Rise of Empire-Fantasy made economic once more

It’s been an interesting week in reading.

Just 3 days ago, I published a review of The Three Musketeers, which if you read, detailed how the book was a long, tedious and overall underwhelming read. And so it is funny, that just 72 hours later, I get to write a review that claims exactly the opposite.

It took me just one long weekend to rip through “Rise of Empire”, which comes as Sullivan’s sequel to his successful debut fantasy novel “A Theft of Swords”. Both these books were originally self published, and are each split into two parts. However here, for simplicity’s sake, I will consider them in their commercial format only.

Theft of Swords was actually the novel I dubbed my “book of the year” in 2015, when after receiving it as a gift, I was pleasantly surprised by the simple yet gripping fantasy tale I found within. Sullivan is a master of what I call “Economic Fantasy” (a term I believe I’ve invented). It’s not a ubiquitous skill by any means. Many well-regarded fantasy authors get caught up in complex plot devices, sprawling countries and a list of characters that runs right off the page. Sullivan circumvents this; pushing his plot forward so fast that it is impossible for it to gather dust. He trims everywhere, and keeps only the characters and locations that are absolutely necessary.

And now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t to say his worldbuilding is simple. Quite the opposite actually. The world laid out before us seems minute in his first installment, where literally one half of the book takes place on what you could call “one set”. But where Theft of Swords is condensed, Rise of Empire is like an explosion. Whole sections of the realm Sullivan creates become focal to the plot. What is perhaps more impressive again is how they are accessed. Travel in any fantasy novel that can stagnate a plot if it is not dealt with carefully. Here, Sullivan wisely blends the plot and the travel seemlessly, so much so that our protagonists Royce and Hadrian cross half the known world without it feeling laborious or drawn out.

These two characters, who form “Riyria”, after which the series takes its name, are perhaps the most enjoyable part of the tale. Characterisation can often be undercooked in plot-driven novels, but Sullivan refuses to let this be an issue. Instead, his main duo almost leap off the page, so much so that a master swordsman and an elven thief can almost be related to. Sullivan leaned his first novel heavily on the quick wit, action sequences and fascinating adventures of his protagonist pair, but in Rise of Empire his cast of characters begins to flush out. Added to the foreground are Princess Arista (given far more scope than the first novel), Modina (originally Thrace in the first installment) and Amilia, who only appears in this book. I’m not often one to point such nuances out, but it is key that each of these characters are female. Up until the last decade, nearly all fantasy novels revolved solely around men. Significant steps have been made since then, but a large amount of these belong to the Katniss Everdeens of the urban fantasy world. High fantasy is still awash with male characters, and so having three well-written female characters is a breath of fresh air. In fantasy, women are often painted as either damsels in distress or super killers without any faults. It is hard to understand how so many great fantasy writers can create whole worlds out of nothing, but find the notion of creating a believable female character impossible. Sullivan shoulders this responsibility well. Arista is endearing, strong, learned and brave, and it is clear the author has moulded her with as much care as he has Hadrian and Royce.

Sullivan treats romance with similar deftness. He achieves a fine balance between the non-existent and the overdone, and has the motivations of love and friendship cleverly intertwined with the traits of his characters.

Action is rife in the series, and where Theft of Swords was brimming, Rise of Empire is drowning. Some may argue it swamps the characters, but with the story driving onwards at such a high pace, the action always dances to the beat and never feels out of place. It is wild at times, but so too are our characters, and though they always seem to escape danger with relative ease, a shadow still hangs over the cast that feels very Game of Thrones-esque. Characters seem safe, but every so often we get the subtle reminder they are not, and as the story progresses this threat only ever looms larger.

The plot centres on the kingdom of Melengar, of which Arista is Princess and our main characters royal protectors, fighting against the newly formed empire. This takes us to the south, where Nationalists are battling the same foe, but not yet in one alliance. Arista’s goal is to unite their forces, but even as they do so, the world at large seems to shrink and more enemies come into play.

It’s intrigue at it’s best, and with so many revelations popping up as the story progresses, the stage is set for the climactic “Heir of Novron”, which should finish this trilogy with the storm it deserves!

 

The Three Musketeers: When “All for one” just doesn’t cut it

My first book review of 2016 comes in the form of a classic. It’s sad really to find myself half way through the year and only now just finishing a book I first picked up on a trip to Berlin in January. Naturally my final year of college kept me busy, while on top of that the scales of writing vs. reading have been stacked heavily against the latter of late. Perhaps what makes this minor problem feel all the more heavy to me is this long venture in reading has ultimately turned up very little at all.

I had high aspirations for The Three Musketeers. Growing up, the many film adaptations were firm favourites of mine. It’s hard as a young boy not to be enamoured with tales of dashing bravery or unwavering loyalty in the face of overwhelming odds. The musketeers symbolised everything we come to associate with the age old concept of the “gentleman”, and though this persona is now rather dated, there’s still parts of it you can admire.

Reading the first few chapters on a bus to Shannon airport, I was immediately struck by the shaky translation of Alexandre Dumas’ original French text. The sentences were stilted, the dialogue was jarring, and by God more than once I had to shake my head at the use of the word “ejaculated” in the place of “said”. I brushed by this though, and determined that for the sake of the story I knew, I would persevere. And to be fair, for the first 100-150 pages, this paid off. D’Artagnan, a young gascon, travels to the French capital pursuing his dream of joining the ranks of the musketeers. Paris is rife with conspiracy, as the powerful cardinal makes plays against the Queen, Anne of Austria. She is rumoured to have an intimate engagement with the Duke of Buckingham, and with France and England on the brink of war, this makes such secrets all the more deadly.

D’Artagnan becomes embroiled with all of this, and alongside his new acquaintances Athos, Portos and Aramis, fight to protect their monarchy. It’s a romantic tale, where the comradery among friends is as much revered as the love D’Artagnan has for his leading lady.

The first half of the book uses all these strengths well, and at that point I would have been writing a very different review. But I can’t write that review, and the further I pushed myself into this book, the clearer that became.

The death of Alexandre Dumas’ crowning jewel is multi-factorial. Firstly, his obsession with the most mundane detail is distracting. Far too much of the novel is spent discussing the financial state of the main characters. It almost felt like the author had some unresolved financial woes himself and just had to channel them into something. I should be leaving this novel with a fine appreciation of his literature, not a working understanding of 17th century French coinage.

Secondly, the characterisation often misses the mark. I was led to believe the musketeers would embody that fabled chivalry that is often renowned in Medieval lore. Instead the main characters often come off as little more than a gang of juvenile drunks with little regard for anything around them. Dumas may be one of France’s most celebrated writers, but he didn’t exactly paint women or foreign nationals in a pretty light by any stretch of the imagination. What made all this characterisation worse was how Dumas seemed so blissfully unaware of the people he’d created. He often would remark how “D’Artagnan knew better than to be rash”, even though his protagonist spent much of the novel picking fights and carrying out what many would call straight up murder.

