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Review: The Rage Wars – Book One: Predator – Incursion by Tim Lebbon

Predator Incursion

Hey everyone, Dave here.:)

I had high expectations for this after reading Tim’s excellent Star Wars novel, and Tim managed to knock even my expectations aside.

The characters in this are superbly written and fleshed out, with their own believable motivations – quite a feat, considering that Incursion is also a fast-paced novel which expands along two different timelines, includes a lot of cool, new information on the Colonial Marines, the Predators and other groups, and has plenty of awesome action.

One of my favourite characters -introduced in the very beginning of the novel- has an interesting, important and ever-building arc which ties her to basically all of the novel’s events, while the other characters unravel the mystery of the novel’s premise is different, attention-holding ways. Most never meet but all have an important part to play.

The Predators were awesome handled – they remain the powerful, incredibly dangerous and mysterious race we have come to like and yet Tim also deepens their mystery while adding more layers to their society. Tim really should be the go-to guy if Titan wants a Predators-only novel.

The action was frenetic and brutal, as we’ve come to expect from anything involving the Xenomorphs and the Predators, and the plot is really damned good – Fox should have waited for this novel to arrive; I’m pretty sure they would have been orders of magnitude more successful with this trilogy.

There’s even a link to one of the Predator movies which deepens the immersion into this universe.

All in all, highly recommended! You should definitely be reading this if you’re a fan of this universe. Looking forward to the next novel in the trilogy! 9/10

Predator Incursion

Predator – Incursion was published by Titan Books; the second book in the trilogy, Alien – Invasion will be published this year, so keep an eye on Tim’s and Titan’s websites for more information.

To order your copies, click here for Amazon UK, here for Amazon US, and here if you’re in South Africa.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: The Martian

Back in March, I reviewed this book knowing I would eventually end up seeing the film, which I did!

The_Martian_film_poster

It’s a proven fact that any book-to-movie adaptation is going to divide an audience into those you think it was done well to the point of being fantastic and possibly better than the text, and those who think it was done badly to the point of being a travesty against the written word itself. It’s rare that someone who has enjoyed a book – loved it even – will take the middle ground with the film adaptation. Strangely, I find myself feeling about the movie quite the same way I felt about the book, which is that it’s helluva entertaining, but lacks gravitas, and thus I’m in that liminal middle-ground regarding this adaptation.

The Martian is Ridley Scott in high-gear, not quite Gladiator gear given a few peculiar editing sequences (more noticeable if you’ve read the book) and no breathtaking Hans Zimmer score to accompany it (I honestly could’ve even remember the music in the movie – composed by Harry Gregson-Williams who can certainly compose some awesome scores!). I actually went to the cinema to watch this with my husband who has read the book too and a few other friends, none of whom had read the book – so opinions after the credits rolled were going to be interesting, and I suspected, divisive.

So…

I enjoyed the film. It was funny, managing to capture quite a bit of Mark Watney’s humor while maintaining its PG rating, and Matt Damon did a good job of showing a more emotional-psychological aspect of the character. I still wanted more however. The tone of the film was kept light and breezey, at times even lighter than the book, playing up the absurdity of his situation rather than the serious life-or-death nature of Watney’s every action and decision. Consequently, the movie – like the book – was highly entertaining, but was a little disappointing because it seemed to make his journey appear a lot easier than in the book. What made the book exceptional was how it showed Watney’s thought processes and his step by step ‘applying the scientific method’ approach to everything he did. In the movie, much of his space-MacGyvering is whittled down to Eureka moments that never really show just how intelligent, adaptive, and resourceful the character is in the book. Those who have read the book will undoubtedly be disappointed that certain key parts of the narrative and some particularly nasty mishaps on Mars are left out of the film altogether. Because a lot of the method gets skimmed over, if addressed at all, there are certain things that simply are in the film without any explanation – such as the ‘balloon’ on the rover. This frustrated my friends who hadn’t read the book because they felt like they had missed something, and this frustrated me who had read the book because it was clear the movie-makers had missed something! That said, the scenery is spectacular and at no point did I ever not believe I was actually on Mars. For that reason alone, I am extremely thankful I went to see this on the big screen.

