Thursday, 31 January 2013

Darksiders II - Game Review


Darksiders II is the second in the Darksiders series of games, about the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the end times. In the story so far, the apocalypse has been prematurely instigated and humanity has been wiped out. Demons and angels and all manner of weird beasties fight over the remains of the Earth. The Charred Council, who watch over the Balance, are not happy. It seems that everyone is blaming War for riding forth before the final seal was broken, but War is just as confused as the rest of them.

In the first game, we played as War, exploring the shattered world and trying to piece together who had framed us, and who was responsible for beginning the End War.

In the second game, we play as Death, on a mission to resurrect humanity and so save our brother War from the Council’s wrath. Whereas the first game took place on Earth, the second shifts between many realms, all connected by the Tree of Life.

Setting and Visuals

I thought the first game had a fantastic story, a truly brilliant concept, and beautiful world-building. The idea of setting a game thousands of years after the death of humanity was inspired. It’s so rare to find any kind of story with absolutely no humans at all in it. This concept also allowed for amazing visuals and characters – Earth overrun by the supernatural. Shattered shells of skyscrapers with strange demon growths protruding from them, sunken cities populated by underwater weirdies, subway tunnels half-transformed into faerie dens... everything in the game was interesting, with a very unique blend of abandoned human world and distinctly-other. It’s actually quite hard to do justice with words, and I would absolutely recommend playing it for yourself.

Unfortunately, there was nothing in Darksiders II that really matched up to this aspect of the first game. The fact that Death moves between different realms meant that the game designers had scope for literally anything, but all the areas are actually a little disappointing. The first one has a traditional fantasy, vaguely Celtic feel. The second is standard world of the dead stuff. Revealing what the other worlds are might give away mini-spoilers, but it’s enough to say that they felt a bit like they had taken the less inspired bits from the first game and shoved them in without thinking of anything new. Shame.

Characters do look really good though. And can I take a sec to say how much I love angel armour? Especially the wing plates. Pic from The Armchair Empire.


Gameplay

Gameplay is similar to the first. Lots of bashing X and Y in various combinations to do cool moves and smash baddies. Fighting’s not terribly hard: figure out how and when to dodge, and buy the torpedo-through-stuff ability (I forget what it’s called) from the level-up screen, and you’re pretty much sorted for the entire game, though you’ll get more enjoyment from trying out other moves too. It’s fun stuff, and there’s a great variety of weapons and moves to choose from (though frustratingly little that actually helps against flying monsters).

Both my husband and I had a vague feeling that fighting in the previous game had been more fun, perhaps better moves or animations, or perhaps just a bit of misremembered nostalgia... not sure. However, one thing was definitely missing, and that was being able to use the environment around you. I really enjoyed throwing cars at monsters, or uprooting lampposts to wallop beasties over the head with. I can’t understand why that element was removed.

 No, THIS is an axe.

The puzzles are similar to those of the first game, including switching things, pulling levers, throwing bombs, climbing, free-running, rolling balls into sockets (A LOT of rolling balls into sockets, sometimes in order to release more balls to roll into more sockets), swimming, hook grabbing, making portals, etc. The free-running element has been added to, meaning that Death leaps from wall to wall and traverses vertical landscapes like Ezio. I thought this was really fun, though the controls for doing it were a bit clunky and didn’t always respond very well. This made the occasional ‘climb for your life to escape rising lava or spikes or lava-spikes’ one of the most frustrating experiences a game could ever create.

The game is very careful about introducing new puzzles, to the point of being a little patronising. How many times do they think we need to do one thing before we’ve got it? This meant that the entire first realm was essentially a training ground, with very linear dungeons and pointlessly easy puzzles. I didn’t really begin to enjoy the puzzles until the realm of the dead, and it wasn’t until getting the portal gun that things actually got even semi-challenging. Time-travel was a nice touch though (if a bit stupid for the reason time-travel is always stupid when shoe-horned into a story – if you had a time-travel device this entire time, why didn’t you just...?).

 Roll MOAR balls into sockets!
Pic from Paperblog

Boss Fights

Boss fights! Everyone loves boss fights! Except me. No really, you can never use your best moves on them, the ones you worked really hard to buy and are the most fun to do and look really good on screen. Instead, every boss fight is dodge, dodge, dodge, dodge, throw bomb at its mouth when it roars, hit it three times before it gets back up, dodge dodge dodge... rinse and repeat. Or something along those lines; you know the score. Most of the time I prefer just fighting waves and waves of littlies, and a lot of the time that’s a harder challenge anyway. This is why I generally prefer arenas, but don’t get me started on the arena in this game because it sucked.