The classic also failed to deliver any decisive moves in relation to the plot. The first fifty pages seemed punchy and to the point. The next hundred achieved what I considered “the story”, and then having managed that, Dumas spent a couple hundred pages just faffing about really. The characters spent as much time choosing wine as they did defending the realm, while characters who’d received the “fleshing out” procedure during the first act, if I may call it that, just seemed to vanish into thin air.

I would later read Dumas released the novel as a series of news comics, which makes perfect sense considering how broken the overall narrative is and how the characters never seem to really grow at all. Athos, who receives a dark backstory about page 400, is perhaps the only character worth reading the novel for. Aramis started off the story with a lot of promise, but he was largely confined to the background as D’Artagnan took centre stage. The same can be said of Porthos, though whatever brief glimpses we did get of him suggested that might not have been a bad thing.

And yet the overall conclusion is the same.

I was promised “All for one”, and though I’ll have fond memories of buying this book on the other side of the world, for me the Musketeers might be better off hanging up their hats.

The gate on the edge of town

“You’re in the great game now, and the great game is terrifying”- Tyrion Lannister

In life, we are all members of the great audience. Every single person reading this has at one time or another acted as a witness. We don’t acknowledge it of course, not really, but it’s still happening every second of the day.

A first kiss, a failed exam, an accident on the road: all are part of the ongoing show. And of course, it’s actually quite easy to imagine your role in the audience. What is perhaps slightly less clear is where you fit in the overall spectacle. Who has seen you at your worst? Who has watched you at your best? More importantly, could they tell the difference?

Memories are a funny thing, constantly changing depending on how we feel, and never sitting still for long enough to be truly appreciated. We all remember, let’s say, opening our Leaving Cert results. But do we really? To me, everything that was ever anything is in many ways a serving of blur with a little dash of clarity.

Both of these concepts, witnesses and memories, have been whirling around in my head since I finished college. There was after all a moment where suddenly it all ended, and overwhelmed by emotion I doubt I was thinking “take a breath and appreciate this little snapshot; it’s a picture you’ll only take once.” But that is the truth of it nonetheless. This was the end, and I can’t just go back and ask for a little more time there now.

Putting my pen down, closing the exam booklet and walking out of that last exam are all part of my story, but who knows who was secretly watching? Those who care, those who don’t, or those indifferent. My story, but their spectacle.

Trapped in the little bubble of college, not sharp to the world moving around me, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought much about being in the spectacle. In a crowded library you can be lost in your own notes, but looking up now and again you realise everything is getting on without you. Now, there are no more notes, and it’s time to join the ranks of those making the world go round.

In that respect college is a bit like your bedroom. There are an infinite number of things you can accomplish there, but outside those walls other things are in motion the scale of which you can’t start to imagine cooked up in there. It’s not that you’re out of touch, more so you’re kept within the confines of something measurable. It’s all happening in a lecture theatre, in a library, on campus etc.

And so now that I’m leaving, the outside world feels a little alien again. It’s very much in the title of this blog. There’s a gate at the edge of town, and inside it you know everything and everyone. You’ve been to the gate of course. I mean, you can even tell me what it’s made of and what it feels like to run your hand over. But you’ve never been outside it. Sometimes at dusk, you’ve sat on it for hours and thought about the fields beyond or the next town over. And never once did you really believe that the day was coming when you’d finally pass through it. That was a dream-a notion. Notions weren’t tolerated in this town.

And yet, that day does come. You feel about a stone lighter, and rather than skip up to the gate like you usually do you sort of wander there half in a haze of your own thoughts and emotions. The sun is going down in the west but there’s enough light to see the first few steps on the road. And then quite suddenly there is the moment, and before you’ve even thought to mark it you’re on the other side. And then there’s a panic and the sudden want to turn round. It isn’t a desire to go back, and even if it is you’ve long resigned yourself to the fact that that isn’t happening. You just realise you wanted it to be memorable though, and a part of you isn’t sure that it was.

Should’t there have been someone there to say goodbye, or give a little cheer as you passed over the threshold?

And yet maybe there was, and not turning to see their face you press on with your journey.

After all, they are the witness, and right there and then you were at either your best or worst. Perhaps they know the difference.

 

Tales from the Ramen Bookshelf: A year in reading

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2015 is slowly drawing to a close. With exams officially over I now finally have a bit more time on my hands. Even so, my aim is to get 5 blogs done by New Years, with three dedicated to the J1 and two towards reading and writing. I know. I’d want to get a move on.

I wouldn’t say it has been an amazing year for reading. It’s probably a year where I read more random books than I’m used to, much of this due to being on a J1 and not wanting to bring any books I would be distraught if I lost. You might wonder how I could lose a book, but there were eight of them and they were all being lugged around in my carry-on bag. In airports like JFK and Heathrow this isn’t exactly standard practice. When security at San Francisco wanted a look in my bag, the last thing I was expecting was for him to hold up Game of Thrones and say “Oh, is this good? I love the show.”As you can tell, San Diego was my prime reading time. With no internet and a work schedule that meant I might be alone in our apartment for hours at a time, books fell like dominos. Also, I simply love reading. I wouldn’t say that’s a cliché, more so a “well obviously Kyle you’re writing a whole blog on it”. Still, there were many times on the J1 where I wanted nothing more than a book in my hand and a seat by the pool. While I’ll always remember the nights out, working and mayhem around the apartment, it was during these quiet moments that the J1 really became a therapy. Sometimes you need a break, and if you need a break within a break, it’s handy to have a book nearby. For this blog, I’m just going to give a quick review of my 2015 reading list to the best of my memory (those first few months were neither productive or memorable but I’ll try my best).

The Walking Dead: Descent (Jay Bonansinga)

If I’m being entirely honest, I don’t remember much of this book. I’ve previously read (and reviewed) four books in this series, and by and large this installment was much the same. It’s a niche book (I enjoy the Walking Dead TV series, as you might guess) where the writing is intended to be tense, fast-paced and not at all verbose. It’s the kind of book you could knock out in a day if you really wanted to, which in some cases is a good thing. I liked Descent, it was an improvement on its predecessor “The Fall of the Governor” even if it was weaker than the first two books in the series. Again, it’s about Woodbury and at this stage differs largely to what Walking Dead fans are seeing on screen. This is good, because unless a TV show is amazing I really don’t care to read the book version of the plot (see Game of Thrones later for when I really do care to). That’s not to say The Walking Dead isn’t a brilliant show, but it’s a plot that works best on Sunday night on AMC, and considering the source material is a comic, you can be pretty sure nobody is going to want to read the same plot in a third and weaker format. Overall, a solid edition to the series and I’ll be buying the next one

Rating = 6.5/10

The Name of the Wind (Patrick Rothfuss)

I’m not keen to review this book, if I’m being honest. It’s not that it’s a bad book – quite the opposite. It’s more, I have issues with this book that are unusual, and explaining them isn’t easy. I digress.

