Review: “The Ice Queen” By Alice Hoffman (Novel)

Ever since I watched the film adaptation of “Practical Magic” and, later, read Alice Hoffman’s excellent “Turtle Moon” I’ve been meaning to read another Alice Hoffman novel. And, since this review will be the hundredth book review since I got back into reading regularly several months ago, I thought that it was the perfect time to do this.

But, since both new and second-hand copies of Hoffman’s “Practical Magic” were still a bit on the expensive side of things at the time of writing, I looked around online and ended up buying a second-hand copy of Hoffman’s 2005 novel “The Ice Queen” instead.

So, let’s take a look at “The Ice Queen”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

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[Note: I read the 2006 Vintage (UK) paperback edition of “The Ice Queen”, although I’ve decided against showing what the book looks like because the previous owner of the second-hand copy I read has scrawled what appears to be a phone number onto the cover and, on the grounds of privacy, I thought it best not to show this.]

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The novel begins with a flashback to the nameless narrator’s childhood, showing how she feels that a single angry thought caused the death of her mother. Since then, she has been racked by self-loathing and has lived a rather cold life. She works in a library, where she becomes an expert on death due to frequent information requests from a local police officer. Although the two of them have several trysts together, she breaks up with him when she realises that he is falling in love with her.

After the death of her grandmother, the narrator agrees to move to Florida with her brother, who is working on a research project into lightning strikes. On the car journey, the narrator thinks about being struck by lightning and, sure enough, it happens to her some time later. Amongst other injuries, the lightning strike removes her ability to see the colour red- turning the world into a cold, icy landscape.

During a support group meeting for lightning strike survivors at the university, she hears about a mysterious recluse called Lazarus Jones who died from a lightning strike and returned to life sometime later. According to the gossip, Lazarus’ body is warmer than usual, giving him the ability to burn things just by touching them. Fascinated, she decides to seek him out….

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it, although it sounds like the most random and depressing novel ever written, it is actually one of the most profound and beautiful books that I’ve read recently 🙂 It is a story that is worth reading for the characters, the atmosphere and the way that it is written. And, yes, it is also a novel that will probably make you cry at least a few times.

At it’s heart, this is a novel about fairytales – about the differences between the sanitised moralistic fairytales of Hans Christian Anderson and the macabre fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, about the difference between reality and fairytales and, most importantly, about the bizarre logic of fairytales.

In particular, how random small things can have a huge influence on other things. This is kind of a running theme throughout the novel with, for example, the course of main character’s entire life being shaped by a single thought that she had when she was a child. It is a theme that is both fascinating and eerily terrifying at the same time.

This fairytale-like atmosphere is also emphasised by a few well-placed fantastical/ magic realist elements throughout the story. Whether it is the narrator’s belief that wishes can cause death, or the fact that one character burns everything he touches, or people returning from the dead or the way that the story depicts lightning, this is one of those stories that is both realistic and fantastical at the same time. These fantasy elements also help to lighten the more depressing elements of the story too, by giving the reader a little bit of emotional distance from the story.

Likewise, this novel contains some brilliant romance elements. Although they are a bit stylised, they have an intensity and a passion to them that really helps to add some vivid warmth to this bleak tale. There’s also a lot of stuff about the blurring of love and obsession, the contrast between fire and ice, how secrets define who we are and lots of other stuff like that. Likewise, the mystery of Lazarus’ backstory and the narrator’s intense curiosity about it also help to add some compelling suspense to the story too.

Emotionally, this novel is incredibly profound. Although it is filled with misery, woe, angst, death, sorrow, fear, self-loathing, guilt and bleakness, this is leavened by both the beauty of Hoffman’s writing style and the inclusion of things like dark humour and profound statements about humanity, life, death and everything else.

Like with Hoffman’s “Turtle Moon”, this is one of those novels that has a real sense of humanity to it. This is kind of difficult to describe but you get the sense that, for all of the story’s darkness, there’s an underlying warmth, compassion and wisdom lurking in the background.

In terms of the characters, they’re really good. The nameless narrator gets the most characterisation and she is a flawed, realistic character whose entire life and outlook on the world has been shaped by feelings of self-loathing and fear. She’s a misfit who is obsessed with death and prefers to be alone. She’s a really complex and fascinating character (who is kind of like a much less creepy/sociopathic version of the narrator in Kaaron Warren’s “Slights”). The other characters in the story also receive a fair amount of characterisation and they all come across as quirky, flawed, realistic people.

