Book Review: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I added it to my wishlist and friend came through and got me a copy. It had been reviewed favourably and it sounded like my kind of thing. And when I finally sat down to read it I instantly fell in love with Eames’ writing style and characters.

kingsofthewyld eames

The book is set in a fantasy world filled with magic and monsters, but steps away from the usual traps of sword and sorcery by injecting a hefty dose of humour and the spirit of rock ‘n’ roll. In this world the heroes are mercenaries who take care of monster problems, these mercs often work in groups called bands, and they are the rock stars of the world, with excess, showmanship and groupies all thrown in.

Nineteen years ago one of the greatest bands was Saga, known as the Kings of the Wyld for their heroics within the Wyld, a dense, dangerous forest filled with beasts, plants and weather that can kill. But eventually the group went their separate ways and grew old. Clay Cooper, one of the band lives a simple life as a city watchman with his family and hopes to open an inn, having put aside his violent past. One day his former bandmate Gabriel arrives at his door pleading for help, his daughter, Rose, has followed in his footsteps and has become a mercenary, but is now in grave danger. Having signed up to fight a monstrous horde she is now one of the survivors besieged in a far off city, Outside the gates is gathered the largest monster army ever seen, and between them and the rest of the world is the Wyld. Sooner or later food will run out, or the enemy will breach the walls. There is no escape from death.

Reluctantly Clay joins Gabriel and they set off, hoping to get the band back together and go rescue Rose. But the band are scattered and living different lives. Their wizard is obsessed with finding a cure for the disease that killed his husband, one of their group has gone from thief to warrior to king, having married a princess they rescued on an earlier adventure, and the final, and deadliest, member is imprisoned and may be harbouring a grudge against his old friends.

Can they reunite Saga? If they do can five ageing fighters really hope to cross the peril filled woods? And what difference can five make against an army?

This book is amazing, with Eames having a real knack for creating a collection of charming rogues and a vibrant, interesting world for them to live in. Told from the perspective of Clay we see the world through the eyes of a minor player, a regular guy swept up into a greater event and forced to return to the violence he struggled to leave behind. Clay is the sensible heart of the group, violent but fiercely loyal and stubborn. Often equipped with nothing more than his trusty shield he relies on a combination of brute force, dumb luck and his wits in the face of constant peril.

The fight scenes have a real sense of adventure and fun, often accompanied by Clay’s humorous observations. And there’s a nice subversion of some of the genre conventions, with the fights being chaotic, haphazard affairs and a distinct lack of noble posturing.

The beasts are savage, the enemies menacing and the whole book fizzes with energy, I flew through the pages and Eames never lets the pace sag. That’s not to say that he doesn’t inject emotions into the mix, with there being a touching side to the group, an old school, unspoken bond between them. Clay is shown to have greater depths than his stoic exterior suggests, and a keen observer of those around him. There’s also his fear of losing himself to his own inner monster and urge to do good, which make him a likeable and identifiable character, as surely everyone has negative aspects and urges they have to fight against.

The rock and roll aspect allows for plenty of little nods and gags. I liked that Clay is given the same nickname as Eric Clapton, although he is dubbed Slowhand because he never seems to land the first punch in any fight. And there’s a nice running gag about Saga’s ill-fated bards which reminded me of Spinal Tap’s poor luck with drummers.

The sword and sorcery genre can take itself too seriously at times, but Eames’ use of humour and fast paced action makes this a great entry to the genre and a hugely entertaining read. There are similarities with the works of other writers (George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett), but this is it’s own book and I really hope that we get more from him, especially if they feature more of Saga’s adventures.

Verdict: Eames creates a really involving world and group of characters, and tells a simple story in a hugely entertaining way. It’s rare for an author to nail humour, action and emotion quite so well, and I recommend this to anyone who likes their fantasy with a bit of humanity. Great fun. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 

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Book Review: Menagerie Manor by Gerald Durrell

Having really enjoyed Encounters With Animals, I was eager to read more of Durrell’s work and they were added to my mental wish list, and in a happy coincidence I discovered this book on a charity shop shelf and had to buy it.

