From the beginning, David Louis Edelman's Jump 225 Trilogy has been a pleasant surprise and change from the typical books we read. It shouldn't really be a shocker to anyone when we say we don't generally care for the SF genre. Authors in SF seem to take themselves too seriously. Or they really have no interest in telling a story, but they love to show how much smarter they are than the reader. Thankfully, Edelman isn't of that pretentious school of thought.

We first heard of Edelman back in 2006 at the WorldCon in Los Angeles. His first novel, INFOQUAKE was being pushed by Pyr Editor-extraordinaire Lou Anders. Admittedly, the series didn't seem that interesting right away. After all, who wants to read Business Cyberpunk?

After starting the series (and now having finished it), the answer was really quite simple: we want to read Business Cyberpunk, and so should you.

GEOSYNCHRON is the conclusion to Edelman's trilogy. It is a different type of beast than most other novels you will read. When we say "Business Cyberpunk," we don't mean that lightly. The business stuff pervades every aspect of the novel from the smaller romantic subplots, to the questions regarding the future of the human race. No, this book won't be for everyone, but neither was R. Scott Bakker's THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE, or Steven Erikson's GARDENS OF THE MOON. Those novels were amazing accomplishments in the Fantasy genre, and likewise GEOSYNCHRON (and the two preceding novels, INFOQUAKE and MULTIREAL) is an incredible entry into the SF genre.

This is a hard novel to review without giving away series spoilers. So, the main thing we want to highlight is how much has changed in this series. You've all read those series--whether in SF or Fantasy--where the characters just don't change. You've read those series where there are no personal consequences to the characters. GEOSYNCHRON does not have these problems. These characters are VERY different from their book 1 versions. If you haven't read the first two novels, the following few sentences will feel very vague. We don't want to spoil ANYTHING of them for you in this review, because seeing their very-real progression is one of the best things about Edelman's series. Read the series and you will understand.

Of all the characters, perhaps the most drastic change involves Natch. He has been dramatically changed by his experiences from the first two novels, and these changes are instrumental in the ending of this third novel. Jara also made huge strides, but in a different manner. In GEOSYNCHRON, she really has become her own person, where before she seemed unsure as to her own identity. Quell is fantastic as well. We could go on about all the characters, but we can sum it up better by saying that Edelman knows how to write character progression. Not just that, but he writes it so well.

Let's talk a bit about the major questions the novel brings up. You see, Natch essentially has power over cause and effect--access to a program called Multireal (the title of the second novel). Think of how incredible of a power this is. The main plot of this novel revolves around the debate of giving EVERYONE this type of power. There are those that want to stop the release of a variant of the Multireal program, (called Possibilities 2.0) and those who want it released to supposedly "free the human race." Natch is right at the center of this conflict...though we aren't going to tell you why due to the explanation involving a heavy amount of spoilers.

Freedom. Choice. Love. Perception. Living out all your various potential futures. These themes all make up GEOSYNCHRON...of course all with a business-centric outlook. It was completely awesome.

Now there are some small issues we had. First of all, the story is told from a 3rd Person Omniscient PoV...most of the time. You see it gets a bit confused with 3rd Person Limited at times, and this fuzziness can pull the reader out of the story. Is this a deal-breaker? For some we suppose it could be, but they would be nuts. To be honest, most people won't even realize it...except we just told you...whatever.

The other issue is the thematic pacing. Most people think business is boring. You start talking about board-meetings, stock, and negotiations, and most people will tune out. There isn't a ton of action involved with these sort of themes typically. Like we said before, this book (and series) isn't for everyone. We loved it. Steve especially, being that he has a bizarre fascination with business "stuff" (Nick thinks Steve's fascination is border-line creepy...). Even though this book involves a lot of people talking and negotiating, the pages turned quickly. The pacing, for us, was excellent.

