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Black SailsAs a self-confessed fan of Starz’s other ‘historical’ televisual offerings, Spartacus: Blood and Sand and Da Vinci’s Demons, it is fair to say that the announcement that they were to turn their hands to the pirate genre was one that filled me with glee – especially when I learnt that it was to be a quasi-prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island.

And, with Black Sails having now arrived in port [I promise that I will keep the sea-faring and piratical puns to an absolute minimum!], how did it fare?

There has been a vogue, especially in relation to televisions shows in the last few years, to produce what would best be described as series that are ‘mature’ in their content. Game of Thrones really brought this into the mainstream and Starz, through Spartacus and Da Vinci’s Demons, have continued to push the envelope. Indeed, it could be said that the aforementioned shows focused almost exclusively on its sex, violence and expletive-filled language – often to the detriment of the shows themselves [at least in my opinion].

That isn’t to say that Black Sails doesn’t follow in this tradition [because it undoubtedly does], but that it seems to be a lot more careful in its use of them [with the exception of swearing - after all, this is about pirates!]. Which means that, unlike Spartacus which often felt like a sex and violence fuelled show that required some kind of plot to link those scenes, Black Sails’ pilot felt like a plot-driven show which required bouts of violence and sex. It is a subtle difference, but one that I – personally – was grateful for.

As mentioned before, the plot itself is set-up as a prequel to Stevenson’s Treasure Island, with Captain Flint’s ship the Walrus on the hunt for a Spanish treasure galleon carrying unimaginable riches. As the plot for a pirate adventure this isn’t exactly reinventing the wheel, and it is fair to say that Black Sails could never be called amazingly original.

Although, to be honest, this is something that could be levelled at the Starz channels stable as a whole [Spartacus was basically Gladiator and Da Vinci's Demons was frighteningly similar to Assassin's Creed II]. Similarly, Black Sails borrows liberally from the pirate oeuvre as a whole, and comes suspiciously quickly on the tail of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

But what made Black Sails so enjoyable for me [as a fan of pirate history and lore] was the manner in which the fictional was blended with the historical – although I stop short of claiming any of it to be factually accurate! So, we find Captain Flint, Billy Bones and John Flint [here sans peg leg and parrot and very much in possession of a lustrous fall of pre-Raphaelite locks and some of the brightest pearly whites that ever traversed the Seven Seas] rubbing shoulders with Charles Vane, ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham and Anne Bonny. Which made the childish part of me that used to while away hours playing with my Playmobil pirate ship and make tea-stained treasure maps resurface for the hour of the pilot episode…

Black-Sails-Starz

Added to this, the Michael Bay-produced series has fantastically high production values [other than one early 'panoramic' ocean view, which appeared to have been made on an incredibly budget laptop and was so singularly laughable that I had to re-watch it a few times]. The sets look impressive and immersive, and there seems to have been a conscious effort to tone down the pirate stereotype language / mannerisms that could have had the potential to turn this into a farce.

As a pilot, it moved along at a brisk pace, packing in fights, bawdy drinking scenes, torture and culminating in a suitably bloody duel, in which Captain Flint was forced to face down a would-be-challenger to his captaincy – and ends with the challenger getting his head beaten in with a cannonball.

That’s not to say that there weren’t mis-steps in the pilot episode. At times, the need to introduce new characters led to some rather clunky dialogue, and some slightly forced and unrealistic scenes. And it certainly didn’t feel like the most original fare to hit the small screens. Nevertheless, it had a suitably gritty quality, and managed to avoid the seemingly obligatory Aaarghs and parrots that populate most piratical adaptations post-Treasure Island. And I didn’t see a single eye-patch, peg leg, or hook-hand in the whole of the episode – which must be a turn-up for the books. On the flip-side of that, I think that even TOWIE possesses less fake tan and shiny teeth than the pirates of Black Sails – apparently dentistry was ahead of its time in the eighteenth century!

