by Alan Dean Foster (2015)
An epic fantasy that takes place entirely underwater.
Best friends Chachel and Glint, a merson and a cuttlefish, are returning from a shark hunt when they stumble upon an unconscious female demon. Taking her back to their reef community to recover, while they decide what to do with her, they wind up stumbling into a unique friendship, one which will change their lives and community for better as the reef dwellers and the demon together fight to preserve themselves and their way of life in the face of enemies and their blue magic.
The best think about this novel is the world building. The environments, creatures and characters have been well thought out and generally obey known science (with the notable exception of talking fish). So there is plenty of scope for an interesting story. Unfortunately the one told is a rather conventional human-conflict type which pits mersons against crabs.
There is also an over-indulgence in coming up with new words for things we know about. The character names can sometimes be a bit weird, with no scheme or reason for some and just how pronunciation works can be confusing. The worst part is that the main protagonist, Irina does not have much agency, things just happen to her or she becomes swept along with the action.
It’s well written, while reading you become engaged with the story. Only after finishing did I realize that there wasn’t much to it. This is a long book that could benefit from some editing to pick up the pacing and remove some of the numerous characters.
The book ends abruptly, indicating that a sequel may be coming. I won’t be bothering.
Solomon’s Seal (Ogmios Team Adventure #2)
by Steven Savile (2012)
With the discovery of the long lost Seal of Solomon Konstantin Khavan and Orla Nyren find themselves in Jerusalem and Palestine fighting for their lives with enemies on all sides. They don’t know who they can trust. They don’t know which way to turn next. All they know is they have to find the Seal while diverting the detonation of a dirty bomb at one of Jerusalem’s most holy sites. Which would be fine, but Orla’s been here before, during the worst days of her life when she was a prisoner in Jenin, a refugee camp on the border.
This is more like ‘Crucible’, at 44,000 words it come in a novella length. It’s about a single operation to retrieve a piece of jewellery. May sound like nothing, but Savile ramps up the action to suitable levels to satisfy. At times there is a but too much violence, pushing into the horror genre, especially its depiction of the actions against the female agent.
In the end, a decent but not complicated action thriller.
Silver (Ogmios Team Adventure #1)
by Steven Savile (2010)
Two thousand years ago, thirty Tyrian shekels were paid to secure the most infamous betrayal of all time. Melted down by the grandsons of Judas Iscariot, Menahem and Eleazar ben Jair, in the dark heart of the Sicarii fortress, Masada, the silver was re-forged as a dagger.
When Sicarii zealots committed mass suicide in AD73, the dagger of Iscariot and the truth of his sacrifice were lost. Until now. A religious cult calling itself the Disciples of Judas has risen in the Middle East. Its influence is pernicious, its reach long. In thirteen cities across Europe, thirteen people martyr themselves in the name of Judas, promising forty days and forty nights of terror.
There is more than a hint of Dan Brown’s ‘The Da Vinci Code’ in this book. In fact in the author notes Steven Savile states that he felt he was overshadowed by Dan Brown as the books came out around the same time. But this is a better story. It lacks the over the top breathless quality of Dan Brown.
Savile really knows how to deliver an action sequence, they are tense, gripping and usually have an unexpected way out for the protagonist.
What I have noticed in the writing it that he will spend more time on setting and the environment that most authors. This results in a more immersive read, but without the dreaded info-dump some indulge in.
The only negative aspect was the amount of Christian/Jewish history included beyond my minimal knowledge of the era.
Still a great thriller with an unexpected ending.
A Fire Upon the Deep
(Zones of Thought #1)
by Vernor Vinge (1993)
Thousands of years hence, many races inhabit a universe where a mind’s potential is determined by its location in space, from super-intelligent entities in the Transcend, to the limited minds of the Unthinking Depths, where only simple creatures and technology can function. Nobody knows what strange force partitioned space into these “regions of thought,” but when the warring Straumli realm use an ancient Transcendent artifact as a weapon, they unwittingly unleash an awesome power that destroys thousands of worlds and enslaves all natural and artificial intelligence.
Fleeing the threat, a family of scientists, including two children, are taken captive by the Tines, an alien race with a harsh medieval culture, and used as pawns in a ruthless power struggle. A rescue mission, not entirely composed of humans, must rescue the children-and a secret that may save the rest of interstellar civilization.
This is being read as the ‘Sword and Laser’ podcast pick for September. The last Vernor Vinge book I read was ‘Rainbows End’. This starts OK, but the plot really sags in the middle, I got bored with it and gave up.
So it’s with trepidation I started this book………
The start is OK, spaceships are destroyed and a family is abandoned on a planet to face a savage foe. Then the third person narrative switches to the aggressor. The language changes and all sorts of unnecessary words are thrown in that makes it a difficult read. Up until now I can follow the story, then we get another narrative by some unknown people in an unknown place.
The author just isn’t that good at setting up a situation and describing what is going on. Things start to drag and become boring. I persisted until 14% of this 203,000 word novel. Was I going to slog my way through the remaining 86% ?
Crucible (Ogmios Team Adventure #5)
by Steven Savile (2014)
1996, London. The Troubles are in full flow. A young Irish officer, Ronan Frost, is deep undercover inside an IRA cell in London. Something big is happening. Something devastating. Something that will shake the foundations of Anglo-Irish relations and make sure the peace process stalls.
The Ogmios Team doesn’t exist.
Sir Charles is not confined to a wheelchair.
This is where it all begins.
As I had read another Steven Savile book, I wasn’t too worried about being taken on a story that would waste my time. I gave his book ‘Immortal’ a 4/5 review.