The verdict on this film is much like the verdict on the book: entertaining, engrossing while watching, humorous and good press for NASA and science in general, but not a story that will leave me thinking, pondering existential questions, or haunted by the plight of this lonely astronaut – all things I believe this story should and could’ve done without losing any of its cool sci-fi-ness. Still, this scores 4/5 ink splats.

4 inksplats

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Film Review: Crimson Peak

I don’t think I have ever been this excited to see a ‘horror’ movie before and man was it a disappointment.

*WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD*

crimson

Judging by the trailer, this film was going to be a campy, Gothic horror-fest complete with a haunted house on the bleak British moors and buckets of faux-blood. Actually, I was most excited for this film because it didn’t look all that terrifying (I’m a total wimp when it comes to horror) but looked more Gothic and grotesque, which I adore! So, off to the cinema I went.

Firstly, I remember now why I stopped going to the cinema and would rather wait for films to come out on DVD/streaming-sites. The inconsiderate asses behind me talked non-stop and even took photos of their popcorn (I just can’t even!!) with flash during the freaking movie!! My irritation at the selfish imbeciles behind me no doubt eroded some of the pleasure I might’ve derived from the film.

That said, it took almost an hour’s worth of two-hour run time to even get to the titular Crimson Peak! I thought the entire film was set in this rotting estate replete with bleeding walls, but nope, first we had to endure a bunch of back-story and long-winded set-up. By the time we got to the blood-soaked house, I was almost bored despite the charming good-looks and distinguished awesomeness that is Tom Hiddleston when he plays aristocratic British characters.

Now the house itself was spectacular and well-worth the wait, but what I thought was blood from the trailer was in fact red clay and iron ore leaching into the ground and turning it red – somewhat anti-climactic. And the horror of the house, combined with the appropriately unexpected frights courtesy of ghosts so grotesque they were more humorous than frightening, was pretty much all this film had going for it. I expected a lot from the story. I expected the house to be more, I actually expected it to be sentient. I expected the siblings to have a lot more going on in their past than an almost justified murder of a cruel mother and illicit love affair. Siblings falling in love is no longer as shocking as it used to be. Blame the Lannisters maybe, but this revelation wasn’t a revelation at all and the sort-of love scene between Tom and Lucille was barely a love scene at all, so the whole thing just fell flat for me. The only part of this story that horrified me was that Lucille murdered their mother at 14 when the mother found out her children were lovers. When Lucille was 14, her brother was 12. And they were lovers. People, THAT’S the true horror story!

Despite the underwhelming plot and predictability of the scares, the acting was on point for this penny dreadful-esque story and the cinematography was spectacular. Seriously, I would watch this film again (the second half) just to ogle the scenery and that delightfully dilapidated house.

Perhaps I went into this with my expectations far too high. I may or may not have confused Guillermo del Toro with Terry Gilliam, and when you go into a film thinking Brazil and Tideland only to be met with the guy who did Pacific Rim, well, it was my own fault really. That said, it was still reasonably enjoyable, although I don’t think this will give horror fans the frights they want, and won’t be nearly sinister enough to satisfy Gothic fiction lovers. Basically, Crimson Peak is little more than a flirtation with the macabre that’ll keep yours eyes entertained while you chew on popcorn. A disappointing 2.5/5 ink splats for this.

2.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on October 20, 2015 in Reviews, Video Reviews

 

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Book Review: An Ember in the Ashes

I heard a lot of buzz about this book, particularly noted for its diversity and fresh setting. I couldn’t wait to read it, but when I did, I was left a little shocked to be honest.

*Spoilers ahead – you’ve been warned!*

ember

Laia is a slave.

Elias is a soldier.

Neither is free.

Under the Martial Empire, defiance is met with death. Those who do not vow their blood and bodies to the Emperor risk the execution of their loved ones and the destruction of all they hold dear.

It is in this brutal world, inspired by ancient Rome, that Laia lives with her grandparents and older brother. The family ekes out an existence in the Empire’s impoverished backstreets. They do not challenge the Empire. They’ve seen what happens to those who do.

But when Laia’s brother is arrested for treason, Laia is forced to make a decision. In exchange for help from rebels who promise to rescue her brother, she will risk her life to spy for them from within the Empire’s greatest military academy.

There, Laia meets Elias, the school’s finest soldier—and secretly, its most unwilling. Elias wants only to be free of the tyranny he’s being trained to enforce. He and Laia will soon realize that their destinies are intertwined—and that their choices will change the fate of the Empire itself.

This book is YA, meaning it’s technically for teen readers about teen characters doing teenish things and dealing with teenish issues even in fantastical settings. And it was with that understanding that I cracked open the spine on this novel.

While I did thoroughly enjoy the Spartacus TV series (back when Andy Whitfield was the lead) and can generally handle the violence and brutality in shows like Game of Thrones, I was absolutely not prepared for the brutality of one of the very first scenes in this book. Remember this novel is aimed at teen readers… and yet, in one of the opening scenes introducing readers to Elias and his life at Blackcliff (much like the ludus in Spartacus only for kids as young as 5) a ten-year-old boy is publicly flogged to death by a commanding officer. I struggled with this scene. Even more so because the vast majority of the characters in the story seem so unaffected by the brutal abuse (actually, it goes beyond abuse really) of a child. A child! I should’ve known from this opening scene that the rest of the book would continue in a similar vein.

This book is brutal! The CO of this elite warrior school is an unapologetic sadist delighting in the continuous and brutal torture of slaves and Martials (the upper echelon attending the warrior school), even tormenting her own son! The brutality visited upon Laia is unspeakable and had me cringing for the majority of the book. If this were a movie, it would have to be R-rated for violence. But it gets worse, because the physical damage done by a sadist isn’t nearly as bad as the psychological torment Elias endures as part of the trope-ish three trials he is meant to pass in the hopes of becoming Emperor. The violence and brutality kicks up yet another gear to the point where I actually felt queasy reading some scenes and had to put the book down. I was so overwhelmed by the brutality, which often felt unnecessary and senseless, that when the few tender moments did happen, I was so relieved, I felt myself falling in love with these characters for the most minor of niceties.

Aside from the brutality – which I really shudder to think is considered okay for inclusion in a book aimed at young readers – the plot is complex and kept me intrigued. The main characters you couldn’t help but feel for given their circumstances and heinous mistreatment. I loved Elias and Laia although I could’ve done without all the convoluted love-quadrangling going on.

The biggest issue I had with this book was the constant threat of sexual violence against the girls in the story and the numerous near-rape scenes. Had there been at least one threat of sexual violence toward a boy (completely realistic) it would’ve perhaps felt more balanced, but as it stands, it seemed to be a stereotypical ‘boy taking what he thinks he can get without consequences from the weak and frightened girl’. Even the strongest female character in the book wasn’t immune to rape threats and that infuriated me! Why is rape always used!?

Had this book being marketed as adult or even new adult, I probably would’ve enjoyed it more or at least handled it a little better because I would’ve known to expect a different level of violence. There are several books with big cross-over appeal being marketed toward a more adult audience, books like Six of Crows and A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I think An Ember in the Ashes should’ve been marketed similarly. I was left emotionally damaged after reading this book and had nightmarish images of dead children playing in my mind for days after I turned the last page. Even as an adult book, I think this story will upset some readers with the amount of violence leveled at children. Did I mention a five-year-old little girl gets deliberately blinded with a hot poker as retribution for something an adult slave did? Yeah. Nauseating.

