Sunday, November 30, 2014

George Mann Q&A

So, instead of inflicting more of my dream casting on you I thought perhaps you might want to hear a little from the author himself to whom the month of November has been dedicated. So without further ado, I bring you George Mann!

Question: The first memorable book from you childhood often extends its influence throughout your life. What is your favorite book that you re-read a million times from when you were little?

Answer: I was a very lucky child, in that I was read to extensively from an early age. I had the Hobbit, the complete Chronicles of Narania and all sorts, all before the age of 6. So I think I absorbed a lot of that, and it’s all still in here, somewhere.

A formative book for me, though, was The War of the Worlds by HG Wells. That was a real revelation. I’ve always considered it one of the first great science fiction novels, and I adore how the aliens are defeated at the end by the common cold, rather than the Victorians themselves.

Question: You have created your own vigilante superhero with The Ghost. What was your favorite superhero growing up?

Answer:  It’s always been Spider-Man, and, to be honest, is still is. There’s something about the web-crawler that’s always appealed to me. I think it might be because, at heart, he’s just a normal, geeky guy, who saves the day because he has to, and because no one else is going to do it. In many ways he’s similar to the Doctor in that (see below) – he finds himself in these perilous, fantastical situations, and although he’s handy with his fists, it’s usually through intellectual endeavour that he saves the day. At least, in my favourite stories.

Of course, I’ve always been a huge fan of Batman, too. I prefer him in his ‘dark detective’ mode, stalking the streets of Gotham to solve crimes in a way the police aren’t able.

Question: Growing up what was the television show that you most anticipated every week and why?

Answer: I think you know the answer to this one…it was definitely Doctor Who. It was just so different from everything else at the time. Weird, wonderful fantasy that had a huge and lasting impact on my psyche. I loved how the Doctor would just stumble into these amazing, colourful adventures, and always win the day through cleverness, charm, or wit. It was real fuel for the imagination.

Question: Victoriana and sensational supernatural stories are really making a comeback with shows like Ripper Street and Penny Dreadful. Why do you think people are continually drawn to these subjects?

Answer: I think it’s because the Victorian period is now distant enough to seem unknowable and strange (and therefore fertile ground for sensationalising), but at the same time close enough that it still feels half-familiar. I also think there’s something about the fact that the Victorian era feels like the borderlands between the modern world and the past, science vs superstition. There was a clear preoccupation with ‘occult science’ and superstition in that age, and a view that anything was possible, if only we could find the means to achieve it. Science would prove the existence of the spirit world, that sort of thing. So again, it’s great material for a writer to get their teeth into.

Question: You've written 34 books this year, or at least it seems that what with a new book on the shelves every few weeks. Seriously, when do you not write?

Answer: Ha! I’m always writing. At the same time, though, some of that is to do with scheduling and just a coincidence of when the books are published.

I do have trouble stopping, though. Some would say it’s an affliction. I’m not happy unless I’m working on a story of some kind, in one medium or other.

Question: With the future of traditional publishing avenues in limbo many writers are turning to self-publishing. What do you make of this trend, the advantages and the pitfalls, and how will it affect traditional publishing?

Answer: Well, first and foremost I’m a big believer in the adage ‘everyone needs an editor’. I think that editor can take many different forms, but you need someone who can cast an impartial eye over your work, who knows story and structure, and who will be honest with you about the quality of what you’ve written. That’s very important, I think. So I’d never want to dispense with that.

I think digital self-publishing has a place, though. I love the idea of serializing a Newbury and Hobbes story at some point, for example, over a number of parts, like an old story paper. And clearly people are making a great success of it. Personally, though, I find the interactions I have with my publishers very, very helpful. And it helps to have a team of salespeople and publicists working on your books – if I had to do that stuff myself it would never happen, and I wouldn’t sell any books!

Really, for me, it comes down to the fact that I’d rather be writing new stories than worrying about formatting an ebook, promoting and selling it, etc etc. But I know it’s a great tool for other people, and I’d never rule it out.

Question: When you started writing the Newbury and Hobbes series did you intentionally write them as Steampunk or did you just write what you felt and it fit perfectly in the Steampunk Genre?

Answer: I’m not even sure they are steampunk! (Shock! Horror!). I definitely didn’t set out to write in any genre. In fact, The Affinity Bridge was quite the opposite. I’d spent years trying to write a big, sprawling space opera, because I thought that was the genre I should have been writing in, and it was so depressing. I just wasn’t getting anywhere with it. I wrote The Affinity Bridge for me, and just threw in everything I was interested in or loved. They’re Victorian fantasias, really, rather than steampunk. There’s not very much punk about them. They were the aesthetics of steampunk, sometimes, but they’re at least as concerned with the supernatural.

Question: With your books being interconnected we have had glimpses of the future of many of your beloved characters. As for the Newbury and Hobbes Series specifically, do you have an end in sight or is your plan to just keep writing? And when will we see The Revenant Express?

Answer: I tend to work in story arcs, rather than planning to the end of the series. So the first big N and H story arc will end in book 6, but I have no intention of retiring them. They may have a little break, but I have lots more stories to tell, if people want to keep reading them. I might also go back and write some more stories with Newbury and Templeton Black, as I enjoyed writing ‘The Dark Path’ very much.

There’s a whole bunch of N and H stuff happening next year. I’m really excited about it. New stories in three different mediums! The Revenant Express is one of them. The others, I can’t quite reveal yet. But soon!

Question: Many authors don’t think of their characters in terms of actors, but I’ve been having a little fun doing the dream casting for the hopefully one day forthcoming miniseries (fingers crossed) and I was wondering if you’ve ever thought of who could bring your characters to life?

Answer: Ha! Yes, I’ve been watching your casting with interest. I don’t feel I can say too much about casting at the moment, for reasons that will become clear later (and it’s not a TV series, alas – at least not yet), but I will say that I originally had Tom Ward in mind when I first wrote about Newbury.

Question: With the hugely successful Engines of War you are the first writer to tackle The War Doctor. How did it feel to be basically given a Doctor with a blank slate (well, minus that stuff in “The Day of the Doctor”)?

Answer: Oh, it was amazing! A dream come true, in fact. A little daunting, but so exciting, and so inspiring. I still can’t believe what they allowed me to get away with in that book. To this day, I still can’t quite actually believe it happened.

Question: In my opinion it’s unfair to ask people who their favorite Doctor is (how can I ask someone to choose when I can’t choose between Tom Baker and Matt Smith myself), so I’ll give you a twist, who is your favorite Doctor to write for? It can be one you haven’t written for yet.

Answer:  I enjoyed writing for the Eleventh Doctor a lot, but really, it has to be the War Doctor. I had SO MUCH fun with Engines of War. I’ve always wanted to write for the Eighth Doctor too. Hopefully I’ll have the opportunity at some point.

Question: You are now showrunner for Doctor Who, we won’t go into details as to how you secured the job, there may have been a cage match to the death with Moffat and Gatiss, that is unclear, but what are the top three changes you would make?

Answer: That’s a tough question. I really don’t know! Bring in more new writers, perhaps. Introduce a new male companion, maybe someone who isn’t a love interest of one of the leads. Try to persuade the BBC to do additional Easter and Halloween specials. More two-parters. I don’t think there are any silver bullets and I think it must be one of the hardest jobs in TV.

Question: What’s next for George Mann? 

Answer: The Revenant Express! Finally! And a bunch of other exciting N and H projects, as mentioned earlier. A new Ghost novel, Ghosts of Karnak, some more Doctor Who, and maybe some new things that I’m toying with at the moment…

Question: Favorite movie you’ve seen this year?

Answer: Guardians of the Galaxy. Without a doubt.

Question: Point Break or Bad Boys 2?

Answer: Point Break. I’m not sure I’m even aware of Bad Boys 2!