Is there treasure at the end of this series? On the evidence of the pilot there may very well be and I’ll be stowing myself aboard for the journey.

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A Justified End

Justified

It was announced this week that Justified would end after its sixth season [its fifth season recently began in the States]. Interestingly – and refreshingly in this day and age – it was the show’s producers and showrunners, rather than its US broadcasters – FX – who took the decision to end the series. In a way, for fans, this is probably the best way for it to end – as it means that its writers will be allowed to tie-up storylines and will avoid the unfinished cliffhanger scenario that often arises when it is the broadcaster who takes the decision to end a series.

Nevertheless, as a huge fan of the series it will be a huge disappointment to see the series and set of characters disappear from the screen, as it is undoubtedly one of the coolest and most charismatic cop shows around. Based on Elmore Leonard’s laconic, Kentucky-based US Marshal Raylan Givens, it has always been rather underrated, but is filled with the razor-sharp dialogue that was Leonard’s forte, along with a motley crew of villains, heroes and anti-heroes. Indeed, so cool was the original 2010 first season that it led me to dust off my cowboy boots and start wearing them again!

Now I will just have to soak up and enjoy the final two series of this most special of shows, and one that I would heartily recommend to anyone looking for a quality show.

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The Left Hand of GodAuthor: Paul Hoffman

Title: The Left Hand of God

Publisher: Penguin

Paperback: 437 pages

ISBN: 978-0-141-33355-7

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 06/01/2011

Thomas Cale, The Left Hand of God’s fourteen-year-old protagonist, was brought to the dark and labyrinthine Sanctuary of the Redeemers when only a few years old. Half monastery, half brutal military training ground, the Sanctuary is a breeding ground for young warrior-monks. Basically a dark Hogwarts! A place of violence, deprivation and cruelty, it is run by the Redeemers – religious fanatics who rule with an iron-fist and use Inquisition-style methods to implement their ‘teachings’.

And Cale is one of their star pupils. Until one day he opens the wrong door at the wrong time and witnesses something so horrific that he knows that he must flee the vast and remote Sanctuary…or die.

The opening chapters in the Sanctuary of the Redeemers are really strong – claustrophobic, gothic and dark. Reminiscent of the oppressive environs of the Benedictine monastery in Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose, I found Hoffman’s descriptions of the Redeemer’s customs and surroundings completely gripping. In particular, the sadistic, quasi-father-son relationship between Bosco and Cale was brilliantly drawn and fascinating.

The problem though, was that as Cale and his companions escaped from the Sanctuary, I found the world-building becoming less focused. Within the structured, closed-off walls of the Sanctuary, it felt as though the interplay between the Redeemers and Mediaeval Christianity was far more tightly controlled and thought through by the author. But once outside of those walls, the level of detail given to describing the world in which Cale [who had no previous memories of living outside the Sanctuary] now found himself, felt a little underwhelming. It is, in essence, a quasi-Mediaeval world, with references to Spanish and Dutch culture and locations, although it is kept quite vague as to exact locations and there is no map in the novel to aid the reader in relation to how the world is set up.

Added to this, I sometimes found that the way in which the plot evolved in the last third of the novel ended up feeling slightly jumpy – and that the book almost felt a little on the short side [certainly by fantasy standards]. And this was especially true when comparing the Materazzi sections of the book with the far more assured and detailed opening half of the book in the Sanctuary. It felt as though the second half of the book, the relationships and the plotlines, could have been fleshed out much more.

But my biggest personal gripe came from the use of a third-person omniscient narratorial voice. Maybe it is just my inner pedant, but I have always railed against the use of wandering POV – where an author flits between the interiority of multiple characters within a single scene. And, for me, I just felt that the narratorial voice used in The Left Hand of God just made the action all feel a little removed and distant from the reader [something that might not have been the case had Hoffman used first-person narration to bring the reader inside specific character’s interiorities].