The ending of the novel was a little odd. For a while it feels like it is being strung out--kinda like the end of the movie version of The Return of the King. Then, crazy-abruptly, we are given the actual end. It felt a bit like Edelman just didn't want to let go of the series, but then the deadline-fairies came and told him to wrap it up. It isn't a bad ending (in fact, it's really really cool...especially the action sequence before the resolution), it just felt a little over-long. It was, however, easy to forgive.

It may seem like an odd comparison, but when we were discussing this full series, R. Scott Bakker's Prince of Nothing trilogy kept being brought up. This look into the human mind, as well as the pacing, and the subtle (and not-so-subtle) manipulations really made us think of Bakker--specifically THE DARKNESS THAT COMES BEFORE. We hesitate to say "Edelman is SF's answer to Bakker in Fantasy," but a part of us really wants to. Albeit a less explicit version, but seriously, the similarities in skill, story, pacing, and imagination are all there.

Can you begin to see why we loved GEOSNYCHRON? An Business, Bakker-like story that pulls the actual intelligent portions of the Matrix into a strong, character-driven novel (and series)? Yeah. We'll pay money for that every time.

Here is what you are going to do. You are going to go to your local bookstore and pick up the full Jump 225 Trilogy. INFOQUAKE. MULTIREAL. GEOSYNCHRON. Go buy them now. You'll know them by their stunning Stephan Martiniere covers...and, well, the fact that they have Edelman's name on them. We are full of brilliant deductions.

One last note: GEOSYNCHRON has 50+ pages of appendices. Included in them are definitions of terms, historical data, and a lovely summary of the prior two novels to refresh you mind (yet another reason for the Bakker comparisons). Usually, this kind of stuff is useless. In Edelman's case, he incorporates it perfectly.

Recommended Age:
17 and up. Mostly for the intelligence behind the words.
Language: Yup. Quite a bit. Though it doesn't seem as bothersome as in other novels.
Violence: Not really. There is some pretty cut-throat business stuff going on though...that sounds violent right?
Sex: None shown, but some is alluded to (mostly in a virtual program called Sigh).

Edelman once blogged about reviews and reviewers. Hopefully we met all of his criteria. We are absolutely looking forward to his next work.

Go check out his website, and tell him how awesome he is:

Shadow Prowler

SHADOW PROWLER, by Alexey Pehov, was quite a surprising read for us. All we knew going in was that eight or so years ago it was released in Russia, the translation was done by Bromfield (of Nightwatch translation fame), and that the author had some recognition in his home country.

Just picking up the book gave us confidence in it. The cover art depicts an obvious epic fantasy, and it looked gritty enough to hold our attention. Before we even read the excerpt on the back we were really excited. Especially Nick, since he loves Russian writing (even if it is translated).

However, the excitement we both had for the book dissipated immediately (and more than just a little) when we read the back cover blurb. Nameless One, Ogres, Elves, Quest for "the-relic-that-will-save-the-day"...Uh oh! It's like Pehov went to great lengths to use every single fantasy trope or cliché in this book. Nevertheless, since we ARE the most important book reviewers that have graced the internet, we moved forward in reading the book.

To say that our newly lowered expectations were shattered would be more than just understatement. This deceptively creative, deep, and unique fantasy book was exactly the treat we hoped it would be. Alexey Pehov certainly earned and deserves the international recognition he has been given.

The story follows one Shadow Harold, a master thief, as he is enlisted for an impossible and suicidal quest to save the world. Enlisted, of course, being a nice term for a choice between the impossible mission and a horrific life in a terrible prison that only ends when he dies. His assignment is to travel to a haunted and trap-laden place called Hrad Spein (an unfathomably enormous palace used by just about every race at some point in history as a burial ground--an idea we dig). With a group of the-best-of-the-best, the mission is to retrieve an item called the Rainbow Horn to keep the Nameless One from overrunning Avendoom.