In terms of the writing, this novel is spectacular. Although most of the first-person narration is fairly informal and “matter of fact”, it is filled with numerous small moments of poetry, weirdness, magical descriptions and other beautiful things that really give the story a vivid and unique atmosphere. The combination of all of these things means that the story flows really well – having the pacing of a mild thriller whilst also having the deep atmosphere and intellectual/emotional depth of a literary novel.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is brilliant. At a wonderfully efficient 211 pages, this story never feels too long 🙂 Likewise, as mentioned earlier, the narration means that this novel is both fast-paced and slow-paced at the same time – this is really difficult to describe. This is one of those stories that just flows really well, which moves slowly yet feels like it is moving quickly. In other words, it is compelling.

All in all, this is a really great novel. It’s a weird dark fairytale that is also filled with magic and profundity. It is both an incredibly beautiful and an incredibly depressing novel. It probably isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it is one of the most profound and well-written novels that I’ve read recently.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a five.

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Review: “Old Twentieth” By Joe Haldeman (Novel)

Well, after I’d finished reading Joe Haldeman’s excellent “The Accidental Time Machine” a week or two earlier, I looked online and ended up finding a second-hand copy of Haldeman’s 2005 novel “Old Twentieth”. Since the cover art and the premise looked fairly interesting, I decided to take a look at it.

So, let’s take a look at “Old Twentieth”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2006 Ace (US) paperback edition of “Old Twentieth” that I read.

The novel begins in 1915, where a soldier in Gallipoli called Jacob is mortally wounded by a Turkish shell. As he dies, someone shows him a series of pictures….

We then flash forward to the distant future. Jacob is hundreds of years old, because an immortality pill was developed in the past. However, the fact that the pill was initially only available to the wealthy sparked an Earth-wide civil war, which ended with the immortal 3% of the population using bio-weapons to get rid of the 97%. In the centuries that followed, Earth rebuilt itself from a post-apocalyptic ruin and civilisation returned.

However, there were still worries about how long Earth would last. So, after a probe finds another habitable planet, eight hundred people decide to take the 1000 year voyage in a group of five spaceships. To stave off boredom during the voyage and to help the crew emotionally, one of the ships has a virtual reality machine that can realistically simulate many parts of Earth’s history. Jacob is part of the team that maintains the machine and sorts out errors in the program.

For the first few years of the voyage, everything goes well. Life on board the ship is pleasant and Jacob even falls in love with another member of the crew too. However, all of this starts to unravel when someone using the VR machine suddenly and mysteriously dies whilst still plugged in…..

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that it’s a fairly atmospheric, intelligent and compelling sci-fi story that is reminiscent of films like “The Thirteenth Floor” and “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the TV show “Bablyon 5” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World“. Even so, it can be a little bit on the slow-paced side of things, not to mention that it is also a far cry from the light-hearted adventure of Haldeman’s “The Accidental Time Machine” too.

Although there are some moments of humour and some rather utopian moments (which are perhaps a satire of “Star Trek”) during the story, this is very much a bleak and dystopian story. On the plus side, it contains some brilliantly chilling and grotesque moments of sci-fi horror but, for the most part, it is a rather melancholy story. It’s a very intelligent, atmospheric and compelling novel, but it isn’t exactly a “feel good” novel.

One interesting thing about the novel’s VR segments is that they are deliberately grim and dystopian, with the grittiness of history being contrasted with the seemingly utopian world of the future (this even extends to some of the deliberately dated descriptions used in the “history” segments). This also allows the story to include some extra worldbuilding and emotional depth since, in a world where people are immortal, realistic simulations of things like disease and death evoke a different reaction than they would do if the characters experiencing them were mortal.

Thematically, this book is fairly complex. In addition to dealing with history, war, capitalism, anarchy, death, psychology and other such heavy topics, it is also a book about virtual reality, artificial intelligence and the meaning of life too. There’s lots of fairly interesting subtle stuff too, such as how a lot of the VR history segments in the early parts of the story deal with the Spanish Flu, which parallels the use of bio-weapons in the novel’s backstory. Or how the narrator’s surname is Brewer, which links into a comment that a character makes about him later in the story.