The book concerns Durrell’s observations and misadventures while running his zoo in Jersey. I’ve actually been to this zoo, many years ago and I remember it being fantastic, with a real emphasis on conservation and breeding, it’s still in my top 3 zoos (along with Longleat and Disney’s Animal Kingdom).

durrell menagerie

Durrell captures the challenges and difficulties of keeping animals, but there seems to be very little regret and, just as some books get the feet itching, this book made me long for a menagerie of my own. Durrell’s humour, warmth and obvious affection for the animals in his care remains utterly charming and his descriptions of various creatures and the problems they cause are entertaining and lively. He gives the animals character and captures their idiosyncrasies well, giving a sense of each beast and their stories are uniformly endearing.

Originally published in 1964 it shows Durrell’s forward thinking, his desire that zoos should serve to create breeding colonies to protect endangered species is a practice that continues today and has helped keep some species going where otherwise they would have joined the dodo.

For anyone with a love of animals this is a joyous read, as we get to see an insight into animal behaviour and habits, but in a light and amusing manner. While his writing fosters admiration for the animals, it also does the same for our narrator, and I found myself liking Durrell even more. His writing is thoroughly charming and captivating, and it made me want to quit my job and get a gig as a wildlife ranger or something.

Wonderful.

Verdict: Funny, warm and delightful. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

I’m not entirely sure what I make of this book, aside from the fact that it’s rather dark. I remember Nesbo was a big deal during the Scandi-noir boom a few years ago, and he’s been on my radar for a while, but this tome has sat on my shelf for months. I finally got it down, and it was very much a mixed bag.

nesbo snowman

Full disclosure, however, I didn’t know when I started that this is the seventh in a series, so it is possible that my issues with the protagonist may be because Nesbo is writing assuming that readers are familiar with Harry Hole, his alcoholic copper. The problem is that Hole is never that engaging, he’s clever and I didn’t want him to fall off the wagon, but I couldn’t say much more about him and the alkie cop seems a bit cliche.

This novel follows Hole having to deal with several issues, a new junior officer, the fact his lover is moving on and the fact that a serial killer is on the prowl, this killer named the Snowman has been kidnapping women for years, every time the first snow falls. The pattern has previously gone unnoticed, but now Hole is on the case. Can he uncover the identity of the Snowman? Who can he trust? And can he defeat his inner demons?

We’ll start with the good news, in places this is an intensely gripping and tense thriller, with the case slowly revealing itself and some nerve jangling moments as our killer stalks his victims. The last hundred or so pages are fantastic, the tension building and all the pieces falling into place transforms this section into a sprint, and I devoured page after page as I wanted to see what happened.

The problem is that this is the opposite of the early stages, where Nesbo shuffles different time periods to establish the different strands of the book. Admittedly, it didn’t help that I didn’t pay enough attention to the chapter headings and confused myself, but it still feels a little stilted. Similarly, while a red herring is always welcome, Nesbo throws far too much in the mix and there are a few too many connections for it to hang together comfortably. One coincidence or secret link springing up is one thing, having them blossom all around is something else.

That being said, he does tie up a lot of the little clues he drops in well enough and, after a slow start, it did hold my attention, but his hero feels a little weak, his alcoholism standing in for actual personality.

Verdict: A solid enough thriller, but there’s a bit too much going on and the protagonist isn’t that interesting. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

This isn’t the kind of book I would usually go for, but I’d heard good things and it’s cropped up on a few “books you should read” lists, so when I found myself on a book buying binge at Waterstone’s this ended up in my bag with a few others.

Well, this book proves that you shouldn’t be afraid to enter new realms of reading, because I loved this book.

divingbell

The book is a collection of short vignettes that Bauby from his hospital bed where he was confined following a stroke which left him suffering from “locked in” syndrome. Unable to move apart from small head movements and blinking his left eye, the fact that he wrote this book at all is a massive achievement. The book was written thanks to a clever system devised by his care team, whereby they would go through an adapted French alphabet (letters arranged by usage) and Bauby would blink when they struck upon the right letter. Through this slow system this whole book was written, with Bauby planning and writing the entries in his head before his assistant arrived.

While this would have served to make the book interesting as a novelty, what really helps is that Bauby’s writing is fantastic. Each section is only a handful of pages long but in each he creates detailed, elegant episodes revolving around his memories, daydreams and experiences at the hospital. He captures the emotions of different visitors, the tedium and discomfort of time on the ward, and a painful sense of loss, longing and regret as he reflects not only on the things in his past he will never be able to do but also the possible futures which have now been denied to him.

