It’s been nearly two months since the last edition of book club and I’ve read loads of books in that time so I thought it was time for a bumper new edition!
Lady of the Shades by Darren Shan
This is one of Darren Shan's adult books and it feels very different to the children's work. It revolves around Ed, a horror writer who comes to London to work on a new book, with his own personal ghosts tagging along, quite literally. There he falls in love with a woman who turns out to be a gangster's wife. Ed falls head over heels for her but from the day he meets her, nothing is as it seems.
The first half of the book is well written but quite slow-going, but it's necessary to build up to the second half. I can see that Shan has taken some of his experiences of being a horror writer and given them to his main character and it works well.
The second half is pretty crazy as there is revelation after revelation as nothing is as it seems. Is the whole thing set up by a genius somewhere or is it supernatural and ghostly? We don't find out the answer to that question properly right until the end, though we think we know many times before that. It's complicated yet fairly easy to follow as a desperate man tries to find out the truth. It's a supernatural/crime thriller though you're never really sure which way it leans more until the final reveal.
It's not really what I expected from Shan but it's a fantastic novel and it's great it has so many twists and turns. Brilliant book. 5/5
Tim, Defender of the Earth! by Sam Enthoven
The title of this book is brilliant as it is but when you learn TIM stands for Tyrannosaur: Improved Model it's mind-blowing. Scientists have created a T-Rex which has been designed for military applications. In the tough world of government funding that's moved to a Mallahide, a scientist working with nanobots. But when Mallahide turns himself into a nanobot cloud and wants everyone to become like him its up to Tim to fight him. Oh and two schoolchildren, one of whom is Mallahide's daughter.
This is a mad book but it somehow still works. Despite all the craziness it's almost believable thanks to the way we see what the Prime Minster and the world are doing to tackle it and how the news are reporting it. Enthoven makes no bones about destroying various famous landmarks of London and that makes it feel like a proper disaster movie.
Mallahide makes for a great villain because his intentions aren't all clear. He's not inherently evil yet he is doing terrible things and it's hard to know exactly what to feel for him.
The book is well written and one of the most imaginative I've read in a long time. My only real problem with it is that the build up goes on for far too long. The big battle scenes are relatively short and schoolboy Chris takes a ridiculously long time to accept his responsibility. And the big draw to the novel, Tim, is barely present for most of the first half.
Still, it's a great ride. The imagery it creates of monsters in London is fantastic and despite how silly the premise with it not only works wonderfully but even brings up some important issues about humanity and the use of technology. You won't read anything else like it. 4/5
A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix
Garth Nix has once again created an incredible universe to dive into. It's a universe that is spread out across space in the far future, where the empire is ruled by princes. Khemri is brought up training as a prince and seeks power and want to become the emperor. Shortly after becoming a prince he begins to realise that the universe is very different from what the empire would have him believe as he has to avoid assassination attempts and join the navy. Gradually Khemri changes from the greedy prince into a well rounded human. The problem is princes aren't supposed to be well-rounded humans.
The best thing about this is the setting. It zooms through space, meeting the odd hostile alien and lots of hostile people along the way. Nix invents all sorts of technology which allows princes to become super human and be ressurected when they die.It feels very real and I almost want to be in the universe of this book, were it not for the various problems it has.
Khemri is an easily relate-able character, despite his upbringing and character at the beginning. You really feel what he feels and the whole story has an epic feel about it.
I loved this. It's Star Wars mixed with Game of Thrones I suppose but written for teenagers. It works fantastically and will live on in my mind for some time to come. 5/5
Torchwood: Exodus Code by John and Carole E. Barrowman
Your enjoyment of this new Torchwood book probably depends largely on how much you enjoyed the TV show's fourth series, Miracle Day. If you hated it this isn't for you. If you thought it was OK though this is a decent follow up. It sees a new disaster for Earth where woman are having breakdowns and hydrothermal vents are popping up instantaneously all over the world. It doesn't look good.
The use of the main characters in this book is pretty atrocious. Gwen is one of the women having a breakdown and whilst that gives a good window to the plot it means half of Torchwood is out of action. Rhys and Andy Davidson are both in it but as more minor characters their roles aren't very important. Captain Jack is the hero of the tale and whilst he is characterised well (who knows him better than John Barrowman, the actor who plays him) he spends most of the book out of it as well. Miracle Day's Rex Matherson makes a very fleeting appearance which seems unnecessary. Either use him or don't.
Having said that, some of the supporting cast is pretty good. A portion of the book is set on The Ice Maiden, a high tech boat with a crack team of scientists and thanks to Jack a holographic computer personality. It feels like a new Hub and team and I only wish their role had been used more.
The plot itself is in many ways like Miracle Day. Not a lot really happens for the first three quarters, it all building up to a decent but actually pretty easily solved finale. It's pretty global with large bits set in South America and although technically an alien is involved it's a sci-fi story without any aliens, again.