While the premise is generic--OK, very generic--the writing gives the traditional fantasy tropes a little breath of fresh air, which quickly takes on a life of it's own. We are treated to a rich, fantastically (pardon the pun) imaginative world, in which all the potentially formulaic, yet wildly inventive fantasy elements, coalesce to form the backbone of a story well worth reading.

The events of SHADOW PROWLER are told through 1st Person narrative from the eyes of the protagonist Harold. Harold is vividly portrayed through deft use of the character's inner commentary as he tells the story. While it is told in 1st Person, frequently Harold will refer to himself in the third person. Hopefully that is actually a character quirk of Harold's, and not a mistake in translation, because it is bizarre and unique, but funny.

That somewhat leads us to our first complaint about the book. The vocabulary. There is an abundant use of words that detract from the overall feel of an epic fantasy. Things like dictionary, philistine, "two in the morning", using our calendar months, etc. There is a lot of anachronistic vocabulary as well. At first it is rather distracting, but eventually serves to add to the charm of the book. Especially Harold's thoughts and dialog.

There is relatively no downtime in this opening act (this is book one of a trilogy, FYI), as Harold prepares to do the impossible. While the pacing is excellent, there isn't much of the content in this first book that involves the actual quest. It is a lot of "getting-to-know-you", preparation for the journey on Harold's part, and side plots that bring some conflict to the preparation.

That isn't to say there is no action. On the contrary, there is plenty of it and it is done very well.

Moment of truth here. While we enjoyed the book, we know that no new ground was broken here. All the tropes/clichés were left intact with only slight, if any, variations. We know that is enough for many to pass on the book. It almost was for us at first glance. However the book delivers an entertaining experience with a few surprising, and welcome, subtle comments on humanity and society.

If you are looking for a book that delivers the archetypal quest in fantasy, SHADOW PROWLER seems to be the perfect opening act for you. There is a certain way you can think of this. Much like DIVING INTO THE WRECK (which we LOVED) was pretty typical SF, SHADOW PROWLER is pretty typical epic fantasy. You could say the same thing about the THE NAME OF THE WIND. It really didn't do anything new, it just executed the traditional tropes and ideas exceptionally well. In much the same sense as those two previously mentioned novels, it is the execution and writing style that really pulled us in while reading SHADOW PROWLER. As the saying goes, an author with true skill can take any idea, no matter how typical or cliché, and make it a terrific read. That is what Alexey Pehov does here.

No, it isn't a perfect novel, but we enjoyed it immensely. Translated Russian novels have a very unique style to them, and in this case, it was refreshing. SHADOW PROWLER is the first book of a series, and there is plenty of time for Pehov to surprise us. This book won't be for everyone. But if you go into it with the right state-of-mind, you will enjoy this novel, and you will look forward to the next one like we are.

If we could have one wish regarding this series? We wish we would have had this years ago when it was released in Russia. We both are incredibly curious as to what Pehov is working on now that is more current to the recent trends in fantasy.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: We can't remember a single curse word...
Violence: There is violence and action, some of it bloody, but none of it graphic or gratuitous.
Sex: None.

Alexey Pehov's English website:

House of Reckoning

We are going to be honest here (stop laughing). We try to read a lot of Horror, but there is a lot of it that we miss. Mostly on purpose. We managed to mostly avoid John Saul, even though he seems to be one of the huge names in the Horror genre. Why did we avoid him? All his books, from the outside, look the same (this is foreshadowing of event to come late in this review). It’s just a picture of a house under a different color tone. John Saul’s latest novel, HOUSE OF RECKONING, follows this theme by using a house with a green tint. Creepy. Yes, that was sarcasm.