But yes, anyway, boss fights! Occasionally bosses can be interesting, and the Darksiders games do boast a few really good ones (more so in the first game though). Surprisingly, most of the actually fun bosses are found early game, with later ones becoming increasingly tedious. This is very subjective though, of course, and you may love them. Huge-hammer-guy (trying not to give things away by using real names) was the most unique in terms of strategy. I also appreciated cthulu-face, mainly for the aesthetic.

It also seemed like the more dramatic the enemy, the easier it was. Super powerful angel! Died really quick. Lord of Hell! Wasn’t even trying. End boss!! Blink and you’ll miss the fight. Random dude in dungeon I don’t even have to go into for the main questline... squashed me like a grape. Weird.

 Cthulu-face (not his actual name)
Pic from KitGuru

Story

I found myself constantly confused by the story. It didn’t help that it’d been about two years since I played the first game and there was no real recap. TV series give you a recap of what happened a week ago... never mind two years ago! And I’m still confused about just when Darksiders II was supposed to have taken place. Is this set before the first game? Pretty sure it is, but how long before? How come humans aren’t alive in the first game, if this is set before it? Did I just utterly miss the point somewhere?

Besides which, the story was actually one of those slightly pointless and annoying interim stories, which feels like it’s filling the gap between other games to keep the franchise going. The game relies on a string of vagueness – go here to get this guy to not quite tell you something so you can go here and do this in order to not quite fully find out how to do this other thing. Every now and again characters pop up to throw exposition at you, and then it’s more monsters and puzzles and vagueness til the next one. A lot of games are like this, granted, but I prefer it when they hide it better, or give you plot hooks that you’re actually interested in.

Other Stuff

They’ve added customisation to the game! Now you can dress up your very own Death! It’s fun giving your Death a unique look, and deciding which weapon/armour attributes are better suited for your style of play. In general this is a good thing, though slightly baffling why Death starts off so nekkid and helpless. You can see a weapon’s stats hovering beside it before you pick it up, and can equip it straight away with one button. I also loved the idea of possessed weapons, which made collecting loot (always so compulsive) actually very useful.


Conclusion

‘Not as good as the first game’ seems to be the recurring motif of this review doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that sums it up pretty well. Darksiders II is fun, but in many aspects it’s also disappointing and frustrating. Without the first game to compare it to I might be singing its praises, but that’s not the case. An average to good game.

Good – Death is an interesting character and has a lot of personality. The worlds and monsters might not be breathtaking, but they are very good. The music is truly stunning. Most of the time fighting is fun. Customising possessed weapons is a great new element. As before, the Legend-of-Zelda style combination of monster fighting, story and puzzles is fun.

Bad – Clunky controls, annoying glitches, and elements that have not been planned well means you’ll be yelling at the screen a lot. Puzzles are dumbed-down a lot since the first game. I found the majority of boss fights boring. The story was confusing and slightly pointless. Almost everything good about the game can be tempered with ‘but not as good as the first’.

Worth a Play? – Yes

Replay? – Unlikely


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

TBR Pile January Mini-Challenge



The TBR Challenge sets monthly mini-challenges, and this month's is to create a book spine poem. This is hosted by Evie at Bookish.

I love book spine poems (though they're tricky to put together)! I'm going to go with the rule that bloggers sometimes give, that we can add as many extra words as we have books. Sorry if that's cheating a bit! ^^

Here goes:

The immortal rules our nation
with fire and hemlock.
Watchmen arrive from dark places
with swords in the mist
and life as we knew it is over.
Only you can save mankind.














Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Top Ten Tuesday - Most Frustrating Characters



Time for Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, and this week it's our Ten Most Frustrating Characters.

This was a lot of fun, but harder than I thought it would be. It's not about characters we hate - sometimes really great, likeable characters can be so frustrating too, and I felt a bit guilty about putting some of them on the list! I'll be interested to see how everyone's lists compare.

So, here are ten characters who really frustrate me:

1) Harry Potter, from the Harry Potter series. I love the books, and I like the character too, but wow Harry can be frustrating. He has a tendency to not see what's obvious, and to do really silly things that are Definitely A Bad Idea! He also carries around far too much angst for one person, especially in the later books.

2) Dumbledore, from the Harry Potter series. Gah, he's so frustrating! He's one of the those typical elderly wizard characters who seems to waffle on about a lot without actually saying anything useful. He knows exactly what's going on at most points but never seems to feel the need to tell anyone, particularly poor Harry, who takes the brunt of most of the trouble.

