Book Review: The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence

I once described Mark Lawrence thus: thief of slumber, time trafficker, broker of the dawn. Many a night I have sacrificed sleep and my ability to function as an adulting adult, so immersed have I been in Lawrence’s worlds. This holds true with his last book in the Red Queen’s War series – The Wheel of Osheim.

It’s taken me longer than I’d have liked to get to this book, but it was damn well worth the wait. The Wheel of Osheim continues the epic tale of Prince Jalan Kendeth of the Red March and gargantuan Viking Snorri Ver Snagason. Fated to stop the ‘Wheel’ and save the world, these two characters are polar opposites but more alike than perhaps Kendeth would care to admit. Snorri? I’m sure he saw the kindred in Jalan early.

While I bought this huge tome in its beautiful print edition, I read it on my Kindle (because I am in love with my Kindle, and that’s a revelation that still hurts sometimes, but what’s one to do?). And while my husband has adjusted to the dim reading glow from my side of the bed, I haven’t quite adjusted to his: “it’s two in the morning… it’s three in the morning… no amount of coffee is going to make you human.” (He’s wrong, so very wrong.)

Ooh, would you look at that. Three paragraphs in, it must be spoiler alert time.

SPOILER WARNING… … SPOILER WARN… … SPOILER… … … FIRE BAD, TREE PRETTY. (Shut up.)

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So where to begin? Well, with Jalan being spat from Hell (or Hel) and back into a quest he wants nothing to do with. All he wants is to go home and forget about the whole sorry mess – those are the words he speaks, yes, but Jal is the quintessential character of juxtaposition – he is both brave and cowardly, cruel and kind, indifferent and devoted. Human. That’s his appeal; he’s tremendously flawed, but when push comes to shove (and that’s often a literal shove), he surprises himself by doing the right thing, because despite his protestations to the contrary, that sense of righteousness within has grown to a formidable force.

A lot of that, I think, has to do with Snorri and the friendship the two have forged. While Snorri is quite open with his admiration (and remonstration) of Jalan, there’s a vulnerability in the Viking that perfectly balances the violence within. It’s that balance that’s slowly working its way through Jal. Though demonstrably different, the two are cut from the same cloth. Something Snorri sees far more than Jalan.

It’s an intricate world Lawrence has woven, and intricate players he’s put within. We see more of Jalan’s brothers – the two he’s hated most his life. But as with all relationships, it’s complex and we see the contempt Jal has had for his brothers superseded by the familial ties none of us can escape. In The Wheel of Osheim we see the depth and growth of Jalan more than in the previous books – we see the humanity he’s always tried to cover, to shield from the world. It’s achingly brutal.

The same can be said for Snorri’s ventures through Hel to find and rescue his wife and children. This melding of faiths – Jalan’s Christian Hell, and Snorri’s Norse Hel – showcases the layering Lawrence has put into each character. Snorri is a Viking on a mission, and nothing will stand in his way – not demons, not undead, not Hel’s warriors… that battle scene where Snorri finds his son is one of the best I’ve read. It’s bloody, it’s cruel, it’s heart-wrenchingly incapacitating – all that it should have been.

As with any final book in a trilogy, there’s much to tie up – both long game and short. This is a story that needs investing from the reader. You can’t half-arse it through this. The foreshadowing is there, and it’s subtle, but it all comes to play as you head into the final battle – the saving of the world… or rather, the saving of it for just that little bit longer.

Past, present and future all lay their cards on the table in The Wheel of Osheim, and fate, oh what a fickle mistress she is. The gods (whichever you choose them to be) have had their hands in this from the beginning. Which beginning? From the time of The Builders – the gods that never were – the world has been ticking so very quickly down. And magic, she is tearing apart the fabric of this universe faster than anyone realised.

It’s this urgency Lawrence plays to throughout this book, while still taking the time to address all that’s been built into the previous two books: the Red Queen, the Silent Sister, Garyus (by far one of the most interesting and underplayed characters), Lady Blue… it’s quite a cast. And while not everything is concluded (possibly leaving it open for more stories in Jalan’s world), there was enough to make the ending satisfying.