The Name of the Wind came highly recommended to me, and of course people threw up the name Tolkien places and I’ll admit I got quite excited. I actually started this book in August 2014, but it dragged over to 2015. The main character Kvothe, a legend in his time now posing as a simple innkeeper, recounts his story to the fabled Chronicler, who has sought him out to find the true version of events. What follows is a sort of in-book autobiography, which at first I hated but soon grew to love with the constant change in location, characters etc. It was fresh, ambitious and the author controlled it. And I’ll concede, the worldbuilding was excellent. For the first fifty pages it was a little jarred but once the autobiography portion started I really felt part of the world. The dialogue was snappy, clever and witty. The characters for the most part were memorable, and for a plot that spent a lot of time detailing ordinary events, the story seemed quite extraordinary.

My biggest problem with the whole book was the main character. Yes, I’m aware, that’s bad, and it was. I simply hated Kvothe for large portions of the book. He was arrogant beyond measure, talented at pretty much everything, and loved to convince himself he was having a rough time of things. Yes, his life was tough, but given how much luck came his way I found it very hard to sympathise with him at all. This all manifested through the author’s excessive use of detail, sometimes spending pages showing off whatever he had popped into google on the day he wrote that chapter. It is clear the research was meticulous, but delivery is important in terms of how much you tell a reader. And Kvothe, the super-intelligent sponge, just had to tell us all of it. On a side note for all men, Kvothe also insists he is terrible with the ladies, but with his outcomes I’d have to call him a liar. He’s that type who sells himself as socially awkward and an introvert even though he is a master of small-talk, flirting etc. Overall, the Name of the Wind is brilliant. The above is a huge flaw, but damn it the book is good. Again, I digress…

Rating = 8/10

RED – my autobiography (Gary Neville)

Considering this was the first book of the J1, it may be already apparent that the first 6 months of 2015 were fairly poor in terms of reading. RED was a book I’ve owned for a quite a while now, but never got round to reading. As I said above, it’s those kind of books that came to San Diego with me by and large. I flipped the book open 8 hours into a flight to LA, when it was clear I wasn’t going to watch a fourth movie after the shambles that was “Exodus Gods and Kings”. As a United fan, I of course enjoy any story that involves the treble, the premier league titles, the wonder teams, the class of ’92 etc. And RED didn’t fail to deliver. Gary Neville is a clever man who has always worn his heart on his sleeve. He’s a face value sort of guy and for an autobiography that’s pretty pivotal. Outside of just the football, I enjoyed RED for the tale that it was. Neville recounts his upbringing with a sort of fondness and humour we would all be jealous of. For the entire novel he seamlessly blends the life on the pitch with the life at home and the world in his head. To my surprise, I found his stories of the England team some of the most interesting. Neville’s outings for his country give an insight into the sort of questions we constantly pose of one of football’s greatest nations. I would consider this a must-read for a United fan, and something you might look into if you like a good autobiography in any case.

Rating = 7.5/10

I am Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Zlatan Ibrahimovic)

Where to start with this one? Basically, it would be nice to see Kvothe and Zlatan have a conversation. Zlatan, is for all intents and purposes, the most self-confident man I’ve ever read about. And yet, I loved it. This wasn’t some made-up character spouting rhetoric the author fed them, this was a real human being taking on the world as they saw fit. What surprised me about this book was how deftly Zlatan dealt with his upbringing. While we are constantly hearing of wonder kids raised in Favelas and going on to be football legends, I didn’t expect the same social history for one of Europe’s greatest footballers. Zlatan is funny in every page, maybe every paragraph. He pokes fun at the world, at opponents, at himself. Nobody is safe within the confines of this book, with huge names like Pep Guardiola being ripped to absolute shreds. Like a Conor McGregor of football, Zlatan talks a lot but has never failed to back it up throughout his time in football. Capable of changing a game in a second, of tearing through defences, of sublime skill typical of a Brazilian, he has an illustrious career to regale across several countries. Even those with little interest in football would enjoy this book, which is as much Zlatan painting you a picture of the high-life as it is a look at his moments on the pitch.

Rating= 8/10

The Big Fight (Sugar Ray Leonard)

At this point in San Diego we had just moved into our apartment, with this being the first book I sprawled out on our then clean carpet to read. This was perhaps my favourite of the three autobiographies, not only because I knew little of Sugar Ray’s career, but also because of the backstory. Neville’s introduction was heartwarming, Zlatan’s was surprisingly full of hardship, but Sugar Ray’s was king of them all. There’s something about reading about life growing up in America that stirs you a little. Sugar Ray probably had it harder than both Zlatan and Neville, and certainly had knock-on effects from his childhood for the rest of his life. One of the greatest boxers in history, this was him peeled away to nothing and laid bare over 300 pages for all to see. Before, I knew Sugar Ray as a king; an Olympian who went professional and became a master showman while demolishing some of the greats. After reading, this image seems 2D at best. It’s a story of addiction, sex, fame, money, divorce and finally, and most poignantly, redemption.

Rating = 8.5/10

The Woman in Black-Angel of Death (Martyn Waites)

You can surely see now that I had strict criteria for “books I wouldn’t be distraught if I lost”. By the middle of June, I had reached this book, and looked forward to a few nights reading by my phone light in the dark of our apartment scaring myself half to death. Sadly, this was not the case. I should have seen the problems with this book in that it was a sequel wrote by a different author and worse, was only published to tie in with the movie of the same name. Adapting a movie into a book is shaky, very shaky. This was Richter Scale shaky. I love the original Woman in Black story. It’s so menacing, so tense and full of dread. This was a diluted version of that. It still had a haunted feel to it, and was scary for short periods. Based around children moving to the “empty” house during WWII, it had strong potential to be chilling. It floundered in the writing, and then ultimately met its demise in the very predictable ending. It’s strongest point was the manner of deaths, which I guess given the genre will earn it some salvation in my rating.