But, one slightly annoying thing about this book is that it could have been a really brilliant satire of moral panics and it possibly is to some limited extent. Even so, this novel mostly goes down a more serious and dystopian route, with the “dangerous” VR machine being a source of horror and a source of moral lectures from a few of the more curmudgeonly characters (where it is likened to alcoholism, drugs etc..). Still, this novel does pose the question of whether joy and escapism is an integral part of the meaning of life, with the alternative to using the machine being 1000 years of repetitive boredom on a spaceship.

In terms of the characters, they’re ok I guess. The narrator gets a reasonable amount of characterisation, but the side-characters often seem a little bit stylised or under-developed. Although there is a possible in-universe explanation for this, the very slight lack of characterisation can make some of the characters seem a little bit generic and/or annoying. Likewise, it’s kind of annoying that the only bi character (Kate) in the novel is possibly something of a stereotype too.

In terms of the writing, the novel is mostly narrated from a first-person perspective, with a few brief third-person backstory segments. The writing style is fairly descriptive, but readable, which helps to add a lot of atmosphere to the story – albeit at the cost of slightly slower-paced storytelling. Even so, the writing in this novel is kind of like a slightly updated version of more classic sci-fi narration.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At 285 pages in length, it never really feels too long and it manages to pack quite a bit of storytelling into a reasonable amount of pages. On the other hand, whilst this novel does become more and more compelling as it goes along, the pacing is a little bit on the slow side of things. Yes, this adds atmosphere and suspense. But, on the other hand, a faster pace would have made this story even better.

Still, the novel has a rather dramatic ending though. However, if you’ve seen a fair number of sci-fi movies/TV shows, then it might be at least slightly predictable. Even so, it’s a reasonably clever way to end the story nonetheless.

All in all, this is a compelling, intelligent, atmospheric and suspenseful sci-fi novel. Yes, it’s slow-paced, a bit depressing and it possibly needs a bit more characterisation, but it is still a reasonably good novel. Even so, I enjoyed Haldeman’s “The Accidental Time Machine” slightly more than this novel.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get a four.

Review “The Phantom Of The Opera” (WAD for “Doom II”/”Final Doom”/ “ZDoom”)

Well, since I’m still reading the next novel I plan to review (“Fall Of Night” by Jonathan Maberry), I thought that I’d take the chance to look at another “Doom II”/”Final Doom” WAD, since it’s been about two or three weeks since my last WAD review.

And, after clicking the “random file” button on the /idgames Archive a couple of times, I ended up with a single-level WAD from 2005 called “The Phantom Of The Opera“.

As usual, I used the “ZDoom” source port to play this WAD, although it will probably work with almost any other source port. However, since this WAD uses a couple of the WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” textures and enemies from Doom II’s secret levels, this WAD may not work with censored versions of the game (eg: the BFG edition and/or the German version of the game).

So, let’s take a look at “The Phantom Of The Opera”:

The level takes place in two different areas, an opera house-style area and some underground tunnels/crypts.

Given that the level only uses the standard textures (including the “Wolf 3D” ones from the secret levels), these areas are fairly well-designed and they look reasonably close to what they are supposed to be (for example, in order to progress to part of the opera house, you have to walk through a curtain. Likewise, there’s a boat that teleports you to another part of the level etc..).

What do you mean, unsafe? It looks perfectly seaworthy to me!

And, for something made with the standard textures, this opera house looks pretty impressive, if a little small.

In addition to this, the level also tries to add a bit of visual/combat variety by using a couple of enemies and a portrait from Doom II’s WW2-themed “Wolfenstein 3D” secret levels.

But, although this WW2-related stuff adds a bit of extra content to the level, it does seem at least slightly out of place in a level that is supposed to be set in 19th century France.

The level design itself is reasonably good, with the level being a non-linear level which is also small/streamlined enough that you’ll never really get lost. Like in any classic “Doom II” level, you’ll be searching for keys in order to progress (and these are pretty easy to find). Likewise, there are a few secrets to find too. Although the very first one is pretty easy to find, there’s a well-designed secret involving a piano/organ, which was kind of cool.

The level’s difficulty is kind of interesting. Although there aren’t that many monsters, the level achieves a certain level of challenge by heavily rationing the amount of ammo available to you.