Look, I could go on and on about the different aspects, the plots and sub-plots, the narrative, mechanics, architecture of the book, but I’ve no time to write a dissertation on how good this book is. Yes, sometimes it does fall into cliché (the usurpation of the throne by the Red Queen’s brother, and the subsequent death), but this can be forgiven based on the prose alone. As with The Red Queen’s War, and The Broken Empire series, Lawrence can take and twist words into the most sublime of writing. When the ‘wordsmith’ is used, I’m sure Lawrence is one of the authors meant to wear this moniker.

Overall, The Wheel of Osheim is a dark, gritty, often humorous storytelling of a world in its dying days. Of political machinations, of haunting past deeds and the price one pays. And monsters, oooh, there be monsters. A totally immersive, roller-coaster ride to tie the series off.

On a Goodreads scale, I give it five stars.

Movie Review – Kong: Skull Island

Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve never previously reviewed a movie, but… KONG! Seriously. KONG! It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited over a movie, and when that final trailer dropped… oh, it’s a thing of beauty. It does everything a trailer should. Are you excited yet? You should be.

I’ll be the first to say it: I’m no aficionado when it comes to movies. I know what I like and what I don’t, and that pretty much covers it. As a writer and editor, it’s sometimes hard to remove those hats when screen-watching (and my husband hates that I can predict dialogue – ‘stop ruining movies for me!’). So there’s always that small part of me that worries over my excitement for seeing something and the possibility the trailer is the best part of what I’m about to see.

Not so here. Sure, there are small issues with plot, and the under-development of Tom Hiddleston’s character (ex-SAS soldier now tracker, James Conrad), and the over-act that now seems to be Samuel L Jackson’s (Preston Packard) go to, but Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros) hits all the right marks for a ‘monsterverse’ movie.

The studio was kind enough to release on my birthday, so off hubby and I went to the first showing. Yep, mid-morning, and we were the youngest people in the audience. No kidding. And just a very cool aside, when in the bathroom after the movie, one of the older ladies was waxing lyrical about how she’d seen every Kong movie on the big screen since she was a kid, and she’d loved this one. Now that is a fan of epic proportions, and puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. Be this Nanna!

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SPOILER WARNING. LIKE HUGE, KING-KONG SIZE SPOILER WARNING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.

Set in 1973 at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, this is a Kong origin story that will no doubt spawn future ‘Kong vs…’ movies. (Note: stay for the after-credits end-scene). And while some may boo-hoo this, I’m all for a re-emergence, re-imagining of the creature-feature universe. Done well, of course, but I’m fully aware you don’t always get what you want.

There’s no doubt the director/writers/producers wanted a particular feel for Kong: Skull Island, and there are clear cinematography-elements that draw on that ‘Apocalypse Now’ atmosphere (with the killer score to go with it), as well as the many Vietnam War movies of my youth (and for me, that’s never a bad thing) – the camaraderie of the soldiers is reminiscent of such, and works well.

There are factions within the crew sent to Skull Island: scientists, military, government agents, and a war correspondent (Brie Larson’s ‘Mason Weaver), each with their own agenda. Although to be fair, the soldiers just want go home, way before Kong makes his entrance. And it’s a hell of an entrance. Kong swats the helos out of the air with ease, a nod to the original Kong swatting planes from his spot atop the Empire State Building.

Now spread thin on the ground, each party must find their way to the exfil spot on the other side of the island, and battle monsters along the way. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard plot/theme for monster-military madness, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anywhere near ‘standard’. The monsters, giants by any standard, and terrifyingly monstrous, definitely make this a survival of the fittest scenario. The fight and action scenes are jarring and gruesome and a hell of a lot of fun.

And that’s the thing with this movie, it knows what it is and it doesn’t take itself seriously. John C Reilly’s character (Captain Hank Marlow) provides the ‘comic relief’, but has more depth than you’d expect – his is a backstory that’s explored, where Hiddleston’s character is more hinted at than evolved (coulda done more with just a little, but I’ll give that a pass if it’s indulged in future movies). Reilly’s character top and tails this story – beginning with him being shot-down in WWII to his return to civilisation and the family he left behind. So in a way, you could say this is Marlow’s story, and he tells it well. Kong’s backstory is given via Reilly and the native inhabitants of the island (the Iwi people), who do not speak. Not really okay with that as it would have provided more depth.