Rating = 5.5/10

Theft of Swords (Michael J Sullivan)

Every year, I’ll find a book that I especially like for some reason. In 2014, it was Stella Gemmell’s “The City”. I recommend that book to everybody. This year, it’s Theft of Swords. Given this was book five of the J1, and the first fantasy book, it’s fair to say I was highly looking forward to reading this. I’d got it as a gift a month before I left, after spotting it in what was then Porters, Wilton. What was obvious right from the off was how different this was from Name of the Wind. Whereas the latter was clearly heavily researched, detailed and mastered over a long time, this was far more….fluid? Lost for words there. Fluid suffices. Theft of Swords had far more room to breathe than Name of the Wind did. It didn’t over emphasise anything, it just ran with the story and asked you the small price of keeping up. The opening scene was brimming with clever dialogue. I loved the two main characters, a pair of mercenaries known together as “Riyria”, who through a wicked conspiracy get caught up in a case of murder. The book follows their attempts to reconcile this which unearths larger events in their world. To be honest, some people may read this book and criticise the plot or the writing or some of the characters. But at the heart of it all, it’s simple adventure. It’s what’s asked of fantasy novels right from page one. It doesn’t lean on a crutch of memorable description like some successful novels do, or build a world almost freakishly real, but what it does do is give us two main characters that we can care about. It puts them in simple plot lines and then injects the odd twist, a good deal of action and a constant change of scenery. Overall, I was just “content” reading this novel.

Rating: 8.5/10

No Safe House (Linwood Barclay)

While Theft of Swords was a brilliant book, it was also a long one, and came right at my busiest time of San Diego. So it was not until July that No Safe House came out of the book shelf my room mates had “constructed” from a Ramen Noodles box. When it did, I was apprehensive. No Safe House is not a fantasy novel. I know, who cares? People always say to read outside your comfort zone. Who knows, you might find something you like. Writers are also told the same. But your zone is comfortable for a reason, and we humans like comfortable things. So when I bought No Safe House as a sort of homage to the above advice, I felt all grandiose and like I was finally expanding my view. I was wrong. No Safe House wasn’t a bad book, I’m not being fair. It was an OK book, but I’m not on this earth to read OK books. I like thrillers, I’ve read a lot and so I expected a big name in the genre was going to blow me away. I just sort of wasn’t though. I tried to like this book for 200 pages, and with a plot of “woman who has disturbing past finds herself in new nightmare”, it wasn’t overly hard. But with time, the book wore on me. I felt like it was taking too long to get to that “Oh my God that’s what happened” moment, and when it did it wasn’t enough for me to appreciate the wait. The best portions of the book were the “setup phase”, as I call it, where some character inadvertently sets a chain of events in motion. Cynthia, the woman described above, has a daughter who along with her boyfriend find themselves in the wrong house at the wrong time. All of this part was good. It was the second half of the novel that just didn’t do it for me. How characters resolved things was predictable and boring rather than rash and exciting. If you like a crime thriller, this might be for you. If you, like me, prefer Middle Earth and Winterfell, then I’d perhaps give it a skip. And next time, think twice about leaving the comfort zone.

Rating 6.5/10

Game of Thrones (George R.R. Martin)

I feel a little guilty reviewing this book. It’s a re-read, and one of my favourite books by a longshot. In fact, outside of Tolkien, I would say this is the best fantasy I’ve ever read. Now I know there are still plenty I have to read, but coming back to this book a second time was an enjoyable as the first. I read Game of Thrones for the first time nearly four years ago, but this time instead of poolside in Gran Canaria I was poolside in San Diego. It’s the last book of the J1, and I only finished it once I got home to Ireland. To put it quite simply: read this book. I am jealous of those who will be reading it for the first time sometime soon. Game of Thrones is addictive as a book. I brought the first one on holidays for a week and after two days was coming to an end. The use of multiple view points is not exclusive to GoT, but it’s a great example of it being done well. Unlike Theft of Swords, this plot really is complex, with more going on than you can keep up with at times but each chapter tense, thrilling and riddled with mystery. Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell, is called to be Hand of the King by Robert Baratheon, his old friend who sits on the Iron Throne in King’s Landing. Ned is to replace Jon Arryn, who died mysteriously. The next 700 pages are incredible, with characters larger than life who all interact within the labyrinthine Red Keep, where secrets are hard to keep and political conspiracy and betrayal are rife. This is all mixed in with action far to the north at the Wall and at Winterfell. For any fan of the show, I think the book towers over the TV series, and have yet to meet someone who read the book after and disagreed.

Rating = 9.5/10

On Writing (Stephen King)

I only just finished this book recently, and so it just makes the list for 2015. Obviously this is a different sort of book, but out of curiosity I wanted to read it (you shouldn’t turn your back on advice from Stephen King). To my surprise, King manages to use his own life story to perfectly give you a look into the writing process. I thought this autobiographical approach made the advice more palpable, more relatable and easier to digest. King doesn’t nit-pick or focus too heavily on grammar, structure etc. He works with what he knows best about the art, and brings it to life through his story of becoming the world renowned writer he is today. I didn’t expect anything less of him, and for anybody interested in writing, I would say it is worth a read. It’s an easy read, not something you get bogged down in like you would expect.

Rating = 8/10

So, a good year for reading overall I suppose. I’m looking forward to 2016, with my current book being “The World of Ice and Fire”, and I already know I’ll be reading “The Three Musketeers” sometime soon too. Perhaps I’ll stray again outside my comfort zone, though there’s definitely enough books within it to keep me going for another year.

From Hell-Jack the Ripper graphic novel review

From hell, a graphic novel authored by Alan Moore and designed by Eddie Campbell, details the identity, motives and actions of the infamous Jack The Ripper killer of the late Victorian era. At first glance, the rather hefty book (which I later learned was published in separate volumes comic-esque style) didn’t grab my attention, but Waterstones had set aside their own section so all the same I gave it a flick through. The most obvious thing that strikes you is the fact that it is, indeed, a graphic novel (with pages cut up into illustrated tiles complete with speech bubbles etc). I sheepishly brought it to the counter, and wondered all the while was I just after buying a sicko’s version of a childhood Beano or Dandy comic. After finally closing the book on that awful Dean Koontz novel 77 Shadow street, the review *cough* rant *cough* of which you may find https://kyle8414.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/a-very-frightful-read-for-all-the-wrong-reasons/; I opened this on a bus and started my way through it.

A couple of pages in it was clear, very clear actually, that this was not some half-ass comic a wash-up writer had conjured up in a couple of weeks. Almost immediately you can feel the research bringing the pictures to life, and rather admirably you seem to forget after a while it’s all speech bubbles and short narration.