That being said, and despite these reservations, I did enjoy The Left Hand of God, and will definitely be reading the next books in the trilogy. But I felt that, after the really strong and intriguing opening to the novel, it didn’t quite carry through on that promise in quite the manner that I had hoped that it would. So, in the end, I felt that this was a strong and enjoyable read – based on a really clever premise and with lots of gritty action and characterization – but that it didn’t quite make that step up to something more.

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Erin Morgenstern - The Night CircusAuthor: Erin Morgenstern

Title: The Night Circus

Publisher: Vintage

Paperback: 490 pages

ISBN: 978-0-099-55479-0

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 24/05/2012


Occasionally – oh, so very occasionally – one reads a book so magical and brilliant that you never want the reading experience to end, and where turning the last page and reading the last line is both a pleasurable and a painful moment. The Night Circus was just such a book for me.

Vivid and rich in its imagination, this was a novel that I devoured in one sitting, borne along by Morgenstern’s beautifully crafted writing style and incredibly visual, lush and evocative descriptions of the book’s world.

The novel, as the title would suggest, revolves around a circus – one which performs a specific role. For it is the location in which a rivalry that has played out over countless generations is being fought. The two rivals are magicians of undefined but certainly magically enhanced lifespans – one is a public performer, Hector Bowen, who goes by the stage name of Prospero the Enchanter; the second remains unnamed throughout the book. And their profound rivalry has been played out over countless generations by appointed pupils.

In The Night Circus, set in the late 19th century, Bowen elects his six-year-old daughter Celia, while his adversary chooses a nameless nine-year-old orphan who he names Marco Alisdair. From that moment forth the two children will  be bound into a lifelong duel, unwitting pawns in a game, the parameters of which are never fully explained to them; and for years, as they grow up and are taught by their ‘masters’, they do not know their adversaries.

The circus which will be the scene of their lifelong battle, is known both as the Night Circus and Le Cirque des Rêves, and is the brainchild of a theatrical producer named M Chandresh Christophe Lefèvre. But it is also the creation of Marco and Celia, both of who, over the years, become passionately involved in its performances, acts, and participants, as well as – inevitably – with each other.

Watching Celia and Marco grow into their roles – and watching them grow as characters and lovers – was a joy, but what sets this book apart is the panoply of characters that inhabit the world of the circus and the way in which the sights and sounds of the setting springs to life from the page. You can see the acrobats and illusionists, you smell and taste the popcorn and caramel, you will walk through the cloud maze, see the dancing kittens, spend time in the ice garden and possibly even make a wish at the wishing tree. As a reader you find yourself transported and immersed into Morgenstern’s fantastical world – one whose beauty and vibrancy is only enhanced when you resurface from it back into mundane and unmagical reality!

Many people are not fans of magical realism, but I – brought up on a diet of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood – am certainly not one of them. That being said, I can see that The Night Circus, which is very definitely magical realism, and with its meandering narrative and present tense prose might not be to the tastes of everyone. Indeed I, who am certainly not the biggest fan of the present tense in novels, found that – after the opening pages – I was so consumed by the story and the world that it ceased to bother me.

Ultimately, and much like Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus [which not only almost shares the same title, but is also an undoubted influence of Morgenstern], The Night Circus poses questions about the essential connection between fantasy and reality, and the human need for the former in order to deal with the latter. Darkly glittering and endlessly fascinating, with a heart-rending denouement, this was one of the best books that I have read in a very, very long time and one that I would thoroughly recommend.

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Author: Laini Taylor

Title: Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Paperback: 418 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4447-2265-9

Price: £7.99

Publication Date: 05/07/2012


Being a teenager is tough. Or at least it is for seventeen-year-old Karou, as she struggles to keep her two lives balanced. On the one hand, she’s a bohemian art student in Prague – one with ultramarine hair and a proclivity for tattoos. On the other, she is the errand girl for the enigmatic Brimstone – a chimaera who brought Karou up and is the closest thing that she has to family – and must trade teeth for wishes across the world for reasons that Brimstone refuses to reveal to her.