Friday, November 28, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Ghosts of War

Ghosts of War by George Mann
Published by: PYR
Publication Date: January 2011
Format: Paperback, 232 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

Gabriel Cross, the erstwhile Ghost, is still in mourning from the loss of his love Celeste. She did what he would have done in her situation, but that doesn't mean his heart is so easily healed. But luckily for Gabriel New York is a city under siege. The newest devilment takes the form of winged creators, half brass, half dark magic. These raptors swoop out of the sky and kidnap people, for what evil purpose no one knows. They aren't just the bane of the police, with over fifty people missing, but Gabriel as well, they are too strong and too fierce for him to kill and too fast for him to follow back to their nest in order to rescue the captives, if they should still be alive. Gabriel's friend on the police force, Donovan, is surprised when his boss pulls him off the raptor case a puts him on the case of a missing British spy at the request of Senator Isambard Banks. Yet the more Donovan looks into things with the help of Gabriel, the more it looks like the two cases aren't so separate as the Senator would like them to appear.

The fact of life is that sometimes life itself gets in the way of a good book. This past week I've been bedeviled, luckily not by raptors, but by deadlines and holiday preparations. A few times perhaps I would have liked a raptor to swoop me away from my work, but only if it was to a cosy bed and not where the Ghost finds their victims... but alas, I don't think they'd play ball. Therefore a lot of the peril and immediacy of the book was lost due to the sad fact of setting it down. Sometimes when this happens I picture the characters in the book standing around and looking bored waiting for the story to begin again, like actors waiting for the director to shout action. Silly though this thought is it does show how attached I become to my stories. But enough about me, I'm sure that's not why you're reading this.

Ghosts of War was a solid second outing in George's Ghost series, though it might have veered a little towards a certain trope that every penny dreadful and every horror story has utilized, the big bad that everyone though vanquished returning. Yes, yes, I get that this is more a tradition of the genre then anything else, and I will admit that George gave enough of a spin on a certain evil creature's return that it didn't overly annoy me, it's just that at a certain point credulity sometimes gets strained. The villain, who definitely was totally dead, I mean 100% totally for sure dead magically goes, "but wait," can really become a really tiresome trend.

Yes, their are villains we grow to love, but lets look at Doctor Who as an example. Am I the only one who thinks that the Daleks and the Cybermen should be put on hiatus for AT LEAST five years? No! Because new is more unique then old told in a different way. Though George tells the old in a new and different way, so I will allow it this once because yes, it did work, but I don't want to see these Cephalopod-esque aliens for quite awhile now, thank you.

But what I felt was the flaw in the book was oddly it's creepy reflection of reality. A group of wealthy men and politicians war mongering. Where there is war or the possibility of war, no matter how disgusting it is to us, no matter how unpalatable, there are people looking to either make money or secure power. Even if their means are supernatural verging on the extraterrestrial, well, their motives are sadly all too common. Everyday in the news their is something like this. Or at least I feel that way. Politician's are more and more looking out for their own interests and their own pocketbooks than doing the altruistic job of helping their fellow man. I read, for the most part, to escape the real work, the news that could easily bring on a panic attack. To have the news seeping into my story... well, yes, it's realistic and shows that humans haven't changed, but it kind of puts a damper on my escapism.

That doesn't mean that I am any less enamoured of the Ghost. In fact I have kind of gotten maybe a little overly attached to him and one thing in particular is making me worried about him. What is that one thing? It's the breaking down of his identities. I don't mean breaking down as in having a break down, but as in Gabriel and the Ghost merging, coming together and accepting that they are both needed in order to become who Gabriel once was, before the war shattered him; and before he created careful facades in order to survive. I am liking that he's coming to terms with himself, growing and becoming more functional...

But at the same time I'm worried. With this acceptance of who he really is, this inclusion of both halves I'm worried that he might be in danger. By being seen with Donovan as Gabriel and not the Ghost, might people start to wonder? Is his safety at risk? His old flame Ginny shows up out of the blue and within minutes he's all, I'm the Ghost! There's a reason superheroes have secret identities. The secret is their for protection. Sure the secret might weigh on you and cause psychological issues, but wouldn't you rather be safe then sane? I guess I'll have to wait for more of his adventures to find out!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Ghosts of Manhattan

Ghosts of Manhattan by George Mann
Published by: PYR
Publication Date: February 2010
Format: Paperback, 237 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Gabriel Cross is leading a dual life. By outward appearances he is the playboy, always partying, always throwing around his cash, unconcerned by the world around him. But inside he is haunted by the war he fought in and almost died in. He will not let New York sink into a city on the brink with the cops being controlled by the mob. With the mob being controlled by the worst mobster of them all, the elusive Roman. Splitting his time between his lounge chair and the rooftops of the city, "The Ghost" as the newspapers have named Gabriel, will help his fellow citizens by getting to the bottom of who the Roman is. Yet his carefully constructed personas are about to crash around him when the songstress he loves, Celeste, gets embroiled in the Roman's dealings, and Gabriel himself exposes his identity to perhaps the only trustworthy cop in the city. What the cost of these risks are, only time will tell. But hopefully, with time, the Roman's reign will also fall.

I never thought I'd say this, but there comes a time when there are too many superheroes. This overkill, especially by Marvel, makes me inwardly groan that there is yet another Green Arrow spin-off, yet another franchise being launched off the back of an already successful franchise, Black Panther anyone? Or worse yet, a reboot of a film series that is only a few years old, The Fantastic Four or Spiderman, take your pick! Obviously I'm in the minority here as the movies and television shows keep getting the viewers but I have personally reached my saturation point, so much so that I might not even keep watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.. All this lead me to be a little leery of Ghosts of Manhattan. There was the part of me going, but it's not Victorian, but more important the part of me going, really, this book is "Introducing the World's First Steampunk Superhero," spare me.

So, despite my love of George's work I wasn't unbiased going into Ghosts of Manhattan, in fact George had a lot working against him with all my preconceived notions. And then I got a few chapters in and was hooked. The writing isn't as polished as George's other stories, but there's a rawness and immediacy that sinks it's claws in, much like a certain creature in this series second volume. The best way to describe this book is Batman meets The Great Gatsby with a little Bladerunner thrown in. Gabriel Cross has the vigilante stance as well as the violent past of Batman, but instead of emulating his "true" identity of Bruce Wayne, despite there being similarities; the 1920s lifestyle, the parties, the estate on Long Island, are all straight out of Jay Gatsby's biography. As for other comic book antecedents, there's a little Hell Boy thrown in as well. These twists and also just the demeanor of Gabriel give a story that could be full of tropes and cliches a spark of life that made a cold winter day just disappear.

The turning point for me was the introduction of the golems. I blame Terry Pratchett for my love of the golem myth, seriously, if you have not read Feet of Clay go do so now! There's just something so fascinating about golems. A figure made of clay and endowed with the spark of life but not intelligence, much like Frankenstein's monster it can be either good or evil depending on who gave it life and purpose. Not to mention the fact that they are indefatigable and nigh on undefeatable! Plus, if you think about it, they are basically automatons, which is a link back to George's other work and the scary creations in The Affinity Bridge. Which might be one reason I'm so fascinated by golems. There's something so modern about them, yet at the same time there is something so old, so historical, dating back to early Judisim. I just love that more authors are taking advantage of incorporating this myth into their narratives, golems were even used in an episode of Grimm recently.

The golems I think get at the crux of the matter as to why this book works. It's a fusing of the old and the new. Your run of the mill superhero is all about the present or the future, and of course the gadgets, with maybe the occasional need for and old relic, but that's a rare need. Here we have a superhero who is more Indiana Jones, more about the old and the new meeting and clashing and forging something no one thought possible. If the golems weren't enough to convince you of this then I bring into consideration the role The Metropolitan Museum of Art plays in the book. Not only is it the location of one of the most important scenes, as well as cringe worthy if you're in art lover, but the curator friend of Gabriel's, Arthur Wolfe, provides an entree into this older world. The relics and artwork The MET house create an important link between the here and now and the time when golems and Roman currency were more common occurrences.

