Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Burton's return to Africa

If you have been browsing my blog over the last couple years you know how much I've enjoyed the alternate history steampunk Albertan era adventures of Burton and Swinburne and this third novel was just as good if not the best if the trio of books. Expedition to the Mountains if the Moon is a culmination of all the promises made throughout the series taking Sir Richard and his ever entreating cast of agents, metal men, bobbies and such back to Africa and towards that elusive source of the Nile and the source of the current and future woes. Though the other volumes were complete tales all of their own this one picks up on the dangling threads throughout and resolves questions I had in very satisfying ways and opening all new ones. This story is one of the roughest on it's players and though it's hard on them the overall tale is stronger for it. Of all the steampunk out there and I've loved all of it I've read this is the series that gets my most enthusiastic vote.

Expedition follows mainly Richard Burton and is broken up chapter wise between three separate time periods reading it is like piecing together obe larger mystery puzzle. The separate Burtons stories often foreshadow one another but for reasons that become pretty evident don't really reference each other much till the climax of the novel. Even though at moments you know the tragedy to come to one Burton the emotional impacts seem stronger rather then weaker for the foreshadowing. In the period closest to the other books events start with a botched assassination attempt prompting a Holmes-ish like little myster and chase tale and culminates in an expedition to Africa in a race with the continential forces allies against the British. The second era is an alternate Great War pitting the forces of the technologists vs the eugenicists, the continental vs the decimated remains if the British and involves another expedition across Africa and more famous historical guest stars then you'd expect going in both old friends and wonderfully new. The third I'll leave readers to encounter on their own.

Mark Hodder has been great about tantalising us with little details of real and alter history from the first volume on. In the first he gave us the urban mythic Spring Heeled Jack and in the second he played lots with the Victorian (well our Victorian) fad of mysticism, occultism, the hoaxes of the fairie pictures, the famous Madame Blavatski and the bizarre Titchbone affair. This time around is no different but he pretty much pushes all the envelopes to the breaking point. His creations make me jealous not just that he thought them up bur makes all his fun and fabulous concepts plausible and Lovecrafty horrible at the same time.

The gonzo travels and trials faced by the gathered agents, police, scientists, flying squad, and soldiers leave no one unaffected. This is as I said in the beginning a rough book for his cast and as in The Strange Affair Mark pulls no punches and the novel is stronger for it. I don't think it a spoiler to say major characters make very final sacrifices in Expedition and there are some shockingly tear evoking moments. I enjoyed the tragic along with the heroic, the great pulpy adventure along with the heartfelt moments. Mark as I said hits all the right notes with me by making the hard choices and giving a truly satisfying and dark finale to this novel.

Further I have read that Pyr have contracted Mr Hodder to write more Burton and Swinburne novels.... I want more.... eventhough I'm curious as to where things go from here....

I received my copy from Pyr for review...

And now the blurb from Pyr

CONTINUING THE HIT STEAMPUNK SERIES!It is 1863, but not the one it should be. Time has veered wildly off course, and now the first moves are being made that will lead to a devastating world war and the fall of the British Empire.The prime minister, Lord Palmerston, believes that by using the three Eyes of Naga—black diamonds possessing unique properties—he’ll be able to manipulate events and avoid the war. He already has two of the stones, but the third is hidden somewhere in the Mountains of the Moon, the fabled source of the Nile.Palmerston sends Sir Richard Francis Burton to recover it. For the king’s agent, it’s a chance to redeem himself after his previous failed attempt to find the source of the great river. That occasion had led to betrayal by his partner, John Hanning Speke. Now Speke is leading a rival expedition on behalf of the Germans, and it seems that the battle between the former friends may ignite the very war that Palmerston is trying to avoid!Caught in a tangled web of cause, effect, and inevitability, little does Burton realize that the stakes are far higher than even he suspects.A final confrontation comes in the mist-shrouded Mountains of the Moon, in war- torn Africa of 1914, and in Green Park, London, where, in the year 1840, Burton must face the man responsible for altering time: Spring Heeled Jack!Burton and Swinburne’s third adventure is filled with eccentric steam-driven technology, grotesque characters, and bizarre events, completing the three-volume story arc begun in The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack and The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man.

You can find Mark Hodders website here

and links to stores follow

Monday, August 13, 2012

You and me and him against Them....

The Wolf Age for me was predominately a book about friendship, the bonds that grow between people who suffer indignity together and the strength they can draw from one another. This book for all its grim gritty noirish sword and sorcery action and artifacts felt very personal and I had a great amount of empathy for many of its characters no matter how small a part they may have had. James managed to mix genres and folklore in ways that I really could not predict the direction the third adventure of Morlock Ambrosious would take and that is hard to do with sword and sorcery that feels so much like Moorcock or Liber's iconic stories. I wholeheartedly recommend reading James Enge's sometimes enigmatic heros tales but with the caveat that this is not the story to start with.