3) Gandalf, from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Similar deal to Dumbledore. Knows a lot, speaks in riddles, deliberately keeps people in the dark, gives off a demeanor of being all-wise and powerful but is actually about as helpful as a hedgehog in a balloon factory. Cast some spells! Explain what's going on! Tell the Eagles to help earlier!

4) Emma Woodhouse, from Emma. Emma is actually a great character, and it's a brilliant book, but she definitely deserves her place on a list of frustrating characters. Stop meddling Emma! Did you not learn from the umpteen times it backfired horribly? At least Emma does eventually learn from her mistakes... kinda.

5) Cathy and Heathcliffe and... everyone, from Wuthering Heights. I know this is a much-loved classic, but was there ever a book with such unlikeable people in it? When I read this I spent the whole time in varying states of frustration and despair with every character involved.

6) Bella Swan, from Twilight. Everything about this girl is frustrating. Everything. Although I actually don't blame her for wanting to be a vampire - I know people don't like that she's so ready to give up her life, but seriously... what's actually bad about being a vampire in Twilight? Super strength, super speed, live forever, good looks, about 80% chance of getting a superpower, don't even have to feed on humans to survive if you don't want to, you don't have to forsake sunlight for eternity, and you'd save a lot of money on body glitter. In fact, it's kinda frustrating that Edward doesn't want her to become a vampire. But then, I guess he likes her weak.

7) Everyone in Twilight. Does anyone act normally in this book? Overreactions, stupid decisions, stalking, whining, spending pages wondering what someone sees in you while they spend pages telling you how they're not good enough for you... arghlblarglbgl.

8) Meghan Chase, from The Iron King. I've only read the first one in this series so far, and I loved it, but at the same time... Meghan, oh Meghan. *shakes head in despair* I think Meghan must be part-human, part-faerie, part-deer, because when anything happens, she just stands there blinking at the metaphorical headlights. Her companions are busy shouting 'RUN' or 'HIDE' or 'something's coming!' and diving into convenient bushes, while she stands gawping at whatever nasty is about to eat her this time. Try not to facepalm every time this happens or you'll end up with concussion.

9) Odysseus, from the Odyssey. I studied this book for GCSE classics, then A Level classics, then degree level classics. Odysseus never gets any less frustrating. Pro Hero Tip: don't shout out your name and address to the monster you just blinded, especially if his father happens to be the sea-god and your only way home is by boat.

Also, don't wave about your mysterious bag of treasure, being all mysterious about its mysterious contents, and then fall asleep, leaving said bag tantalizingly close to the men who want to know what's in it. REALLY don't do this if the bag actually contains all the winds of the world, which will blow your ship years off course just when home was in sight. I could go on. Odysseus basically spends the entire story running around like a toddler, gurgling and poking at stuff. (It's a fantastic story, by the way. Honestly, you should read it.)

10) Lucy Steele, from Sense and Sensibility. She makes a beeline for the one person who really doesn't want to hear about her secret relationship with Edward. Then goes on and on about it. And on.


Ha! That was fun! What about you? Any characters you find really frustrating? Do you agree with my list?


Review Copy Clean Up - Sign Up and Updates


I'm signing up for the Review Copy Clean Up, run by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea, and Celine at Nyx Book Reviews. This is a challenge for the month of February, to read as much as we can from our review-copy piles/towers/mountains. You can record your progress any way you like, and add it to the link-up each month. That's it - simple!

I'm going to set a safe goal of 4 books, and will add which ones as I read them.

Why not join us? Sign up here!

Updates


Weeks One and Two:

I forgot to do an update for week one! So I'll combine the first two weeks in this update. I've read 4 review copies so far, which means I've already met my goal for the Clean Up! Yay me! Still got plenty of review copies to be read though, so will hopefully get a few more done before February is over.


Weeks Three and Four:

I'm going to combine weeks again, as I haven't completed another book yet for week three and so don't have much to report. I seem to be hopping a bit between several books. Should probably just stick with one if I want to get another finished by the end of the Clean Up! :-)

One more book finished!



Monday, 28 January 2013

James P. Blaylock Interview and Giveaway



James P. Blaylock is regarded as one of the founding fathers of Steampunk, as well as being the winner of a Philip K. Dick award and two World Fantasy Awards. The Aylesford Skull is his first full-length steampunk novel in twenty years! You can read my review of the book here.

James kindly agreed to stop by and answer some questions about his writing and his latest exciting book.