If you find the blue health sphere near the beginning of the level, then this won’t be too much of a problem – but this is one of those levels where you have to know when to fight and when to run. This is especially true in the final segment of the level, when you are faced with multiple arch viles (and have little to no ammo).

Well, it wouldn’t be a “Doom II” level without THESE!

Surprisingly, this adds a bit of extra fun to the level, since you’ll have to use all of the reflexes and tactics that you’ve learnt from playing other levels. Likewise, the sheer number of arch viles near the end means that the final segment is much more like a basic puzzle (eg: you have to work out what to do and how to do it quickly) than a combat segment, since you can’t possibly fight all of the arch viles.

Even so, experienced players will find this level to be very much on the easier side of things. Even so, it’s still fairly fun.

In terms of music, this level uses the standard “Doom II” music – which is kind of annoying, given that it is meant to be based on The Phantom Of The Opera.

All in all, this is a fun and well-designed – but rather short and relatively easy level – that is a fun way to spend 10-15 minutes. It’s interesting to see someone trying to recreate The Phantom Of The Opera (even with some anachronistic WW2-era elements).

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it might just get a four.

Review: “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” By Natasha Rhodes (Novel)

First of all, sorry that it’s taken me so long to review this novel (mostly due to hot weather at the time of writing). Anyway, I thought that I’d re-read at Natasha Rhodes’ 2005 horror novel “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” today.

This novel is an original spin-off novel based on the brilliantly creepy “Final Destination” horror movie series. I first read this novel in 2005/6, during my mid-late teens, after a friend at sixth form recommended the series to me. And, after finding my old copy of this novel a few days before writing this review (and feeling a bit nostalgic), I decided to look online for books in the series. To my surprise, they were (at the time of writing) almost all expensive out-of-print collector’s items. So, I decided to re-read this one.

So, let’s take a look at “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning”. Needless to say, this review may contain SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Black Flame (UK) paperback edition of “Final Destination: Dead Reckoning” that I read.

The novel begins in Los Angeles. Nineteen year old rock musician Jess Golden has just stolen someone’s wallet and is on her way to an underground nightclub called Club Kitty. After fooling her way past the doorman with a fake ID, she joins her band – The Vipers- one minute before they are due to play. Needless to say, they aren’t exactly happy about this.

Even so, the concert starts off well… until Jess notices a crack in the ceiling. Within minutes, she sees the dilapidated nightclub collapse, killing all of those inside. However, a second later, Jess finds herself back in the middle of the concert. It doesn’t take her long to realise that she’s had a premonition of an impending disaster. So, she stops the show and urges everyone to flee.

Needless to say, this doesn’t go over well and she gets thrown out of the club, shortly before a few other people leave. Seconds later, the club collapses. Not only does Jess quickly find herself under suspicion for the accident and on the run from the police, but the other survivors suddenly find themselves in danger from a mysterious unseen force that tries to cause bizarre, deadly accidents…

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that, whilst it is a good spin-off novel, it is also a novel that is “so bad that it’s good”. Although the novel is fairly true to the spirit of the “Final Destination” films and contains some really good suspense, horror, fake-outs and other cool stuff, it is let down somewhat by the characters.

As a horror novel, this story works reasonably well 🙂 The premise of the “Final Destination” films (eg: people who have cheated death being chased by death itself) is inherently creepy and the novel is very true to the spirit of the films. In other words, the characters find themselves in lots of suspenseful dangerous situations, with so many near-misses and fake-outs that you’ll never quite know which character will die next or when. This suspenseful horror is also complemented by some moments of gory horror which, whilst not quite as gruesome as a classic splatterpunk novel, are about on par with the splatter effects in the films the story is inspired by.

The horror highlight of this novel is probably a wonderfully macabre nightmare scene (featuring the grim reaper and a grotesque ladder made from the souls of the dead) during one of the later parts of the story. Unfortunately, it’s a relatively short scene and I really wish that more scenes like this had appeared in the story. Seriously, the brilliant mixture of imaginative horror and dark comedy in this one scene reminded me a bit of a classic Clive Barker novel or something like that 🙂

Likewise, the story’s suspenseful elements also help to turn the novel into a bit of a thriller novel too – especially since Jess also spends several parts of the story on the run from the police for various reasons. Even so, the novel wasn’t really as gripping as I had hoped for – thanks to some of the story’s “so bad that it’s good” elements.

