Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Empire Rising by Sam Barone

I must admit to being initially disappointed by this novel. It purports to be historical fiction set at the dawn of civilisation, a period of history about which I know very little but would like to learn more. Unfortunately the only history in this novel is a few names of people and places borrowed from the real history of the Akkadian empire. Everything else is pure Hollywood style fiction. A Connecticut Yankee at the birth of civilisation if you like. Apart from a few gratuitous sex scenes neither Gary Cooper nor Jimmy Stewart would be out of place in this novel.

However ...

Once you get over the lack of any real history the book turns out to be an entertaining read with plenty of action and intrigue and a few big battles thrown in for good measure. I think I will put Barone on my B-list of heroic fantasy. This novel never comes close to the brilliance of David Gemmell but there is enough in it to justify picking up the other books in the series. I should point out that I inadvertently skipped the first book of Barone's Akkadian series: Dawn of Empire but this second book reads just fine as a stand alone novel. .

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Moshin Hammad: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

This award winning short novel left me feeling somewhat dissatisfied. It concerns the tale of a bright young Pakistani who graduates top of his class from a top US college and aspires to a glittering career in the world of business only to crash headlong into the new realities and new world visions that came about following the events of September 11. This is a higely important topic but unfortunately I found it very hard to empathise with the main character. His subsequent actions struck me as being the height of idiocy. The main motivation that comes across from the novel is a self centred self destructive jealousy. In Hammad's favour I should acknowledge his clever device of putting the reader into the book as listener to the tale being related by the main protagonist. This works well and by the end of the short novel you are no longer just a listener but active participant. Sadly this ending , though clever, is not enough to rescue the rest of the unsatisfying story.

Tad Williams: Otherland, Sea of Silver Light

Final volume of this terrific saga resolves all plot threads and ties everything up very satisfactorily. All in all I highly recommend this saga as an entertaining mix of fantasy, Sci Fi with a dash of cyberpunk thrown in for good measure. The virtual world setting allows all of those elements to fit together seamlessly. Be warned though that these books are long, far far longer indeed than is required to flesh out the plot. The pay-off for for wading through all 4000 plus pages though is a story filled with extremely well drawn characters. Williams populates his stories with credible living breathing actors who are a far cry from the shallow stereotypes that normally fill genre novels.

Tad Williams: Otherland Mountain of Black Glass

This third novel in the Otherland saga is a big improvement on the second. Having set the scene and fleshed out his characters in the first two volumes Williams is free to advance the plot once more and he does so masterfully. Very entertaining and with a few unexpected twists thrown in for good measure.