(There are also two chances to WIN A COPY of The Aylesford Skull, one of which is a limited edition signed hardcover, so be sure to check that out at the bottom of this post!)

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Hi James! How does it feel to be called a ‘father of Steampunk’?

It makes me feel quite nice actually, although if I’m in fact the father (or grandfather, according to Locus magazine) then I share the honor with Tim Powers and K.W. Jeter. We were all writing Steampunkish stories and novels and hanging out together in the 1970s. I had the distinction, such as it was, to publish a Steampunk short story, and not long after that K.W. published his novel Morlock Night. K.W. also coined the word “Steampunk,” although not until 10 years later, when it had taken on the trappings of a subgenre. By that time the three of us had published a number of Steampunk novels and short stories. We were all influenced, of course, by other writers and by each other. Questions of origin are always murky. I’m happy to think that the rise of Steampunk culture, so to speak, was due to the three of us. What would have happened, I wonder, if we had been busy writing books about hedgehogs. Hedgepunk?


What is it that attracted you to Victorian England? What made it an interesting setting to write about?

I was and am attracted to Victorian England for two reasons. The first is that the era was wildly colorful; it produced amazing art, furniture, fashion, and a thousand and one other cool-to-look at and read about things. It was a very rich period, culturally speaking, (and was also a gritty, impoverished, cruel, and enormously fascinating era in other ways). It arguably produced the greatest literature of any literary period anywhere in the world, which is the second thing that attracted me to it. When I was ten years old, I read Verne and Wells for the colorful, adventurous elements of their books. I was big on illustrations of finny submarines and archaic looking rockets built by backyard explorer-scientists wearing beaver hats. Later, when I read Dickens and Tennyson and Ruskin, I developed a love of the language, while increasing my attraction to the nifty stuff of the period. I’ve never lost any of that, I’m happy to say, and so I take the same pleasure in writing about the era today. I’m going to bet that Steampunk readers and writers and artists and costumers would say something very similar. I’m not at all surprised at Steampunk’s broad appeal.


One of the things I really liked about the book were the little eccentric, supernatural details, like the skull lamps, the corpse candles, the pagan graveyard buried deep under London, etc. Are any of these actual myths or stories from Victorian times, or did you invent them? What gave you the ideas for them?

Although I invented the incidents of the novel, many of the elements that you mention I simply found doing casual reading or while doing research: the corpse candles, for instance, the subterranean graveyards, the old smugglers inn hidden in the marsh below Egypt Bay, etc. The skull lamps were a product of my fascination with Japanese magic mirrors. I thought a lot about how to turn the interesting but innocent magic mirrors into something more sinister, and what came of that were the skull lamps. Thinking all of this through led me to articles on early photography and coal dust explosions and a plethora of other things. That’s the problem (or perhaps pleasure) of writing stories that requires research, one thing inevitably leads to another. There’s virtually no limit to the things you can discover, although there’s an absolute limit to the things you can actually use in your book.


I thought all your heroes seemed like very real people, each with their own little quirks. Do you ever see yourself in any of your characters?

All of my protagonists are constructed of pieces of me, so to speak, although ultimately they resemble me in over-the-top ways. Their eccentricities are inflated examples of my own eccentricities, and their weaknesses and enthusiasms are exaggerations (usually). I don’t engage in adventurous behavior, so I’m thankfully not called upon to be heroic, or to shoot people or to be shot. All that being said, in some sense I always write about what I know, and my characters are often very much related to people I’ve known or that I know, including myself. I’m fond of the quirks and oddities that differentiate us from everyone else, but I’m not fond of sword wielding heroes who have no reason to sometimes be unhappy with themselves. (Lots of weird negative constructions in that sentence, not to mention the split infinitive. Hope it makes sense.)


So I’m assuming the character Arthur Doyle is the Arthur Conan Doyle. Why did you decide to include him in the story?

Arthur Conan Doyle
He is indeed Arthur Conan Doyle. On a whim I bought a biography of Conan Doyle, which I was reading at about the same time that I was reading about early photography. Conan Doyle (merely Doyle back then) was an avid amateur photographer, and the more I read about him, the more interesting he seemed to be, for reasons that had nothing to do with his Sherlock Holmes stories. At the time The Aylesford Skull takes place, Doyle would have been about the same age as Jack Owlesby, who is a character in all of my Langdon St. Ives books and stories, and in fact narrates many of them, in which case he functions as my Watson, in his small way. Doyle was just starting to write and publish short pieces, as was the fictional Jack Owlesby. It seemed right and natural that Doyle should be a character in the book, as long as he remained a peripheral character. I had the idea that if he became cumbersome, I’d simply cut him out. That didn’t happen. More on the Conan Doyle influence below.


