Comic Review – Fairest by Bill Willingham (writer) and Phil Jimenez (art)



Does this man never run out of ideas? I consider myself a fairly creative person, and I write a lot, but Bill Willingham creates at an astounding rate, and happily, this latest addition to the Fables canon, is top notch.

This one combines the stories of Sleeping Beauty and Ali Baba, along with a snippy and somewhat tricksy, Djinn, to great and hilarious effect. It covers all the things you expect from a good Fables stories.

The characters are wise beyond their humble beginnings, sharing wisecracks and insults, the women are strong willed, strong minded, and never averse to taking control, the art is stunning and drives the story on, and the story itself is compelling and filled with twists and turns.

I love Fables because it never takes the easy route, or goes for the obvious choice. This story is no different, zigging when you expect it to zag, and throwing the heroes into all sorts of scrapes.

If you read Fables, you won’t be disappointed with this, nor with the follow up, written by a different author, and in a very different style, telling the tale of Rapunzel in a very different way to the recent Disney movie!

If you don’t read Fables, then this is an excellent introduction. It captures a great deal of the magic and atmosphe

Book Review – Looking for Alaska by John Green


This novel was recommended by one of my students, who knew my love of heartbreak and well-told stories, and I wasn’t disappointed.

The tale is simple, telling the story of a friendless boy who heads for private school  in search of something more. He meets a small, but perfectly formed, group of people who become, surely but steadily, his friends. He also falls in love with the wrong person, a girl named Alaska. She is the sort of girl everyone wishes they met at school, but are glad, in hindsight, that they didn’t. Complex, awkward, and hard to love, Alaska provides the real heart to the story, both for our hero, and for everyone else.

Everything that happens is in some way caused by her, and every thought our hero has, brings him back to her.

I loved this book. I loved the language, simple, yet evocative. I loved the characters, believable, yet with that wonderful touch of magic that makes books like this worth reading. I loved the set-up, hated the twist, but wouldn’t have it any other way. And I loved the little details, the last words the hero is fixated on, the life library that fills Alaska’s shelves, the smoking den down by the river.

Well written, compelling and heart-rending, a great introduction (for me) to an exceptional writer.


Book Review – Neuromancer by William Gibson

Neuromancer Cover

I’d heard nothing about this book until it suddenly cropped up in lots of different places, all within a few weeks. I found a copy and read, having no idea really of what I was stepping into.

The story follows the adventures of a hacker, for want of a better word, one of the new tech kids, capable of interacting with computers on another level from the rest of the world. The downside for him is that he’s crashing, bad, out of hope and bored. Until someone decides to implant him with something very unpleasant in order to get him to carry out a task.

The set-up is simple, and the plot not particularly deep, but the writing is glorious and the concepts fantastic. I had to check a number of times when the book was published, just to make sure. Anyone who thought the Matrix was original, think again. In fact, anyone who thought pretty much any sci-fi based around the internet was original needs to read this.

Having said that, you can have the greatest idea in the world, and if the characters and writing aren’t up to it, it doesn’t matter in the least. I’m happy to say that both stand up to the test. The characterisation is brief, and a little stereotyped, but works within the context of the novel, and I cared enough about both the main character and his girlfriend to need to know the ending.

The writing style I enjoyed very much; colloquial, fast-paced, rule-bending, and perfect for the book. It jumps around, and never lets you settle and creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and dis-ease that, again, suits the novel down to the ground.

Were I to level a criticism at it, I would suggest that the final third of the book, the Straylight run, is perhaps a little overlong, and the final payoff a touch simplistic, but then the ending is always the hardest part.

If you enjoyed Snow Crash (a book I loved) then this is the natural precursor to it, and well worth a read.


Comic Review – Rachel Rising by Terry Moore

Rachel Rising Cover

I should start this by saying that I’m a rabid Terry Moore fan, and will happily bore you for hours should you give me the chance to talk about his work. However, I will also say that, whilst I enjoyed Echo, the series that came before this, it never quite hit the height of Strangers in Paradise for me, so I approached this with excitement but also a little trepidation.