The most noticeable of these is probably the characters. Basically, many of the main characters are the kind of cheesy stylised characters you’d expect to see in a teen horror movie. Although Jess is a reasonably well-written main character, some of the other characters include two idiotic frat boys, a vapid “valley girl” character, a handsome “popular” guy (who owns a vintage car) and an “alternative” nice guy character. And the characterisation is, well, cinematic. But, whilst this would work well in a cheesy Hollywood horror movie, I’d expect more from a novel. Likewise, the main characters also spend a lot of time arguing with each other too, which gets really annoying after a while.

Even so, there are some wonderfully unusual background characters who really help to add a bit of extra personality to the story. Such as an ex-stunt driver who works as a taxi driver and conveniently shows up to help Jess during two scenes where she is being chased by the police. Likewise, although the series’ famous mortician doesn’t show up, he’s replaced by an eccentric homeless man that the main characters meet a couple of times.

But, if there’s one thing to be said for this novel, it is a fairly cool piece of mid-2000s nostalgia. Everything from the focus on rock music (including several classic rock/ heavy metal references), the lack of smartphones, the tonal similarities to Hollywood horror movies/teen comedies from the time, the slightly “edgy” tone etc.. is wonderfully reminiscent of the time the story was written. Even so, this is also one of those novels that could have easily come from the 1990s too – which isn’t a bad thing.

As for the writing, the novel’s third-person narration is reasonably good. This novel is written in a fairly informal and readable style, which helps the story to move at a reasonably decent pace. Even so, some of the dialogue and character-based scenes are quite literally “so bad that they’re good”.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is a bit of a mixed bag. At about 385 pages in length, it’s a little bit on the long side for a cheesy horror thriller novel. Likewise, although the story has quite a few suspenseful and fast-paced moments, it is occasionally bogged down by things like annoying arguments between the characters and stuff like that. Even so, the novel gets slightly more gripping as it progresses.

All in all, this novel is “so bad that it’s good”. It’s a cheesy late-night horror movie in novel form. Yes, it has some rather cool moments and some excellent suspense, but it also contains some cringe-worthily annoying arguments, characters etc… too. Still, if you’re a fan of the “Final Destination” films, then you’ll probably enjoy this book, since it’s fairly true to the spirit of the films. But, given how expensive second-hand copies of books in this series have become, I really can’t recommend getting a copy of this novel these days.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get three and a half.

Review: “Working For The Devil” By Lilith Saintcrow (Novel)

A few weeks before I wrote this review, I was waiting for some books to arrive when I spotted a copy of Lilith Saintcrow’s 2005 novel “Working For The Devil” on one of my bookshelves. If I remember rightly, I found this book in a charity shop sometime during the late 2000s/early 2010s (probably when I was reading Mike Carey’s awesome “Felix Castor” novels, at a guess), but never quite got round to reading it back then.

So, after glancing at the first few pages and thinking “Yes, this is my kind of novel!”, I ended up ordering a second-hand anthology of all five novels in the series (it’s a giant tome of a book, so it seemed more ergonomic to read the individual paperback of this novel). I then…. got distracted by other books for several weeks, until this review.

So, let’s take a look at “Working For The Devil”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2007 Orbit (UK) paperback reprint of “Working With The Devil” that I read.

The novel begins in the fictional US city of Saint City, at some point in the distant future. A necromancer (and part-time bounty hunter) called Dante Valentine is having a quiet afternoon at home when there is a knock on the door. When she opens it, a mysterious demon points a gun at her and tells her that his boss – Lucifer- wants to hire her for an urgent job. Needless to say, it looks like Dante will be… working with the devil!

More specifically, Lucifer wants Dante to track down and kill an escaped demon who has stolen something from him. Although Dante is initially wary about this, she soon learns that the demon in question is none other than the man who murdered her best friend several years earlier. So, in true action movie fashion, this time it’s personal!

One of the first things that I will say about this novel is that is it awesome 🙂 Not only is it a totally badass horror/urban fantasy action-thriller novel (in the tradition of writers like Mike Carey, Jocelynn Drake and Laurell K. Hamilton), but it is also set in a cyberpunk-influenced future that reminded me a bit of things like “Blade Runner“, “Cowboy Bebop“, “Shadowrun: Dragonfall” and Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash“. In other words, it is a really cool novel 🙂

I should probably start by talking about the horror/urban fantasy elements of this story. Although this story isn’t really particularly scary, there’s lots of horror-themed stuff here, like necromancy, hell, demons, serial killers, evil schools etc… Plus, although there’s relatively little of the gory horror that you’d expect in a novel like this, this story still works reasonably well as a horror-themed thriller.

