Jun 042015

When I started Department 19 it felt like a very well done but pretty standard hero’s journey story: Young teenager discovers a secret government department hunting vampires and of course he’s got a place in it.

What’s evolved over five books is something much richer and much darker – the final volume should be humanity’s war against Dracula – a war for its very survival. But humanity has to face a darker enemy: itself. Humankind has done horrible things in the name of – or under the cover of – war, and despite being a YA book, Hill doesn’t shy away from humanity’s horror.

Jun 012015

Ian Sales has finished his Apollo Quartet, and the final book is brilliant. You should read the first three first, as they will loop you into this series of worlds all linked by the Apollo programme, all four obsessively researched, in very slightly alternate histories.

The fourth book focusses on the wife of an astronaut going into space, and she has, as a shameful – to him – secret: she is a science fiction writer. The book is gorgeous, a bit longer than the novella-length of the other three – fulfilling this conceptual series, and serving as an exquisite capstone to the quartet.

May 252015

1968, Chicago. Thirteen year old Sam is the son of a prominent civil rights activist, a protegée of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but the Black Panthers have come to town; his older brother Stick believes in their message.

What’s amazing about this book is how it does not fulfil expectations: Hollywood will never pick up this script, because it doesn’t portray anyone as right, wrong, good, or evil. There are complex choices to be made, as in life, and their effects will be measured in human souls and blood. Buy it for a young person. Read it.

May 252015

I came to this first-in-a-trilogy after reading its sequel Cataveiro – there isn’t much in the way of spoilers and it’s perfectly comprehensible. Osiris is a city at sea, cut off from a world presumed dead. It’s overcrowded but Osiris’ hereditary families live lives of unimaginable luxury whilst the western poor struggle, staying awake at night to avoid dying of the cold. A westerner and an easterner meet and fall into an uneasy alliance. This is a political story of people using and being used, of betrayal, corruption, and power. It’s a very strong opener, though less polished than its sequel.

May 222015

This is an odd creature of a book: it’s based around Trace Italian, a massive turn-based story game, created by a recluse who became terribly disfigured as a young man. Imagine Zork, but played by post. The world and the game sound fascinating as the story uncovers the past of Sean Phillips – it’s not a particular surprise but the unfolding is the interesting bit – and the details of the two all-too-young players of Trace Italian who have died mysteriously. The book unfolds in reverse, and it’s a real pleasure to read, but it doesn’t stick long after it’s gone.

May 202015

These books shouldn’t be my thing, but I enjoyed this very much. The first two were enjoyable in the way that you could watch the craft of the writer evolve – the second book just felt more polished than the first – and Curran’s Glaze is a triumph, but this took me by surprise.

The second in this series ended on a major cliffhanger – something that, given the central conceit of the plot, should have been straightforward to sort, but Curran is never one to take the easy way out: this book is good, and makes the series excellent, rather than enjoyable.

May 182015

Megan Abbott is the queen of creepyweirdawfulcompelling. The last book I read of hers made me want to take my skin off and scrub the inside of it clean before putting it back on – this one’s no different. An illness taking hold of girls in a school – it could be an STD or a plague or, quite possibly, something out of a science fiction film. Abbot’s books are a dissection of the ambient horror of modern suburban lifestyle, and this may be her best book yet. It’s awful, not for everyone, but you’ll at least admire the craft of it.

May 152015

The fourth in Will Hill’s excellent Department 19.

Horror and action aren’t really my cups of tea. NEVERTHELESS I’m a fan of Will Hill’s books. They fill the gap that can be read as “mindless fun”, but they’re more than that.

The crux of the story: Van Helsing et al were real – and set up Department 19, the secret bit of the (UK) government that hunts vampires. They were winning, but now they’re losing.

Terrorism, torture, GCHQ, propaganda, and drug policy take centre stage, as in an allegory. Fun books – with a little bit more thought than strictly necessary.

May 132015

Lou Merriweather is a psychopomp in 1860s San Francisco: She’s androgyne, (allegedly) unattractive, mixed-race Chinese and English, and she unhaunts houses for a living. The first scene shows us her personality: a bit of a rogue, and a woman who isn’t afraid to be mistaken for a man.

She has to leave San Francisco, however, to chase down the disappearing Chinese immigrants, gone seeking work. On the way she’ll befriend bears and make enemies – it’s a rip-snorter of a book that blends action and adventure with a minimum of bodice-ripping. It manages to be progressive

and entertaining all at once.

May 112015

Beautifully enjoyable dustpunk (very) weird western: In an alt-American-Western setting, instead of science you have demons bound up. They heat water for steam. They expand and push bullets. They may – or may not – corrupt a bit of your soul each time you use it. Jacobs has honourable mercenaries riding alongside a ship filled with nobles – there’s as much Rome in the world as John Wayne. In the background are the inscrutable stretchers – the superhuman natives with their own agenda, inscrutable and confusing, but they seem to have a strong moral code – just their own. Fascinating stuff, and very good indeed.