Here is the blurb from Pyr:

"Spear-age, sword-age:
shields are shattered.
Wind-age, wolf-age:
before the world founders
no man will show mercy to another."

Wuruyaaria: city of werewolves, whose raiders range over the dying northlands, capturing human beings for slaves or meat. Wuruyaaria: where a lone immortal maker wages a secret war against the Strange Gods of the Coranians. Wuruyaaria: a democracy where some are more equal than others, and a faction of outcast werewolves is determined to change the balance of power in a long, bloody election year.

Their plans are laid; the challenges known; the risks accepted. But all schemes will shatter in the clash between two threats few had foreseen and none had fully understood: a monster from the north on a mission to poison the world, and a stranger from the south named Morlock Ambrosius.

James Enge has so many great little and big surprises in store for readers in The Wolf Age its hard to write about the cool stuff without spoilers and since I enjoyed the reveals I don't want to say too much. I will say that when I was only a third into the nearly 500page adventure I wanted to go back to the start just to experience it all again and revisit events which I am sure I missed things. His writing is as many reviewers write akin to the noir masters; his prose is not overworked, plots move fast with wit, snappy dialogue and he pulls no punches with the grim and dark events.

So what are you getting from The Wolf Age...

Among the numerous schemers in this novel the main orchestrators are the conceptual Strange Gods; they remind me of the endless from Neil Gaimens Sandman. They are very human like embodiments of concepts like war, wisdom, justice, stupidity death and play a similar manipulative roll in The Wolf Age as do the Greek gods in the Illiad. They appear at times in the story as viewpoint characters revealing plot elements outside the other players or giving a different view of events once to oddly funny scene descriptions.

James created an entire culture of all were-wolves building a consistently interesting and fascinating society driven both by animal instincts and human seeming ideas of democracy and progress. The werewolves he created get to exist outside our modern world they are allowed to be fully in tune with both if their natures even if some of them cant fully change into both their forms. The were-characters we get to really know are just as driven, quirky, funny, and tragic as any human (or whatever other race again fantasy) I encountered in James' stories. Since they are fast healers and hard to kill the scenes that happen while the three main heroes of the story suffer a lit of pretty nasty damage making the prison scenes and even the escape very cringeworthy and grizzly.

And Morlock Ambrosious, well if you've not encountered him yet he is a names sword weilding, artefact creating, ambidextrous swordsman wizard who has been a hero, a killer, a notorious hopeless drunk and a figure of stories used to frighted naughty kids. He is also a man of his own honour and principals. At the beginning of this story he's left behind friends and companions for their protection and is in a bleak mood but gets drawn into a net cast by the strange gods and others and shown what hitting rock bottom can be like... Again. He's a long lived character, heals much better then humans (more fodder for the prison scenes) and prone to manic bursts of creative fervour and deep depressions. He's complicated and though a viewpoint character remains tantalisingly enigmatic though I felt I knew him. He is driven in this story by his strong feeling for his blood bonded friends and they to him so the tragedies that occur hurt all the more.

The Wolf Age is both one of the roughest books I read this year on terms if the wringer the characters went through. I loved reading about Morlock and his faithful wolf brothers of choice; the tale is a full heroes journey for the lot of them and it's one I want to read again.

As an addendum : there are several awful things that happen in this novel that happen as a direct result of choices characters make; characters pay permanent prices for their actions or inactions and just as the friendships are a core element of the plot so are mistakes they make.

You can find James Enge's website here and a free Morlock story at Pyr's website here.
I received my copy from Pyr for review
Here are links to places where you can get copies.....

The Wolf Age
by James Enge

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Over the next weekend you can expect two reviews from me. Over the last six months I've read a mail bags worth of books and plan to hit them with some regularity; I'm trying to catch up somewhat with my enormous backlog.... So I'm now going to go against the grain of my habits...

Of all the books I've yet to touch on from my library I'm going for the ones that hit me the hardest emotionally since my move thus last January. On Saturday I'll be posting the review I'm working on now... The Wolf Age by James Enge.

The Wolf Age is the third Morlock Ambrosious book and though it's the first I'm reviewing it is most certainly not the first you should read ( I will be reviewing the others very very soon so watch the feed). Wolf Age hit me pretty deeply so I want to give it it's due since it might be my top read this year (and that says a lot since I loved Wise Man's Fear.....)

Come Monday or Tuesday at latest I'll be reviewing the third Burton and Swineburne novel Expedition to the Mountains of the Moon.

Both if these books rank among the roughest books I've read this year... I mean this in that the authors put the characters through hell in their respective books....

You can guess I'm pretty enamoured of both these books but that's my point with my blog to write about what I love...

Once I write what I love I'll be doing a Deadwood stories blog......

Till then...