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The one real issue I did have (as did my husband) was Jackson’s portrayal of Preston Packard. That shit needed to be underplayed, not overacted. Subtlety and nuance would have done the trick here – villain the writers may have wanted him to be, avenger for the deaths of his men a great motivator, but Jackson cocked it up (I’m looking at you, director and script-writers).

As with every Kong movie, there’s the female protagonist (I won’t say lead, as she’s not), and making Larson a war-correspondent/photographer gives her more play in the arena of death she’s used to seeing (but this in no way passes the Bechdel Test— Larson and the female scientist [Tian Jing’s ‘San’] barely speak two words to each other), and can hold her own in a firefight.

Oh, and monsters, there are aplenty! From Skull Crawlers awoken from the caverns beneath the ground (and their link to the demise of Kong’s family, and a grudge that ain’t going away any time soon), to a giant Kraken-like creature, big mofo of a spider, cannibal birds, giant bats, and the ever adorable moss-covered ox.

There’s a lot to like about this movie, and some things that could have been done better, but overall I loved it. It’s my kind of movie. A perfect storm of monsters, military, mayhem, and a killer score.

As my husband said, it’s not going to win an Academy Award, but it was a helluva lot of fun.

My rating: 8/10. You’ll want to see this on the big screen, and it’s definitely a movie I’ll be adding to my home collection.

Oh, and for readers out there, writer Tim Lebbon has written the movie novelisation of Kong: Skull Island. I’ve pre-ordered mine – you should too.

 

Book Review: The Tide by Anthony J Melchiorri

Aaaand, we’re back! Two posts in two days? If this keeps up the world will spin off its axis…unless you’re a Flat-Earther, then it’s more a tilt of the space turtle and four careening elephants. Ahem. Where was I?

It’s review time! We love review time. Well, I love review time, especially when I come across a new author (or rather a new author to me). It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was introduced to Anthony J Melchiorri’s work, and what a fun and frightening introduction it’s been. Melchiorri’s stories drag you in and don’t let you go. And yes, that was a deliberate plural. While I’m only reviewing the first book in The Tide series, I’m currently halfway through the third.

Two things before we go forward: 1) big shout out to Geoff Brown for putting me onto the series – you rock, dude; and 2)…

SPOILER ALERT! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE’S A SPOILER BENEATH THAT CUSHION, AND ANOTHER UNDER THE CAT. BECAUSE CATS, MAN.

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The Tide, as you can probably tell by the cover, is apocalyptic military horror – one of my favourite genres. It’s also a genre that can be difficult to get right, but Melchiorri hits all the right notes with this first book. What he doesn’t do, is bog down the beginning with over-explanation and character introduction but rather drops the reader right into the horror of what’s to come.

The prelude gives the reader a graphic understanding of the potential of a genetically-engineered bioweapon crudely developed during WWII by the Japanese. It ain’t pretty, and I was hooked. Fast forward to current times and we’re introduced to Captain Dominic Holland and his ‘Hunters’, a group of covert operatives who work for the CIA off-the-books. And these Hunters have some serious firepower and a kick-arse ship at their disposal. Not to mention hackers and scientists that complete the diverse bunch.

Melchiorri is a bioengineer by trade, and it’s abundantly clear with the monsters he creates in the books, that he knows his stuff (as an aside, please don’t give the man free-rein with pathogens without a steady stream of caffeine). There’s a good deal of science involved in the story, but if you’re like me and have a rudimentary understanding of it, you’re not going to get lost when it comes to the biology et al. And biology it is. The monsters in The Tide are some of the best I’ve read. The virus developed back in WWII has been expanded upon, and what it turns humanity into is… hell. Called ‘Skulls’ due to the victims’ human skeleton becoming an exo-skeleton of disturbing sorts, this is nightmare fuel for all involved. And fast, these monsters are fast and voraciously hungry.

