Reviews (Friends & Colleagues)

ALL LISTINGS BY TITLE (or Series) IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
(for all 4.5 and 5 stars reviews see main review page)

 

Adventures in the Carotian Union Series by Karen Webb
The Chalice of Life (Book 1)
4 stars
Ms Webb has great taste in fantasy literature as you can tell by the dedication for this first novel in the Adventures in the Carotian Union series and it certainly shows in her writing. Lots of fresh new approaches to a quest story on the grand scale that doesn’t skimp on great characterisation and plotting and so never sinks into ‘deja vu’ territory for those who love the whole epic sci-fantasy fusion sub-genre.
It’s a tall order to write plausible future worlds that are steeped in spiritual mysticism, magic and hi-tech armouries, but pulling in the magnificent seven questers from different worlds in the Carotian Union of planets means that you can have a variety of humanoids mingling with Tigroids (think a far more cerebral Battle Cat from Masters of the Universe than Thundercats), shape-changers, a Lemurian thief (furry humanoid) and even a sentient sword, forged by the gods… THEN send them all off to a faraway human planet that’s yet to make it to the stars, but does share it with huge kindly but very sick dragons (and, significantly, small and spritely ones too – the spragon is a masterly magical creation) and you have all kinds of opportunities for mayhem, drama and the odd deft touch of humour as the team gels and battles against time traps and space pirates out to purloin the fabled wealth of an ancient civilisation and it’s legendary Chalice of Life.
Again I’m lamenting the miserly attributes of the 5 star review system as this most definitely rates a 4.5 or more but there we are. I’m definitely a fan of this series and in fact am off to write my next review of Book #2 ‘Tapestry of Enchantment’ as soon as I hit submit. Highly recommended for anyone who loves high adventure with an imagination

Tapestry of Enchantment (Book 2)
4 stars
A lot more character development in this book as Mosaia’s personality is seen to better effect. He becomes more than a rather po-faced knightly paladin who deeply disapproves of magic use in general, by beginning to appreciate some of his quest-mates sorcerous gifts and comes to learn the reasons why the arcane became taboo on his home world in the process. In other words Mosaia starts to shine in this episode, as he enters into a spiritual bond with gorgeous enchantress, Princess Mistra and the rascally Thalacian bard Deneth, to reveal more charismatic depths to his character than his undoubted prowess as a fierce warrior, which skills of course are still called upon to ultimately defeat Sigurd with the help of the others.

Additional light relief is also on hand in the form of the stowaway spragon, Anthraticus who blends in nicely with wise-cracking thief Habie and witty cynic Deneth as a foil for the more serious members of the heroic party. Again, a highly recommended read – I can’t wait for the next instalment!

Dracula’s Apprentice by Mike Zimmerman  
4 stars
Something wonderful happens when classic and modern viewpoints blend with gritty realism and historical tradition. Although Stoker’s original and best vampire, Dracula, is only mentioned here and there, his presence is palpable in the often visceral and compelling dramatic action sequences of this new offering. The vampire hunter’s pariah path is also well-explored, as is the gnawing thread of revenge and obsession, where the deeply-rooted evil ‘prey’ have plausible and tragic mitigation mingled into their bloodlust and betrayal.
No vampire is all black and white and Zimmerman’s atmospheric writing adds subtler shades of colour and tone to the action, in addition to the inevitable splashes of arterial red, to convey a sense of time and place in the dark forests and mountains of Eastern Europe, and the even murkier legacies of medieval wars with Islam and ghoulish superstitions surrounding the afterlife.
Highly recommended for fans of the classic gothic horror genre.