This is the heart of the book, the way to make a superhero story that will actually engage me. Ghosts of Manhattan is something more. By not just being about a vigilante on a roof with his gadgets we get this other side, an old world past that hints at the supernatural and the dark arts. Before the modern era superstition and urban legends and fairy tales were so important. People didn't just listen to them as entertainment, there was truth in the tales. As time has progressed more and more people forget that perhaps, just maybe, even though we are ruled by technology and the microchip, that fairy tales can be true. The Ghost learns this the hard way and in doing so takes us on a ride that puts all other superheroes in the shade.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

Dead But Not Forgotten by Charlaine Harris and Toni L.P. Kelner
Published by: Ace Hardcover
Publication Date: November 25th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"The #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris spawned a hit TV show and captivated fans around the world—including other authors. Now this group of writers, specifically chosen by Charlaine, pays tribute to “the southern, mind-reading belle who gets mixed up in the world of vampires and magical creatures” (The Kansas City Star) with a collection of fifteen all-new stories about your favorite residents of Bon Temps."

While I've never been a fan of short stories, especially the Sookie ones which have always lacked the fun of the books, the fact that it's a whole bunch of authors writing in the Sookieverse, well, it intrigues me!

Buffy: New Rules by Joss Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: November 25th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 136 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"While slaying the zompires that have overrun a small California town, Buffy and her pals are shocked to discover a new kind of vampire: harder to kill, able to transform and walk in the light of day—like Dracula . . . If that weren't enough, the rules of magic are literally being rewritten. While the crew attempts to find out exactly what this means and restore the status quo, Xander is the victim of a haunting as his relationship with Dawn crumbles."

Gaw, I am so far behind! I'm barely into season nine and it's already season ten!?! I blame this on the rising price of comics and there being too many offshoots of this series.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Amanda Hale as Amelia Hobbes

Name: Amanda Hale

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Amelia Hobbes

First Impression: The first time she really stuck in my head and made an impression was as the captive housewife in The Crimson Petal and the White. There was just something so intriguing about her portrayal of the crazy wife in the attic a la Jane Eyre.

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: She has this way about her where she perfectly balances insanity and a will of steel which I think is the fine line that Amelia Hobbes is always treading. Plus she looks fabulous in period costumes.

Lasting Impression: The White Queen, hands down. Of course I had seen her play crazy in The Crimson Petal and the White as well as Ripper Street, but here. Oh boy! She has a religious zealotry where the crazy actually reaches her eyes. But for all her actions she is an indomitable mother and a force to be reckoned with. I give you Amelia Hobbes!

What else you've seen them in: After starring in the newest adaptation of Persuasion Amanda quickly started getting supporting roles in miniseries until she was soon stealing the spotlight from the other so called stars. Despite her small roles in Jekyll, Spooks, and Any Human Heart, she will most be recognized as Emily Reid from Ripper Street, the disappearing wife (seriously, why does that show love to just not explain things? Especially why it isn't on Amazon Prime US) as well as the zealot mother of the future King of England, Lady Margaret Beaufort in The White Queen.

Can't believe it's them: Being Human! Not the fact that she was on the show but the fact that she was so funny! This has to be one of the funniest episodes of the show with her as a rather vulgar ghost who puts on a show of gentility for Hal. Proves she totally gets the underlying humor in all her crazy lady parts. Though my favorite scene ever from Being Human is this...

Wish they hadn't: Any Human Heart. But in all seriousness, I have no idea who she was in it I just hated this miniseries so much I will take any chance I have to badmouth it!

Bio: Hale trained at RADA, graduating in 2005, choosing to become an actress over going to Oxford to read English. She started receiving accolades while still in school and upon graduating they continued flooding in for her stage work. Currently she is staring in Uncle Vanya (yet another Chekhov play I dislike) at the St. James Theatre. There's not much else biography wise online other then she's Welsh and I'll add to that that she's an awesome and powerful actress and can't wait for her next show! Please let it not be anything from Chekhov!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's Paradox Lost

Paradox Lost by George Mann
Published by: BBC Books
Publication Date: June 23rd, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 256 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Rory, Amy and The Doctor have once again ended up where they didn't intend to go. They have landed in London in 2789, not the Rambalian Cluster. There there is a team dragging a thousand year old automaton out of the Thames. An automaton that recognizes The Doctor and gives him a warning that The Squall, a dangerous race of monsters that feed off psychic energy and destroy whole planets, are coming. Using his sonic screwdriver, The Doctor finds that he must go back to 1910 to fend off the invasion of The Squall. But seeing as the tear in time needed to bring about the Earth's destruction has two ends, he sends Amy and Rory to look for a Proffesor Gradius, who started the damage here in 2789. 

Working the case from both ends Rory and Amy get the help of Professor Gradius's assistant, an automaton that Amy affectionately names Arven, while The Doctor teams up with the only man in Edwardian London who seems concerned about the rash of recent unexplained deaths, a Professor Angelchrist. Their timelines going the consistency of noodle soup, one might wonder if all this wouldn't have happened if they had left well enough alone. But The Doctor and Amy aren't ones to let mysteries remain unsolved and monsters left undefeated.

Now I'm not saying I'm the biggest Doctor Who fan out there. I mean, I haven't watched every single episode, after all some episodes are lost.... But besides all the DVD sets and VHS tapes, posters, gadgets, and scarves, I do have several bookshelves filled to capacity just with Doctor Who books to give you an idea of how my addiction has spread over the years. You can see my old Tom Baker paperbacks sharing shelf space with the newer line of books with the 9th, 10th, and 11th Doctor, as well as some Torchwood books thrown in for good measure. There's also the infamous set of books released for the fiftieth anniversary last year. Why infamous? Because while they look darn pretty sitting there on my shelf, some of the books selected are pure dreck. Taking all eleven doctors, the average star rating was less then 2.5. The psychic toll it took on me to actually finish those books was painful and almost made me not want to pick up another Doctor Who book ever again.

Needless to say the experiment of last year has left me with one clear talent, and that's to distinguish a good Doctor Who book. You read enough of the bad you get to know the good, and Paradox Lost is good. One clear reason it works is that George understands the show. While he does little things that make a fangirl sqwee, like referencing past regenerations and putting in the "in" jokes, it's the bigger things he really nails. Meaning George gets the characters voices as depicted by the actors. It's not just that I am allowing a certain suspension of disbelief in order to enjoy the book, oh no, while you are reading it you can see the action unfolding before you just as if it was an actual episode. There is Amy Pond, there is Rory, and there is 11, Matt Smith in all his goofy glory. George nailed these characters! The dialogue, the description of their actions, the book whizzed by as fast as if it was a forty minute episode instead of a two-hundred page book.

What really makes the story work though is that George uses Rory as our entre into the action. If in recent years there is one companion who is universally loved and who everyone wanted to stay, it has to be Rory, hands down. I spent much time thinking of ways in how the show could just ditch Amy and have Rory be the main companion. Alas, that wasn't to be. But because Rory is so loved and relatable he makes the perfect conduit for us, the readers. By seeing the action of the story through his eyes we become a part of the story in a way that I don't think the show is ever able to do.

We see Rory's world, Amy and The Doctor, in a clearer way that totally just expands on what we know from the show. Plus, unlike Amy and The Doctor, Rory actually is more of an everyman, he has fears, he has loves, and danger and daring do aren't just a way to spend the afternoon! George counters Rory's POV with that of Angelchrist. Thus balancing the more knowledgeable with the more naive. Angelchrist is the character to relate to if you knew nothing about Doctor Who. He's there to ask the questions that the trio wouldn't ask as well as to be the link to the current time period, aka 1910. The switching between the two makes the story stay fresh but also provides different insights, resulting in a well balanced book.