While Melchiorri doesn’t let up on the action, there’s a good balance in the peaks and troughs he’s worked throughout the story. Just when you’re getting some downtime (reader and characters alike), the tension ramps up and you’re back into the thick of things. When you add in Holland’s daughters needing to be rescued as the world turns to shit (although eldest daughter Kara can hold her own), the stakes are raised even higher. It’s this type of storytelling that can literally be called a page-turner.  I finished this book in four days… well nights, as I read before bed, and Melchiorri seriously owes me some nap time.

This is some seriously good storytelling with well-rounded characters, high action, and intense tension. And monsters, damn but Melchiorri’s monsters are unique and unnerving. You won’t be disappointed.

On a Goodreads scale, I give The Tide five stars.

Shenanigans to resume shortly

Well we’re in March, and this is the first chance I’ve had to get back to the blogosphere. I’d aimed to do better with the blogging this year but life, in all its middle-finger goodness, decided it had other ideas. Not that 2017 has been worthy of the middle-finger for me, but rather best laid plans and all…

It’s been a hectic couple of months, with family staying with us (mine and my partner’s – his coming all the way from Uruguay), a marriage (not mine and my partner’s), kids heading reluctantly back to school, and getting back into the groove with work, which is always difficult after a month away. But back I am.

There’s quite a lot happening on the work front with Cohesion Press, with some killer novels coming out this year – military horror kick-arsery (so a word) and creature-feature deliciousness. Have I told you how much I love my job?  Seriously, reading killer stories before unleashing them on the world is like crack – book crack.

But there are other big things happening on the Cohesion front, and while it’s too early to give away the details (well that, and an ‘on pain of death’ clause), it’s damn exciting. Like super, uber, surreal exciting. Details will be forthcoming. Later. Down the track. Sometime. Shhh.

Oh, and if you were unaware, the submission window for SNAFU: Judgement Day has about two months left in it. Check out the guidelines, follow the guidelines, and send your best work. The series is going epically strong, and really… apocalyptic fiction? How can you not write it?

On the writing front, things are moving a little slower than I’ve wanted this year, but I’ve also learned to be kinder to myself when it comes to the putting down ink. I’m reworking a story I’m extremely excited about, and I am going to submit that bitch until it finds a home. It deserves to find a home – the characters told me so, and they’ve got weapons and magic and an army of the dead, so I’m gonna listen to them.

Reading… oh, how I love thee. I’m ahead of my pretty low schedule of books to read this year – about a quarter of my way through my sixth novel. And despite my absolute reluctance, I will readily admit this is due to now owning a Kindle. Yes, Geoff, I have finally publicly admitted my love of the Kindle. Those screams you hear are my print books howling at the betrayal. But, but, but… it’s not complete and utter betrayal, as a print book was purchased the other day that is now nestled in my new bookcase, so ner!

So that above paragraph means book reviews will start hitting the blog (the first probably tomorrow), and I’ll have a Women in Horror Month article up soonish too. Then normal shenanigans will resume fairly regularly.

/stream-of-consciousness

Festivus Book Pimping – Fathomless by Greig Beck

 

The countdown to Christmas is well and truly on, but pimp on I must! Today, it’s multi-award-winning author Greig Beck and his wickedly frightening Fathomless. Yeah, we’re all gonna need a bigger boat.

Duuun-dun… duuun-dun… dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun…

What?

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Okay, so from the cover alone (‘nother shout-out to Dean Samed of NeoStock), it’s clear we’re talking shark story here – think Megalodon. Yep, you know, that’s been instinct for millions of years… but have they?

That’s the premise of Fathomless (Cohesion Press), and Beck kicks it out of the park with his tale. Now before we go further, full disclosure. As I’ve mentioned, my reading for pleasure took a back seat to work this year, so a lot of what I’ve read has involved novels I’ve worked on, and Fathomless was one of them. But here’s the thing, it’s not often that I’ve had to get up from my desk and take a breather because the story was freaking me the hell out. With Fathomless, I did that three or four times. Nope, can’t handle the tension, time to take a break and calm the hell down. Three passes I made of this story, and each time, even when I knew what was coming, my pulse quickened and the voices in my head (yes, there are many) were yelling at the characters to swim faster, dammit! (Actually, there were a lot more swear words, but you get the picture.)