Who are your biggest writing influences or favourite authors?

My favorite authors are most often also my biggest influences. When I was ten years old I started reading books from my mother’s library, and at that same time I began to receive books as gifts at Christmas and on birthdays from relatives who weren’t themselves readers. This deluge of books was a plot, in other words, fomented by my mother.

One of the earliest books I remember reading was The Return of Sherlock Holmes. I had no idea who Conan Doyle was, or Sherlock Holmes, or that Holmes had anyplace to return from. I loved the foggy mystery of the stories, however, and it didn’t matter a bit that I couldn’t understand parts of them. (I was also trying to read Walter Scott; “The Adventure of the Empty House” was a cinch compared to Ivanhoe. At the same time, I found half a dozen Steinbeck novels and story collections among her books and read them. I was particularly fond of In Dubious Battle, which was a weird thing given my age. I read it three or four times. I was so smitten by the language and settings that I launched endless copycat Salinas Valley stories that went nowhere. My uncle and aunt gave me the collected short stories of Mark Twain at about the same time my parents gave me Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. My enthusiasm for books was pretty much solidified by that time, so my mother hauled my sister and I down to the local library once a week after school, and over the next couple of years I read through Verne and Wells and Burroughs and the seafaring novels of a writer named Howard Pease.

By the time I was thirteen I had read virtually all of the books that would become the most influential to me as a writer, and my brain was so full of Victorian and Edwardian science fiction stories that I was virtually condemned to write what became Steampunk. The biggest influence on my writing, however, were the stories and novels of Robert Louis Stevenson, which I read in my early twenties. At that same time Tim Powers gave me some P.G. Wodehouse to read, and it was this weird mixture of Stevenson and Wodehouse that inspired “The Ape-box Affair,” my first Steampunk story. My novel Homunculus was heavily influenced by Stevenson’s New Arabian Nights and by The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Wind in the Willows (along with Huckleberry Finn) inspired The Elfin Ship, my first novel.


What do you think of where Steampunk has gone in the years since you first started writing it? Is there anything you particularly love or dislike about the Steampunk craze?

Steampunk Jewellery (sodacrush)
I’m completely in favor of Steampunk going anywhere and everywhere. I recently heard that people are writing Steampunk porn, and that seems a little bit sketchy, not to mention cumbersome, but I’m amazed and elated to see Steampunk leaking into fashion and architecture and film, etc. One nice result is that the market for Steampunk books is more solid than ever (although I’ll continue to write the stuff whether or not there’s a market for it. Better a good market than a bad, certainly.) There’s not much about the Steampunk craze that I dislike, except for those things that I dislike about all crazes, especially the production of derivative, unimaginative, bandwagon, shoddy things that fly under any suddenly fashionable banner.


Are there any more Langdon St. Ives books to come? What’s next for you?

There’s a Langdon St. Ives book in the works, in fact, The Pagan Goddess, a companion volume to two previously published short novels, The Ebb Tide and The Affair of the Chalk Cliffs. At the moment there’s yet another St. Ives novel whirling around in my mind. Ideally it’ll quit whirling sometime soon so that I can see it clearly enough to get started writing it. I’m also quite happy with my novel Zeuglodon, the True Adventures of Kathleen Perkins, Cryptozoologist, which came out a few months ago. I’m currently working on a sequel to that one, and having so much fun with it that I’m contemplating writing more of them. Who knows how many?

Thanks, Jim.


Thank you for stopping by James!

(Is it just me, or does anyone else kind of want Hedgepunk to be a thing?)


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GIVEAWAY!


This Giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Katrina Day-Reilly, who won a copy of The Aylesford Skull!



I’m giving away a paperback copy of The Aylesford Skull to one lucky winner. Just fill out the rafflecopter form below and good luck! Giveaway open worldwide. 


Thanks to Titan Books for providing this giveaway copy!









a Rafflecopter giveaway




The Aylesford Skull - Book Review and Giveaway


The Aylesford Skull, by James P. Blaylock: It is the summer of 1883 and Professor Langdon St. Ives - brilliant but eccentric scientist and explorer - is at home in Aylesford with his family. However, a few miles to the north a steam launch has been taken by pirates above Egypt Bay; the crew murdered and pitched overboard. In Aylesford itself a grave is opened and possibly robbed of the skull. The suspected grave robber, the infamous Dr. Ignacio Narbondo, is an old nemesis of Langdon St. Ives.

