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Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie

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It was the end of the swinging sixties. 
That day, like so many others, the London sky was sad like a cold cup of tea.
The nasty rain rattled tediously at my windowpane.
I was waiting for my new tenants to show up and inhabit me.

Haddon Hall was the Gothic Victorian mansion in Beckenham where Bowie and his first wife Angie lived from 1969 to 1972. Accompanying them at various times were a random crew of musicians: people who moved in and out of their lives. Bowie, of course, was the most significant resident of Haddon Hall - even at that point - although he was still working out who he would be.

David and Angie rented the ground floor flat, which had (according to Angie, in later interviews) been previously home to some professors and their 27 cats. It was in Haddon Hall that Bowie crossed over into Ziggy Stardust territory, finally embracing his weird; accepting that he was more than just the guy who played at the local pub three times a week.

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Getting Familiar With Zombies - Afterlife With Archie

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There are certain genres with which audiences are so familiar that it seems impossible to create something really new. It’s rare to find a romance, for instance, that doesn’t follow the familiar pattern of boy-meets-girl, boy and girl get together, something comes between boy and girl before a final reconciliation.

Teen movies ending in the big game or big dance has become so formulaic that teen movie parodies are now almost a bigger genre than the original source. Classic monster horror, bound by such narrow constraints, is a genre in which things grow increasingly stale. This is perhaps particularly true of zombies whose specific conventions prevent much experimentation; 28 Days Later and World War Z may have been refreshingly new, but they also bent convention so far as to be dismissed by purists. How then, does one take two stale genres in this case zombies and teen-romance (look how that worked out!) and create something with impact and excitement?

Well, to everyone’s surprise, the answer came from Archie Comics.

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A Closed and Common Orbit, Moonraker's Bride and The Season

Moonrakers BrideHappy almost Valentine's Day!

To celebrate, three very different romances: a contemporary space opera (kinda), a globe-trotting adventure (kinda), and a Regency romance (kinda). Love is in the air, and it is not so easily classified. 

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Madeline Brent's Moonraker's Bride (1973) is another of the award-winning novelist's semi-Gothic, globe-trotting, quasi-Victorian escapades. I'm slightly obsessed with Brent's books ever since discovering that 'she' is the pen name for Peter O'Donnell, who also wrote the action series Modesty Blaise. The obsession has now paid off with a handful of really delightful books, of which Moonraker's is one. 

Lucy Waring, our heroine, is born overseas, an orphan in a remote Himalayan village. This means she's got practical skills (including yak-herding!) and an adventurous spirit... but is completely on the back foot in British society. The combination means she can be shy, but courageous, and supremely competent... yet also in constant need of rescuing. This is the delicate balance that Brent creates in all 'her' books, and it might be at its most delicate in Moonraker's. Further familiar twists include the circumstantial-marriage-that-could-be-real-love, family secrets, and a lot of ponderously-delivered pop psychology.

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The Wizards and the Warriors & The Kings of the Wyld

Wizards and the WarriorHugh Cook's The Wizards and the Warriors (1987) has one of those timelessly awful late-1980s covers, and a generic cover quote - saying it'd be perfect for fans of David Eddings. In hindsight, someone in marketing really dropped the ball on this one. Maybe in the heady days of the 1980s, when Eddings was Martin, all you needed was a quest and a sword to earn that comparison. But for fantasy readers - or, hell, Eddings fans - buying the book on the strength of this platitude, Cook's debut must've come as one hell of a shock.

Wizards is, sort of, about a quest to stop an evil sorcerer. Kinda. We begin mid-journey, as three wizards have trekked halfway across the world in search of a fourth - a traitor that has unearthed an ancient artifact of doomslinging. Ostensibly linear, Wizards whirls about like the Tasmanian Devil. First, a pair of strapping mercenary warriors - in service to a corrupt local Prince - are recruited. But, well, not first, as they have their own problems to deal with before they can be convinced to join.

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Erin Lindsey's Bloodbound is back, still great

BloodboundErin Lindsey's Bloodbound was first published in 2014. The trilogy, continued with Bloodforged and concluded last year with Bloodsworn. The series is now - finally - out in the UK, which gives me an excuse to rave about it again. 

Here's how Bloodbound starts: a cavalry charge.

Alix Black, one of the scouts for the Kingdom of Alden, is watching a battle unfold. Her king is being overwhelmed by the invading forces of the Oridian empire, and, much to her horror, she can see that the King's brother is very much not executing his part of the plan. Treason is afoot, and both the King and the Kingdom are at risk.

In move that defines Alix - and to some degree, the entire series - Alix plunges recklessly into battle. There's only the slimmest chance of victory. Hell, there's only a fractional chance of survival, but Alix makes up her mind, trusts her gut and goes barrelling forward. 

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The Face in the Frost and The Obsessed

The Face in the Frost
The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs
(1969) is an oft-overlooked fantasy classic. Two elderly wizards - Prospero and Roger Bacon - meander across the North and South Kingdoms in search of a cure for some ill-defined metaphysical curse that's plaguing the land. The evil is deliberately vague, and all the more horrifying for it: an ancient tome is being read by a dark-hearted wizard, and badness is spilling forth. From damp moths to off-putting mists to an ominous sense of malaise, Bellairs excels at conveying an implicit wrongness that is more atmosphere than overt threat.

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A Planet for Texans and The School for Good and Evil

A Planet for Texans

Lone Star Planet (A Planet for Texans) by H. Beam Piper (1958) has been skulking on my shelf for ages, and, I'm pleased to say, there's (slightly) more to it than just a goofy cover. In the far future, the entire population of Texas has picked up to go settle a frontier planet - they're keen to get away from the rules and regulations and gov'mints and such. Our hero, the plucky ambassador from the Solar League, has been tasked to woo them back. There's an alien invasion on the horizon and New Texas would be better 'in the tent pissing out'... at least, so the League think.

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