Raised part in our world and part in Elsewhere, Karou is plagued by questions. Why does Brimstone need the teeth? And what does he do with them? And how did Karou come into his keeping? And why is she plagued by the feeling that she is not whole?

So when the doors to Elsewhere mysteriously start  to close Karou must choose between her human life and the demon family who brought her up.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a book of rare beauty, and one filled with invention and richly textured landscapes and characters. In it, angels and devils do battle, there’s star-crossed lovers and mystery and humour and pathos and gothically macabre moments. It is a wildly imaginative novel, one that resist cliches and has, at its heart, in the form of Karou, a strong, funny and wilful heroine who keeps the reader caring – but is also vulnerable and, at times, quite a lonely and isolated figure. From the first glitter of her thoughts I found myself drawn to her, and she does dominate the book with her unique brilliance.

Part Pan’s Labyrinth, part Angela Carter, part Hieronymus Bosch painting, and with a dose of Romeo & Juliet to keep the bittersweet romance simmering along, this is the sort of novel that I am naturally drawn to. Gritty and fantastical in equal measures, I have always loved the magical and supernatural, which Daughter of Smoke and Bone delivers in spades. With clever twists and elegant, vivid prose, this novel is a veritable treasure-chest of delights, that elegantly and seamlessly delivers its revelations. Taylor’s prose is exquisite. It is whimsical and delightful, playful and wistful by turn and kept me enthralled from first page to last. I just can’t emphasise enough how beautiful it made this book to read and quite how much it added to the experience.

And it is also, when it needs to be, dark and tragic – especially in terms of the romance between Karou and warrior Seraphim Akiva, which in a lesser novelwould be one of sugarcoated perfection. But this is not a lesser novel. And when conflict does arise between Karou and Akiva, it is not sugarcoated; it is not sanitized. It’s tragic, and it’s real and it breaks your heart.

Indeed, the full extent of this conflict only reveals itself at the very climax of the novel, in a twist that will knock the breath out of you and recast all the book’s previous events in a new light. The most crucial event in the story actually occurs pretty early in the page count, but it’s only later that you learn what actually happened and what it means.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone is a beautifully written, brilliantly imaginative novel, that is unique and funny and tragic all at the same time. It is a book not just about about love and self-discovery, but also about the tragedy of war, of hope when life is tragic, and the strength to fight for what you believe in. The only problem with the book is that I devoured it and it had to end! A fabulous read that shows that paranormal YA can be dark and adult and brilliant if the author has the imagination for it. And Laini Taylor certainly does.

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Author: Karin Slaughter

Title: Criminal

Publisher: Century

Hardback: 428 pages

ISBN: 978-1-8460-5796-0

Price: £18.99

Publication Date: 05/07/2012


It’s always a risk when an author decides to alter or experiment with a bestselling formula – especially in the crime genre. On the one hand, it can have a positive effect and freshen-up something that has become a little formulaic. Or, it can have the opposite effect, and show quite why a bestselling formula is exactly that.

So Karin Slaughter’s decision to split her new novel, Criminal, into two story arcs – each forty years apart – is certainly a risk, but one that, by-and-large, works incredibly well and once again delivers a compelling and suspenseful crime thriller.

When a woman is found savagely murdered [well, it is a Karin Slaughter novel, so if there wasn't a savage murder then you would feel short-changed!] in a run-down Atlanta apartment, the circumstances of her death bear a startling similarity to the murder of a woman almost forty years before and forces many of her characters to confront their secret pasts and histories.

Central to it all is Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent and his supervisor, Amanda Wagner, and over the course of the novel their complex and strange relationship and history is explored in the greatest depth to date in the series and the major revelation at the book’s conclusion was certainly one of the highlights of the novel for me.