HOUSE OF RECKONING begins by showing two different teens in their respective broken-homes. Sarah Crane just lost her mother. Her father, Ed, has become a drunk, and while driving home from a bar he hits Sarah with his car, shattering her hip. Nick Dunnigan hears voices in his head and sees violent visions. Predictably, his father resents him for it. These two teens end up meeting in the town where Sarah is sent as a foster child when her father is put in prison. Sarah’s foster family, again predictably, treat her like a slave. Nick and Sarah and up befriending a teacher, Bettina Philips who has a mysterious past, and who everyone in town calls a witch. Sarah and Nick then discover they can do mysterious things…almost like magic.

It sounds like an OK setup on the surface. Here’s the problem. The only other John Saul book we have read is BLACK CREEK CROSSING. It is a book about two different kids who come from broken homes. They meet at school after the girl moves into town. They are picked on at school. Then they can mysteriously do things…like magic. Seriously? Let us repeat that. SERIOUSLY? It is nearly the same plot. Almost exactly. We both knew, within ten pages (TEN PAGES!) how the book was going to end. So, not only do his covers look the same, but his stories follow the same pattern? How terrible is that? Is Saul running out of ideas? This guy is supposed to be one of the main players in the Horror genre, but it seems to us that he only writes one story. Like a Harlequin Romance novel. Just change the names and location. No one will notice right?

Yeah. We are angry. Because, you know, we get paid to notice these things. OK, we don’t get paid. But we do notice this stuff.

It’s not that Saul is a poor writer. He isn’t. He is good at making the strange and paranormal very visual and accessible. And this story was fine when we read it in BLACK CREEK CROSSING. Second helpings are good with pizza, steak, and Mexican food (crap, now we are hungry…). Not novels. The other problem Saul has is his inability to make characters that are anything but completely good, or completely bad. This is extremely evident with nearly all of the characters in HOUSE OF RECKONING. Sarah’s foster family, while spouting religion, are completely bad. Nick’s (Nick in the story, not EBR’s Nick) dad is completely bad. Everyone at school is completely bad. It just gets old. Luckily, the novel is short. 3 hours, and it is a done deal.

Look, had we not already read BLACK CREEK CROSSING, this novel would have been OK. However, since we know HOUSE OF RECKONING is exactly-the-freaking-same as at least one other John Saul novel, we hate it. Pisses us off. A lot.

If you must read this novel, do it through your local library. Don’t pay money for it.

Recommended Age: 15 and up. The reality is that John Saul is almost writing YA novels. Maybe he should do that and leave the Horror genre to people who won’t repeat the same story over and over.
Language: Just a bit. Nothing major.
Violence: Some. Again, nothing major.
Sex: A few references. A borderline graphic flashback.

The Top 10 of 2009

OK, we got called out on it, so to prove that we respond to almost ALL requests. Here is the Top 10. We didn't particularly want to do one, since we only had 4 months of publishing reviews before the year was over, and there were only 26 or 27 books in our Books We Like tag group at the time. But here we are...doing what you wanted, because we are just that great.

Steve's Best 10 Novels of 2009

Note: I have cheated here. Some of these are US releases where I saw fit. Some are UK releases. It's my list. I can do what I want. And no, I will not put an order to them. I refuse. They all do different things incredibly well.

Patient Zero - Jonathan Maberry
The Affinity Bridge - George Mann
Diving into the Wreck - Kristine Kathryn Rusch
Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie
Toll the Hounds - Steven Erikson
I Am Not a Serial Killer - Dan Wells
Lamentation - Ken Scholes
The Grave Thief - Tom Lloyd
Dawnthief - James Barclay
Night of Knives - Ian Cameron Esslemont

Steve's Worst 2 Novels of the Year
The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown
A Princess of Landover - Terry Brooks

Steve's 2010 Most Anticipated Novels
Swords & Dark Magic - Various. Edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan
Watcher of the Dead - J.V. Jones
The Crippled God - Steven Erikson
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch
The Ragged Man - Tom Lloyd
Mr. Slaughter - Robert McCammon (Technically I'm not anticipating this. I have it. It is a beautiful book. I will review it shortly.)
The Dragon Factory - Jonathan Maberry
A Dance with Dragons - George R. R. Martin (I know, I know. Wishful thinking here...)
Dan Wells' novels in their various US/UK releases (this is more for you readers...I've read their awesomeness already)
Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

Nick's Top 10 Novels of 2009

Note: Maybe not the best novels written in 2009 (OK some of them are) but the books that I enjoyed the most.

