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Hammers Of Ulric

by Dan Abnett, Nik Vincent & James Wallis

A Warhammer novel.  At first this book looked to be another trashy and cliched offering from Games Workshop.  It begins with a group of troubled veterans (Wolf Templars to be precise) who ride off into the woods and smash skulls with their warhammers; entertaining as far as it goes, but far too shallow.  However, the book then opens up its cast of characters in a series of short story-like chapters. 

Added to the veterans of White Company are Lenya the milkmaid, the honourable thieves Wheezer and Kruza and a priest of Morr, the Death God.  The episodic nature of the chapters slowly builds both the characters and the dark plot layer upon layer, until in the final chapter all of the characters have to confront the culmination of all the lesser evils throughout the novel.  This final chapter is an excellent conclusion to the book, showing the various heroes attempting to save Middenheim as the city errupts into chaos. 

One thing that did bother me was the 'love story' between Lenya and Drakken.  I felt that it should have been handled differently or not included at all.  After all the belaboured 'moments' between them, she ends up falling for someone else and then deceiving him about it.  Perhaps it's just that I'm an old romantic and that I feel for the the unrequited-love guy, but the fact that they don't have a happy ending, as it were, kind of spoiled the conclusion of the book a bit for me.

4 out of 5

 

Heroes For Hire: Civil War

by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti

(Art by Billy Tucci, Francis Portela, Tom Palmer and Terry Pallot)

A tie-in to Mark Millar's 'Civil War', in which the Superhuman Registration Act tears the superhero community in half, with Iron Man on one side and Captain America on the other.  In this book a new Heroes for Hire team is put together from vigilantes, mercenaries and former criminals in order to hunt down supervillains attempting to escape the Registration. 

The leaders of this team are best described by one of the characters in the book itself; "The overtly sexual, scantily-clad, adolescent-male fantasy team of Misty Knight and Colleen Wing".  Wing is a samurai swordswoman and the absurdly named Misty Knight has a robotic arm.  They then hire the likes of Orka, Paladin, Tarantula, Humbug, Shang-Chi and Black Cat to join them. 

There's nothing too ground-breaking here, with sexy women kicking ass, wise-cracking sidekicks and the usual growing pains of a team of misfits.  However, despite being a bit cliched, this book is nevertheless good fun to read.  It's got action, tension and even manages to touch on some of the liberty-versus-law issues which made 'Civil War' great.  And I'll be honest, the whole scantily-clad, overtly-sexual element doesn't hurt!

4 out of 5

 

Honoured Enemy

by Raymond E. Feist & William R. Forstchen

The first book of the Legends of the Riftwar.  The story, set amidst the Riftwar's darkest years of battle, is told from two perspectives here, Midkemian and Tsurani which makes for interesting reading as we get to see both sides of each battle and encounter.  Basically it is about a band of Tsurani and a band of bitter Kingdom soldiers who, stranded in Moredhel territory, must make an uneasy alliance in order to escape the dark elves. 

The book is entertaining and insightful, written well-enough that you'll feel frostbite setting in as you read it and generally an enjoayble read.  It certainly lacks the epic scope of the Riftwar trilogy and the subtlety of the Empire trilogy, but allows us to relive the events of 'Magician' from a different perspective. 

I also liked the way that it has deliberate ties to the other books in Feist's series (refering to Mara of the Acoma and Gorath, the dark elf in 'Krondor: The Betrayal') which helped to establish the feeling of it being one story among many.  I also found it interesting that, at the end of the book, Hartraft is considered a traitor for allying with the Tsurani, making a good counterpoint to the fact that we've seen he is a hero.

4 out of 5

 

House Atreides

by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

The first prequel written to Frank Herbert's awe-inspiring Dune series starts a few decades before the original 'Dune' and focuses on the likes of Shaddam Corrino (later to be Emperor), Leto Atreides and Vladimir Harkonnen.  This book's clear intent is to set up not only the background to 'Dune' itself, but also to establish the characters and situations to be featured in its two sequels (prequel sequels?). 

The most enjoyable aspect of this book is the story of Pardot Kynes, the Imperial Planetologist who is sent to Arrakis to discover its secrets.  The ensuing tale of how the taciturn and secretive Fremen people are caught up in his grand dreams of turning Dune into a lush paradise is very compelling. 

Sadly, however, the rest of the book fails to deliver such enjoyment.  The true genius of Frank Herbert was his ability to create a story of numerous layers and great subtlety ("wheels within wheels") but his son and Anderson simply don't have his talent.  The plots created are predictable and unimaginative and the whole style of writing comes across as very shallow. 

There is no literary flair to this book, which is a massive disappointment to a long-term fan of the Dune series.  I have to admit that I was enjoying the latter third of the book somewhat more, but by that point it was just too late for it to recover from my initial disappointment.

2 out of 5

 

House Harkonnen

by Brian Herbert & Kevin J. Anderson

The second book of the Prelude to Dune series, telling the events of a generation before Frank Herbert's masterpiece.  Beginning a few years after 'House Atreides' this book follows the fortunes of the Atreides, the Ixians, the Fremen and the titular Harkonnens as they vie for political, financial and military superiority.

At first I was enjoying this book quite a bit.  It had been a number of years since I read (and was disappointed by) the first book of the series and I was pleased to once again reenter the incredible universe that Frank Herbert created, with its arcane organisations like the Bene Gesserit and Bene Tleilax, the Houses of the Landsraad and the grim warrior peoples of Dune itself.

Unfortunately, much like with 'House Atreides', the book rapidly became tedious.  Ideas are repeated ad nauseum and the authors write entire chapters which serve to make only a simple plot point which could have more or less been included as an aside elsewhere.  It's as if they set themselves the task of dragging out the narrative as far as they could, padding large sections of the book with entirely unnecessary scenes.

It's not that there's not good stuff here, it's simply that it has become buried under a pile of tedious rubbish.  The book could have been twice as good had it been half as long and maintained a better pace to the plot.  As before, all this just serves to highlight just how inferior these authors are when compared to the talents of the series' creator.

2 out of 5

 

House Of M: Spider-Man

by Mark Waid & Tom Peyer

(Art by Salvador Larroca and Danny Miki)

A tie-in to Brian Michael Bendis' 'House Of M' (obviously).  The Scarlet Witch's reality-altering powers have changed the world into a place where humans are oppressed by mutants and all of her former allies have been gifted with their hearts' desires.  In Spiderman's case this involves him being a rich and famous celebrity, married to Gwen Stacy, with J. Jonah Jameson as his personal whipping-boy. 

However, Peter Parker's perfect life is plagued by an inexplicable sense of guilt which leads him to write stories in which Gwen, his Uncle Ben, his father-in-law and his Aunt May are all killed in tragic circumstances.  Peter is also harbouring a secret which could destroy his career; he is not a mutant. 

In 'House Of M', Spidey was the one most affected by the tradgedy of the Scarlet Witch's alternate reality and this book further explores the web-slinger's emotional instability, caused by a life filled with tragic losses.  This book's best moment is the genuinely surprising revelation as to the identity of the latest incarnation of the Green Goblin. 

One thing that did annoy me a bit, being something of a stickler for continuity, is that at the end of this book Peter is reviled and believed dead and yet in 'House Of M' (where his true memories are returned to him) he's popular and being recognised in public.

4 out of 5