Review: Deadlands: Ghostwalkers

Posted on November 25th, 2015 @ 22:33
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Deadlands: GhostwalkersDeadlands: Ghostwalkers by Jonathan Maberry

My rating:


The first of three media tie-in novels based on the hit RPG franchise Deadlands

From New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, the first in a thrilling series of novels based on Deadlands, a hugely successful role-playing game (RPG) set in the Weird, Weird West.

Welcome to the Deadlands, where steely-eyed gunfighters rub shoulders with mad scientists and dark, unnatural forces. Where the Great Quake of 1868 has shattered California into a labyrinth of sea-flooded caverns . . . and a mysterious substance called “ghost rock” fuels exotic steampunk inventions as well as plenty of bloodshed and flying bullets.

In Ghostwalkers, a gun-for-hire, literally haunted by his bloody past, comes to the struggling town of Paradise Falls, where he becomes embroiled in a deadly conflict between the besieged community and a diabolically brilliant alchemist who is building terrible new weapons of mass destruction . . . and an army of the living dead!


[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

I used to play the Deadlands RPG when I was in high school. That was, well, long ago. Long enough for the game to be in its original iteration, no LCG or anything. Back when we used poker chips that could act as jokers, but we greedily kept them because the unused ones would turn into experience points at the end of the game. Yeah, that was quite a few years ago.

So I wanted to try and see what a novel set in the Deadlands universe was like.

Though I admit my recollections of the game are far and few between, I’m not sure the book exactly related. Some elements fitted, and had the “Weird West” feeling I tend to associate with that world, but they seemed to be thrown in more as add-ons than as true parts. (Dinosaurs, zombies, steampunk weapons, etc.) It was fun, sure, yet it also looked as too much being crammed in it… and at the same time, the novel felt too long for the story it had to tell.

It worked well enough as a “strange western”-like story in the beginning, in that the action started fast, and the tropes I was looking for were there: gunslingers, little town under the tyranny of a couple of rich white guys with their own militia of sorts, inhabitants trying to resist but being outnumbered… However, after a while, I began to lose interest, likely because of the repetitiveness of said action, and because the characters didn’t have much depths, all things considered. Grey had a troubled past… but there isn’t much more to him once this past is uncovered (he did work as a character thrown in that mess without much knowledge of what happened, as other people explaining things allowed the reader to discover them as well). Jenny was the mandatory brave female character with a shotgun, and her courage was commendable, yet out of this and her relationship with Grey, there wasn’t too much to her either. The monk was forgettable, and the villain was… gloating?

A definitely problematic character was Looks Away, the Sioux guy who happened to be part of a circus in Europe, got an education there, and now throwns in “British” slang all the time. Making him a Sioux felt more like ye olde mandatory POC than like a real person, as basically he could have been a British scholar just as well, and it wouldn’t have changed the plot in any way. (Granted, had the author gone overboard the other way, by making him a Native American cliché, it’d have been just as bad. But I believe in middle grounds.)

A good deal of the novel was also both boring and too over the top to fully belong. Characters discover awful weapon and enemies, fight them, manage to escape at the last moment, bit of deus ex machina here, rinse and repeat. (A corset stopping a bullet… Uh… Not sure about that, and if the explanation is what I think it was, it wasn’t made very clear in the end.) As for the enemies, I could do with zombies (in the Deadlandsverse? Sure!), but the vampire-witches mqde me wonder what they were doing here, and dinosaurs was too far-fetched, seemingly added to the mix just because at some point, someone must’ve said “hey, why not put dinosaurs in there, too, they’re cool.” Odd.

Writing style: long descriptions (of which I quickly get bored), and a tendency to veer into very short sentences/3-word long paragraphs that worked sometimes, and were jarring at others.

Conclusion: Some interesting ideas, but the characters need to be fleshed out, and the novel to be trimmed down when it comes to descriptions.

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Review: Death Vigil (Volume 1)

Posted on November 22nd, 2015 @ 22:09
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Death Vigil: Volume 1Death Vigil: Volume 1 by Stjepan Šejić

My rating:


Gifted? Join the Death Vigil in their ongoing war against the ever-growing power of the Primordial Enemy! Only catch is you have to die first. Become a corporeal immortal Death Knight and obtain reality-altering weaponry in the never-ending battle between good and evil.


[I received a copy of this comics through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This volume gathers issues 1 to 8, and while it’s not necessarily the most original take on the concept (the Reaper as a sort of goth girl + the scythe), I pretty much enjoyed it no matter what. Because, well, let’s be honest: I like goth chicks with scythes. Also I always have a soft spot for necromancy in general. And when it comes to toying with tropes.