Best Served Cold - Joe Abercrombie
The City and The City - China Mieville
The Grave Thief - Tom Lloyd
Nightchild - James Barclay
The Silver Skull - Mark Chadbourn
Starship: Flagship - Mike Resnick
Servant of a Dark God - John Brown
Neuropath - R. Scott Bakker (OK Why is this here? The review bashed the book. Well, for one simple reason. This book fueled many of the debates that I love so much. The aftermath of reading this book gave me plenty of entertainment. The book sucked.)
The Devil You Know - Mike Carey
Patient Zero - Jonathan Maberry

Nick's Worst 2 Novels in 2009
The Law of Nines - Terry Goodkind
The Lost Symbol - Dan Brown

Nick's 2010 Most Anticipated Novels
Shadow's Son - Jon Sprunk
The Ragged Man - Tom Lloyd
Empire in Black and Gold - Adrian Tchaikovsky (And book 2 and 3 of the Shadows of the Apt series.)
Ghosts of Manhattan - George Mann (Technically I'm not looking forward to this anymore, since I have read it. I AM looking forward to reviewing it though. Awesome book. Look forward to the review folks.)
Shadow Prowler - Alexey Pehov (Once again, technically not looking forward to it anymore, since I have read it. It is awesome! Especially if you are a fan of Russian writers.)
The Unit - Terry Dehart (Ditto, except for the Russian writer part.)
Sword and Dark Magic - Various. Edited by Lou Anders and Jonathan Strahan
The Republic of Thieves - Scott Lynch
The Prodigal Mage - Karen Miller
Watcher of the Dead - J.V. Jones
Pinion - Jay Lake

Our 2009 Last Impressions
So. There you have it. Our various lists. As we looked over the lists of books we read, and compared it to the list of books coming out this year, we decided that 2009 was a great year for readers. And 2010? It will be WAY awesome. Seriously, just LOOK at those two lists we made!

The Devil's Alphabet

With THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET, Daryl Gregory does something really cool. He presents a book that has all the trappings of an Urban Fantasy, which hides what it truly is. A character study. This book tickled, in particular, Nick's sociology fancy. Steve found it a little bit less exciting.

THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET is about Pax, a young man from Switchcreek, Tennessee, that returns to his hometown to attend a funeral of a former best friend, who's death is shrouded in mystery. Switchcreek, before Pax had left, had been a victim of a bizarre "disease" that warped the DNA and bodies of it's inhabitants. It turned regular people into the tall, muscular, slumping Argos, the short, fat, grey, Vintage producing Charlies, and the bald, self-propagating Betas. Some were left untouched, as Pax was, and some people were just killed by the transformation of their bodies. Very cool ideas are written on these pages.

The biggest problem with The Devil's Alphabet, is that the way it is presented misleads
the reader. It does this by making it seem like a Mystery, a Thriller, and an SF novel all with a touch of urban fantasy. So as a reader, we keep waiting for the moment when the story picks up and we can see the central plot. All books in the aforementioned genres follow that structure. However, there is no moment of "Oh OK, here we are. This is where it is going." We kept waiting for that moment though, because of the presentation of the book.

It didn't come, and it was only upon reflection of the book that we realized what it actually was.
It was also then that we realized the book's brilliance. In SF/Fantasy we oftentimes--OK, almost always--see non-humans acting and interacting in a defining human fashion.