For years Slaughter has been dangling tantalising readers with bits and pieces from Will Trent’s past. Trent, dyslexic, and scarred physically and psychologically from years spent growing up in orphanages and on the streets, is one of the most fascinating characters in the contemporary crime fiction firmament. His destructive marriage to fellow orphan Angie Polaski has stopped Will from finding a meaningful relationship in the series, but, in Criminal, he has finally managed to find a semblance of happiness with another major series character, the beautiful and brilliant medical examiner, Sara Linton. But even as their relationship is beginning, it is threatened, both by Angie Polaski’s refusal to ‘lose’ Will and by Will’s own secrets – both his own and his family’s.

It’s difficult – and a task that I am not going to attempt – to try and go into too much depth on the plot and twists of Criminal, certainly without giving away any of the red herrings or twists that make up the novel. But one of the reasons that all of Criminal‘s revelations and twists work so well is because Slaughter is such a master at creating and maintaining a raft of brilliantly realised characters. She has become known – one could probably say infamous – for the brutality and gore of her books. However, in recent novels, it has become apparent that Slaughter’s books are far more than just gorily macabre killers. Yes, the killer’s methods and MO in Criminal is pretty unpleasant, but the novel is actually far more about the interplay of the characters and almost all of the suspense comes from the affects that they – and their actions – have upon one another.

If I had one minor criticism with Criminal it would be that – at least in the early stages of the novel – the balance between the ‘historical’ and contemporary story arcs didn’t completely work for me. I found that far more attention, certainly in the first half of the novel, seemed to be on the historical arc. And, as a fan of Will Trent and Sara Linton, and having waited a year to see their story evolving, I think that a part of me felt slightly grumpy that they were not the main focus of the first half of the book! But, I certainly couldn’t level that charge at the second half of the book, which was brilliantly engrossing and filled with twists and where the interplay between the two story arcs is wonderfully done.

Suspenseful, fast-paced and well-plotted, Criminal continues to develop and evolve Will Trent and Sara Linton as two of the most interesting characters in crime fiction.

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FROM SECRET AGENTS AND SMASH HIT THRILLERS TO MAGIC IN THE MET: 2012 THEAKSTONS OLD PECULIER CRIME NOVEL OF THE YEAR LONGLIST REVEALED

A mix of writers old and new will do battle in this year’s Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, one of the most prestigious crime writing prizes in the country. Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London which imagines magical mayhem in the Metropolitan police force goes head to head with SJ Watson’s smash hit debut Before I Go To Sleep and Tom Rob Smith’s Agent 6. And, amongst many others, power-house authors John Connolly, Ian Rankin, Robert Harris, and Val McDermid are represented by The Burning Soul, The Impossible Dead, The Fear Index, and The Retribution respectively.

Now in its eighth year, the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year Award, in partnership with Asda, and in association with the Daily Mirror, was created to celebrate the very best in crime writing and is open to British and Irish authors whose novels were published in paperback from 1st June 2011 to 31st May 2012.

The longlist in full:


· Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (Gollancz)

· Darkside by Belinda Bauer (Corgi)

· Now You See Me by SJ Bolton (Corgi)

· Where the Bodies Are Buried by Chris Brookmyre (Abacus)

· The Burning Soul by John Connolly (Hodder Paperback)

· The Calling by Neil Cross (Simon & Schuster)

· The Hanging Shed by Gordon Ferris (Corvus)

· Bryant and May and the Memory of Blood by Christopher Fowler (Bantam)

· Blue Monday by Nicci French (Michael Joseph)

· The Fear Index by Robert Harris (Arrow)

· The Retribution by Val McDermid (Sphere)

· The End of the Wasp Season by Denise Mina (Orion)

· Black Flowers by Steve Mosby (Orion)

· Collusion by Stuart Neville (Vintage)

· The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin (Orion)

· Mice by Gordon Reece (Pan Books)

· Agent 6 by Tom Rob Smith (Simon & Schuster)

· Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson (Black Swan)

The longlist will then be whittled down to a shortlist of six titles which will be announced on Thursday 5th July.

The overall winner will be decided by a panel of experts which this year comprises of DI Tom Thorne actor David Morrissey, Festival chair Mark Billingham, journalist and crime novelist Henry Sutton, Ruth Lewis, Fiction Buyer at Asda, and Simon Theakston, Executive Director of T&R Theakston Ltd; as well as members of the public. The public vote opens on Thursday 5th July and closes on Tuesday 17th July at www.theakstons.co.uk.

The winner of the prize will be announced by broadcaster and festival regular Mark Lawson on Thursday 19th July, opening night of the tenth annual Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. The winner will receive a £3,000 cash prize, as well as a handmade, engraved beer barrel provided by Theakstons Old Peculier.

Bloody Countryside!

It is fair to say that I have been a bit addicted to Joe Abercrombie’s work lately [!], so here is a teaser trailer for his forthcoming novel, Red Country.

Here is a little bit about the book:


Shy South comes home to her farm to find a blackened shell, her brother and sister stolen, and knows she’ll have to go back to bad old ways if she’s ever to see them again. She sets off in pursuit with only her cowardly old step-father Lamb for company. But it turns out he’s hiding a bloody past of his own. None bloodier. Their journey will take them across the lawless plains, to a frontier town gripped by gold fever, through feuds, duels, and massacres, high into unmapped mountains to a reckoning with ancient enemies, and force them into alliance with Nicomo Cosca, infamous soldier of fortune, a man no one should ever have to trust…


And pay attention to the bloody handprints when you watch the teaser trailer…I shall say not more!


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Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: The Heroes

Publisher: Gollancz

Paperback: 610 pages

ISBN: 978-0-575-08385-1

Price: £8.99

Publication Date: 10/05/2012


For a novel that is overflowing with characters and action it is somewhat of an irony that The Heroes of the title refers not to any of the soldiers or warriors who inhabit the book’s pages, but rather to a ring of stones that will become the centerpiece for the three-day battle around which Abercrombie focuses his fifth novel in The First Law universe [Northern lore has it that the ring of stones mark the burial places of heroes of old].

And, as the battle ebbs and flows over those three days, you begin to realise that there are no heroes in this book. For this conflict is one of total and utter pointlessness, one in which lives are lost and destroyed for no discernible reason. There is no reason to fight this battle. No land or gold to be had. Only some crops and a scattering of farms. Worse than this, it is a battle being fought merely in order that a more important battle can be fought somewhere else and at another time.

In many ways this novel is an indictment of war and the haplessness of officers and commanders who sacrifice the lives of their soldiers through their pure incompetence. And yet, at the same time [and I don't feel in the slightest bit guilty for saying this], The Heroes is fast-paced and bloody and a hugely entertaining read that I went through in only a couple of days.

The cast of characters is massive, but once again Abercrombie shows himself to be a dab hand at showing readers new sides to characters that have previously served as minor figures in the previous novels set in the world of The First Law. So, in The Heroes one of the major Point-of-View figures is ‘Prince’ Calder, who was last seen in Last Argument of Kings, lurking in the shadows with a flatbow as The Bloody-Nine fought for his life. And yet in The Heroes, despite being fairly unlikeable to start with, Calder evolves. In many ways he can be seen as very similar to Jezal dan Luthar from The First Law trilogy, in the manner that he starts out as a self-centred fool and evolves [well, a bit!].

Then there is Bremer dan Gorst, who has appeared briefly in all of Abercrombie’s novels to date – but always as an adjunct to far more important characters and events. Here, after events in Best Served Cold, he finds himself in disgrace and sent away from his place beside the King of the Union to be with the army. Burning with guilt and resentment, Gorst is desperate to prove his mettle and gain himself redemption, and thus flings himself recklessly into battle [and trying to be a 'hero'].