Bauby’s writing covers a plethora of emotions and caused all sort of responses in me as I read. There are heartbreaking moments, such as the visits he has from family or moments where he dives deep into the loneliness and isolation of his condition. But there are funny moments, with Bauby capturing a sense of the characters he meets and showcasing a wit which at times is jet black.

Most of all there’s this oddly life affirming aspect. Despite all that his body has gone through and all the things he is unable to do, Bauby’s spirit endures. His intelligence, humour, passions remain. It’s comforting to know that the human spirit is so hardy, that it can endure all these things and keep going.

This is a superb read, emotionally powerful and evocative, filled with charm and character that makes Bauby a figure you’re happy to spend time with. His writing has moments of intense poetic imagery, but avoids pretension. I can’t recommend giving this a go enough, even if it doesn’t sound like your kind of book. It’s just wonderful.

Verdict: A fabulous book. Bauby shows such talent and personality here that I found myself regretting that he didn’t write more. Magnificent. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: Cassie by Chris Philbrook

WARNING! HERE BE SPOILERS!

I’ve really enjoyed the Adrian’s Undead Diary series and this is final part. Well, kinda, but we’ll get to that.

The story picks up right from the seventh book, The Trinity. Adrian, our foul mouthed hero has met up with the other parts of the Trinity, three individuals important to saving mankind from judgement. As far as they can tell it all hinges on Adrian, if he fails, mankind fails. But what will be the final test.

philbrook cassie aud

When Philbrook introduced the supernatural aspect of his zombie tale, he slowly started to reveal the plans that Good and Evil had and give clues to what the final test would be. This becoming more obvious in book 7, where we learned that Adrian’s girlfriend, Cassie was being held back by the Evil forces. Unable to appear in people’s dreams, or for Adrian to find in the astral plane, something was definitely afoot. Here it’s revealed that Cassie is majorly important to Adrian’s trial and that his guilt over not attempting to rescue her as the world fell apart is a big part of this.

Adrian therefore has to make peace with his lost love, even if this means going into the city which is crawling with the undead. It’s here that Philbrook succeeds in making his crude, violent protagonist a likeable hero, as through his diary entries we see Adrian struggle with this decision and the guilt he feels for putting others in danger for what he fears is a selfish quest.

As ever, Philbrook excels in creating a brutal, tense world of survival and horror, and builds to the climactic showdown well. His use of flashbacks to different characters means that he can flesh out some of the gaps that Adrian doesn’t know about and create some extra tension, cluing the reader into dangers that our heroes remain unaware of. The final showdown is handled well, even if it feels slightly quick given that we’ve had seven books building up to it, but it’s nicely done and there’s some nice closure for some of the supporting players too.

And there’s still plenty of humour from our vulgar narrator along the way too.

What’s kinda irritating is that right at the end Philbrook changes the rules. Throughout the series we’re told of the importance of the Trinity, but right at the end he adds new information that in a way diminishes their role. It does leave the story open to continue, and there are more stories to come, which is cool, but at the same time it feels a bit of a letdown. The whole premise is thrown out.

I’ll still check out the following parts in the series, because I’m fully engaged with Adrian and Co. now and also because I’m interested to see how Philbrook handles the large scale changes to the world he’s built. From now on the undead aren’t the major threat and the focus I presume will shift to how mankind rebuilds from here on.

Verdict: Philbrook’s writing, especially in the diary entries, impresses and he builds the tension well. His handling of the non-diary parts isn’t quite as strong, but he does the job well, even if the final showdown seems slightly rushed. The fact that this isn’t the big finale it was promised to be is a little bit frustrating, but if it means more adventures, then I’m not that bothered. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Encounters with Animals by Gerald Durrell

I first became aware of Durrell through My Family and Other Animals, his memoir about his childhood living in Greece. The hilarious book is filled with the misadventures of the Durrell clan but also captures young Gerald’s growing fascination and love for nature. In adult life he would go on to work with animals, including collecting wild animals for British zoos and became a popular writer and television presenter on the subject. He also campaigned for conservation and established his own charity to aid with this.