When Dr. Narbondo returns to kidnap his four-year-old son Eddie and then vanishes into the night, St. Ives and his factotum Hasbro race to London in pursuit... (synopsis from Goodreads).
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James P. Blaylock, one of steampunk’s founding fathers... winner of a Philip K. Dick Award and two World Fantasy Awards... his first full-length steampunk book in twenty years... another in the famous Langdon St. Ives series, pitting hero-inventor-explorer against his evil arch-nemesis Dr. Narbondo. When Titan Books asked if I might like to review this book, I may have fallen off my chair.

First off, is it necessary to have read the other Langdon St. Ives books to enjoy The Aylesford Skull? No, absolutely not. The story stands alone very well, and the plot and great characterisation convey the history between St. Ives and Narbondo perfectly, as well as St. Ives’ relationship with other characters, too. And readers who are familiar with St. Ives are also sure to find plenty to enjoy.

As you might expect with a steampunk story, The Aylesford Skull has a really good sense of setting. London, in particular, feels very real, from its respectable establishments to its grimy and dangerous back alleys, and the author uses various locations in spectacular ways throughout the plot. It’s also not as overtly steampunky as you might expect. The place isn’t packed with cogs and goggles and clockwork and strange puffing machines, but instead blends the fantastic with the real in more subtle ways. Things like the skull lamps, which to me instantly conjure up that Victorian obsession with science and the macabre, and the odd way in which the rational and irrational often became blurred. It feels like something that really could have existed. If steampunk is often a genre packed with things, the things in this novel always feel realistic and serve the plot.

The one exception is the airship, which felt as though it had been shoehorned into the story in order to add this vital steampunk touch. Sure, everyone loves a blimp, but I did think it was misplaced here. There were times when Langdon St. Ives genuinely seemed more interested in his invention than saving his son, and I did not understand why he felt the need to fly it to London while his friends took a perfectly serviceable train and still arrived there first.

This was a small hiccup in otherwise brilliant character writing. I loved St. Ives and his friends, particularly how each ‘sidekick’ to the hero was given specific traits and tasks. Everyone got a chance to shine, and St. Ives by no means took on all the most glorious adventures. In fact, if there was a real hero in the book, for me it was Finn. This was refreshing, as often the side characters only seem to be hanging around to make the hero look good. Either that, or the hero gets some foolish notion that to be a true hero he or she must do things alone. Not St. Ives... he goes straight to his friends for help, and that’s a character I can really support.

The villain Dr. Narbondo (great name), and the plot in general, were not quite as strong. I wasn’t sure about Narbondo; he was perhaps a little too one-sided – Evil with a capital E – a traditional black-clothed villain who kidnapped and killed children, wanted to open a path to the land of the dead, and even had a hunchback. However, this did add a sense of melodrama to the story, which actually complemented the Victorian setting very well. Everything about Narbondo and the plot was a little larger than life, and since this feeling ran throughout the whole book, it gave it a fun – if somewhat clich├ęd – atmosphere.

In terms of the plot, there’s kidnapping, chases, fights, more chasing, more fights, creeping through London’s seedier streets, infernal devices, murder, treason, daring rescues, more chases, even bigger fights! There’s certainly no lack of excitement, and as soon as St. Ives (rather inexplicably) gets into that airship, you just know it’s going to be one heck of a showdown (and it is). It’s entertaining stuff, but – slightly disappointingly – it never moves beyond ‘fun’ into something a bit more subtle or really breathtaking. And because of that, parts of it felt a little flat to me. For a light-hearted, exuberant and fun read, however, this book does the trick.

Thank you to Titan Books for providing a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Giveaway


This giveaway is now closed. Congrats to Katrina Day-Reilly, who won a copy of The Aylesford Skull!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #3



Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine several book haul memes into one post. Welcome to... Stacking the Showcase Sunday Post Shelves with Letterbox Love!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

The Veil - Book Review


Hell is What Haunts us. Something is not right in the picturesque Yorkshire village of Henchcombe. Terrible things walk the streets each time a thick mist sweeps down off the moor.

Not monsters or beasts but the villagers’ deepest, darkest terrors. The things that haunt them in the dead of night. Broken hearts and betrayals. Missed opportunities and old regrets. Lives lost to bitter hatred.