The premise of the novel is fascinating. Starting just before the Ripper murders that happened in autumn 1888, the book gives us a whole host of characters to play with. Some are the future detectives of our case. Others play the part of the victim. Even from the start, we are exposed to the man who will become the killer; a notion that at first I thought would take from the mystery but later on only seems to fuel the drama. Over a hundred years after the Whitechapel murders occurred, today we have over a hundred and fifty well recognised suspects ranging from Alice in Wonderland writer Lewis Carroll to Jill the Ripper-a woman the police might have investigated at the time. Alan Moore, however, chose to go with a suspect who first surfaced in the 1970s and has remained a favourite among conspiracy theorists ever since. Though the author admits himself evidence for the theory is limited, he nonetheless seems to convince you it is the only solution.

In chapter one, we are introduced to ‘Eddie Sickert’, who is actually the Prince of England at the time and only posing as an upper class gentlemen after the Queen and his family entrusted his education to one Walter Sickert (overall he is the grandson of Queen Victoria and second in line to the throne). He quickly becomes involved with an East End girl who becomes pregnant with his child. When the child is born, the royal family hear and quickly seize the mother to cover up the scandal. Mary Kelly, whose name is forever remembered as the last of the Ripper victims, was friend to the mother at the time and knew of the Prince’s identity. Now stuck for money, her and her other ‘working-girl’ friends attempt to blackmail the throne through Walter Sickert. When word of this reaches Victoria, she quickly orders her then trusted doctor Sir William Gull to take care of the problem, and so the killings begin.

While, as I have mentioned, only scraps of evidence link the royal family to the killings, Alan Moore manages to create a whole world around it, with various twists and turns that ensure even someone with a knowledge of the killings (which I actually could claim somewhat after visiting London a few times) is kept on their toes. His attention to detail is wonderful, as he focuses in on Victorian vocabulary and thoroughly creates the area of Whitechapel alongside artist Eddie Campbell. What struck me very early on was how academic the piece actually was, as surprisingly a large amount of imagery, themes and symbolism seem to crop up. Luckily, this does not drag from the story and only seems to be put in to satisfy the more thorough readers, like an adult returning to an episode of The Simpsons and relishing new jokes.

Each of the five murders play out very dramatically, with Moore managing to stick to the historical facts as best he could including witnesses, times of death and the movements of the victims. The obvious black and white of a comic strip here becomes haunting. Whereas most Ripper lore (if I can coin such a term), seems to focus on the killer, this is undoubtedly a story of the victims. Never before have I seen literature on the topic painstakingly show how one by one the next girl feared for her life as the fruit of their blackmail attempt turned sour.

While the whole plot revolves around a very edgy theory, it is rather comforting to see Alan Moore helps debunk a couple of his own mysteries while he moves through it. These include some of the supposed letters from the killer, which in modern culture remain such a point of fascination for crime enthusiasts and may have even been the catalyst behind some of the zodiac letters, who killed in the 20th century. Something that sticks out as a theme is how the murder of five prostitutes in such a gruesome manner does serve as a base for the horrors of the twentieth century, where we endured two World Wars and were at the mercy of horrific serial killers.

Later on in the piece it moves very much towards the story of Fred Abberline, who actually was the lead detective on the case. While many of the details for obvious reasons are fictional, it once again moves away from the limelight of the killer and shows a more human side to the murders we miss in Hollywood interpretations. The idea of police cover-ups also comes to the fore which adds another layer of complexity to a gripping tale. I would doubt I could find another comic strip out there that can manage to tell such a horrifying story yet at the same time conjure up questions about things such as the role of women, and the view of the poorer part of society. The East End was seen at the time as violent and unmanageable, with most of the employment listed as prostitution. In a time before finger prints or criminal profiling, the foggy streets of Whitechapel were like a murderer’s playground. It was a part of the job for the five victims to be trusting of men, and unfortunately this led them straight to their doom.

Hollywood films such as Saw or Hostel may have succeeded in numbing our minds to the effects of violence, but even so this was terror on a whole other scale. Somebody stalked the streets of the East End for three months, and hunted women there. He was never found. We will never know his name. All we have left of him is pictures of his destruction, and here or there a vague description from a passerby. Long dead, even in his own time he was a ghost.

 

I would definitely recommend From Hell to anybody with an interest in graphic novels, which I cannot even claim to have. For lovers of crime and horror, it would also be very suitable. Very explicit in its imagery but I suppose that’s part of the genre.A film adaptation starring Johnny Depp also exists, though I’ve read the two differ broadly.

Soon on Monday Mysteries, I’ll take a very detailed look at Jack the Ripper, starting when he did in late August. I promise you it will be word the read. Until then, it’s on to Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind for me.

 

 

A very frightful read (for all the wrong reasons)

Over the past few weeks my reading attention has been turned to Dean Koontz’s 77 Shadow Street, which was a novel I picked up on a whim when about to take a lengthy bus journey without a book for company. At the time I was just finishing up Stella Gemmells wonderful fantasy debut The City, the review of which is available https://kyle8414.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/the-city-by-stella-gemmell-game-of-thrones-meets-roman-history/.

Somebody once told me I had a knack for storytelling. Somebody also once told me I was always up for a good rant. Here, to either your joy or dismay (neither of which particularly influences my writing style of course), I will be employing the rant, because damn it is justified.

If I could use an analogy of what reading this book feels like, it would probably be something like ‘that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you know you have been well and truly duped by some conman’. We’ve all been there, whether it was holiday souvenirs or online shopping; everyone one of us has had that gut punch to our ego when we realise someone has got the best of us. Over the last few weeks, Dean Koontz put that feeling in my stomach. He didn’t literally put it there of course. He was probably back in his mansion somewhere counting all the money he garnered off this sad excuse for a novel.

In retrospect, I should have had some inkling all was not well when I read Mr. Koontz has had over sixty novels published in his career (although looking at his website’s bibliography this figure could actually be much bigger). “What the hell?- you might say. Surely a writer with such an illustrious career couldn’t possibly turn out a bad novel. Yes and No. Koontz’s success must be the result of some talent, which I won’t deny, as I have not read his more recommended works. But it doesn’t take an avid reader to know someone churning out that many books must surely be writing some amount of awful stories along with the good stuff. I, of course, went and bought one of the poorer ones.

I sincerely hope this story is the worst he has published. If he actually can stoop lower than this and still get it to market, I’ll have lost faith in literature altogether. The most glaring thing wrong in the first few pages is the sheer volume of words on the page. Not that the font is small-au contraire. No, here I refer to Dean’s seeming obsession with using every large word he can shake out of a dictionary. For about ten pages I wasn’t actually sure what the book was about, because I was trying to wade through all the mess he had put in front of me. The worst thing is I really wanted to like this story; I really did. I love the idea of a horror house/mansion/hotel, with all sorts of ghosts and goings-on. In fact I’m sure most horror writers would testify that this is the easiest plot to work with.

Step 1: new person goes to the house

Step 2:Weird shit happens

Step 3: Some kind of resolution

THAT’S ALL YOU HAD TO DO DEAN

It was a ‘in and out’ job, with no need for mucking about. The first character we encounter, some senator figure who returns drunk to the hotel, is dead in ten pages (oops spoiler). Nobody minds a character dying, but it’s the fact that this character literally has nothing to do with the rest of the whole book. Zilch. His literal purpose was just to show that ‘ooh house is spooky’. I think one other character noticed he was missing, and he was the security guard so ya, doesn’t count.

The rest of the next hundred pages uses a character by character approach, which I actually don’t mind, as we get a good feel for the whole house. The problem is literally all these characters suck. Besides Bailey Hawkes, and some other fella who I’m sure dies anyway, I really hated everybody in this book.

“Oh, Oh but I’m sure he meant for you to hate them”

No. He didn’t. He meant for us to hate like two or three and love the rest. Sorry Dean, I hate them all. What Koontz thought would be a good way to make us like his characters was to give them all problems. Seems smart right? Only issue, I can’t sympathise with any of their shit. I really don’t care about some singer we just met telling us she got divorced, and I couldn’t care less about a pair of old sisters who are in retirement and bored. At this point of the book (page 100 of 400), I knew I already hated this book, and I just wanted to see how bad it could get. Readers instincts paid off it seemed; it got far worse.

What apparently is happening in the house, which has a dubious history with previous owners for murders etc, is that every 38 years the Pendleton (which is what it is called now as a hotel) will transition to the future, where all the characters will be hunted in some post-human world. Coming up to this event, loads of stuff will go wrong in the existing time, such as strange moulds growing everywhere, or characters from the past showing up only to disappear. Dean’s description of fungi got very annoying. There were no ghosts in this entire novel really, but there was a fuck load of fungus. Nobody in the world finds mould frightening. I mean yes it’s ugly but it’s not creepy is it. The real terror then is this strange creature that will kill all the inhabitants.

Thumbs up to Dean for somehow making his villains even worse, by making this otherworldly creature that is made up of millions/billions of nanobots. You see readers? It was science all along. Fuck you Dean Koontz. The last thing a horror reader wants is a plausible explanation. This isn’t Scooby Doo. I remember the original episodes incidentally. Now those were scary.

Meanwhile back in the house of scary plants and zero ghosts, our characters have to contend with problems such as rooms looking different, and TVs saying ‘exterminate’ but not actually doing anything. In order to survive, our group of barely tolerable freaks band together in one room, only to do the one thing decades of low budget horror movies have informed them you do not do-split up. Cue loads of deaths that are completely the characters fault. Maybe Dean koontz wants me to support the villains, and if so, he is a genius. At this stage, I am cheering them on as they kill our heroes.

I forgot to mention that at several points throughout the book, some dope called “the one” interludes for a page or two. Apparently he is the master behind all this future-present and the whole fungi-creature-environment is all part of one world organism. Ya, I know, it’s fucking stupid. These pages were perhaps the worst. Lines upon lines of ‘the one’ spewing so much shit about how he is a legend so that you seriously question whether Harry Potter going on about being the chosen one was actually even annoying at all.

As for handling the whole ‘oh look it was science all along’, Dean is way out of his depth.

“Hey, I have a BA in English, that means I know how technology and science works”

Reading it was painful, trying to nod along to shit you knew were just pure guesses. I doubt he could stop for a bit of research like. I mean, if he took twenty minutes out of his day, he’d probably not have published another book.

I’m sure nobody has made it this far, but OH WAIT, I forgot my favourite worst part: Dean’s sentence length. The odd time in a book, you’ll come across some whopper of a thirty or forty word sentence and wonder what the author was thinking. Try that every two minutes in this book. I’m sure a good few actually hit the 50+ word mark, and at that length you actually cannot keep track of whatever the fuck the writer is trying to say. Not fifty short words either. At least half will be straight out of the thesaurus, who as a happenstance, sounds like a far scarier dinosaur villain than the mute beats we have to read about here.

In the end, all the characters don’t die. Boohoo. I’m telling you the ending because it will save you four hundred pages of life you don’t get back.

Seriously, the scariest thing about this novel is the writing.

What Twilight could have been-George R.R Martin’s ‘Fevre Dream’ Book Review

The latest book to be offered up for reading was by George R.R Martin, the modern day uncrowned king of fantasy. While much attention is of course given to A Game of Thrones and its TV spin-off, Martin has of late looked into his back-catalogue from the 80s and 90s, and has published a few bits here and there. One of these is Fevre Dream.

The Blurb doesn’t give away too much as to what this book has waiting for the reader, with a short synopsis only telling us a man named Abner Marsh runs a steam ship company in the 1850s, and a new client is hoping to help him build the ship of his dreams.

Soon into the book, we see the captain and his financier have different ideas in mind for their new boat. Abner Marsh wants a ship that will be famed all along the Mississippi-with a speed that will outmatch names like The Southerner and The Eclipse. On the other hand, the enigmatic but curious Joshua York talks little of profit and fame. His orders to Captain Marsh are simple; to give him a boat where he will be captain,where his odd hours are not questioned and where his word is absolute. And with that, the Fevre Dream is born, with all its 19th century splendour. But soon strange tales are spreading between sailors. There is talk of a captain, who never sees the light of day, but always comes out at night. His skin is pale as moonlight, and the company he keeps are equally as queer. And with river talk sufficient to ruin any ship, no matter what its grandeur, in time Abner Marsh has to come face to face with the man who is now his partner.

This book is a fitting testimony to Martin’s versatility within the fantasy genre. What strikes the reader first is the author’s unquestionable dedication to research. By the end of the first chapter, we have already been hurled back a hundred and fifty years in time, to a world where slavery is still rife, and talk of abolition is starting to stir. Here Martin also begins to show how much he has looked into the supernatural world, even going so far as to poke holes where he sees fit and strike up new definitions. Unlike other fantasy novels, where going against the grain is often perilous and amateur, here it feels really under control.

The book starts at a good time, with the exposition nearly completely finished in the first chapter and the plot opening up almost right away. The first half of the book is gripping, as the mystery surrounding Joshua York begins to unravel, re-wind and then fall apart again. The second half of the book feels a slight bit different. A small climax came near the mid-point, and so after that I really felt I should have been out the gap and on to another book rather than plodding further along. I think a small portion of the narrative dragged, as it didn’t seem to flow as the reader expected, with a lot of the twists coming off as unrealistic. It was at this point that it suddenly dawned on me who wrote the book. Then I got depressed, as each gut punch from Martin came bit-by-bit, slowly showing me that what I wanted for this book was not what I was gonna get. Old habits die hard, they say, and I guess here it was pretty evident.

The real finish did give me some bit of satisfaction with the novel, and had it come earlier it might have been the perfect ending. But how the author worked the whole story probably meant he had to have a prolonged ending, so I guess he is justified in that sense. This is 100% the type of book where much can’t be said without ruining it, so I’ll close with the above. Highly recommend it as a read, especially if you enjoy Martin’s writing.

 

The City by Stella Gemmell-Game of Thrones meets roman history

It was curiosity that made me pick up this fantasy novel. Firstly, the cover was shiny and well designed. Granted that’s the worst reason ever to buy something, but I stand by it. Secondly, and probably more importantly, the name stood out. Gemmell, a name not unused in the fantasy novel world. So it came as no surprise when I found out the author, Stella Gemmell, was wife to the late fantasy best-seller, David Gemmell.

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The City is the debut fantasy novel of Stella Gemmell (though granted she has worked on some of David’s books in the past). Coming into the game as a former journalist, the question as to whether this could succeed was just as intriguing as the summary itself. At circa seven hundred pages in this re-published edition, the book seemed to justify purchase. The premise of the story was basic enough at first glance; a large city is at war with its neighbours, but deep beneath it all, something else could be going on. The City is ruled by the omniscient emperor, a man they call the immortal, and one who is rarely seen outside the palace. Five noble families, claimed by some to be god-like, govern the city in its entirety, and help to raise armies to fight the war that is raging on all fronts. But below the city something else is stirring. We first meet Elijah, Emly, and the old man Bartellus, each of them living in a sewer world where the forgotten go to die or the remembered go to hide. The underworld teems with rats, murderers and conspiracy. Outside on the mainland, characters like Fell Aron Lee and the warrior woman Indaro are locked in combat with the enemy, known widely as “Blueskins”.

With flood waters rising, the foundations of the city begin to crumble, but its the people’s belief in their emperor that is truly showing the signs of faltering. The reader is cast forward eight years, where each of our characters is now on a path unknown to them that will lead them all to a plot to end the war. Our characters now fight their beliefs, their virtues and their morals, rather than the multi-national enemy which is pressing its advantage in the field of battle.

Personally I found the opening to this novel compelling. Gemmell succeeds in giving us an interesting setting to start with; that of a subterranean world haunted by cannibals and the ever potent darkness. Many of the author’s characters achieve independence in the mind of the reader, though later on when the novel propels eight years into the future, earlier characters now lose their distinctive flavour as we leave the sewer world in favour of the nation’s battlefields. The chapters of Fell Aron Lee and Indaro make this transition easier, as their world is interesting enough to help us keep going. Fell Aron Lee, now a leader of his own battalion is given a fascinating backstory which really ties the whole piece together, and perhaps marks him as one of the primary characters.

Characterisation of the emperor is done in such a way as to always leave the reader guessing, a purposeful act I would assume. The other noble families emerge to the reader in the middle of the book, and take on a very “Lannister” feel-the reader never certain exactly what it is they want. Gemmell done this for both factions of the war, a feature which makes our opening premise that The City is the good side increasingly doubtful.

The third quarter of the novel, when the writer skillfully weaves her separate threads into one piece is easily the best part of the novel. At this point we really feel the ‘oh so that’s why x happened’ surfacing, a knack I always appreciate in a good fantasy novel, as it shows the writer’s aptitude for controlling their story. Here, Gemmell also begins to blur the edges of her timeline, so events happen out of sync with one another, and as multiple characters now show up in each chapter, the pace seems to quicken and the tension comes across quite well.

The climax, for me, was the only disappointment. Well, perhaps the loss of individualized characters near the end was also  cause to complain, but this is a common aspect we overlook in the fantasy genre. The ending seemed far too dragged out, with my eyes alarmingly noticing there was a hundred and fifty pages left when I felt things should have been wrapping up. I imagine Gemmell wanted the ending to be significant, and not just end in a chapter or two as is common when writers see the finishing line in sight. That being said, I feel Gemmell lost control of her conspirator notions at this point, and segments of the story that probably should have showed up earlier if they were at all significant jumped right into the closing stages. The fighting scenes at the climax came across as languid and only present to chop down some of the less pivotal players in the game. given the third quarter of the book, I think Gemmell unfortunately gave the reader too much freedom in imagining things as they wanted,so that the alternative ending she actually wrote did not fit what it feels they were promised. For example, George RR Martin,who promises you pretty much from the start that you had best not get attached to anything or anyone, avoids disappointing in this sense after the first novel. Gemmell however, had the task of keeping the reader interested in her characters, while also providing the bitter-sweet ending the novel probably needed for realism, all in one book. Thus, we kind of leave with a sour taste in our mouth, as though we were betrayed. It’s features such as this that spur on the world of fantasy fiction, where spurned readers lash out with their own alternative ending. But some aspects of the finish did keep me satisfied, and overall even a shocking ending would not have diminished the respect which was already building up in me for the author on her maiden voyage in the fantasy realm.

So, if asked, I would recommend this novel to anyone interested in fantasy/historical fiction. It avoids outlandish fantasy for much of the book, so that you don’t need to be #GandalfsNumberOneFan to enjoy the plot. Given the third quarter may have been one of the best I’ve read since Martin had Ned Stark snooping around King’s Landing, I would give this book an A, and hope Gemmell churns out something else soon.

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Tales From The Perilous Realm- A J.R.R Tolkien book review

If you ask the ordinary fantasy fan to think outside the box when it comes to Tolkien, most would return with answers such as The Silmarillion or The Children of Hurin. When imagining Tales from the Perilous Realm, one must command the fan to imagine themselves standing outside the room which holds our original box. In short, it wouldn’t be the first on anybody’s list, but having read it, I feel it shouldn’t be anybody’s last.

This novel features five unique short stories as written by Tolkien, each based around the world of Faerie, a land we commonly associate with The Brothers Grimm etc. In stark contrast to this land of pixies and toadstools, Tolkien presents a meticulous essay outlining concretely what Fairy stories actually are, and how we should consider them as literary pieces.

The first tale presented is that of Roverandom. Featuring a dog named Rover, the story revolves around the animal becoming caught up in wizard dealings and being whisked away from his normal country lifestyle. What Tolkien succeeds in here unsurprisingly (if one reads The Hobbit) is perfectly building a world for a child’s imagination. Rather than soaking the piece in meticulous detail or filling every corner with aspects of his higher writing, Tolkien maintains a lighthearted tone throughout, and manages to turn a very average plot into a memorable story suitable for all ages. Though not my favourite form the book, the piece deserves praise nonetheless.