This book collects a selection of Durrell’s writings, where he discusses various animals and their habits. From riding with gauchos in the pampas of South America to climbing to the treetops in African jungles, this is the kind of book that really makes you yearn to set off on an adventure in far flung countries.

durrell encounters

Durrell writes with amazing warmth and humour, and his passion for wildlife leaps off the page. There’s an anthropomorphic aspect to his style, and he gives all the creatures he meets individual characters and personalities. This is miles away from cold science, and the way he writes draws the reader in, charming them as he slowly reveals various unusual animal habits.

The book is made up of a series of radio talks that Durrell made for the BBC back in the day, and were among the first mainstream nature programmes for British audiences, and it’s easy to see his legacy in the natural history films that the BBC still excels at.

Durrell’s enthusiasm and knowledge, coupled with his ability to deliver it in a simple and humorous manner is probably responsible for passing the nature loving bug on to many, and after reading this I found myself with even greater love and interest in nature. Durrell’s other books have gone right into my “to read” list and I can’t recommend this enough for anyone who has a passing interest in animals.

Simply marvellous.

Verdict: Durrell writes with such easy charm that this book entertains as it educates. The humour is wonderful, and his love for nature is irresistible. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: Miss Marple’s Final Cases and Two Other Stories by Agatha Christie

Having recently been won over by Agatha Christie, I decided to tackle my least favourite of her characters, Miss Marple. I’ve seen TV adaptations of some of the books and while Christie herself favoured Marple, I’m not a fan. She just seems like a bit of a stuck up busybody, and any murderer she was closing in on could easily just shove her down the stairs. I know the idea is that she deliberately makes herself appear less of a threat, but Columbo did it better, and if I have to follow the adventures of an older lady sleuth, I’ll pick Jessica Fletcher anytime.

jessica fletcher

But I saw this at a charity book stall and thought I’d give it a go. The six stories dealing with Miss Marple are all rather good fun, with her tackling a variety of cases and the stories showcasing a variety of different styles. The mysteries range from small scale thefts all the way up to murder, and Marple is almost annoyingly perfect in her deductions. At least with Poirot we see the little grey cells being pushed into action, Marple just knows things right off the bat.

christie finalcases

That being said, she is a bit more likeable than I remember from the TV, with a sarky side and some humour in how she deals with the cases. Some of the cases are a little flimsy and based on massive coincidences or hunches, but they’re diverting enough and rather good fun.

The final two stories are very different, both dealing with supernatural themes of ghosts, visions of the future and a seemingly possessed doll. Neither is a massive success, and Christie doesn’t handle them with the ease she writes crime fiction. I hate dolls and dummies anyway, but the doll story is quite creepy but lacks any major incident and has a weak ending.

It’s a decent enough collection of quick reads, but it lacks the fun of Tommy and Tuppence, and I still prefer Poirot. Diverting, but lightweight.

Verdict: Six entertaining and brief mysteries are good fun, but the supernatural stories add little. Christie’s knack of creating curious mysteries is on show, but the solutions feel a tad easy in places. Fun but flimsy. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

 


Book Review: Ten Plus One by Ed McBain

It’s been a while since I visited the officers of the 87th Precinct, but I’m glad I did as this book is easily one of my favourites of the series so far.

mcbain tenplusone

On a sunny day a businessman is gunned down in the middle of the street, and Detectives Carella and Meyer have a new case. When a second body drops, followed quickly by a third the detectives have to face the fact that the killings could be random. Unless they can discover some kind of connection between the quickly growing list of victims.

When they finally uncover the link the case is more baffling, why are people being killed because of a decade old connection, and with no apparent reason? Slowly, Carella and Meyer start to make progress, partly because the list of suspects is dwindling, and partly through good old fashioned police work. Can they find the killer before all the names are crossed off their list? Or before only one remains, at least?

I loved this book, which features a compelling mystery at the centre, which keeps the reader engaged and unfolds in a well paced, entertaining manner.

As ever, the strongest asset is McBain’s writing which manages to strike a variety of tones across the novel. There are funny moments, particularly in the fast paced, bantering dialogue of the detectives and the wry, sardonic tone of some of the narration. But there are other moments where the writing is almost poetic before shifting to cold, grim realism.

It’s also elevated by the fact that McBain fleshes out all the characters, from the detectives and the victims all the way through to the witnesses and minor figures. There’s one sequence where the cops talk to the son of a victim, and it’s genuinely moving, the way that McBain quickly, but fully, captures the sense of a man shattered by grief.