So despite me having edited Fathomless, it’s one of my picks of the year for horror books.

From the back cover:

Jim Granger is searching for a place of legend. Known as ‘Bad Water’ by the island’s elders, it’s reputed to be home to many dangerous creatures. Through a seam in a cliff face, Jim finds what he seeks. He also finds, too late, that the water demon he was warned about is horrifyingly real.

Today, Cate Granger is following in her grandfather’s footsteps. Along with a team of scientists and crew, she accidentally releases a creature from Earth’s primordial past into today’s oceans. Nothing is safe on or below the water.
The story essentially has two parts. The first being Cate and her crews trek deep beneath the Earth’s crust to an immense underwater ocean that’s been suspended in time. Traversing the sea in a damn small sub, they discover marine life once thought extinct. They also discover the Megaladon.

Beck uses that instinctual fear that’s been loaded into our DNA from the beginning of time – fear of Alpha predators (and boy, is the Meg one hell of an Alpha), and added a touch of claustrophobia into this first section, because… why not? And there’s no natural light down there, so much of what’s happening does so in complete darkness.

There are at least three scenes in this section that had me freaking out. Yeah, sharks are one of my biggest fears. Living in Australia can do that to a person. The second part takes place once the Megalodon has been released into today’s oceans, with Cate and part of her crew (plus some newbies), going out to hunt the shark. Not all goes according to plan.

This is a killer book, and if you’re looking for a tale that will amp up your tension, and have you questioning whether you really should go back into the water, then Fathomless is the book you need to be reading. Or gift it to someone who loves that spinchter-clenching form of thriller and terror.

You can read a review of Fathomless here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, suspense, thrillers, and plain ol’ ‘holy crap, swim faster, swim faster!’

 

 

 

Festivus Book Pimping – Into the Mist by Lee Murray

Yes, yes, I’m cutting it fine with the Festivus Book Pimping, but remember, as much as I love a print book (oooh, they smell so good!), ebooks are also damn fine presents. So kicking off today’s Festivus pimping is mutli-award-winning New Zealand author, Lee Murray, with her book Into the Mist.

RAWR!

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As you can tell from the absolutely kick-arse cover , Into the Mist, is a military horror creature-feature tale, but this one is set in the wilds of New Zealand with a creature ripped straight from Māori legend. It was very cool to read not only Murray’s vivid descriptions of the NZ back-country, but to delve into the culture and rites of a strong and proud people.

Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), follows NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad as they escort a group of civilian contractors into the Te Urewera National Park. Not usually a job for the army, McKenna’s other task (off the books) is to find any trace of squad that had vanished while trekking through the National Park.

From the back-cover blurb:

Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter. Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them … a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one.

From the outset, you’re thrust into the action, and the tension Murray weaves throughout the story never lets up. With sub-plots woven perfectly through the tale, the reader is given a glimpse of the rich Māori history, and the struggles to maintain their culture and their land against those intent to profit from it. It’s brutal, it’s gory, and when the chase is on, your gut will be clenching right along with the soldiers and the civilian charges.

And this beastie? Oh, it’s smart, and it’s stealthy, and it’s impervious to the squad’s guns. And shoot it a lot… and you know that only makes the monster mad… and vengeful. Murray is a mistress of tension, and she will make you dance to her tune. I was enamoured with this book, but I grew up on stories of Māori legend via my father (he’s Pākehā, not Māori), so this was a real delight. And it’s wonderful to see diversity in fiction; the world needs more of it.

There’s also a glossary of Māori and local terms for those unfamiliar with the country and its culture, but the way Murray tells the story, understanding is a given.

Read this book you must. Give it as a gift you also must. But I guarantee it will be one you can’t put down. You can read a review of Into the Mist here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, creature-feature, and balls-to-the-wall fear-mongering. Yeah, this book has it all.

Go, now, Festivus Into the Mist, you won’t be disappointed.

RAWR!

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

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You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

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