Likewise, the story certainly has it’s own mythos and set of rules (eg: regarding magical power, necromancy etc..) which really help to add some depth and atmosphere to the story. The story’s fantasy elements also blend in really well with the sci-fi elements of the story too – with Dante’s astral voyages into the realm of the dead, manipulation of magical power etc.. almost reading like futuristic cyberpunk computer hacking at times. Likewise, the way that society reacts to the presence of psychics, necromancers etc… allows for some chillingly dystopian background elements too.

The novel’s action-thriller elements work really well too. Although there is a fair amount of time devoted to things like investigations and characterisation/dialogue, the story remains fairly gripping throughout and there are certainly a few dramatic fight scenes too (Dante carries a katana with her everywhere. So, this is kind of a given) – although not quite as many as you might expect. Still, this is the kind of compelling novel that you’ll want to binge-read in a couple of 2-3 hour sessions 🙂

The story’s sci-fi elements are really cool too 🙂 Although this novel initially just seems like an “ordinary” urban fantasy novel with a few futuristic words (eg: “holovid”, “plasgun” etc..) dropped into it for flavour, the “world” and atmosphere of the story is gloriously cyberpunk 🙂

Whether it’s the neon-lit “Blade Runner”-like Saint City, the scenes with flying skateboards (which reminded me of Neal Stephenson’s “Snow Crash”), the scenes set in a futuristic version of Rio Di Janeiro (which reminded me of a low-budget 1990s cyberpunk movie called “Nemesis) or the vaguely “Shadowrun: Dragonfall”-esque blending of fantasy and cyberpunk, this novel has a really cool cyberpunk background to it. Seriously, I absolutely love the “world” of this novel 🙂

In terms of the writing, it’s reasonably good. The novel’s first-person narration is the kind of gritty, sarcastic, fast-paced narration that you’d expect to see in a good urban fantasy/thriller novel 🙂 The writing contains enough descriptions and characterisation to keep the story atmospheric, whilst also being “matter of fact” enough to keep things thrilling and intense too.

As for the characters, they’re really good. There’s certainly enough characterisation here to make you care about what happens to the characters. As you would expect, Dante Valentine gets the most characterisation – and she’s a rather interesting character. Although she clearly takes inspiration from Anita Blake (from Laurell K. Hamilton’s novels), I found Dante to be a more interesting character than Anita Blake.

In addition to being a total and utter badass (who mostly avoids the annoying “goody two-shoes” elements of Anita Blake’s character), Dante is also something of a social outcast (on account of her magical abilities) who is also grappling with both a grim past and a complex web of friendships and antagonism (especially since, amongst other things, Dante ends up being magically linked to a demon and also has to team up with her ex-boyfriend too).

And, yes, although this is one of those novels where the main characters spend quite a lot of time arguing with each other about various things, it never really becomes too obnoxious. If anything, it helps to add tension and drama to the story. This type of thing is quite difficult to get right, but this story seems to handle it pretty well.

In terms of length and pacing, this novel is fairly reasonable. Although this story is 382 pages long (in the edition I read, the version in the anthology is shorter due to larger pages/smaller print), the fast-paced story and narration means that it never really feels too long. Likewise, as I mentioned earlier, although the novel devotes quite a bit of time to characterisation etc…, it never really gets slow or boring.

All in all, this is a really cool novel 🙂 It’s always awesome to see the urban fantasy/horror genre being mixed with the cyberpunk and action-thriller genres 🙂 If you like writers like Jocelynn Drake or Mike Carey, then you’ll love this novel. Yes, it could possibly have done with a little bit more action and some scarier horror, but it’s still a wonderfully gripping and atmospheric novel nonetheless.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would get at least four and a half.

Review: “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” By Sonny Whitelaw (Novel)

A week or two before I wrote this review, I found myself missing the days when I used to watch TV shows on DVD instead of reading novels. In particular, I found myself dwelling on my fond memories of watching almost every episode of “Stargate SG-1” back in 2014.