Horror and comics is a combination I haven’t had a great deal of experience with. The walking dead is great, but not scary horror. In fact, there aren’t any ‘proper horror’ comics I can think of, not since Sandman twenty years ago. I am thrilled, and a little creeped-out to announce that Terry Moore does horror as well as he does people, and relationships, and funny.

The story, in a winding way, introduces us to our heroine, who dies, only not really, and her friend, who does much the same. Through her, we discover that the town in which she lives has not always been the peaceful little place it now is. It has a history of terrible happenings, a history which is coming back to haunt it, quite literally.

The question is, why is it scary? Well, first off, the actual ideas are scary. The little girl who kills people, the old dude whose very dead wife still occupies her old armchair, waking up buried. These things work, and are drawn beautifully. It feel cold when I read these comics and walk through the snow with the people who inhabit them.

Secondly, the character reactions, are, once again, spot on. It’s not all mad hysteria, and each person has their own way of reacting, responding to the insane things happening to them. What’s key, is that you believe them, in who they are, and why they do what they do. Except the old dude, he’s just nasty.

Third, the comic medium is again put to excellent use. The more outlandish parts of the story are supported by wonderful  breaking of the panels, whole page reveals and edgy, challenging artwork. Terry also excels in telling moments using silence, a page of nine panels revealing a very simple task that provides lulls in the comic. Even those, though, have my skin crawling as I wait for something to happen.

My best moment so far? The kindly vicar offering a hand to a poor little girl. Such love, such kindness. Hehehe.

I’ve said it before, but if you like comics, you should be reading Terry Moore, and if you like good storytelling, the same applies. I can now happily add to that, if you like horror, you should be reading Terry Moore.


Book Review – Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson

Forge of Darkness Cover

I’ve been a huge fan of Steven Erikson since discovering the Malazan series a few years ago, but there’s always been something missing for me. The one thing needed to take his books from being amazing to being the greatest things I’ve ever read, though to be honest, it’s a pretty close thing already.

With the Kharkanas series, he’s cracked it. All the standards are still there. Epic, dynamic world building, a massive host of characters, all with their own motivations and intrigues and horrible vices, inventive riffs on the fantasy tropes, and of course, the nastiest ideas found in the fantasy universe. But beyond and above all of them, he breathed true and heartrending life into his characters.

I care about the people in the malazan universe, but never so much as I do now about those from the Kharkanas series. For more than one of them, the story is a tragedy, and their tales are built slowly, from sketches into fully formed people for whom I cried and loved and despaired, and very occasionally, celebrated.

If you like fantasy, and are still curious as to what can be done with it, read this book. If you like to be challenged, to hold a world inside your head and track the many comings and goings of its many denizens, read this book. If you enjoy a writer who puts words together like few have done before him, read this book. And above all, if you like your writing to be character-driven, emotive and powerful, read this book.


Book Review – Night of Knives by Ian C. Esslemont

Whether you are coming to this book ignorant of the Malazan universe, or are well-versed in the wonderful world created by Steven Erikson and Ian C. Esslemont, there is plenty here to enjoy.

The book takes place over the course of one night, the titular ‘Night of Knives’ that is referenced throughout the ten-volume Malazan book of the Fallen that preceded it. The night is dark and stormy, and occasionally purple, but still fast paced and action driven.

We experience the night through the eyes of two unlikely heroes, an old soldier with secrets and a local girl with hidden talents. As the two stumble from event to event, ignorant of what is happening around them, we get the bigger picture. Reading the Malazan books before this adds weight to the goings-on, but isn’t necessary to enjoy the characters’ many encounters, or the epic stuff going on in the background.

The characters are relatively simple, but thoroughly likable and endearing. The action is, for the most part, effective and moments like the fight between Temper, (the soldier) and one of the hounds creates real tension and atmosphere.

To be picky, I found some of the prose a little awkward. Occasional overuse of words (opalescent comes to mind) did make the more descriptive passages feel a little over-written, but never to the detriment of the pace.

I wasn’t completely gripped, nor did I lose myself as I have in Erikson’s writing, but it was an easy, fun read, which is no bad thing.