But as I have been working my way through George's oeuvre, I can not forget to mention that yes, indeed, this book ties into his greater universe. Angelchrist himself has shown up in the Newbury and Hobbes books as well as the short stories. In fact in the short stories there are a few nudges and winks to this very book and the adventures that Angelchrist shared with The Doctor. Not to mention a certain Arven.... But what I really liked was a subtler reference, the blink and you miss it because it's only mentioned twice.... What you might be saying is this reference? It's a reference to where Arven was made... a certain company that may have been up to some truly nasty things with an "Affinty Bridge." Yes George's work stands on it's own. Yes you will enjoy it whatever you pick up, but for the fans in it for the long haul... well, there's just so much more to find! George knows how to thank his long suffering fans (I mean seriously, get me The Revenant Express now, it's painful waiting).

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One

The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes Volume One by George Mann
Published by: Titan Books
Publication Date: October 22nd, 2013
Format: Paperback, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

From disappearing valets to monstrosities lurking in the shadows of Cheyne Walk, creatures from the deep to lost Indian jewels, become an armchair detective with the best from Sir Maurice Newbury to the Doctor John Watson. And every great detective has to have his or her Moriarty. We learn more about Sir Maurice's adversary, Lady Arkwell, as well as Veronica Hobbes's "chess" partner with whom she has had several contretemps, Zenith the Albino. Whether you are returning to the world of Newbury and Hobbes or just stopping in for your first visit, this collection of stories will chill your spine and leave you wanting to read just one more story before your bedtime. That is if you can sleep once you find out the secret of "What Lies Beneath."

I have said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, books with short stories are always a risk. There's the whole consistency issue as well as flow. I can guarantee that you will spend more time thinking about that one story that wasn't up to scratch then you do all the other ones that were great. But more importantly is the flow of the book. Because each story is so different and starts a new narrative there's sometime not the impetus to keep going to the end, especially if you hit one of those weaker stories. Luckily The Casebook of Newbury and Hobbes is the exception that proves the rule full of unique individual stories within a connected world.

The Newbury and Hobbes series has always lent itself to comparisons with Sherlock Holmes, and rightfully so in my mind. Therefore, like Conan Doyle's writing, it lends itself to the short story format. In fact sometimes the longer Newbury and Hobbes books have too much going on and these little stories are a nice way to have a short and sweet little tale that isn't bogged down by the overarching narrative but still gives you nudges and winks as to the universe they inhabit.

What sets this above other compendiums though is that we are given insight into George's process. At the back of the book there is a timeline of events (very handy), but more importantly little story notes in which George talks about why he wrote the story or what drove his decisions. It gives you a feeling that at the end of perusing this volume, like Newbury and Bainbridge, you have sat down on opposites sides of the fireplace in great comfy chairs and had a chinwag with George as to what he was doing. The insight into his writing makes it all the more memorable. There was one turn of phrase that caught me most when he was discussing "The Maharajah's Star" and that was that he likes the "smaller, nested stories that all come together at the last moment." This is exactly how I feel and also how I think some of the stories work and some don't.

To succeed the stories need to be encapsulated, like a little jewel that sparkles on it's own but only at the end does it shine out and radiate among the expanded universe. Which is an overly flowery way of saying separate but connected. Take "Christmas Spirits" as the prime example and easily the weakest story in the book. In this loose re-imagining of A Christmas Carol Newbury dwells on his life and what has happened and what is to come. This stories makes almost no sense without the knowledge gleaned from the longer books. It pulled me out of the moment and destroyed the flow of being entranced by these jewel like stories.  Which goes to show what a balancing act it is when compiling a collection. Just one that's not quite right and you're distracted.

But this one flaw which might have more to do with my hatred of that particular Dickens tale leads me to that aspect which George just nailed, and yes, it oddly has to do with Dickens. George is able to mimic other writers. I wouldn't say he's aping them, because despite giving the feel of Arthur Conan Doyle or Wilkie Collins his writing is still distinctly his own; clean, concise and conversational, with an approachability that I feel Nancy Mitford is the paragon of and which George captures as well. But he's able to lend an air to his stories that connect with writers that are contemporary to his stories, giving them a depth most other Steampunk books aren't able to do.

In my favorite story "The Dark Path" George gives us a more classic detective story that brings to mind Wilkie Collins and The Moonstone... a copy of which is found in the missing valet's room. A coincidence? I think not! "What Lies Beneath" gives us an utterly delicious and creepy story that would have made Poe proud. While the aforementioned "Christmas Spirits" channels some Dickens and "The Case of the Night Crawler" brings John Watson back to life, though in a far more modern story then Conan Doyle would have penned. By writing in this way he acknowledges his predecessors while creating his own path. I am again reminded of something George said in his story notes. George says that in "Old Friends" he shows that "the old guard [can] retire in peace ... safe in the knowledge that someone else is out there now." Well, the old writers can retire in peace safe in the knowledge that George is carrying on their legacy in grand style but never forgetting what he owes to them!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In A Deadly Measure of Brimstone, Dandy and the whole Gilver clan travel to a spa town for a weekend of relaxation which is quickly interrupted by a slew of mysterious— and deadly—events.

The men of the Gilver family have come down, between them, with influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia and pleurisy. The family repairs to the town of Moffat, there to submit to the galvanic wraps and cold salt rubs of the splendid Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel.

But all is not well at the Hydro, and the secret of the lady who arrived but never left cannot be kept for long. And what of those drifting shapes in the Turkish bath? Just steam shifting in the air? Probably. But in this town the dead can be as much trouble as the living."

I am very excited for a new Dandy Gilver book but I am heartbroken that it doesn't have a cover by Jessica Hische, aka the reason I picked the series up in the first place because of the striking covers!

The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson
Published by: St. Martin's Press
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 368 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"There is but one Paris. -Vincent Van Gogh

Maud Heighton came to Lafond's famous Academie to paint, and to flee the constraints of her small English town. It took all her courage to escape, but Paris, she quickly realizes, is no place for a light purse. While her fellow students enjoy the dazzling decadence of the Belle Epoque, Maud slips into poverty. Quietly starving, and dreading another cold Paris winter, she stumbles upon an opportunity when Christian Morel engages her as a live-in companion to his beautiful young sister, Sylvie.

Maud is overjoyed by her good fortune. With a clean room, hot meals, and an umbrella to keep her dry, she is able to hold her head high as she strolls the streets of Montmartre. No longer hostage to poverty and hunger, Maud can at last devote herself to her art.

But all is not as it seems. Christian and Sylvie, Maud soon discovers, are not quite the darlings they pretend to be. Sylvie has a secret addiction to opium and Christian has an ominous air of intrigue. As this dark and powerful tale progresses, Maud is drawn further into the Morels' world of elegant deception. Their secrets become hers, and soon she is caught in a scheme of betrayal and revenge that will plunge her into the darkness that waits beneath this glittering city of light."

This looks very intriguing!

Serenity: Leaves on the Wind by Zack Whedon
Published by: Dark Horse Books
Publication Date: November 18th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 152 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the film Serenity, outlaw Malcolm Reynolds and his crew revealed to the entire 'verse the crimes against humanity undertaken by the sinister government--the Alliance. Here, in the official follow-up to the film, the crew has been in hiding since becoming everyone's most wanted, and now they are forced to come out. River uncovers more secrets, leading these former Browncoats on a dangerous mission against the Alliance that, with hope, will bring them together again..."

Ah, who am I kidding. Sure I hated the movie but I adore Firefly so much I'll probably read this too.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Ben Miles as Sir Charles Bainbridge

Name: Ben Miles

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Sir Charles Bainbridge

First Impression: Berkeley Square... only it wasn't him! OK, I'm totally confused. I would have put money on the fact that he was the soldier that Hermione Norris was fooling around with... I think I must re-watch the entire series to see why I got it wrong. Really, I'm doing it for us, not just for me. So I guess that means The Forsyte Saga and Dartie it is for my first impression. Which is really a shitty first impression, because the character doesn't have anything redeeming about him till he dies...

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: In recent years he's gotten very good at being cast as either a gentleman or a cop, and I can't think of a better way to describe Bainbridge then as a gentleman cop. Also he looks good with a big bushy moustache.

Lasting Impression: I want to say Coupling, because yes, he did make an impression on me... but really it's Zen! Why? Because for the first time I really saw the depth in his acting and saw that he was more then just a womanizing ass.