Yes, there are variations of behavior, but those are usually culturally based, such as elves and dwarves (we just threw-up a little). Just about every character in THE DEVIL'S ALPHABET is not (entirely) human, but are humanistic. This is where the genius of Daryl Gregory manifests itself. He has written a book, featuring very, very few actual humans, that tells us what makes us human. (That paragraph had a lot of "human" in it.)

Gregory keeps the setting small in a Tennessee town, but it has a magnificent feel to it. The devil is in the details (and apparently the alphabet, har har), and the small things that Gregory includes in his descriptions make us smile in appreciation of his talent. He will surreptitiously toss in a fun detail that, in this foreign landscape, is a nice reminder that his setting is/was a traditional Tennessee town. Mixing the strange with reminders of the familiar.

This is, again, where the book shines. With so many "unnatural", and bizarre individuals, with such varied needs and problems etc., it is hard to imagine that any of it could feel familiar and tangible. Gregory does it, and makes it seem easy. Slipping into the culture (or cultures) of Switchcreek was a cinch.

The book reads slower, and is much softer and much more thoughtful than the title and cover indicate. You quickly realize that how these people were changed, and why, isn't really all that important. What is important is what they do in the fallout of The Changes. The book is pretty short, but you won't blitz through it. It is thoughtful and engaging, while maintaining it's entertainment value.

If you're looking for something with a bang, breakneck speed, and breathless thrills, look elsewhere. If you're looking for a rich experience that engages and asks questions while it entertains, look no further. With this book Daryl Gregory has made our list of authors to watch.

Check out his earlier book Pandemonium as well as his website.

Recommended Age: 18 and up.
Language: Quite a bit, but it wasn't distracting.
Violence: Very little. Three or four sequences that are extremely brief, and not explicit.
Sex: There are some extremely strong overtones in parts of the book. A few references to acts. There is one act (well technically more than one) in particular that keeps coming up, but it isn't graphic at all. None of it was offensive in the slightest, but anyone that this really matters to may want to pass.


NIGHTCHILD. So here we are, the third and final novel of The Chronicles of the Raven series by our friend James Barclay. So does it stay true to the prior novels? Does it elevate the series to new heights?

Easily. This is by far the best of the trilogy.

If you’ve been reading this series, you know what makes this series work. Fast-paced, bloody action. Battles and journeys of epic proportions. Grim tones amidst witty banter from, the stars of the series, the mercenary group The Raven. Saving the world. With NIGHTCHILD, Barclay had some heavy expectations to fill. How do you go bigger than the Dawnthief spell from the first novel, DAWNTHIEF? How do you go bigger than a rift to another dimension full of dragons like we saw in NOONSHADE? This is the trap that many authors could fall into.

With NIGHTCHILD, Barclay perfectly avoids the pitfall. Instead of going bigger, he goes personal (as we know, bigger isn't always better...). The result is a much more character-driven novel, and in our opinion, a much more powerful reading experience.

The Raven have changed. They are older. They have families. They have responsibilities. Do they need to save the world again? Well yeah, it wouldn’t be a Barclay novel without our heroes saving the world. But NIGHTCHILD is so much more than that cliché. The world saving bit is almost a secondary issue. The real plot of the story for The Raven is racing to prevent Denser and Erienne’s daughter, Lyanna from being killed. In theme with the more personal nature of the novel, the huge-scale battles of the prior novels have been condensed and focused on The Raven to wonderful effect.

Why is NIGHTCHILD so powerful? In this novel we get to see that our “Heroes” are not “Super Heroes.” We see how strained their relationships can become, and how vulnerable they really are. We witness the tough personal and moral choices that they have to make that will inevitably have serious consequences. We, as readers, get to experience the benefits and drawbacks that loyalty brings…as well as the demands it makes. By the end of the novel, you will be satisfied and thrilled. However, in true James Barclay fashion, you will also feel saddened at what The Raven had to sacrifice.