It’s up to a small group of villagers to come to the rescue of Henchcombe. They face a journey deep underground to a place none of them could have imagined. This is a dark place. A place of misery and pain. This is the Veil. (synopsis from Goodreads)
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The Veil begins as something very like a classic ghost story. There’s a sleepy village with a lot of history, interesting characters who carry around their own metaphorical ghosts as well as physical ones, a stranger to the town digging up the past, and a vicar-exorcist with his own slightly odd methods. The story has a slow start, introducing all the main characters and, importantly, the village, which is almost like another character itself.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Pulp Pride and Prejudice

 


These are just so funny - I had to share them with you. Pulp! the Classics is a new imprint that's given some classic books' covers a retro, pulpy twist. I particularly love the Pride and Prejudice one.

You can find more here.



What do you think?









(I found these through Twitter via @gavreads)


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Immortal Rules - Book Review


The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa: In a future world, vampires reign. Humans are blood cattle. And one girl will search for the key to save humanity.

Allison Sekemoto survives in the Fringe, the outermost circle of a vampire city. By day, she and her crew scavenge for food. By night, any one of them could be eaten.

Until the night Allie herself is attacked--and given the ultimate choice. Die...or become one of the monsters. Faced with her own mortality, Allie becomes what she despises most. To survive, she must learn the rules of being immortal, including the most important: go long enough without human blood, and you will go mad.

Then Allie is forced to flee into the unknown, outside her city walls. And Allie soon must decide what--and who--is worth dying for. (Slightly edited synopsis from Goodreads)
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This book is actually built on a similar concept to another book I’ve just read – Vampire Hunter D. It is dystopia combined with vampires, a future in which the human race has been severely depleted and vampires have taken over. In Vampire Hunter D it was nuclear war; in this it’s a virus that’s wiped out most of the Earth’s population. Whereas in Vampire Hunter D, enough time has passed that humans have fought back, in this the vamps are very much in control, though there are suggestions of human resistance. The vampires pen the remaining humans into strictly policed cities where they are treated like farm animals – kept alive to donate blood at regular intervals, as we keep animals to give us milk and eggs.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Top Ten Tuesday


I've decided to start joining in with a fun meme called Top Ten Tuesday, hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new Top Ten topic is set, with each blogger giving their own answers.

This week's topic is:

Settings I'd Like to See More Of (Or At All)


Monday, 21 January 2013

The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse - Book Review


The Case of the Good-Looking Corpse, by Caroline Lawrence, is the second book in her Western Mysteries series, and the sequel to The Case of the Deadly Desperados:

My name is P.K. Pinkerton and I am a Private Eye operating out of Virginia City.

At the moment I am in Jail in the shadow of a hangman's noose. It is all because I tried to solve the biggest mystery here in Nevada Territory and protect a girl who witnessed a terrible crime.

If I write an account of what happened, then maybe I can convince the jury not to hang me by the neck until I am dead. (Synopsis from Goodreads)
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You know how there are certain authors whose books you feel sure you’re going to enjoy, because you always do? Caroline Lawrence is one of those for me. She just gets stories. And this one didn’t disappoint.

Wicked Valentine's Read-a-thon Sign Up


I'm signing up for the Wicked Valentine's Read-a-thon, hosted at My Shelf Confessions. I've taken part in two read-a-thons on my blog now, and they're just so much fun! Reading, mini-challenges, Twitter chats, getting to know other bloggers... what's not to love?

This one will take place Feb 7-14. The goal is simply to read as much as you can to get through your To Read pile. You don't have to have a blog to join in, just somewhere to post updates - Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, etc.

Why not join in the fun? Sign up here!

Find my goals and updates here.


Sunday, 20 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #2


Inspired by Celine from Nyx Book Reviews, I've decided to combine a bunch of book haul memes into one post. There are so many of these out there, all with great hosts and banners, that it can be very hard to choose between them. So, why choose? Welcome to... Stacking the Showcase Sunday Post Shelves with Letterbox Love. Or, something... :-)

Friday, 18 January 2013

Vampire Hunter D - Book Review


Vampire Hunter D, by Hideyuki Kikuchi: 12,090 A.D. It is a dark time for the world. Humanity is just crawling out from under three hundred years of domination by the race of vampires known as the Nobility. The war against the vampires has taken its toll; cities lie in ruin, the countryside is fragmented into small villages and fiefdoms that still struggle against nightly raids by the fallen vampires - and the remnants of their genetically manufactured demons and werewolves. Every village wants a Hunter - one of the warriors who have pledged their laser guns and their swords to the eradication of the Nobility. But some Hunters are better than others, and some bring their own kind of danger with them. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

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I’ve watched the anime film of Vampire Hunter D, and was intrigued to see what the book’s like. As January is vampire month for the Paranormal Challenge, I thought this seemed like a good time to give it a try.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

The Red Knight - Book Review


The Red Knight, by K. T. Davies: A thousand years have passed since the Clan Lords and the Fey commanded dragons and raised mighty citadels. The remnants of their ancient power lie dormant and a new conflict threatens the kingdom of Antia...