What else you've seen them in: More a TV actor then a film actor, though he has starred in some big name movies like Speed Racer, Ninja Assassin, and The Affair of the Necklace, if you're a BBC miniseries addict you sure know who he is. He spent many years perfecting the womanizing ass until he transitioned to elder statesman with perhaps a little bit of darkness thrown in. Just look at his role in the newer tv adaptation of Dracula or even the aforementioned Zen! Though personally my favorite of all his roles was as Sir Timothy Midwinter in Lark Rise to Candleford. Why couldn't he and Dorcas have worked it out? Or at least she could have ended up with someone better then Gabriel. Yes, I am still bitter. 

Can't believe it's them: V for Vendetta. Really, that's him! I mean a lot of that movie is, OMG, look who it is because it's peopled with British actors I know and love, but still, V for Vendetta man!

Wish they hadn't: Under the Greenwood Tree because I literally can not think of a more forgettable miniseries of all the miniseries I have ever watched. Though as the Parson this does mark his transition out of being a womanizer, and for that I am very happy.

Bio: Ben started acting on television in the mid-90s after training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but it wasn't until 2000 when he was cast as Patrick in Coupling that he got his big break. Which begs the question as to why he hasn't appeared on Doctor Who! I mean come on Steven Moffat, you gave him his start, get on this! End rant. After this many roles followed in numerous miniseries. He is married to a fellow actress, Emily Raymond, and among his theatre credits is a stint in Richard II opposite his father-in-law. Lately he has been starring more and more onstage and can be seen as Thomas Cromwell on Broadway when Wolf Hall transfers there next year. Though I'm still bitter that my friend Mike got to see him and a plethora of my other favorite actors on Broadway a few years back in the revival of The Norman Conquests which went on to win a Tony. Perhaps I might go and see Wolf Hall to level the playing field...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Executioner's Heart

The Executioner's Heart by George Mann
Book Provided by the Author
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 9th, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Newbury has been sinking further into the mire his friends had hoped to extricate him from. His days are made up of dark arts and drugs. Yet little do they know he is doing it for them. His and Amelia's visions of a darkness to come brought by the sinister Executioner need to be studied so that it can perhaps be avoided. Though with bodies turning up with their hearts ripped out, perhaps the darkness is nearer at hand then they had hoped. With motives being questioned and no one knowing who to trust, can Sir Maurice and Veronica survive the darkness to find a bright future?

The way George's books are written they lend themselves to be read at breakneck speed wherein you never set them down. Alas life almost never allows for such luxuries. Work, appointments, commitments, sleep, anything and everything can be thrown in your path of just wanting to read one more chapter. The more interruptions that happen the more the story loses it's immediacy and the more likely you are to forget salient details and the narrative to lose it's impact. As it happens I had been reading the previous volume during my downtime at a Steampunk convention (fun for the tie-in, but hard when you just had to leave for a panel during a fight scene.) After the close of the convention I had factored in a few days of rest and recuperation before transitioning back to real life. This time allowed me the luxury of getting to read The Executioner's Heart without interruption.

I have just finished the last page and I seriously don't know what to do. The book enveloped me completely and I was just mesmerized. The best stories compel you ever onward, waiting for the next twist, the next chapter, the next book. I gobbled this volume up and I am sated. I just hope it will last, because while I'm not saying that I've reached the point of searching for cheap airfare and just showing up on George's doorstep, each book has built on the previous volume creating a greater story as we watch the characters and George's writing develop, and I do want more. As soon as possible. I know where you live George.

George has a knack with his characters. They have depth and originality. You can view them all as real people that you could meet on the street, that is if you could get to the street where they live. But what really makes his books stand out, which I'm sure I've mentioned before in passing, is that not just the heroes and heroines are well rounded but so are the villains, more so in this volume. In the previous three volumes we have gotten an understanding of those who would thwart Newbury and Hobbes, but in The Executioner's Heart we get even more insight. By having chapters telling us the story of The Executioner, we get a glimpse into what makes her tick, literally. By having these little flashes of her past, while we can't condone her actions, we come to an understanding. We know why she is what she is, but even the why and the how bring up more questions.

The clockwork heart and other infernal devices that have been prolonging Queen Victoria's life have long been a theme in this series, but now they are literally the heart of the matter. With Queen Victoria and The Executioner we have two individuals living beyond their time on earth by clockwork hearts. Both these women are depicted as, well, excuse the pun, but heartless. They are cold and calculating. They do what needs to be done. This brings the idea of man versus machine into stark relief. What is it that makes us human? We talk about love and emotion as being a part of the heart, when really they are seated somewhere in our brain.

But is it the removal of this organ that makes us less then human? Is it just this that sets these two women apart? Or is it the end result of that procedure that makes them something else? Is it living beyond their time that is what breaks them? Seeing the world change and not being a part of that change eroding your humanity? Immortal creatures from Gods to vampires are all in some way monstrous in the stories we tell. Is this because they are unable to connect to what it is to be human? There are just so many questions posed and as the book comes to a close, well, the answer is more important then ever. Gaw George, I might not have the next volume but you have left me so much to ponder!

One fact though I never need to dwell on is that at the end of the day the true villain is the one who tries to justify their deeds as being for "The Greater Good." Every baddie ever from Voldemort to the Neighborhood Watch Alliance of Sandford has used this excuse for their actions. Personally if anyone started spouting this dogma in front of me I'd take to my heels immediately. Or you know, go all righteous on their asses like Newbury. The thing is evil deeds cannot be justified. There aren't gradations of evil or wrong. If you do something wrong it's wrong. Yes, you could do something more wrong, but that's just going more evil, you're already evil from the wrong act. Having some people die without their say to save more... just no. It might be a "tough decision" but committing evil is never for "the greater good." There will always be a taint. Always.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Immorality Engine

The Immorality Engine by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: September 27th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

A certain criminal, Edwin Sykes, has turned up dead. Only after his body is found a burglary with his signature all over it is perpetrated. Is this a copycat or something more sinister? Sykes was a member of The Bastion Society, an organization that seems a little too highbrow for such a criminal lowlife. The head of the society, an Enoch Graves, gives Sir Maurice, Veronica, and Bainbridge a run around that convinces them that somehow these two crimes are connected to not only each other, but to the society. When Sykes turns up dead a second time, despite erroneously thinking perhaps this is a case of twins, the erstwhile investigators turn all their attention to the society. But soon Bainbridge is distracted by an attempt on the Queen's life, and Newbury and Hobbes take some risks that might prove their downfall. One thing though is known, that whatever happens Veronica's sister Amelia will pay the price with her life.

It has been my experience that there comes a point in a series of books that will either cement the longevity of the series and make it a viable franchise or will make you inherently know that the storyline is bound to collapse and fail miserably. This is the book in the Newbury and Hobbes series in which I just knew that this series had wings. While this in no way is throwing shade at the previous two volumes, there was just an extra something that made this book spark with the potential this series will achieve. I personally think that it all comes down to the expansion of the universe of these characters that leads one to feel that longevity is possible. What made me most excited was that the narrative isn't contained to the events in the books. What I mean is that Sir Maurice and Veronica often reference events and cases that we haven't heard about while not detracting from the narrative.

While yes, these might be out there as short stories which I haven't read yet, what I adore is that their narrative lives aren't bound by just the stories in the three volumes I have read so far and the allusions to other adventures aren't clumsily inserted making it necessary to find out if indeed you missed something or were supposed to by an anthology for the one story you wanted. I like to think of the characters I know and love in a book are having adventures when I'm not around, it makes them more realistic if you will. Many series recount all the adventures, one after the other in volume upon volume, and there's just something so restricting about this. Something contained and episodic. By lacking this restrictive container the series has so much more potential for expansion, I just thrill at what is to come!

What drew me into the book most of all, aside from that heart stopping flash-forward, was The Bastion Society. The real reason I was interested in them wasn't the megalomania of their leader Enoch Graves with his delusions of being King Arthur, oh no, but their underlying belief system? Oh yes. The Bastion Society's tenants are that great deeds should be done to keep England the England of myth and legend. By doing what needs to be done in this life, our next life shall be better. Earlier this year when I did a theme month for Lauren Willig's book That Summer, I spent a lot of time researching and reading about the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They believed in chivalry and deeds worthy of myth. Truth in art that will withstand time and show the past for those in the present. All beliefs that are eerily similar to The Bastion Society.

Therefore I was thrilled when Newbury and Veronica were lurking around Packworth House and many of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings were strewn about the meeting house's walls. Of course none of the art was mentioned by name, but by golly, I can recognize their artwork my the meanest description there is, and there it was. There was a frisson of happiness that I saw this correlation and then George took it one step further by placing the artwork on the walls. It felt like a special in joke just for me and anyone else who might get it. Plus, the fantastical imagery thus created in my mind of, what if the Brotherhood did take up arms like The Bastion Society did... Rossetti, Hunt, and Millais on real horses, not just posing for each others paintings, I literally can not stop smirking at this idea.

Yet there was an aspect of this chivalry that I think went to far, and that is Veronica as the damsel in distress. She has never been one of those swooning women in these paintings! If anything the men are more liable to swoon. But in this book where she has finally taken center stage she seems somewhat watered down. When the time comes she is able to kick the arse and take the names that we know she has always done, but there's some underlying current that second guesses her that I just don't like. Newbury, who has always been solicitous is almost overly protective, which could be written off as his growing feelings for Veronica coupled with the mores of the day, but it just didn't sit right this time around. Veronica herself seemed to even wonder at her own abilities and this I shall not tolerate! A kick ass character can have self doubts but there's a point you reach when their acts of daring do and chivalry outweigh any possible doubts, and The Immorality Engine was weighted a little lopsidedly...

But in the final analysis, it all comes down to the fact that George is able to handle concepts and characters better then most writers out there. While reading The Immorality Engine I was reminded of a show that just aired on BBC America, Intruders, which I watched solely for John Simm. The show was about rebirth and resurrection, and the idea that there is a secret society that has found the secret to immortality, all high and mighty concepts that in the end was a hot mess with plot holes and a narrative disaster that even the best of actors couldn't act their way out of. The third volume of George's series handles similar concepts and conceits and in such a clear and profound way that at one time I literally looked up to my friend who was working on a project while I was reading (at a Steampunk Convention no less) and said, "If Intruders could have captured these concepts half as good as George did here it would have been an awesome show." Instead we are just left with the consolation of an awesome book. I know, it's such a disappointment.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Bane Chronicles by Cassandra Clare
Published by: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: November 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 528 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Fans of The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices can get to know warlock Magnus Bane like never before in this collection of New York Times bestselling tales, in print for the first time with an exclusive new story and illustrated material.

This collection of eleven short stories illuminates the life of the enigmatic Magnus Bane, whose alluring personality, flamboyant style, and sharp wit populate the pages of the #1 New York Times bestselling series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices.

Originally released one-by-one as e-only short stories by Cassandra Clare, Maureen Johnson, and Sarah Rees Brennan, this compilation presents all ten together in print for the first time and includes a never-before-seen eleventh tale, as well as new illustrated material."

You might be finding it odd that I would even mention this book given my Cassandra Clare hatred... well, Magnus Bane was the only ok character and it's not all written by Clare, so I guess it's a meh, kind of interested in it feeling I have. Or I'm a masochist.

The Laws of Murder by Charles Finch
Published by: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: November 11th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"It’s 1876, and Charles Lenox, once London’s leading private investigator, has just given up his seat in Parliament after six years, primed to return to his first love, detection. With high hopes he and three colleagues start a new detective agency, the first of its kind. But as the months pass, and he is the only detective who cannot find work, Lenox begins to question whether he can still play the game as he once did.

Then comes a chance to redeem himself, though at a terrible price: a friend, a member of Scotland Yard, is shot near Regent’s Park. As Lenox begins to parse the peculiar details of the death – an unlaced boot, a days-old wound, an untraceable luggage ticket – he realizes that the incident may lead him into grave personal danger, beyond which lies a terrible truth.

With all the humanity, glamor, and mystery that readers have come to love, the latest Lenox novel is a shining new confirmation of the enduring popularity of Charles Finch’s Victorian series."

Because duh, obviously I'd buy this.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Newbury and Hobbes Dream Casting: Scarlett Johansson as Veronica Hobbes

Name: Scarlett Johansson

"Dream" Character Casting for the George Mann Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Veronica Hobbes

First Impression: My first impression of Scarlett was rather forgettable in Ghost World as the rather boring best friend. Though in all honesty, I don't really remember much about Ghost World at all, I watched it the day of my grandfather's funeral because I was too sick to go with a horrid inner ear infection, so perhaps I should maybe watch this movie again sometime?

Why they'd be the perfect actor for the Newbury and Hobbes Miniseries: Not only does Scarlett have the requisite beauty to play Veronica, as well as looking fabulous in historical costumes, but if her recent showing in The Avengers movies proves anything is that she can kick serious ass as well. In fact it was that most Steampunky and David Bowie-y of movies, The Prestige, that had me thinking that the dynamic duo of Newbury and Hobbes couldn't do better than Hugh Jackman and Scarlett Johansson... that was until I recast Hugh, sorry Hugh.

Lasting Impression: As the bored bewigged girl in Lost in Translation. In fact I think this is the first time a lot of people started to sit up and take notice of her. Not only did it revitalize Bill Murray's career, establish Sophia Coppola as more then just an art house director, but it really got the bigger offers coming in for Scarlett.

What else you've seen them in: Well, if you haven't seen The Avengers and Scarlett as Black Widow, well, I don't know what planet you've been living on. Before her becoming ubiquitous in the Marvel franchise, she did a lot more art house films with big name directors, from Sophia Coppola to Woody Allen, even a film with Brian De Palma. She's made a few missteps with a bad movie here and there, but for every The Island there is a Her, where people are protesting award category rules to allow her to be considered even though only her voice is in the movie.

Can't believe it's them: North!?! Literally her first movie role and something I remember seeing in the theatre! All I remember was watching this movie as a jaded high schooler and thinking, damn, this is shit. And you can hold me to that review.

Wish they hadn't: Have you seen Scoop? If you haven't I would avoid it like the plague. I remember the insanely wonderful press of the movie, it's Woody Allen, it's Scarlett Johansson, it's Hugh Jackman! It's putting me to sleep with how boring it is... oh look, she can swim. Yawn. If you want to see good Jackman and Johansson just watch The Prestige!

Bio: Scarlett, unlike a lot of celebrities, seems to not make much of a splash and was able to successfully transition from a child actor (though only in a few roles) to an adult actress without too many bumps in the road. She has a very distinct husky voice and usually garners critical acclaim for many of her movies while mixing them up with blockbusters that really pad the bank account. Oddly she was married to Ryan Reynolds for a few years, and I always thought it a bizarre pairing, an amazing actress who has played opposite heartthrobs like Colin Firth with the guy who played Berg on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, a show I really want on DVD for Nathan Fillion FYI. She's also stared in a few plays, again to rave reviews, and oddly released an album, seeing as I hadn't heard about that I'm guessing it wasn't released to rave reviews... She just had her first child, a daughter named Rose and has a lot more Marvel-ous movies coming soon!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Osiris Ritual

The Osiris Ritual by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: August 3rd, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 319 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Newbury and Hobbes are not working in tandem. Sir Maurice is off on assignment for the Queen looking into the "return" of another agent, William Ashford, who may have gone rogue and who may be involved in a high profile killing of the Egyptologist Lord Winthrop, whose discovery and then death are front page news as written by Newbury's new protege, George Purefoy. Veronica meanwhile is concerned about a spate of disappearances of young women, all who visited a magician, The Mysterious Alfonso, and participated in his stage show. They are both so wrapped up in their own cases that they don't realize the danger they are putting themselves in by working separately. Soon Veronica is trapped and in danger deep under a theatre, while Sir Maurice is racing across rooftops, not even sure if he's chasing the right man. They need each other to put things right before it's too late, or before the Queen gets tetchy.