I really liked the artwork and colours, although sometimes it was hard to differentiate between characters when their hair weren’t distrinctly black or white, and the author/artist went a bit heavy-handed when it came to cramming a lot of details in a panel. Granted, I read a PDF copy, which didn’t help (especially with panels on two separate pages—I had to change my display). It wasn’t such a big problem in the long run, just at times. Overall, the art grabbed me.

The scenario itself was somewhat simplistic: the Vigil (good guys) vs. the Necromancers (bad guys), complete with mysterious writings in the hands of a semi-crazy scientist/archaelogist bent on transcribing them. Nothing too original, but… it still worked. Sometimes you don’t need uber-original to be happy. There was action, and monsters, and cute monsters (Mia!), and Necromancers (some stupid, some definitely creepy), and puns (cheesy, but I’ve been known to be a much worse punster at times). Bad puns galore and characters dealing in death and horror, yet keeping a sense of humour? Count me in. Necromancers being both badass yet also highly ridiculous in how they always (always: even Sam, one of the main characters, keeps remarking about it) take their shirts off before running to battle? I am a simple being; this kind of stuff amuses me. It may be dumb, but it worked as far as I was concerned, possibly because I was in the mood for it.

Apart from the art and from smiling at the puns and all, what I also liked was the diversity. The people gravitating about Bernadette the Reaper were a family of sorts, all of different backgrounds and age, with strong bonds. A lot of female characters, too, and not the damsel-in-distress type: Marlene saves the day more than once, Grace looks frail yet is everything but, Clara actually gets back on her feet fairly quickly and embraces her power (which is fun, even though at first sight her weapon seems useless) instead of remaining “the typical clueless newbie who needs to learn all the ropes from Big, Burly Senior Male Characater”… That was refreshing.

Speaking of powers, while the scythe, knives and spade+pickaxe combination remain more “classical”, there’s also an interesting gallery here. James is a MMORPG player and his weapon is a deck of cards, which he uses as if he were playing Magic. Clara’s a feather which can do other things than just write. Chiyoko and Vlado can’t speak each other’s language, but their powers work really well together, and they have developed other means of communicating.

I’ll gladly pick the next volume. The subplot revolving around Clara, the mystery around Bernadette’s origins, Sam and his relationships with his tools (and also the hand)… Those make me want to know more.

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Review: Big Bang Generation

Posted on November 9th, 2015 @ 20:57
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Doctor Who: Big Bang GenerationDoctor Who: Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell

My rating:


“I’m an archaeologist, but probably not the one you were expecting.”

Christmas 2015, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.

Imagine everyone’s surprise when a time portal opens up in Sydney Cove. Imagine their shock as a massive pyramid now sits beside the Harbour Bridge, inconveniently blocking Port Jackson and glowing with energy. Imagine their fear as Cyrrus “the mobster” Globb, Professor Horace Jaanson and an alien assassin called Kik arrive to claim the glowing pyramid. Finally imagine everyone’s dismay when they are followed by a bunch of con artists out to spring their greatest grift yet.

This gang consists of Legs (the sexy comedian), Dog Boy (providing protection and firepower), Shortie (handling logistics), Da Trowel (in charge of excavation and history) and their leader, Doc (busy making sure the universe isn’t destroyed in an explosion that makes the Big Bang look like a damp squib).

And when someone accidentally reawakens The Ancients of the Universe - which, Doc reckons, wasn’t the wisest or best-judged of actions – things get a whole lot more complicated…


[I received a copy of this novel through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

1.5 stars

I don’t know where to start, because this one was all over the place. Ambitious, with a plotline that could be awesome and tie a lot of things together, yet… didn’t in the end, not really. I mean, the plot got its ending, but I still have no idea where it all fits within the Glamour series, except for the name being thrown in, and the Ancients bit just made me wonder what/who exactly they were, and what was their purpose? (Not much, considering how they were presented.)

I liked the sense of a con, or several cons going on, at the same time, or at different times. I liked the postcards bit, because in general I’m fond of such devices (cliché as they are) to “gather the posse together and prepare for the big heist”. Only it stayed at that level, and I didn’t get later the feeling I got from the book’s blurb, which hinted at something more exciting.

A lot of things made no sense, to be honest, in how the characters behaved, in their plans, in how they interacted with each other. There was banter (good Capaldi-like lines, for sure) but they felt disjointed from the plot. The characters weren’t as far as witty as they were meant to be. Incoherences thrown in now and then didn’t help (I think they have some time of veiling/cloaking technology, yet Peter has to hide his face under a hoodie?).