King Daris rules a peaceful and prosperous land, but his conniving brother Jerim covets the throne and civil war looms. But there are worse threats to Antia than mere human greed.

Two people will stand against mortal and demonic enemies: Alyda Stenna, Captain of the Hammer of Antia returns from campaign to a hero’s welcome after prosecuting war abroad with brutal efficiency. Garian Tain, the spymaster’s apprentice, hunts for an assassin through the streets of the capital while the knights bask in the adoration of the crowds.

This is just the beginning.

Both will fight overwhelming odds in a bid to save the kingdom. War and betrayal will test them to their limits. One will rise; one will fall; both will be changed forever. (Synopsis from Goodreads)

Monday, 14 January 2013

Bout of Books Read-a-thon Wrap Up


Bout of Books is now over, and I'm feeling a little sad - I had such a great week! I met a lot of bloggers and found plenty of new sites to follow, took part in a twitter chat (which was slightly crazy and so much fun), entered giveaways and mini-challenges, and, of course, read a lot of books!

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Showcase Sunday #1


I've decided to join in with Showcase Sunday, where bloggers show which books they've recently bought, acquired, been given or borrowed. It's run by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea, and you can find out more about it here. I've also decided to add what I'm currently reading, and articles and reviews that went up over the past week, making this a kind of recap post too.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Bout of Books - Saturday's Mini-Challenges


Challenge time again! I didn't have time to do yesterday's challenge, which is a shame as it looked like a lot of fun, so I'm determined to do both challenges today!

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Bout of Books - Thursday's Mini-Challenges


Today's first mini-challenge is being hosted at Escape Through the Pages, and the challenge is to create a book-spine poem. We can add extra words, as long as we don't add more words than the amount of books we're using. So if we use 10 books, we can have 10 extra words.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Bout of Books - Wednesday's Mini-Challenge


Today's mini-challenge is being hosted at Booking In Heels. The challenge is to turn to page 48 of the book you're reading (or 48% if using a reader, which I am), and find the first full sentence. Then carry on the story with four new sentences of your own, taking it in a completely different direction from the actual book.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Bout of Books - Tuesday's Mini-Challenges

There are two mini-challenges today and they're both cover related! Over at Never Too Fond of Books, Mandi has challenged us to guess the upcoming releases from the close-ups of their covers. This is quite a tough one, and I don't think I'm going to be able to get them all. Go take a look and see how many you can get. And don't forget to email her your answers to be in with a chance of winning the prize!

Monday, 7 January 2013

Bout of Books Read-a-thon


I'm signing up for the Bout of Books Read-a-thon, running from Monday to Sunday. The goal is simply to read, and to encourage each other to reach our book goals for the week. This is the first time I've taken part in the Bout of Books Read-a-thon, and it looks like good fun! Here's the official blurb from the Bout of Books site:

Friday, 4 January 2013

More Challenges! - Sign Up Post



I’ve already joined two challenges for 2013 – witches and British books, but what the heck, the more the merrier... and the more books I’ll just be forced to read (as if I need an excuse)!

So, here are the challenges I’m planning on taking part in:

Thursday, 3 January 2013

British Books Challenge Wrap Up and Sign Up

Last year I signed up for the British Books Challenge, hosted at The Overflowing Library, to read at least 12 books by British authors (or authors living in Britain) in a year. I succeeded, reading 13 British books, which I was especially pleased with considering I joined the challenge quite late on. I read:


This year the challenge is being hosted at Feeling Fictional, and I'm signing up again! I don't have a list of books I want to read just yet, but will be adding them to my challenge page later. Why don't you join me? - sign up here.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Bookish Bloggy New Year's Resolutions



Last year was, at points, quite a difficult year. However, some really good things did happen too, and one of those was starting this blog! I’ve had so much fun with it – it’s been great to have a place to gather my thoughts and reviews, to communicate my love of magic, science fiction and fantasy (and Greeks and Romans, of course!), and to share my passion for books with others.

I’ve particularly enjoyed being able to connect with other bloggers and to find new sites and book recommendations. I’m hoping 2013 will be filled with even more books and blogging!

So, here are my bookish bloggy New Year’s resolutions: