Jajan is sent by his mother Inevera to Dock Town to fulfil his father’s plan of attacking the Duchy of Laktons’ source of food for the winter. Whilst Asome tries to build support by defying his father’s wishes and letting his Dama warriors fight in Alagai’sharak.

Meanwhile, Leesha Paper and Rojer Halfgrip travel to Fort Angiers to assist the Duke there. However, what they don’t realise is that they are walking into a vipers pit, where court intrigue rules. Mixing this with old enemies, Leesha, Rojer and his wives must be cautious in the capital if they are to survive and fulfil Arlen Bails’s plan.

I’ve been reading and listening to this series over a number of years now. It has always been a series that I enjoy coming back to, however I never rush to read the new novels when they are first published. I've always found them to be interesting but never all engrossing like other fantasy series can be. However, this book totally, totally changed that. 

The plot moves away from the focus of killing daemons which was the emphasis of the first three novels. With the disappearance of Arlen and Jardir, the focus of the novel twists to the spiritual conundrum of humans fighting each other for the power to lead and continue the war on daemon kind. Jardir’s sons tare their father’s hard earned Empire apart as they both struggle for control. Honestly, the intrigue and plots in this book are epic and I haven’t been so immersed in a novel like this since A Game of Thrones. So much so that all I’m thinking about is what could happen next!

The Skull Throne is by far the best book in the series and I’m so excited for the next novel! I would suggest this book to anyone who is a fan of epic fantasy like A Game of Thrones or Mark Lawrence'sThe Brocken Empire series.

For author’s official website click here.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Hominids Book 1 (Chapters 1-6), Jordan Kotzebue (Comic Book)

Comic covers for Chapters 1-3

It’s not very often that you can read a book or watch a movie and tell within the first few seconds that you love it. From the first wonderful page of Hominids by Jordan Kotzebue, I was totally hooked.

The comic is based in a mystical, pre-historic forest that is as old as time itself. Within the forest are a number of different human-like species that are all waging war with each other for the scarce resources in the deadly undergrowth.  Dominant among these are the Tree-Dwellers, who try and live pacifist lives and do their best to co-exist with the other species. However, their biggest rivals are the Mountain-Dwellers who jealously look upon the people of the trees and crave their life of prosperity and plentifulness. The Mountain-Dwellers are the most violent faction in the forest and want to consistently wage war on the Tree-Dwellers and turn them into livestock; to help rebuild their once great city.

Nevertheless, when a stray Mountain-Dweller is found wondering the forest, the leader of the Tree-Dwellers Zona hopes to teach the boy that her pack (tribe) do not wish for war and want to co-exist with the men of the mountain. However, men’s hearts don’t easily change and though they befriend the boy, his elders still seek the imprisonment and extermination of the peaceful Tree-Dweller pack.

Page 1 that got me so hooked!

As you can see from the image above, the artwork in this comic is beautiful. I think it’s such a unique twist to base a comic book in a pre-historic forest. This is because most comics are based around futuristic superheroes, which I’m not always a fan of. But for me, artwork isn’t everything when reading a comic. Sure there are thousands of great comic book artists who post on twitter and reddit and though their artwork is great, their writing isn’t always that good.

Hominids Covers Chapers 4-6
I’m please to say Hominids isn’t like this. I thought the writing was great and Jordan did an excellent job of establishing his characters by giving them a short bio at the start of chapter one. Because of this, I found it easy to pick up the characters’ personalities from Jordan’s artwork. In addition, I was totally immersed in the plot and sub-plots of the comic, which isn’t always the case when reading comic books I’ve found on the web! My only small critique is that Jordan obviously tries to get a point across in his comics about the state of the human race and religion. Nevertheless, I think he could make it a little more subtle in his writing when putting this moral into the story, instead of obviously stating his beliefs on the human race (which to be fair, I agree with).

All in all, this was an exceptional comic book and I thoroughly enjoyed it! If you are like me and want to get into comic books I think Hominids would be a perfect place to start and if you are a comic book veteran, why not try something new and refreshingly different?

Please check out Jordan’s website where he posts regular updates to his comics here.

If you’d like to buy any books of Hominids they are available at ComiXology
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