It’s not a common occurrence to have every book in a trilogy be completely awesome. The Chronicles of the Raven should be on the shelves of every reader of Heroic Fantasy and Sword and Sorcery. Heck, it should be on the shelves of every reader of the Fantasy genre in general. NIGHTCHILD brilliantly concludes the trilogy, and it makes us both positively giddy with excitement for the US release of the four-book series, The Legends of the Raven. Barclay’s writing and story telling improved tremendously, and made NIGHTCHILD a true treat to read.

Just imagine how his other books will be.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: As usual in Barclay’s novels, there is a little. When it happens, it is strong, but it doesn’t come close to saturating the novel.
Violence: Uh, yeah. The great thing about it? It is so CLEAR. We could see exactly what was going on. Love it.
Sex: Two small scenes, fairly graphic, but very short. You could probably skip over them if you were inclined.

Look forward to an interview with James Barclay later on here at Elitist Book Reviews. The guy is a complete class-act.

Monster Hunter International

How about a requested review from one of our readers, Dan Burton. See, we really do listen to your requests.

MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL, on the surface, seems to fit the need that most of us have for mindless, gunfire-laden fiction. We all need it at times. Larry Correia, the author, gives us all the ingredients that a book of this style might typically have, yet somehow makes them more than the sum of their parts. In all honesty, we were surprised by how much we enjoyed this novel, and how much we are now looking forward to the sequel.

It all starts with an accountant, Owen Pitt. Being that Steve is an accountant, he immediately connected with the main PoV (that's about as far as the similarity between them went though...). The connection was further established by the First Person Narrative. As readers, we were immediately pulled into Owen’s story, and loved his obsession with guns. It was a nice quirk that essentially told us to expect loads of gunplay throughout the novel. This was within a few paragraphs of a 736 page novel. Yeah, not exactly a tiny novel. For an Urban Fantasy, just the size of the novel made us happy.

Anyways. Owen Pitt. The accountant. His idiotic boss is bitten and turned into a werewolf (Yeah we know, Urban Fantasy clichés, here we come. Really, it isn’t so bad though), and then tries to kill Owen. Owen throws his boss out of a window after a fun introductory action scene. Owen is injured, but is then offered a job at Monster Hunter International (MHI) as a monster hunter.

No, hunting monsters isn’t the most original concept. Yes, the book is full of clichéd monsters that saturate Urban Fantasy. And yet (surprisingly?)…it all works. It helps that the folks over at MHI get paid like bounty hunters (and paid well)--added a slight change to the formula. It also helps that the monsters are all, well, monsters. The danger represented by each of the different monsters is handled well.

Really, the story follows Owen Pitt and his journey after being recruited to MHI. He is joined with a small squad of other newbies who were each recruited after surviving a monster attack of some sort. We see their training, and then right into the guns-a-blazing action. And there is a lot of it. And it is good.

But really the character interactions are what sold us on the novel. They were believable. As we learned about their back-stories, we immediately became attached to them. Correia does a fantastic job here. It’s hard to say a lot without giving it away. Remember, no spoilers.

Now, the book isn’t perfect. At times the clichés get a little too dense. The way some characters act, and the way the plot progresses…well, let’s just say it shouldn’t be surprising. Owen, of course, does some dream-walking type stuff. At times the dreams, and Owen’s reaction to them, are obviously used to move the plot along, and to make it so our PoV has maximum impact in every situation he is involved with in the waking world. And really, the ending twist shouldn’t be all that surprising. The dreams foreshadow it in a heavy-handed fashion at times.

Really, the main problem we had (and we have to word things carefully here), is a single event about ¾ through the novel. Things go WAY bad for the characters. WAY bad. It is full of awesome in a bad way for the characters (but great for the readers). The mechanism for getting out of it bothered us quite a bit--read it and you will know exactly what we mean. Correia manages to handle the aftermath of it in a GREAT way (hopefully we will see more of these consequences in book 2), but still…it bugged us quite a lot.