So, good plot, good characters, good prose if not very descriptive, and an interesting world with a slightly Arabic or Middle Eastern flavor featuring a cast of PoC characters, but it wasn’t quite as diverse as I was hoping. I kept waiting for an LGBT+ character to make an appearance but sadly, they never did. I find it really difficult to rate this book. I was intrigued, I kept turning pages – when I wasn’t battling nausea – and I did sort of enjoy it, but the brutality was simply too much for me. This gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2015 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Book Review: Fathoms of Fenlake

Today’s review is going to be a little different, because the book in question is a little different too. I received this book from the author for an honest review so here goes…

fenlake

Aigi’s journey into the mythical world of the Sami people starts with a race for the first ray of sunlight of the New Year, and continues with a plunge into the wondrous Saivo realm to search for a childhood friend. On the journey the knowledge of beings such as the gobmi, skammaidas and other fantastic creatures will surely be needed.

Fathoms of the Fenlake is a groundbreaking fantasy story. A solid nature connection, ingenuity and courage along with mystical powers have always been present in the Sami culture. The colorful pantheon has survived the attempts to abolish it, and the Aigi-saga draws from that legendary folklore. The bewitching novel will charm its readers.

Ante Aikio is a reindeer herder and modern entrepreneur living between two worlds himself, splitting his time between his company and his reindeer herd. Both are far beyond the polar circle – in the land of Sami mythology and tales. This is the one from the fathoms of ancient lakes…

*There are a few spoilers ahead*

This book is unique in that it is written by a Sami reindeer herder from Finnish Lapland and is all about Sami mythology, a mythology rarely seen (if ever) in mainstream fantasy. This book was originally written in Finnish and since my Finnish comprehension isn’t quite up to the challenge of reading a full novel, I decided to read the translation instead. I’m generally quite hard to please when it comes to translations and this book was sadly, no exception.

Firstly, I have to applaud this author for writing down what has, for the most part, been an oral tradition of story-telling. The Sami have a unique outlook on the world, their traditions entwined with nature-worship, and are a rather isolated group of people living at the edge of the world so this book has the potential to reach readers around the world, letting readers know that the Sami exist and that their story-telling is rich and profound.

Despite being exposed to Sami music while living in Finland and getting to know about some of their traditions during my studies, I didn’t know much about their mythology before reading this book. While I did enjoy getting to know more about Sami mythology and tradition, this book fell short of its promise.

This book is presented as an epic fantasy novel. It is not. Instead of reading like one cohesive story, the book is structured more like a collection of mythological stories as one might find in a non-fiction tome on the subject. The writing is similar in style to narrative non-fiction, heavy on telling and light on dialogue. This style does not make for an immersive experience. The main character is interesting and the story teases the promise of a Chosen One who has only to develop his magical powers. Sadly, this remains a tease and the character doesn’t do too much growing towards that destiny. Perhaps this was intentional, leaving room for a sequel, but this didn’t work for me. It seemed very anti-climatic when the main character, who could be a powerful sorcerer, doesn’t really amount to much at all despite having endured various travails in the Hero’s Journey tradition. This for me was the biggest disappointment and, combined with the dry prose, didn’t really allow me to enjoy the story that much.

Story aside, which will definitely be interesting to those who enjoy reading mythology anthologies, the writing itself made reading this book difficult. Perhaps simply a case of poor translation, this book suffers from bad grammar, tedious repetitions, incorrect vocabulary, and bland description. I really wish I could read this in the original Finnish to get a better feel for the story-telling.

As an epic fantasy novel, this story falls flat and would not easily rival the works of Rothfuss, Eddings, Lawrence, Erikson, Marillier, or, of course, Tolkien. While the story is rife with nasty beasties and liberally sprinkled with magic, the writing just isn’t up to scratch and the story suffers for it. As an experience in diversity and as a study of Sami mythology, this book excels, enabling global readers a more accessible means of discovering a relatively unknown culture. Perhaps I went into this book with unrealistic expectations. Perhaps had I approached this book as I would the a ‘Collected Tales of Greek Mythology’ I might’ve enjoyed this book far more. Regardless, I strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in exploring Sami tradition and mythology.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2015 in Reviews

 

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Review: Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, Dave here, and I’ve got a new review for you – that of a short story collection from an author I’m now a huge fan of!

This is collection featuring stories from a storyteller who should be spoken of in the same breath as Stephen King and Clive Barker. Very few storytellers, especially in the difficult and harrowing genre that is Horror, have managed to grab me from the get-go, and Jasper succeeded.

stuck

STUCK ON YOU

The first tale blew me away and made my gorge swirl in my mouth. It describes the fate of an utter asshole as he travels across the border to help his girlfriend. One thing leads to another and a while later he has been lightning-struck and … well, I’m not spoiling it, but fuck.

I was astounded by what this guy went through, even more so by the way Jasper describes it all – pulling no punches, thrusting the reader into the mind, terror and pain of this character to such a degree that trying to tear myself away was like, well, fiddling with a very fresh scab. By the end of the tale I was breathless, shaking my head over and over, and hoping to hell that I never find myself in the kind of situation the character found himself in.

TAKING THE PISS

Damned fine tale that, in my mind, asks the question: ‘If you could right a wrong, and in doing so caused a lot of pain to someone, but could get away with it, would you do it?’ By the end of this tale I was cheering on what had occurred – a mean feat, considering just what it is that happens, but Jasper has a way, man…

THE CASTIGATION CRUNCH

The Catholic in me *loved* this tale, and if any stock-broker, insurance-broker, tax-guru type reads this then I’m pretty sure they will, too – long live Suchs!😉

ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT

A tale that plays with your expectations right until the end while it explores the notions of betrayal, love and obsession in a twisted, horrifying manner. Also one of the ‘hotter’ tales in the collection.😉

HOW THE DARK BLEEDS

This tale surprised me – in the beginning I thought I knew who the victim was and how that victim had been wronged, but as the tale progressed I was pleased to have been proved wrong. This tale also explores something entirely new when it comes to blood-rituals, so the crazier among you will definitely enjoy it.😉

MOUTHFUL

Remember that scene in Hannibal (the novel and the movie adaptation) where Hannibal feeds a character his own brain? I never thought I would read something that would trump the horror of that scene. Not until I read this tale.

HAUNTING THE PAST

This tale was chilling and hard-hitting (not that the others aren’t), and follows how a man trapped in a house after a terrible event begins to understand just where he is and what he is doing. You might struggle to sleep after this tale, folks.

END OF THE LINE

A tightly-plotted and awesomely explored take on a couple of tropes, those being The-Guy-Who-Can’t-Remember-a-Thing and The Maze – didn’t see the resolution coming, and neither will you.

DEAD SCALP

Probably the very first Horror-Western I’ve read, this tale takes a whole bunch of ideas and mashes them together – coherently and masterfully written, it builds mysteries and characters until the very end. Damned good tale!

***

Taken together, these tales are shocking, brutal, utterly creepy and, in at least a part of every tale, beautiful. Jasper explores many different themes and ideas, pushing imagery into the mind and causing physical reactions while reveling in the settings his characters explore. There’s a seamless blending of physical settings and mind-scapes in these tales, and even though I sometimes didn’t want to be dipped into the various character’s minds I just couldn’t put this collection down.

If you’re looking for something that pushes many, many boundaries, this is it.

10 / 10

stuck

This collection was published by Crystal Lake Publishing and is available from Amazon for both your Kindle and as a paperback. The collection also features excellent illustrations by Rob Moran (who also did the cover), so those looking for a ‘book with pictures’ can’t complain.😉

Remember to check out Jasper’s site and keep on eye on Crystal Lake Publishing for future tales from Jasper.

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2015 in Reviews

 

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