I have an inkling that while I had heard of George Mann and The Affinity Bridge it wasn't until I heard about the second book in the series, The Osiris Ritual, that I really sat up and took notice. I am more then a bit of an addict for anything Egyptian. Like my love of Victoriana, it's the darker side of Egyptology that I am drawn to. The plagues and curses brought down for desecrating the dead, hold me back. When you crave bedtime stories about King Tut's Curse and Lord Carnarvon's dog howling and dropping dead at the same moment his master died, well, it's not that much of a surprise that that person grows up to dwell on stories of mummies and devours the entire oeuvre of Elizabeth Peters.

I still occasionally have nightmares that the Rame Tep from The Young Sherlock Holmes might come for me. But this nightmare is tinged with a deliciousness, because sometimes it's a good thing to be scared by something you can't explain. Though of course I like my Egyptian thrills from a nice comfy armchair versus up close and personal, the time my parents took me to the King Tut exhibit and I spent the entire time crying in a stairwell at The Field Museum in Chicago because by father and brother had convinced me that the mummy would curse me is a case study in why books are best. Armchair traveler for life, stamp my passport please!

Therefore the opening of The Osiris Ritual is a dream come true. I got to sit in my comfy chair wrapped snugly against the cold and read about a mummy unwrapping ceremony. The erstwhile and eager reporter George Purefoy was my entre into this world, we stood in awe together, and who wouldn't want to be brought under the wing of Sir Maurice Newbury and listen to his insights? The lush opulence of Lord Winthrop's house with all his artifacts, the ton gathering around as the mysterious sarcophagus was placed on the table, sigh. If I could just sink into a book and live in the moment, I would have chosen this one.

At TeslaCon, where I met George a few years back now, there was a staged mummy unwrapping, and while it lacked the intimacy of a true unwrapping, I was surprised that it was able to still contain that frisson of excitement. Though at the unwrapping we attended there was no chance of a curse, or at least I assume so. Here reading the book, I was just holding my breath till the "curse" took effect, and to my heart's delight I didn't have long to wait. Like all good storytelling while we are given an answer to the "curse" the book was able to suspend our disbelief and make us believe in the magic of "what if?"

Though in other parts the magic faltered a little. This would be the magical pairing of Sir Maurice and Veronica. The problem here was that they were separated for most of the book. Yes, I do understand that the main reason for this was that they were pursuing different cases and that it narratively worked for them to be separated so that they were ignorant that their cases were linked and therefore drew out the suspense for us readers. But it just somehow didn't click. Newbury couldn't exactly hook arms with George Purefoy and go walking down the street to face the next foe, it wouldn't be the same.

Yes The Avengers occasionally went off and did their own thing, Emma taking one lead, Steed another, but it's never the same with them apart, and that's how it is here. I also realize that the growing attraction between the leads has to be drawn out in some way, you can't have them get together too early and then have them lose their chemistry and destroy the series a la Moonlighting. But just using the simple expedient of keeping them apart seems a bit too contrived. There are many more reasons for them to not get together, and it looks like in future this will work far better for George's storytelling then this move did.

Though this separation was just a niggling problem in a book with a lot going right for it. What I loved most, which was oddly not Egyptian, was the hunt for the two former agents for the Crown, William Ashford and Newbury's predecessor, Knox. Not only was George able to portray the depth of these characters, making the villains have just as much going for them as the hero and heroine, but the relationship between Ashford and Knox reminded me powerfully of another famous book that has influenced the Steampunk genre. I'm talking about Frankenstein.

The monster that Ashford has become is very much created as a result of Knox's actions. Therefore the two have this creature/creator relationship that mirrors Shelley's work in many interesting ways, most of which I can't say without screaming "spoilers" beforehand. Needless to say there are just so many layers and connections to itself and other great stories that this is a penny dreadful to be savoured and returned to again and again just to see what you missed last time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review - George Mann's The Affinity Bridge

The Affinity Bridge by George Mann
Published by: Tor
Publication Date: July 1st, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Queen Victoria should have died at the turn of 1901, but in November of that year Victoria lives still via machines, past her time on this earth, preserved as ruler. Sir Maurice Newbury works as an "investigator for the crown" for this indomitable woman who plans to outwit death, by any means necessary, technological or otherwise. While he works at the British Museum, his job there is little more then a cover. Or as Newbury and his clever assistant Victoria Hobbes would say, the museum is there to mark the time between their interesting adventures. Luckily this is a time when they aren't needed at the museum as Queen Victoria has several mysterious situations at present that need Newbury's expertise. There is a plague of revenants, zombie like corpses attacking people in the fog, a string of deaths in Whitechapel that are linked to a mysterious glowing policeman, but most importantly, a crashed airship that had a minor royal on board and among the lists of the dead, a list that is suspiciously missing a pilot. While Newbury longs to find a satisfying conclusion to the murders in Whitechapel and help Scotland Yard and his copper friend Sir Charles Bainbridge, Victoria has insisted that the crash of The Lady Armitage comes before everything else.

Going to the company that made The Lady Armitage, Chapman and Villiers, the duo discover that the company has been expanding beyond their regular line of airships to encompass Automatons. Villiers is a scientist who left France under a cloud because of his unorthodox experimentations, but Newbury can not help marvelling at the work shown to them. They have created simulated life. A simulated life that coincidentally may be responsible for the disastrous air crash, no matter Chapman and Villiers's denials. The closer Victoria and Newbury get to the answers, the more danger they are in. Sir Maurice needs help from "The Fixer" on more then one occasion to keep himself alive at all. Add the ubiquitous presence of the unnerving Automatons everywhere and then throw in a dash of an insane asylum and a laudanum addiction and you can see it's going to be a miracle if they can solve the cases and keep themselves alive.

It is rare that I ever bother to write a second review of a book, one and done is usually my motto. But then there's the other side of me, the control freak which knows that my reviewing style has changed over time. To have a George Mann theme month and just hit you with an old review, a review that feels like it was written out of time (and yes, I did "adapt" the recap), well, that's just not the done thing. Yet it's not just to appease my controlling nature that I re-review it. The Affinity Bridge is one of those elusive books that are worthy of further discussion. Upon re-reading there are so many more layers and plot points that mean something new and different. You see things you missed the first time around, and overall, while the book was just as good, if not better then the first time, it's for a whole new slew of reasons. Things that I loved previously annoyed me, while things I overlooked came forward to take the hole in my heart. George Mann to me is the apotheosis of Steampunk. He has defined this genre for me with a perfect balancing of Britishness, technology, romance, storytelling, and mystery.

To get at the heart of why this book is so seminal to me I really had to think about what continually draws me back to the Victorian era. The truth is it isn't the stuff of period dramas. It isn't the clothes, it isn't the bygone days of culture and manners. I know that might come as a shock, being the lover of miniseries and historical literature that I am. But what truly fascinates me about this time period is the danger, the menace lurking in the fog, and Jack the Ripper. Even as a teenager I had a love of the lurid, the Penny Dreadful, the danger coupled with the romance of another time. A world of manners coupled with skulduggery. The two sides of the coin, if you will, the refinement living alongside the heinous. If I had the ability to time travel I would totally use it just to solve the unsolvable and find out who really was Jack the Ripper. I'd probably use my power on other unsolved cases, but Jack the Ripper, the impact on society to this day is amazing. I can not count the number of interpretations that I have read, watched, and played over the years. Yes, I did play a Sherlock Holmes Jack the Ripper video game. I never won it, but I remember scraping Macassar oil off a door and analyzing it in the lab at 221B Baker Street.