It's a decent effort from John and his sister and at least it continues the show whilst on it's everlasting hiatus but it doesn't quite work. Too long is spent on build up and the characters aren't used effectively and it's like they haven't learnt any lessons from the bad press Miracle Day got. 3/5
Zom-B by Darren Shan
I've seen a few negative reviews for this book and I have to make the point that I am reviewing this in context. It's the first of a 12 book series, with each book telling part of the story. As a standalone book I'll admit that it's probably not worth reading but as the beginning to an epic 12 part series it really is. Although writing it without spoilers is quite a challenge.
The books begins with a zombie attack in a small Irish town. It then continues by following the story of B, who assumes it was some kind of publicity stunt or something, certainly not what it seemed. Most of the book follows B's life which includes school, antisocial behaviour with mates and a racist and abusive father. Racism is one of the major themes as the book explores how B's father influences B and the effect growing up with racism has on a person.
The zombies don't make that much of an appearance here but when they do Shan's story comes to life as the master of horror proves why he is worthy of the title. Zombies tear through the school and B and a group of peers try to escape, but many of them don't make it. Towards the end there are several massive twists which change everything, especially the last one. I have literally no idea how the series will continue from this point.
A short but great book which sets up what will definitely be a great series. I rate this at least as highly as Shan's series openers for The Saga of Darren Shan and The Demonata. Shansters will love it! 5/5
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
This book really ups the ante as demigods from “The Lost Hero” and “The Son of Neptune” finally get together, joined by Annabeth. There's Percy Jackson, Annabeth, Percy's Roman equivalent Jason, Piper, Frank, Hazel and Leo. In this book they unite and sail Leo's incredible ship the Argo II all the way to Rome as they continue to fight against Gaia and the giants. Along the way of course they face all sorts of dangers.
It's quite different from any of the previous novels due to the enormous cast. Giving all seven demigods a chance in the limelight was tricky but Riordan does this by having very few ensemble scenes and sending different groups of demigods on various mini-quests. This works well and we see more of all the demigods, even Percy Jackson who we've known for a long, long time now. I do feel that though Frank and Hazel are expanded upon, they still feel like lesser characters and aren't focused on very much.
There are two stars of the book though. One of them is Annabeth who is given more time as the lead than anyone else, which is only fair because she barely appeared in the earlier books. She's on a special mission to follow the Mark of Athena, where she must fight against her worst nightmare, a massive spider. The other is Leo, who although isn't given that much of the focus is my favourite character. He's hilarious yet really self-concious and is such a believable and fantastic character. And his escape from the Narcissus Fan Club is the funniest thing I've read in ages.
As usual there's a whole bunch of characters appearing from the Roman and Greek myths including Narcissus, Hercules, Nemesis, Archane and Mr D's Roman equivalent. It's a great book and has a pretty shocking ending. I'm really looking forward to the next one as I reckon it could be even better. If you are a fan of the series this is a definite must-read! 4/5
Oblivion by Anthony Horowitz
Wow. I started reading this series, The Power of Five, seven years ago and it feels so weird that it's now over. After the events of “Necropolis” the five gatekeepers are scattered across the world, ten years into the future when the Old Ones have taken over and led the world to ruin. Jamie finds himself in a small English village which is segregated from the world and eventually makes his way to London. Scarlett and Richard Cole end up in a Cairo facing civil war and gradually travel up to the deserted city of Dubai. Matt and Lohan face drug smugglers and a new slave trade in Brazil whilst Pedro faces a new eruption from Vesuvius. Scott on the other hand turns to the Old Ones as his dark side takes over.
The book follows each of their journeys to Oblivion, in Antarctica where the Old Ones have their base and then their struggle to defeat the Old Ones for the final time. It's an epic adventure and couldn't be more global. Every element feels realistic despite the grand concept.
Horowitz has created a fantastic series but this book could easily stand alone as an amazing novel. He doesn't worry about destroying the world and killing people, sometimes in violent ways. This is a grown up novel which tells a fantastic story. A brilliant end to the series. 5/5
Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman
I was pleasantly surprised by this little book. I suppose it’s a bit Harry Potter-esque but for younger readers. Robert starts at Lovecraft Middle School, a brand new state of the art facility but much to his dismay the bully from his old school is there too. As if Robert’s life wasn’t hard enough already he has to deal with all sorts of strange occurrences from a hidden attic in the library to a two-headed rat and a teacher who is especially horrible.
There are two elements to this book really. One is the typical story of a boy struggling through his school life and this is done fairly well. The other is the mystery about why so many odd things are going on and though it takes a long time for the reveal its very satisfying. The book ends with something of a cliff-hanger and it left me wanting more without feeling that the book wasn’t long enough.
Professor Gargoyle is the start of what I think will be a great new series and I look forward to seeing what else is going to happen to Robert and Lovecraft Middle School. 4/5
I hoped you enjoyed those reviews and may have been persuaded to try out a new book. There’ll probably be another edition of Book Club in a month or two so keep your eyes peeled!