They are fantastically well done, and it was great to see them being fleshed-out in this novel. Being completely honest though, what I loved most about this book was the way in which the reader gets to see other old characters through the eyes of these new Point-of-View characters – so The Dogman, Black Dow, Yoru Sulfur and Bayaz, all make appearances and it is interesting to see how others perceive them and to look at them in a new light.

And this most applied to my favourite character from the earlier books, Caul Shivers. Shivers started off life in The First Law universe as a fairly laid-back figure [literally. In his first appearance in Before They Are Hanged he was lazing in a tree when he met the Dogman!]. And over the course of Best Served Cold he tried to become a better man. But now, horribly scarred and with a metal eye and a croaky whisper for a voice, he could well be the cruelest character in all of Abercrombie’s books – which is really saying something.

Having seen him as a main Point-of-View character before, it is fascinating to see the fear that he inspires in other people in The Heroes. And, so brutal is he at points in this novel, that I started to wonder whether my previous attachment to him as a character was clouding my judgement of him in this book!

And this is where I do wonder at the idea of calling this a standalone novel. Yes, it is undoubtedly a self-contained novel that can be read, and enjoyed immensely, without having read the previous books. But, just like with his previous novel, Best Served Cold, I really do think that you miss a lot of the nuances, in-jokes [there is still a refusal to name the King of the Union and there were a couple of tantalizing mentions of a major character from Best Served Cold who I hope will be returning soon - well, three to be exact] and the brilliance of the world that Abercrombie has created if you haven’t read the books that came before this one .

However, that isn’t to say that this doesn’t work on its own – because it really does. Looking at it on its own, I can assure you that this is a dazzling and captivating fantasy novel that really puts you at the heart of the violence and action. You can really see Abercrombie growing as a writer and trying out really exciting and innovative new techniques which made this novel feel really fresh to read, especially for someone like me who has read a lot in the genre over the years.

One example of this originality of approach comes in the first major battle sequence, where Abercrombie selects a character and shows the battle through their eyes. Right up until the point that they are killed. Then he moves to the view-point of the person who killed them, and follows them until their death. And so on. It is really clever as an idea, but it is made to work by the way in which Abercrombie is able to make us relate to these characters, even though they are very minor, and also makes us able to feel their fear in the swirling, chaotic mass of the battlefield.

And this, once again, is what makes Abercrombie so good. The characterisation is detailed and believable, with some of the characters learning and evolving from their experiences, whilst others appear to learn precisely nothing from the violence and slaughter. And the battle scenes are a delight [although probably not for the legion of, fictional, figures who meet the Great Leveller in this novel]. It’s definitely a hefty book, but I couldn’t put it down and am now hankering for my next fix of the world of The First Law.

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Author: Joe Abercrombie

Title: Best Served Cold

Publisher: Gollancz

Paperback: 662 pages

ISBN: 978-0-575-08248-9

Price: £8.99

Publication Date: 01/06/2010


Revenge, as the title of Joe Abercrombie’s fourth novel would suggest, is a dish best served cold. Except that, this being an Abercrombie novel, and one set in the morally ambiguous [to put it extremely mildly] First Law universe, cold is somewhat of an understatement. Revenge is everywhere in Best Served Cold – from drowning to poisoning to garrotting and general massacres, it is delivered in frequently ingenious and blood-soaked ways.

The central character around whom this carnage tends to coalesce, is mercenary general Monzcarro Murcatto – Monza to her friends [well, it would be, if she had any]; The Snake of Talins and The Butcher of Caprile to those who aren’t quite so enamoured of her and her military ‘methods’.

When her beloved brother is murdered and she is betrayed and abandoned for dead by her employer, Monza is left with only a burning desire to exact vengeance on the seven people she holds responsible. It’s like a very bloody, very brutal version of The Count of Monte Cristo. Continue Reading »

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