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Joe Abercrombie

Gollancz (2012)

ISBN 978 0 575 09583 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

It’s no surprise that this latest novel from UK author Joe Abercrombie is dedicated in part to Clint Eastwood. Nominally a fantasy novel set in Abercrombie’s world established in the First Law Trilogy, it is quite the western homage, where quick swords, daggers and crossbows replace six shooters.

Abercrombie conjures a world in which magic is fading – he portrays berserker rage a la Dungeons and Dragons very well, but there are no Merlins or Gandalfs here – and an industrial revolution is around the corner – there is gunpowder, printing presses, early signs of steam power. There is a real sense that the practitioners of unmitigated violence who stride this stage, mostly veterans with more regrets than ambitions, have had their day.

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MT Anderson

Candlewick Press (2002)

ISBN: 978 0 7636 2259 6

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

American writer MT Anderson’s Feed is a remarkable story. Set in the dying years of a planet earth stripped of its natural resources, it traces a brief few months of a group of teenagers as seen through the first person viewpoint of Titus.

The story begins on a frat visit to the moon, where the teen friends try to grab underage thrills. Titus becomes enraptured with Violet, an enigmatic teenager whose home schooling has given her an altogether different view of their lifestyle.

Titus and his mates are über consumers, linked into an all pervasive feed through neural nets. They can barely take a breath without being bombarded by advertisements for goods recommended based on buying patterns. They are a vacuous bunch, ignorant thanks in part to corporatised education of history or politics, either present or past, with little to no awareness of current events outside the latest fashion trends. Even the lesions slowly eating their flesh are turned into fashion statements rather than warnings of a world on its last legs; one in which the environment is so toxic everyone lives in climate controlled bubbles. Read the rest of this entry »

Pyrotechnicon, Being a True Account of Cyrano de Bergerac’s Further Adventures among the States and Empires of the Stars, by Himself (dec’d)

Adam Browne

Coeur de Lion Publishing (2012)

ISBN: 978 0987 158 734 (e-book)

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

Dated on the day of the author’s death, this work is unabashed in its address to the reader: life after death, take it as read, in whichever way you wish. For this tome, purportedly by Cyrano de Bergerac, famed duellist, satirist and free thinker of the early 1600s, is the third book – until now, merely dreamed about – of Cyrano’s science fiction trilogy, of which the first two volumes were published shortly after this death.

It begins with a kidnap of fair Roxane by a foe best described as a billiard table. There are houses made of birds. People with lanterns for heads, whose speech is illuminated upon their face most eloquently. Language, improbability, a Sun King made God, tongue in cheek and turn of phrase, death, all have their place in this remarkable journey, and some are less challenging than others. Read the rest of this entry »

Lisa L Hannett and Angela Slatter

Ticonderoga Publications (2012)

ISBN: 978 1 921857 30 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

The pedigree of Midnight and Moonshine was promising from the outset, right down to the cover design. Artist Kathleen Jennings was nominated this year for her artwork at the World Fantasy awards. Lisa L Hannett of Adelaide has scored awards and mentions in Australia and her native Canada for her WFA-nominated solo collection of last year, Bluegrass Symphony, also published by Ticonderoga. Co-writer Angela Slatter of Brisbane is hot from a historic British Fantasy short story award win this year and has won acclaim for both of her collections – Sourdough and Other Stories (Tartarus Press) and The Girl with No Hands and Other Tales (Ticonderoga), both released in 2010 – as well as a slew of other shorts.

Not coincidentally, Hannett and Slatter have combined on Aurealis Award-winning short story “The February Dragon” and, most significantly for this collection, “Prohibition Blues”, both published in Ticonderoga titles.

So we have publisher, artist and writers, and what a winning combination it proves to be.

As in Bluegrass and Sourdough, Midnight and Moonshine is a set of stories sharing a common universe, and as with Sourdough, there is a degree of baton passing from characters throughout. Midnight and Moonshine ramps up this interconnectedness, tracing as it does magical bloodlines from a mythic inception across the 13 stories into the present day. Overshadowing this mosaic is the winged form of goddess Mymnir, whose ambition sets up the journey from self-aggrandising nation building to the ultimate twilight of the gods. And what a fascinating figure she is, both divine and all too human. Read the rest of this entry »

Trent Jamieson

The Nightbound Land book 2

Angry Robot (2012)

ISBN 978 0 85766 187 6

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

This is the second, concluding title, of the story that began with Roil. And what an intriguing read The Nightbound Land duology has been.

Thing is, from the first few chapters of Roil, we know what’s going to happen at the end. You can’t have those excerpts from various histories and memoirs of the unfolding action without someone surviving, can you? And this is the key to the books’ tension: who survives, and how? And what shape is the world in when the dust settles?