Farmer Giles of Ham definitely feels far more like the Tolkien we are used to, with its slightly dark undertone and a plot brimming with swords, kings and dragons. Similar to a world of Frodos and Bilbos, the tale focuses on how the ordinary man gets caught up in a world of valour and higher powers, simply based on how much love even the smallest man can show for their own homeland. Farmer Giles is Bilbo-like showing quick wit and a good humour, while his exchanges with Chrysophylax the dragon are hauntingly familiar if one has read The Hobbit to the finish. Suspense was maintained throughout which kept the tale moving and so the whole thing felt far shorter than Roverandom itself. Perhaps for those who enjoyed The Hobbit this would be a welcome read.

The Smith of Wooton Major dabbled most in what Tolkien considered the faery world to be. Based around a master cook living in a small town, the plot takes us into a parallel world of Faery, all accomplished through the magical ingredients of a special cake! The further the story progressed, the more the tale stood out as thematically impressive and not just a easy read. If Tolkien had delved more into the adventures that did occur in the world of Faery, the story would have benefited undoubtedly. However,given it was intended as a short piece (in which connection to the early paragraphs seems essential to grasp the overall feel), he might have chosen correctly in keeping the length short.

The literature then shifts to poet format, with a series of nearly twenty short stories being fed to the reader on a verse by verse basis. Some of these tales seem by themselves interesting, while others leave much to the imagination but succeed from a poetic point of view. Of all the pieces in this book, this would probably appeal least to the everyday reader. However, for those Tolkien fans who understand deeply that this man valued language far more than he did archers and cavalry, the section is a valuable insight into Tolkien’s ability.

The final piece presented is that of ‘Leaf by Niggle’. Tolkien was always quoted as saying he hated allegory; that is the intentional pursuit by a story etc to give the reader some sort of message (and in many cases the value of the story lies solely in this message). That being said, it is often argued this tale is a highly allegorical one, with its entire plot echoing the recesses of an aging Tolkien’s mind. Tolkien did once quote that for many pieces allegory is itself not presented, and any meaning found in the piece by the reader is purely coincidental, and evidently down to personal interpretation (as given in a note to fans in later LOTR publications). This is reasonable, but one would be hard pushed to read Leaf by Niggle and not come away feeling the whole tale circles around a painter who mirrors Tolkien himself; a man who was awash with worry, unhappiness and regret with not having finished his epic Silmarillion before his death (with this book being if anything the primary part of his legendarium). Just like Niggle, Tolkien continues to tack pieces onto his original work, filling in details here and there as he goes, never really settling on a defined picture/image and always looking to expand when he should consolidate and finish. The ending is too good to spoil, if one really wants value for reading.

Overall, anyone who shows a good interest in Tolkien’s writing will enjoy this quick read, with Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wooton Major and Farmer Giles of Ham standing out as a top three in my eyes. Next time I’ll be reviewing The City, a fantasy tale by Stella Gemmell, wife of the late writer David Gemmell.

 

Really? A guide to surviving the zombie apocalypse?

The final book review in the zombie stage of my summer reading list has finally arrived. Max Brooks was again the author in question, with this book simply titled “The Zombie survival guide”. Not to rip off Ronseal or anything (sorry American readers, I’m not sure if ye have that), but this book really does do what it says on the tin. Actually, wait no, I’ve found a far more clichéd phrase-one should judge this book by its cover. Having been wrote before Brooks’ bestseller World War Z, this book gives a far more superficial look at the post-apocalyptic fallout that threatens us all if the dead reanimate.

That being said, superficial is far from what we get in all other areas. The book opens with a detailed look at what makes the walking dead tick (or well, what makes them not tick) in terms of their movement, hearing, eyesight, brain activity etc. As a pharmacy student, I found a lot of this material interesting, as not only is it hard to come by (ya know, ya don’t treat many zombies in community pharmacy these days) but it also ties up very well with concrete aspects of human physiology/anatomy. For readers less enthused by science, this section won’t stand out I’m afraid. Coming to the end of this section, however, we do get a good look at the classifications of an undead outbreak, and what signs to look for in the media.

The next thirty pages are more what the reader goes in expecting, with a full lowdown of all the weapons available and/or useful on commencement of the outbreak. Here we see Brooks got very creative, as his research obviously yielded cold hard facts about the drawbacks/limitations of conventional firearms or military based weaponry, but even outside of that he expands this section to give advice on combat styles, biological warfare and types of body armour. Anybody who has even dabbled in the infamous ‘zombie mode’ from the popular Call of Duty games would find this section more than enthralling.

Personally I found the next two sections to be the best in the book, as they again highlighted how far the writer was willing to delve into his work, but also could be extrapolated for use in other post-apocalyptic situations. The ‘On the defence’ chapter takes a comprehensive look at how homes can be vamped up for use as a defensive position once the dead come knocking. Not only does the author examine the different types of homes available, but he then provides tips for how to operate a defence in public buildings, such as churches, hospitals or schools. Given the outbreak is nigh able to occur at anytime of the day, you may find yourself relying on these pages more than you would have imagined.

The ‘On the run’ chapter then flips you out of the frying pan and into the fire-with its tips focusing on what your plan should be when the house-turned-fortress becomes a no-go. Because this section loosely resembles that of a doomsday prepper programme, it has its ups and downs. The major deal breaker comes in the form of how readily the advice can be applied, given the amount of money needed to create the standard pack alone would be dubious enough. That being said, the chapter does give a rather chilling view of the various terrains that will be encountered along the way, as the author succeeds in making the dangers of each jump right off the pages.

Next it was ‘On the attack’, a section I expected to pan out differently than it did. As it is, the major portion of the chapter centres on how to clear out different zones of infestation, as well as providing possible tactics as to how this process should go ahead. A lot of the terrain material gets repeated from the opposite perspective, and that maybe hampers the flow of the book. That being said, if we are to take this as a thorough guide, then I guess we have to call this repetition necessary, and maybe even important. As a final installment in the guide part of the book, we get advice on how to survive in an undead world, long after civilisation has collapsed and you are beyond hope of rescue. In this case, finding a permanent home is what’s vital, and so Brooks sets out to explore this concept, again using the terrain as a factor, but also looking at how accessible it is, both for yourself and those survivors who would wish to take it.

And so the guide comes to a close. The book however, stumbles on, its back pages acting almost as a prologue to World War Z, as in this section we get to examine accounts of outbreaks over thousands of years, and how these tie together. Here again, we see how Brooks can make a concept so surreal and unfathomable bite really close to the bone. Whether its asking what really happened to those ancient Egyptian bodies, or how did California find itself in the midst of a concerning outbreak, the stories champion all the good features of the classic zombie horror story.

And truthfully, that is really what Max Brooks delivers. For all of the ‘Dawn of the dead’ remake styled movies that now swarm in the film industry, these books are far closer to what we all identify as zombie. And that’s a good a note to close on as any.