Then I thought “Aha! There must be Stargate SG-1 novels!” And there were. Several of them were surprisingly expensive second-hand, but a few were reasonably-priced. Hence this review of Sonny Whitelaw’s “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” novel.

However, before I begin this review, I should point out that this novel will only make sense if you’ve watched several seasons of the “Stargate SG-1” TV show (and know the show’s characters, jargon, backstory etc..).

Anyway, let’s take a look at “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods”. Needless to say, this review may contain some SPOILERS.

This is the 2005 Fandemonium (UK) paperback edition of “Stargate SG-1: City Of The Gods” that I read.

The novel begins with Major Carter going to a meeting with General Hammond. The rest of the SG-1 team are dead and Hammond wants to know what happened.

We then flash back to sometime earlier, when the SG-1 team are getting ready for the Christmas holidays. However, before they can leave the base, there is an unscheduled off-world activation of the stargate (a giant, ancient planet-to-planet teleporter). The SG-10 team and a volcanologist are in trouble on another planet, so Carter and O’Neill are dispatched for a rescue mission. Of course, things don’t quite go to plan….

Meanwhile, Daniel receives an e-mail from an archaeologist called Wodeski who claims to have found out something about a crystal skull in Mexico. Since the crystal skulls are part of another ancient alien teleportation network, General Hammond dispatches Daniel and Teal’c to Mexico to investigate….

One of the first things that I will say about this book is that, for everything it does right, it also does something wrong. This is one of those books that I’m really not sure whether I loved or loathed, or both. Seriously, there are a lot of good and bad things to say about this book.

For starters, the premise of the story is really cool. A lot of the story takes place on a geologically-unstable world that is populated by a civilisation descended from the Aztecs. So, there are lots of cool-looking pyramids, ominous volcanos, grisly sacrifices, obsidian swords, jaguar warriors, characters pretending to be ancient gods and other wonderfully dramatic stuff 🙂

Yet, a lot of this cool stuff is bogged down with lots of long-winded mythological/historical lectures (in fact, the book even includes an appendix containing “Daniel’s Mission Report” – which basically just repeats all of this stuff again). All of these lectures turn what should be a thrillingly dramatic adventure into a slow-paced exercise in note-taking and study at times.

I also have very mixed feelings about the writing in this novel. On the one hand, it is technically good. The novel’s third-person narration is filled with characterisation, atmosphere, good dialogue and lots of detailed descriptions. If this novel had been published between 1960-2000, I wouldn’t criticise the writing.

However, given that this is a 21st century action/adventure thriller novel based on a fast-paced TV show, all of this rich and deep writing sometimes slows the thrilling story to an absolute crawl. In a lot of ways, a slightly less descriptive, more “matter of fact” and more fast-paced narrative style would have been a much better fit for this particular story.

Although this novel seems to tell a new and original “Stargate SG-1” story, it is also fairly accurate to the TV show too. This is also both a good and a bad thing.

On the plus side, the main characters are really well-written and there’s also lots of the show’s trademark witty dialogue too 🙂

On the downside, the novel is bogged down by numerous pieces of jargon from the show, countless references to episodes of the show etc… Although this may sound good on paper, it can be a little confusing if it has been a few years since you last watched the show. And, if you haven’t watched the show, don’t even bother trying to read this novel. You won’t understand half of it.

In terms of structure, pacing and length, this novel is also a mixed bag. The structure of the story is really good, with an intriguing prologue, several dramatic set pieces and many scenes where the characters are separated and reunited in all sorts of clever ways too.

However, as I mentioned earlier, this novel is often far too slow-paced for the thrilling story it is trying to tell. What this also means is that, although the novel is a refreshingly slender 220 pages in length (plus the “mission notes” appendix), it’ll take you as long to read as a 400 page novel will. Which is kind of annoying.

All in all, this novel is a mixed bag. The premise, characterisation, atmosphere, dialogue and structure of this novel are absolutely brilliant. However, this thrilling sci-fi adventure story is written in an unfittingly slow-paced way, which can really drain the joy out of reading it at times. Likewise, unless you’re an absolute expert on the TV show (or have literally just finished watching the whole thing), then expect to be confused by all of the jargon/references at least a few times. So, yes, this novel is both brilliant and terrible at the same time.

If I had to give it a rating out of five, it would just about maybe get a three.