This novel is a conventional thriller told in two parallel third person narratives.
It feels like an episode of a TV series like ‘The Professionals’, Sir Charles could be George Cowley. Boddy or Doyle any of the agents. Certainly well done, however it covers ground (UK-Irish troubles) that has been done a lot before.
This is episode five, supposedly an origins story, but for half the book it felt like being thrown in with established character I had just met. Reading the blurbs for the other four books, they appear to cover less conventional ground, so should be worth a read.
The Didymus Contingency
by Jeremy Robinson (2007)
When Dr. Tom Greenbaum faces that question after successfully discovering the secret to time travel, he knows the time, place and event he will witness: the death and failed resurrection of Jesus Christ. Dr. David Goodman, Tom’s colleague and closest friend follows Tom into the past, attempting to avert a time-space catastrophe, but forces beyond their control toss them into a dangerous end game where they are tempted by evil characters, betrayed by friends, pursued by an assassin from the future and haunted by a demon that cannot be killed.
This is Jeremy Robinson’s first book,not published until recently. It’s got all the characteristics of later books; action, suspense and evil villains. This is a time travel tale. Near the end things do get a bit to timey-whimey (trademark Dr Who) for my liking.
The interesting thing was his depiction of Jesus. In this book he is a big boisterous guy, outgoing and charismatic. In Ben-Hur (2016) he is a sniveling wretch, downtrodden and weak. Robinson’s Jesus makes more sense, you would expect the King of the Jews to be outgoing and a natural leader. I’m not sure if this mixture of religion and science fiction is meant to be taken too seriously, but I found humour and a touch of satire in what happens when the heroes of today meet iconic people from Judea.
Despite the inherent problems with time travel and the insertion of an unnecessary villain, it’s still a good read. Just don’t think too hard about the ‘rules’ of time travel and the nature of Jesus.
The Buccaneers’ Code
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #3
by Caroline Carlson (2013)
Hilary Westfield is now a freelance pirate. After trying to prove herself to the VNHLP, she realized many members of the League weren’t all that honorable—not even very nearly. With Captain Blacktooth in cahoots with the Mutineers, the kingdom of Augusta and all its magic are at risk.
What the League needs is a very honorable pirate to be their new president. So Hilary—with the help of her friends, including the always spirited gargoyle—challenges Blacktooth to a High Seas battle. Winner takes all. Loser, at best, will be exiled.
In the third book, villains become more villainous, magic has more prominence and things get a bit more silly. The writing is a sharp as ever, but some of the plot twists get a bit silly to support the notion that a young girl will defeat a bunch of (semi) professional pirates. Still, it’s a fun read and appears to bring the series to a close.
The Terror of the Southlands
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #2
by Caroline Carlson (2014) with Dave Phillips (Illustrations)
Hilary Westfield is a pirate. In fact, she’s the Terror of the Southlands! She’s daring, brave, fearless, and in a rut. Maybe she hasn’t found any treasure lately. And maybe she isn’t fighting off as many scallywags as she’d like. But does that mean she and her loyal crew (including a magical gargoyle) deserve to be kicked out of the ranks of the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates?
There is only one thing to do—find a daring mission worthy of her fearless reputation. With the help of first mate Charlie, finishing-school friend Claire, and the self-proclaimed intrepid gargoyle, Hilary sets sail on a swashbuckling expedition that may or may not involve a kidnapped Enchantress, bumbling inspectors, a mysterious group called the Mutineers, and—the most terrifying thing of all—a High Society ball.
Now that she is a pirate, Hilary has to prove herself. It’s still the same whimsical style and more adventuring that swashbuckling. But the book almost manages to be as good as the first. And by the end her reputation as Terror of the Southlands is still intact.
Magic Marks the Spot
The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1
by Caroline Carlson (2013)
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors. She particularly enjoys defying authority, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.
For some reason I got this author confused with Gail Carson Levine. Aside from the similar name, the book cover is the same style. Levine wrote ‘Ella Enchanted’ that was made into a film and ‘A Tale of Two Castles’ which I read in 2012 and gave 4/5 stars.
This novel is obviously aimed at a teenage audience. Hilary, the main protagonist is a young girl (13-14) who manages to overcome obstacles and defeat her enemies using a combination of luck and persuasion.
The violence here is more like ‘The Princess Bride’ than a pirate film. The whole tone of the book is light and good natured. Even the ‘evil’ characters are self-aware of their villainy and mock others in very stereotypical pirate ways (haarrrr). The story moves along at a good pace and has enough twists and turns to ensure an unexpected ending.
One of the best part(s) of the book is the frequent insertion of letters, posters, manual excerpts and newspaper clippings. While they are done in the same style, it does provide an amusing third person view of the narrative. The mystery is how all the letters make their way between the main characters despite most of them being at sea. My guess would be pigeon post, or maybe the all the seas are small and hence shipping routes always close to shore.
It’s an enjoyable light and amusing read for teenagers of all ages.
Beneath (Origins, #3)
by Jeremy Robinson (2010)
When evidence of microscopic life on Europa–Jupiter’s sixth moon–is discovered, a crew of astronauts and scientists embark on a mission to discover its source. Led by oceanographer and biologist, Kathy Connelly, the crew is charged with the task of melting through miles of ice to the hidden ocean beneath, where the search for alien microorganisms begins. But a startling discovery awaits them on the surface of Europa–life.
After a string of mediocre books, it’s good to be back with an author who knows what he is doing. This story combines science fiction, action, horror and suspense. It’s up the the standard of his other books and the science is plausible (assuming life within our solar system is acceptable).