Jamieson’s hero is David, drug-addicted and now somewhat possessed by the spirit of an immortal, on a mission to save the world from the Roil: an all-consuming wave of darkness inhabited by wonderfully fantastical creatures including a version of zombie. Elsewhere there are analogues of vampires and dire wolves, romping through a landscape of steampunk technology enhanced with the likes of organic and jet-powered aircraft. It’s a fascinating and well-drawn world, and in this second volume the truth of its creation is revealed – I wasn’t carried away by the deeper cyclical nature of it all, but the promise of being able to break the cycle adds interest to the final denouement.

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Justine Larbalestier and Sarah Rees Brennan

Allen & Unwin (2012)

ISBN: 978 174237 839 8

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

I read this 350-page book in a little over two days – it’s a hoot. The authors have taken the premise that’s popular of late – a vampire in a high school – and made it palatable. Reasonable. Understandable.

I love the simplicity and sensibility of Team Human’s world, where vampires are a part of life though removed from it, as befits people – they’re definitely people – who do not age, do not eat and do not laugh. Vampirism is regulated, and becoming one carries the risk of death or being left a zombie if the transition fails.

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Venero Armanno

UQP (2012)

ISBN: 978 0 7022 3915 1

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

Brisbane writer and academic Venero Armanno returns to his family’s roots in Sicily again for his latest novel, Black Mountain. Armanno, who won the now defunct Queensland Premier’s Literary Award in 2002 with The Volcano, describes his latest as speculative fiction, and rightly so, though the speculative elements are a slow build.

Black Mountain opens with Mark, living an isolated life on the coast, more in love with books than people, who is set on a short detective trail when he finds out a creature from his dreams has also appeared in a novel published many years before. This leads him to Cesare Montenero, a Sicilian writer whose story takes up the bulk of Black Mountain, told as a biography. Cesare started his life as a child labourer in brutal sulphur mines before escaping and being raised in a far more genteel manner by Don Domenico Amati.

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Garth Nix

Allen & Unwin (2012)

ISBN: 978 1 74175 861 0

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

The foundation of this YA space opera from Garth Nix in a proposed computer game is apparent, but well controlled and logical. What is a quest if not a series of challenges, each developing a strength and teaching a lesson?

For Khemri, those lessons can be lethal, and increasingly serve to acquaint him with what it means to be human, or rather, an everyday citizen. To think, that someone might sacrifice themselves for another, out of desire and not coercion…

Khemri is one of millions of enhanced, purpose-crafted princes who control the empire within a bureaucratic framework of priests under an overarching Imperial Mind. Nix’s universe utilises three core technologies: mechanical, biological and psychic. It’s a wonderfully drawn world, from its terminology to its weaponry and medical tech, communications and transport, to the computer game idea of respawning or resurrection, new Battlestar Galactica style, after death. Read the rest of this entry »

Tansy Rayner Roberts

Creature Court trilogy, book 2

Harper Voyager (2011)

ISBN: 978073228944 7

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

In which the Tasmanian author furthers the tale begun in Power and Majesty. For those who came in late: the city of Aufleur is under attack, with interdimensional rifts trying to destroy it overnight. Defending the city is a bunch of hedonistic and political shape shifters, led by a Power and Majesty. In Book 1, the ruling P&M was whisked away through a split in the sky, and was replaced – not by the most likely candidate, the damaged and reluctant Ashiol, but seamstress Velody.

It’s a gloriously complex world, with Italian Renaissance overtones, and both the workings of the magical world and its relationship with the physical are explored further in The Shattered City.

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Tansy Rayner Roberts

Creature Court, book 1

Harper Voyager

ISBN: 9780732289430

Reviewed by Jason Nahrung

Power and Majesty came out in 2010. It’s the first volume of the Creature Court series by Tasmanian writer Tansy Rayner Roberts — the second volume, The Shattered City, and third, Reign of Beasts, are out now. I polished Power and Majesty off on the flight to Perth for Swancon at Easter, where it was awarded a Ditmar for best novel of 2010 and it also won the Aurealis Award for Fantasy Novel, announced in May 2011.

The story is set in Aufleur, where Velody and two friends run a dress shop. Aufleur comes across as an Italian-style town — Renaissance with steamtrains — where festivals are a prime social and economic activity; even the calendar is set by the celebrations.

Behind the superficiality of the social calendar lurks a different reality, however. The sky is an enemy, raining death and destruction in a most creative way — the population is unawares of their peril from this extradimensional danger. It falls to a band of shape-shifting magic users to defend the plane, but they are far from a cohesive entity. Their number has been whittled down by combat and politics and they hunger for leadership from a king. Ashiol is the prime candidate, but abused and ashamed, he wants none of it. And so the jostling begins, and the fate of the world hangs in the balance…

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