This book serves as an example of all the things that the 87th Precinct series does so well, and rises right to the top of the pile.

Verdict: A wonderfully written yarn that shows McBain at his best. One of the best instalments so far. 9/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: The Trinity by Chris Philbrook

This is the seventh and penultimate instalment in Philbrook’s Adrian’s Undead Diary series, which follows our narrator as he attempts to survive after the dead rise. Unlike a lot of zombie stories, Philbrook has added a supernatural element to proceedings, with Adrian Ring, the ex-marine who keeps a journal being one of the key players in deciding whether mankind will be saved or not. His actions, along with the other two members of the trinity will be judged and mankind’s fate depends on how they do.

It’s been a while since I read book six in the series, so at the start I couldn’t quite remember where this picks up the story. Thankfully, Adrian’s diaries quickly brought me back up to speed. We see Adrian have to deal with a rival group of hostile survivors, and also with more weirdness.

philbrook trinity

The book fills in the blanks and adds more clues as to where all this is headed, but for the large part Adrian is still merely trying to survive and keep his people safe. His diary entries are still filled with profanity and dumb jokes, but there’s something endearing about this regular guy forced into a position of responsibility and command due to strange events.

Philbrook ties the different story strands together quite well, and ensures the plot moves along nicely. There are new threats and twists along the way and the introduction of new problems and characters. There’s also a growing sense that as the pieces in the game gather that the endgame is due to start soon. What this final judgement will be is still a mystery at this point, but the final part of this series is high on my “to read” list now.

The action is quick and the diary entry continues to be a handy tool for building tension, leaving the reader wondering what has gone down when there are lengthy gaps between entries and leaving threads hanging. Adrian’s conversational tone ensures that it remains entertaining and engaging, and the humour undercuts some of the more grim moments.

I was hooked throughout and loved that seven books in this story still moves in new directions I didn’t see coming, and the supernatural side of the story adds more mystery to the novel. This whole series has been hugely enjoyable and I hope the ending keeps the streak going.

Verdict: Philbrook develops the world he’s created and there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. His vulgar narrator continues to be a likeable character, and easy to sympathise with. It builds the suspense and tension well, and the sense of the approaching ending ensured that I ploughed through this quickly, eager to see where this is all going. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Book Review: 14 by Peter Clines

I’ve really enjoyed Peter Clines’ “Ex” books, which pit a group of superheroes against the hordes of the undead in a hugely entertaining and inventive series. I knew he’d written a few other books, and after some recommendations on Twitter, I decided to check this one out.

I may have found my favourite fiction book of the year.

clines 14

Nate Tucker works a dull data entry job and needs to find a new place to live in Los Angeles. A co-worker recommends he check out the Kavach Building, an old apartment block with cheap rents. Nate moves in and soon discovers the building has plenty of odd quirks and general weirdness. Neighbour Veek soon introduces him to even more mysteries, and they decide to snoop around and see if they can discover the building’s secrets.

What they discover is far more bizarre than what they suspected and could threaten all of mankind. And they’re not the only ones interested in the building. Will they be able to find the truth and keep the world safe? Or will the dark forces known only as The Family find what they seek and cause chaos?

What I loved about this book was that it genuinely surprised me, as the zombie books I’ve read by Clines have been fairly light, with a couple of dark moments. This, however, is a very different proposition, with a great sense of building tension and creepiness. Clines does a great job of slowly building the weirdness of the building, adding to it piece by piece and creating a sense that something bigger is going on.

Some of the revelations are genuinely surprising, and the final reveal is brilliantly handled. There is one twist that is easy to spot, but even that doesn’t stop this from being one of those great books that absorbs you completely, making you reluctant to put it down and keeping you utterly hooked as the plot unfolds.

I really enjoyed it, Clines balances humour in the dialogue and the regular everyday stuff with the growing sense of unease. It’s marvellously written and I loved every page, keen to get to the end but regretting that there wasn’t more. Confirms that Clines is a talented and smart writer, and I’m definitely going to check out even more of his stuff.

Verdict: A gripping, suspenseful science fiction thriller which ratchets up the tension and oddities nicely, and goes in interesting directions. Clines’ dialogue is great as is his ability to keep the reader fascinated. 9/10. 

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.