The random interest Kik showed for Peter was a big WTF series of moments for me. It just came out of nowhere, and made as little sense as the rest. Their interactions were somewhat fun at first (dog fart in her face to make her throw him away—it’s 100% dumb, but hey, whatever works, also I’m positive it’s the kind of stunt I’d pull in a pen & paper RPG session)… but they didn’t tie at all into “prospective love interest territory”. The badass assassin never projected that aura of badassery I expected from her, Jaansen was just a bumbling idiot, Globb never lived up to his reputation as a conman, Ruth… I don’t even know what she was supposed to do here, apart from being that other guy’s fiancée. I probably missed a few things here. I’m fine with lots of characters… only please develop them more, make them look and smell and feel “real”, otherwise I won’t care much.

And that’s another of the issues I have with this novel. I didn’t get a lot of the references (although I enjoyed the ones I got), my knowledge of the series being mostly the 2005+ seasons and a handful of novels. However, I kept wondering if there wasn’t too much information about Bernice and what she shared with the Doctor, in that now I feel I know a lot without never reading anything about her (or listening to anything—if I’m not mistaken, that was all about audio episodes?). It’s as if the novel hints at too many things for someone who doesn’t know much to the Whoverse, while at the same time recapping too many things as well for those who know a lot and don’t care about, well, many recaps. As a result, there was paradoxically a lot of padding in a novel still too short for its (potentially) complex plot.

Definitely a weird and soon-to-be-forgotten read, unfortunately.

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Review: The Dream Engine

Posted on November 5th, 2015 @ 21:40
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The Dream EngineThe Dream Engine by Sean Platt

My rating:


A truth terrible enough to bury for a millennium …

A mysterious boy calling in her sleep …

A secret city that shouldn’t exist …

When Eila Doyle first sees the strange boy beckoning in whispers from somewhere deep in her imagination, she questioned her sanity. She was used to seeing strange things with her eyes closed — that’s what Eila did all day while strapped to the Blunderbuss, Building whatever the Ministry of Manifestation required — but never before have those images felt so real, or so dangerous.

After Eila learns the terrible truth about her reality and the monsters inside it, she thinks that maybe madness might be her only escape…


[I received a copy of this novel from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

2.5 stars

A very interesting theme, but ultimately this novel felt more like an introduction.

I liked the idea of a world shaping its inventions through thoughts, from concepts and a strange machine called the Blunderbuss. I liked the explanation behind how this weird science worked, where exactly the concepts and images came from, not to mention that in general, anything that has to do with dreams tends to fascinate me. One part of the world living a relatively placid existence, with nights spent in quiet, without dreams; and the other, its counterpart, having to sift through dreams nightmares in order to send feedback. And the remnants, what nobody wants, the pollution born from human minds, which just goes… somewhere else. Although the explanations weren’t too easy to follow at first, soon they made sense.

Another thing I liked was how the “mysterious boy” didn’t end up as the mandatory love interest, the one that always ends up trampling over the plot in typical YA novels, whether their genre is actually romance or not. It was quite refreshing, and I can only hope that the world and the stakes presented by the “dream engine” will not fall prey to “luuuurve” in the next volume. There’s enough going in without giving in to trends. So, authors, thank you for sticking to the weird science and dreams and contraptions here.

However, as I was reading, I kept feeling that a lot of things often got rehashed and repeated more than necessary—that some trimming would’ve been in order. It took a long time for what I thought would be the plot to unfurl, and while Eila’s hesitation and questioning herself was totally understandable, it still looked to me like beating around the bush, instead of helping flesh out her character as well as others. In the end, Cora, Daw, Levi (for a few minutes, I couldn’t even remember his name, even though I’ve just finished reading the book… that’s how much an impression he made on me), all the others, were more shades than actual people. Eila was the most developed of all, yet her running in circles in her mind kept her at a basic level: I still don’t know what she likes and dislikes, for instance. I think this is the kind of plot where less time should’ve been spent on introspection, and more on subplots (no need for complex ones: simple things such as more than just Atwell confronting Eila after dinner, or someone realising she wasn’t with Cora every evening, etc.).

So much potential, so many endless possibilities, yet never truly explored…

The world itself, albeit interesting, also suffers from the “pocket universe syndrome”, in that the idea behind its foundations is great, but it seems really, really tiny, no more than a city and some land around it. It could be an island, for what it’s worth, completely isolated, and I didn’t get the feeling of a “real” world, for all its talks of airships and pilots bringing goods from other areas. How far is Stensue from Waldron’s Gate? Is Pavilion only under the latter, or does it extend everywhere? Are there other Pavilions under other towns? And so on.

Conclusion: despite finding quite a few likeable elements in there, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would. I may or may not pick the second book someday, to see if the potential of this series is going to be properly exploited; right now, though, I really don’t know.

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Review: These Shallow Graves

Posted on November 2nd, 2015 @ 11:42
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These Shallow GravesThese Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly

My rating:


Jo Montfort is beautiful and rich, and soon—like all the girls in her class—she’ll graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor. Which is the last thing she wants. Jo dreams of becoming a writer—a newspaper reporter like the trailblazing Nellie Bly.

Wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes: her father is found dead. Charles Montfort shot himself while cleaning his pistol. One of New York City’s wealthiest men, he owned a newspaper and was a partner in a massive shipping firm, and Jo knows he was far too smart to clean a loaded gun.

The more Jo hears about her father’s death, the more something feels wrong. Suicide is the only logical explanation, and of course people have started talking, but Jo’s father would never have resorted to that. And then she meets Eddie—a young, smart, infuriatingly handsome reporter at her father’s newspaper—and it becomes all too clear how much she stands to lose if she keeps searching for the truth. But now it might be too late to stop.

The past never stays buried forever. Life is dirtier than Jo Montfort could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all.


[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

A bit too long to my taste for the story it told, although some of the scenes at the end were worth the read.

It started with interesting ideas. Jo is a wealthy girl, who may look like she’s got everything but is tied to her family’s wishes and to society’s diktats: finishing school is just that, and once she’s out of it, she’ll marry the man who was already chosen for her, and will have to give up her dreams of writing. Journalism is so below her class that she’s not even allowed to read the newspapers, and has to do so in secrecy. She doesn’t want to give up, doesn’t want to renounce, yet deep inside, she feels there’s no other choice, that choosing otherwise will ruin her family as well as herself; she’s likely to get disallowed, and it takes some bravery to risk that fate. Jo is brave… but not so brave. And although it’s not openly stated (way less openly than the “fine women = fine breeding dogs” comparison enforced by insufferable Grandmama), I think this is perhaps why she embraces the mystery surrounding her father’s death. Not only because she’s bereaved, not only because she wants to learn the truth: because this is her first and only chance at an adventure before she gets stuffed into a life she’s may or may not really want. Selfish? Maybe. But understandable.

As often in similar stories, there was romance involved, and unfortunately, in this case, it kind of killed the mood for me. The danger and stakes Jo had to face were already a lot, enough to highlight the dilemma in her existence. The love interest thrown in the middle (without any spark in there) added drama and angst-filled scenes that clashed with what could have been otherwise a fine thread woven into the mystery: Jo’s wishes to live a life of her own choosing, as a woman who wants to be a journalist (all the more since she could’ve been of the muckraker variety, albeit a few years before investigative journalism really started to soar).

Trudy smiled ruefully. “What can I say? I merely wish to smoke. Sparky can forgive that. You, on the other hand, wish to know things. And no one can forgive a girl for that.”

Instead, this took the backstage in favour of trading one man for the other, as if the real choice here was only who to love, and not the whole package. To be fair, though, the author didn’t go with the easiest solution at the end, which in my opinion is good. Still, had there been no romantic plot, it may have allowed for more development when it came to Jo’s family, her friends, and her life as a person in general; it may also have helped fleshing out the friendships she developed, as those seemed to happen too fast, too strongly, and were not really believable, not considering what the characters did for each other later.

The tone of the story was a bit… childish, considering the themes tackled (suicide, life on the streets, prostitutes and pickpockets, digging up corpses—not a spoiler, by the way, as the first chapter opens exactly on that). Often a chapter would end on a mini-cliffhanger phrased in a way that I would’ve expected from a novel with a much younger audience, so to speak (for instance, “Jo and Eddie were trapped,” or “Jo and Eddie were locked in the closet.”). This clashed with what was a more serious story. The writing style in general border on the “telling, not showing” variety, and made for a dull reading in places. I couldn’t care that much about Jo, or Eddie, whose feelings seemed more mechanical when told in such a way.

Moreover, Jo didn’t strike me as believable: she was way too ignorant and naive for someone who supposedly had an interest in investigative journalism, read the newspapers behind her parents’ backs, and was supposed to be inquisitive and sharp. A lot of times, other characters had to spell out things for her (for instance, she took her sweet time to understand the hints at what “Della’s house” meant, when it was absolutely obvious). It would’ve worked if she had been a fully-sheltered young woman of fine upbringing who had never taken an interest to anything else than her family, gardening and parties, but it didn’t fit the wannabe-journalist part of her character.

Finally, a lot of things were predictable, both in the mystery and its clues, and in how some characters were linked to the investigation plot. I suspect the latter was intended in a Dickensian way, but I found this heavy-handed (there are a few glaring references to Oliver Twist) and not very efficient. It was too easy to guess who was related to whom, and where the whole thing was going, even though, as I wrote above, some of the ending scenes were fine, and made up a little for many more boring scenes that came before.

Conclusion: an interesting historical background and OK mystery, that however would’ve unfurled more efficiently without all the romantic angst and faffing about. 1.5 to 2 stars.

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