Reading The Affinity Bridge while watching Whitechapel on the side made me have this eureka moment revealing myself to myself in all it's depravity. I finally got it. The murderers, the pickpockets, the thieves, all being routed out by the erstwhile detectives, I thrive on this. I search out that darker aspect in Victorian crime. I want stories worthy of the legend of Jack the Ripper, and that is what George delivers. The glowing policeman coming out of the darkness to revenge his death, seriously, chills. The revenants being a plague on the slums wherein any patch of fog could mean, not just your death, but a horrid and painful demise of being turned into an abomination, a great twist on zombies. This book is a Penny Dreadful for a modern sensibility. Not just relying on a Jack the Ripper type character, but expanding the horror to include the supernatural, the occult, and most terrifying of all, the rapid advancement of technology. These Automatons are literally the stuff of my nightmares, part Sonny from I Robot, part Cylon, and all the horror I never really felt for the Cybermen rolled into one.

But The Affinity Bridge couples this Victorian doom and gloom with a lighter almost campy air. During my re-reading of the book I almost felt as if Newbury was too British. Too much a parody of a man who will do anything for king and country. How does this lead to a positive you might be asking yourself right about now, well, I'm getting to it. The partnership of Newbury and Hobbes is very much reminiscent of that of John Steed and Emma Peel. This book is all the campy fun of a Victorian series of The Avengers, and no, not The Avengers with Loki. If you look at the complete run of The Avengers the four years between 1965-1968 were the shows glory years. Steed needed Emma. The show actually was on the air for many years before and after Mrs. Peel, but it is Mrs. Peel that balances Steed. This is how I view the relationship of Newbury and Hobbes. Newbury IS too campy, too British, because he isn't complete without Veronica. They balance each other to create a perfect partnership. I can only hope that they will keep walking arm and arm into the fog to fend off the next fiend and finish the day with a pot of Earl Grey.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Book Review - Paul Magrs's The Story of Fester Cat

The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs
ARC Provided by the Publisher and the Author
Published by: Berkley Trade
Publication Date: November 4th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Fester Cat had spent twelve years on the streets of Manchester, twice contemplating domesticity, but the last lady didn't understand him, she thought he was a girl! The indignity! Then Paul and Jeremy enter his life. They're the new couple in Fester's territory, even though they've been there about a year. There's something alluring and different about them, but most magical of all they know Fester's name! The Spanish lady thought he was a she and here's two guys who not only know he's a distinguished gentleman but that he answers to Fester! Ungow!

After a little time coming and going Fester decides that he shall adopt Paul and Jeremy and their lives together begin. Fester isn't just a furry family member but he helps the three of them become a family. Through rituals of turkey at Christmas and long summer days reading in the "Beach House" to singing and talking, they bond into a cohesive unit that is campy and cuddly and most of all filled with joyous everlasting love.

In March of 2013 my heart broke a little at the news that a certain tuxedo kitty was no longer in this world. Thirty-six days later I got a story in my inbox, The Story of Fester Cat. And I knew I couldn't read it. In a little over two weeks it would be four years since I had lost my tuxedo kitty, Spot. 1445 days and growing. This September Paul contacted me asking if I'd review the book for my blog. I said I was glad to, all the while wondering, but can I? I usually avoid reading books about animals like the plague. I can't take the fact that the book was written because their furry little story had come to an end.

I don't want excesses of unnecessary emotion and rainbow bridges, a sentiment that Fester himself would agree with I'm sure. I don't feel that it's cathartic or will help me heal, all I feel is the pain as fresh as the day I lost my little guy. But somehow this book was different. Yes, it did break my heart, I cried uncontrollably for awhile, but it also put my heart back together. In the two years I'd known Paul, Fester had become a part of my life, the daily pictures on Facebook of them working away at his computer or relaxing in the Beach House was a highlight of my day. The lose of a furry family member leaves a hole in your heart that you don't know what to do with, Paul filled his with Fester's song.

Fester's story is told in Fester's own unique voice, ungow! I'm not talking just about the conversational aspect, the vocal inflections that everyone who has known and loved a talkative cat knows about. The way they insinuate themselves into conversations with a mow here and a meep there. I'm talking about the inner voice made real in the narration of his story. All cat "owners" will tell you that their cat has a unique voice, I always imagined my Spot's voice as regal and somewhat sardonic, like Jeremy Irons.

Paul though has masterfully written this book in such a way that it feels he is channeling Fester. Fester is observant and witty and knows how to keep his humans in line and sticking to their routines. He is streetwise but also has a deeper understanding of life. His voice isn't just unique like some books have a unique narrator. Fester's voice attains a whole other level where it feels like it's destined to be classic, much like Eloise in the fabulous Kay Thompson series. You just read it and go, yes, this is Fester.

Reading The Story of Fester Cat you realize how important and personal a book this is. While in some regards as Paul says "It's like our little cat going out to meet the world!" But I think there's a whole deeper level, the level of Paul and Jeremy. If you have been lucky enough to read any of Paul's other books you will realize that Paul rather sneakily works himself into the stories. There's a bit of Paul in Robert in the Brenda and Effie series, then in Jack in 666 Charing Cross Road, and then there's Simon in the Iris Wildthyme series. You get this feeling that Paul has always wanted to be on an adventure and as a talented writer he has used these surrogates to insert himself into the narrative.

But for the first time he doesn't need a stand-in. This is Paul's life. There must be something so scary opening yourself up in such a way when for years you've had this separation. Not just showing a fictionalized version of yourself shown in the best light, but to show the good, the bad, the love, the heartbreak, the fights, the fusses, to show it all for everyone. This book is Paul laid bare. This is him, and Fester, and Jeremy. This is their song, full of love and heartbreak, but undeniably catchy. I can only hope that it will stick with you as the chorus and refrain play in your memory. Ungow!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Tuesday Tomorrow

The Story of Fester Cat by Paul Magrs
Published by: Berkley Trade
Publication Date: November 4th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"I always knew that the rest of my story is gonna be a good one. I don’t know how I knew that, but I always did. Ungow! I am Fester the cat. Welcome to my book, everyone!

From when he first ambled into Paul Magrs’s yard—skinny, covered in flea bites, and missing all but one and a half teeth—Fester knew he’d found his family. Paul and his partner, Jeremy, thought it was the ragged black-and-white stray, tired from a rough life on the streets, who was in desperate need of support. But clever Fester knew better. He understood that it was his newfound owners who needed the help.

Over the course of seven years, the feisty feline turned the quaint Manchester house into a loving home. Through his fierce spirit, strong will, and calming energy, Fester taught Paul and Jeremy how to listen and breathe, how to appreciate the joys of simply sitting and singing (what Fester’s purrs sounded like to his silly humans), and how to find joy and contentment in life, even when dealing with hardship.

This is the true story of an extraordinary little cat whose gentle charm and trusting soul turned two young men into a family."

As someone whose life was touched by Fester and his humans, this is the must read book of this month.

Waiscoats and Weaponry by Gail Carriger
Published by: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 4th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"Class is back in session... Sophronia continues her second year at finishing school in style--with a steel-bladed fan secreted in the folds of her ball gown, of course. Such a fashionable choice of weapon comes in handy when Sophronia, her best friend Dimity, sweet sootie Soap, and the charming Lord Felix Mersey stowaway on a train to return their classmate Sidheag to her werewolf pack in Scotland. No one suspected what--or who--they would find aboard that suspiciously empty train. Sophronia uncovers a plot that threatens to throw all of London into chaos and she must decide where her loyalties lie, once and for all.

Gather your poison, steel tipped quill, and the rest of your school supplies and join Mademoiselle Geraldine's proper young killing machines in the third rousing installment in the New York Times bestselling Finishing School Series by steampunk author, Gail Carriger."

Oddly this week is all authors I have met and greatly admire... Paul and Gail being people I met at the same time... odd.

Mortal Heart by Robin LaFevers
Published by: HMH Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: November 4th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 464 Pages
To Buy

The official patter:
"In the powerful conclusion to Robin LaFever's New York Times bestselling His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own.

She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind, doesn’t mean she has."

The conclusion to a truly stunning series! I love all of Robin's books, they just keep getting better and more amazing. If you haven't, seriously, just read them all! Right now! I will wait.

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