Archive for torture

33AD: A Vampire Novel By David McAfee – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 24, 2013 by stanleyriiks

I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a book that has so many problems. But I did rather enjoy this.

The Romans have taken control of Jerusalem, but the Jewish population aren’t happy about it. A young rabbi named Jesus is causing problems. And a vampire assassin is loose in the city…

Romans, vampires and Jesus. What more could you ask for?

The story begins as a kind of murder mystery as Roman Legionary Taras sets out in search of the murderer of two city guards. He comes across a Vampire Gatehouse, although he doesn’t know what it is, when he follows a man suspected of the murders. That man isn’t a man at all, but a vampire assassin, sent out by the Council of Thirteen to rid the world of any that know about their secret.

What follows is conspiracy, betrayal, murder, lies, more conspiracy, bloodshed, torture, another conspiracy, and treachery.

McAfee doesn’t lack ambitious, the plot involves various nefarious doings and plots by the main characters, and he manages to imbue this ancient world with a realism that holds. The action is plentiful and keeps the pace of the story going along fast enough to take your mind from the various small problems the book has.

And now we come to those problems… As a small-press book you don’t expect the sheen and polish you would expect from a major publisher, so the many typos can be forgiven. The stupidity of some of the characters and their actions becomes a little tedious as it continues throughout the book. The predictability of many of the plot “twists” and ease with which everything falls into place, calling into question the presence of an editor’s firm hand, become sigh-worthy by the end of the book.

There are times when this book will make you groan, as the writer writes himself into a corner and then must abuse his plot to find his way out; there are times when you will sigh with frustration, knowing what is going to happen before the hapless characters falls into the obvious trap or plot twist; and there are times when you will want to scream at the writer to not repeat himself, again, and just get on with telling the story.

And yet these are minor foibles that do take away from the book, but don’t ruin it. This is still an enjoyable romp. With the steading hand of a good editor and a bit of rewriting, this could be a bloody excellent book.

Action, violence, vampire conspiracies, Roman soldiers, lust, murder and Jesus. Surely you can’t want more than that? Shows great promise, and it’s not too difficult to look past the problems and enjoy this lusty, bloodthirsty tale.


HARBINGER OF THE STORM By Aliette de Bodard – Reviewed

Posted in Morpheus Tales Magazine, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by stanleyriiks

With the kind permission of Morpheus Tales. This review will appear in the April issue of the  MT Supplement.

You know how sometimes when you meet someone for the first time, for absolutely no reason that you can put your finger on, you have an instant dislike – like a kind of anti-chemistry – and as you get to know them a little better you find out your initial instinct was complete and absolutely correct? (Lots of people who meet me for the first time get this impression.) That’s what happened with this book.

It should have been fine. A murder mystery set in Aztec Mexico at the height of the Aztec empire, somewhere around the fifteen century. Sounds interesting enough. Except that it’s really not. It’s not a murder mystery for a start; it’s more a political drama with a few deaths and murders thrown in. This is not Poirot. The story is much more reminiscent of Macbeth or Hamlet as it follows of the political intrigues when the ruler dies and his replacement must be found.

The minutiae of finding the new leader is epic, on a scale that even those not taking an instant dislike to, will find hard to bare. De Bodard, in her afterword, says herself that the process would likely have been shorter than she’d written it. Of course it would. The only things that would feel longer would have been having my fingernails removed with pliers, or my testicles boiled on a low heat.

One of the problems with the book is that you just don’t care. The characters, with their incomprehensible and mispronounce-able names, are interchangeable, having no distinguishing characteristics. The fact that half of them are priests and the other half are imperial family doesn’t help matters. There’s so little tension that a couple of deaths acts only to wake you up a little.

The fantastic Aztec Mexican setting is ruined by keeping everything within the courtly areas of the temples. There’s no jungle, no danger, no atmosphere. The Aztec setting, rather than spicing things up just adds to the confusion with the many-syllable names and a little of their religion. For one of the most blood-thirsty warrior nations in the world there’s little blood-shed, only once is sacrifice mentioned, and there’s absolutely nothing to help alleviate the boredom.

Can a book really be that bad? Everything good you might imagine should be contained in this book has somehow been removed. It’s rather like my mother’s cooking, when at her worse she manages to remove everything that’s good from every single ingredient until what you end up with is a vapid, insipid, flavourless slop. De Bodard seems to have fashioned this book in the same way. What should work just does not, and it doesn’t work unrelentingly. A failure of epic proportions, but a book that can be read. Probably the worst book I remember finishing, but finish it I did, and I feel quite proud to have suffered such torment and survived. I can only hope that Volume 1 in the Obsidian and Blood series was very different, and that the following third volume won’t make the same mistakes as the second.

Of course there are worse fates than having to read this book again, waterboarding or the aforementioned bollock boiling. Both of which I would recommend before attempting to read this.

THE WASP FACTORY By Iain Banks – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 21, 2010 by stanleyriiks

Oh my god! Fans of Watership Down should not read this book. In fact, fans of cute bunny rabbits, or pets of most kinds, should not read this book. It is damaging. It is brutal and twisted and absolutely marvellous.

The listverse has this book listed in their top ten most disturbing novels, and remarkably, I think they may be right.

Entering the world of Frank, a teenager who lives with his father on a small isle in Scotland, and who entertains himself by killing things, taking revenge, getting drunk and dealing with his crazy brother who has escaped from a mental hospital and is heading home. Frank also has some issues because his penis was bitten off when he was three years old while his youngest and now dead (murdered by Frank) brother was born. Frank is about seventeen, and has been a killer for about ten years.

The Wasp Factory of the title is another of Frank’s torture devices, where he puts in a wasp and kills it in some unique way, burning them to death, spiking them, and all manner of other imaginative ways. Each way telling him the future like some kind of murderous divining machine (Jigsaw would have been proud).

As we delve further into Frank’s thoughts, dreams, and history, through his first person narration, the twisted reality continues to unravel. This is truly an insight into a diseased and disturbed mind, but what makes it even worse is that Frank is a sociopath, not believing he is doing anything wrong. Quite frightening really, especially as he sees his brother’s nefarious activities in a much different light. Burning rabbits good, burning dogs bad; obviously.

Deviously clever, ridiculously evil, and remarkably disturbing. This is the type of fun that makes you feel immensely guilty for enjoying it. It should definitely carry a mental health warning.

THE BROKEN SWORD By Poul Anderson – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 17, 2010 by stanleyriiks

The story begins when Scafloc, born of Orm  and Aelfrida, is stolen from his human parents by an Elf doing a favour for a witch, and replaced with a troll-child who looks exactly the same.

Only years later is it revealed that the child – Valgard –  Orm and Aelfrida have brought up isn’t there own, but by then it is too late, as Valgard kills his brothers after being tricked into it by that witch who had him swapped all those years ago.

As Valgard comes to realise his true troll nature he joins with the troll forces as they attempt to take over all the Elf lands, enslaving them and torturing Imric, the Elf father to Scafloc.

Fantasy-operas don’t get much more convoluted than this! What starts out as a nice fairy tale swiftly becomes a full-on drama, throwing in family histories, incest and all sorts. Of course, this doesn’t detract from the remarkable pace of the book, as Scafloc attempts to stop the troll invasion and must take the broken sword of the title to the gods to have it fixed.

Anderson creates a world of great depth, and his characters almost breathe, the fine-line between cold, hard elf and human warmth is balanced well in Scafloc, just distant enough to be different, but mortal enough to be relatable.

The depth of the writing, and Anderson’s concise style, make this book feel like an epic, despite it being only a little over two hundred pages, but that’s not to say this book feels long. It feels vast, the description of the story above barely covers half of it, but to describe more would give away secrets that are so worthy of discovery it doesn’t feel right to divulge them.

This book feels like an ancient epic, a story told orally and kept alive through generations by its retelling. Here Anderson puts his own mark on the tale of the war between the trolls and the elves, and such a mark it is.

KELL’S LEGEND By Andy Remic – Reviewed

Posted in Morpheus Tales Magazine, Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 31, 2010 by stanleyriiks

How do you create a possible successor to one of the greatest fantasy characters to ever live? I’m obviously talking about sword and sorcery legend Conan. The Cimmerian Barbarian has entertained readers for eighty years, and film goers for thirty. There hasn’t been a new Conan novel for a long time, but if you read any of the Tor novels you’ll find them remarkably similar – a plot on rails with very little imagination.

Conan is a prototypical fantasy barbarian, with well-known characteristics that many have tried to emulate.

Kell’s departure from these characteristics is what makes this story work so well. He’s a grumpy old man, a warrior past his prime and discarded by society, hiding away in a small northern town where he makes soup and is visited by his granddaughter, Nienna. After one such visit, the ears of the old warrior prickle as he hears screams. His door is kicked in by albino warriors who bleed white blood when he kills them using his trusted blood-bond axe, Ilanna, and the fight is on to save Nienna. It soon becomes clear that the albino soldiers are part of an invading army, and Kell is joined in his cause by a seducer and popinjay Saark, who’s more interested in saving his own skin and bedding Nienna or her friend Kat.

The invasion is led by General Graal, a leader of the Vachine, a race part vampire part machine. Graal is a cruel and twisted warrior who will stop at nothing to capture the entire human race, so that he and his people may feed.

Kell is a hero for the modern era, complete with idiosyncrasies, a deep and troubled history, and dealing with his own set of problems whilst struggling desperately to survive. The other characters in the novel are also very well drawn, and as the world gradually expands on their voyage, so too does the world become more detailed.

This book isn’t read as much as it is experienced. It draws you in deeply in the first hundred pages and then, as more and more dangers are thrown at our band, you feel you are surviving with them. Remic isn’t afraid to kill off a great character or throw in another challenge to spice things up and ramp up the tension. You can’t help feeling like you have to hold on tight just to stay on for the ride. It’s that tension and excitement that make the book stand out. There is real danger here. In most fantasies you know that the main characters are always safe because they have to appear in the next book, but although this is Book I of the Clockwork Vampire Chronicles, it’s not the Tales of Kell chronicles and you really do believe that at any moment another character could be killed. There’s an evil and twisted streak to Remic, which not only gives us added danger (and a little torture), but also provides the grim humour that is sadly lacking for many modern fantasy novels.

Okay, so it’s not perfect. For a start, you have to wait for the second instalment. (Grr! I have no patience.) There are far more typos than you would expect from a major publishing house and this can be bothersome, but not overly so. Also, the start of the story is a little slow, but only for the first couple of chapters and then it’s full speed ahead!

Kell’s Legend is a rare book. It’s one of those reads that makes you sit up and slaver with excitement. It has the page-turning quality of a thriller, the depth of an epic, the kind of protagonist that comes round one in a lifetime, and a story that twists and turns like a snake. It’s imaginative, brilliant, exciting, amazing, and truly inspiring. Yeah, I really did fucking love this book!

The cliffhanger ending will leave you on the edge of your seat begging for the next instalment. This series has the potential to be truly legendary and I really can’t wait for the next chapter.

This review appeared in Morpheus Tales 8 Reviews Supplement:

DOCTOR NO By Ian Fleming – Reviewed

Posted in Reviews, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 27, 2009 by stanleyriiks

It’s difficult to read a James Bond book and think about it critically. Bond is a character I grew up with, and still want to emulate! I couldn’t help but watch the true James Bond (Roger Moore, come on people!) seducing women, killing baddies and quipping while they die, an eyebrow raised mischievously. Having grown up with the films, in the same way I grew up with the Conan novels, I can’t help but cherish them and know that no matter how life changes, they will always have a place in my heart.

I’ve probably seen the Doctor No film, or at least bits of it, dozens of times. Some of the scenes are so familiar they are instantly recognisable, although I’m pretty sure I’ve never actually watched Ursula Andreas walk up the beach in her bikini.

But the books are slightly different, as you would expect. Moonraker bares little if any resemblance to the original novel.

I can’t remember the film enough to do a critique of the development of novel into film and I’d prefer not to. People with too much time on their hands can do that while I simply offer my opinion on a book that cleverly encompasses the extremes and thrills of the pulp era, whilst nodding towards the realism and action of the modern thriller. That’s what sets the Bond novels apart from many of their contemporaries, such as Chandler. There’s still a healthy dose of nostalgia for earlier times, a retro pulp action-thriller feel to the novels.

When two secret agents go missing in Jamaica, Bond is sent in to investigate, with the help of Quarrel Bond finds himself on an isolated island owned by the mysterious Doctor No, who protects his privacy by murdering all trespassers. Bond meets up with a young innocent girl, Honeychile, who turns up naked on the beach searching for shells in the area. Unfortunately Doctor No’s troops are alerted to their presence and set out to find them, and the poor girl is dragged into a cat and mouse chase across the island, until they are eventually caught by a dragon!

The pulp tradition is strong in this novel, our hero is tortured by the mad genius, and must go through a series of hideously painful challenges, which even include fighting a giant squid. But where Bond moves the genre forward is the level of detail and the general realism that Fleming uses to describe his hero and the situations he faces, and his weapons.

Bond is the essence of the modern pulp hero, he’s courageous, he’s strong and intelligent, and despite the backing of the British Secret Service, he’s on his own fighting all manner of super villains. In the same way that Batman or The Spider fight crime, with his hands, his ingenuity and his weapons, Bond is also a superhero in the same league, having no special powers (apart from his own God-given abilities) and fighting crime simply because it’s wrong and must be stopped.

Fleming’s original books have dated, just as the original Batman comics and the adventures of The Spider, Fu Manchu and Charlie Chan have also dated, but they were a product of their time, and that’s what still makes them so powerful. Because back then there was hope that one man could make a difference, and that’s why I find these pulp characters so appealing. There’s no modern cynicism to get in the way of the innocent enjoyment of the books and comics and films.

Bond lives forever, unstoppable, in the hearts of his fans, and that’s why he continues to live on through his many different incarnations, but the original books will also live on forever.