Halfway Human by Tony Brooks
4 stars
Well, finally we have a gloves off, full on, historically accurate novel that tells the unvarnished truth about the British Empire’s penal policy in populating Van Diemen’s Land and other parts of Australia in the early 19th century. I use the term Van Diemen’s land for what we now call Tasmania because that is a more phonetically accurate description of the ultimate fate envisaged for the most recalcitrant of escapee transported prisoners, who were incarcerated in the fictional version of a real life Pacific island penal colony for hardened recidivists, that forms the main focal point of Tony Brooks’ gritty account of Laurence Frayne’s life as a convict in the mid 1800s.
Frayne, a former Irish tenant farmer fallen on hard times, whose only true crime was a desperate one-time theft of a bolt of cloth for his frail mother and sister, is sentenced to transportation for seven years, which gradually extends over two decades as he constantly absconds from his placements as slave labour on farming settlements in New South Wales. Since the Irish were the bottom of the pile in the penal colonies, especially those, like Frayne, who were educated and deemed to hold traitorous views, inhumanity is heaped upon injustice as Laurence and his fellow inmates are treated worse than beasts of burden in their struggle to survive a savage and sadistic regime imposed by the psychopathic veteran Lt. Colonel Morisset who metes out extreme floggings in primitive, filthy habitations for the most petty and innocuous of ‘misdemeanours’.
We follow Frayne’s hellish experiences partly through modern eyes, by means of two of Frayne’s descendants who are delving into their family history: Dominic Hurley, an American lawyer and scion of Frayne’s migrant sister’s family and Laurence’s direct descendant, Margaret Frayne, an Australian journalist, who is also campaigning for the parole of a reformed playwright serial killer. Both themes show how attitudes to convicted felons have not moved on too far in fifteen decades and make for an engrossing read, as Frayne strives to preserve his integrity and humanity against appalling odds and prejudice until the reformer, Captain Machonachie, takes over as Commander of the prison island and pioneers a more enlightened and constructive route for the rehabilitation of prisoners. From the dock in Dublin to his final discharge into ‘reputable’ society and a last reunion with his beloved sister, Mary Hurley, on the other side of the world in New York, Laurence Frayne’s indomitable spirit always earns our sympathy and admiration, even at the lowest points of his story.
A rewarding read for all those who relish the whole truth and all the reasons why Australia has become the feisty, industrious nation it is today.

Murder at Irish Mensa by Clare O’Beara
4 stars
This book certainly nails it’s colours to the mast upfront as that rarity – a murder mystery that’s cerebral rather than graphic and gives as much weight to why and how ‘who-dunnit’ as the turbo-brained suspects and undercover cops mull over the evidence. But worry not if your IQ doesn’t make the genius grade – clever people can be quite as muddled as the rest of us especially when they’re all possible suspects for the deadly low-jinks that occur at the Irish Mensa knees-up which sees a mega-rich heiress viciously done in after embarassing matrimonial fisticuffs in the posh hotel bar.
As usual I must hold my hand up to say that I’m not a big crime thriller aficianado but, despite the rather unimaginative title (which is OK in this, the first of the series I suppose, but doesn’t really have me gagging to read the similar follow up titles in the rest of the British Isles), I enjoyed the ride, the gentle humour and the impeccable and quirky narrative and characters. And I will read the others I expect.

Silks and Sins by Clare O’Beara
4 stars
This is a very entertaining and insightful glimpse into the contrasting facets of the sport of kings. Jackie and Geri’s attempts to keep their father’s riding stable legacy solvent and bang up to date leads younger sister Jackie onto the Irish racing circuit and into the hunky arms of aspirant champion jockey Valentine Murray. Lots of glamorous silk spiced with some murkier sinning in this spirited romance where reputations can sometimes only be made by getting mucky in the bedroom as well as the stables.

Steel Souls (Bk 1 – Life in the Machine) by Peter T. Cormack
4 stars
Who says cyborgs can’t do soul? Or that Indiana Jones couldn’t be a Blade Runner? Steel Souls is all about sci-fi fusion, with the transmigration of spirits into gems that transcend cyberspace, mechanoid muscle getting hot together with samurai masterclass action and dolphins taking their rightful place in the upper echelons of the global scientific community…
It’s a long time since I’ve enjoyed sci-fi as action thriller while still giving the cerebellum a good workout. Thoroughly enjoyed this trip around the Pacific Rim, from the techno deserts of Japan to chugging liquid plutonium in low dives in future Seattle and back. Can’t wait for the next instalment!

Another good meaty episode in what is sizing up to be a great series, and the quest moves on into the deep past on the world of one of the ‘quieter’ characters from the first adventure, the pious battle commander Mosaia. They arrive at a critical moment in ancient history when magic still had a place on his world, but where the evil and powerful mage Sigurd (also in cahoots with master baddie Syndycyr) is about to plunge Mosaia’s ancestors and their people into magical subjugation by harnessing the power of demons and elemental beings.

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