So what does all this vague gibberish mean? Is the book worth reading? Buying? Well, for $8 you can grab a copy, and it is easily worth the read. The pacing lags in a few spots, but really, this is a great first novel. There are great elements of humor, seriousness, danger, faith (this was actually really neat), and romance. Larry Correia has set himself up to have a fantastic sequel, but we think he needs to get a little less cliché in the follow-up. Give us some really non-traditional monsters (think of the monsters in F. Paul Wilson’s THE TOMB, and book 2 could be amazing). Also, we think he needs to subject his characters to more emotional trauma (kind of like the mental state of the characters in PATIENT ZERO), and hurt them even more than the horror inflicted on them in MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL.

Buy it, read it, and decide for yourself. We thought it was a great read that was deceptively intelligent. If you like monster movies, Urban Fantasy, or action-oriented Horror novels, you'll get enjoyment out of this read.

Recommended Age: 15 and up.
Language: Yep. But he scales it with the situations nicely. It doesn’t feel over-done of shock-value. Correia also proves at times that he doesn’t need it to have certain characters express themselves. Still, what language there is may offend the tender-hearted.
Violence: Heavens yes. It was awesome.
Sex: Some innuendo, but any actual acts take place off screen. It was handled exceptionally well.

Larry's blog -

The Silver Skull

The following review, once you know that it is a Pyr book, will not come as a shock. We have to exercise the utmost of restraint in order to avoid reading through and reviewing all the Pyr books we can, as soon as we can.

THE SILVER SKULL, by Mark Chadbourn, is one of the funnest books we have read. Period. Imagine a James Bond story, but way more awesome, set in an alternate Elizabethan England. This is what you get in this book.

Will Swyfte has very carefully cultivated a veneer that almost all of England sees and adores. However the truth is that he is England's greatest spy, and is part of a spy network created to thwart the malicious attacks by the enemies of the nation. These include other nations such as the Spanish, but more importantly and interestingly, Fairies.

OK. Fairies, you ask us? Yes. Don't be misled. These are no mincing, wimpy, Fairies. These are the creatures of nightmare that haunt all of the world, warping minds and bodies, creating havoc and sowing chaos in their wake. They are terrifying, manipulative, and calculating. In short? They are villains!

THE SILVER SKULL reads at break-neck speed and never relents. In one scene, there is a carriage being chased and careening all over the road, threatening, at any moment, to spill over. We felt the way the characters in the carriage felt while reading this, and oh was it fun. It takes only a chapter or two to get going and then doesn't stop.

The characters in this book are all lovable, even when they go all Jack Bauer and torture/threaten/do violence/etc. to all manner of people and things. We instantly liked every single character that took the stage. If you have been reading our reviews up til now, you know this is a blue moon occurrence. They are full of flavor, depth, and interest. Well done Mr. Chadbourn. We both chuckled, however, for the fact that there is a character named Dee that, among other things, filled the role of James Bond's Q. (Get it? Letters=gadgets.)

Speaking of congratulations for Chadbourn, we feel compelled to make special note of his descriptions. Many authors know how to write action, but not setting, some authors the opposite. Some know dialog, but don't excel at the others. Chadbourn knows how to write it all. Seriously. All of it. The action was intense and detailed, while maintaining a sense of brevity. So were the descriptions of characters and locations. This really shouldn't come as a surprise because he IS an award winning writer.

The storyline was original, while familiar at the same time. We have a super spy, in the service and defense of queen and country, hunting down villains who are conspiring to use a deadly weapon to eradicate life as we know it. Somehow, and not only due to the setting, Chadbourn makes this all feel original and fresh.

After the book was over we came to a realization, and you will to, even if you didn't like the book. (But seriously, no one in their right mind could do anything but enjoy this treasure.) Will Swyfte is infinitely cooler than we will ever be. Talk about a bitter pill to swallow... He puts a bear into a sleeper hold for crying out loud. (Nick took this as a personal affront to his ego and set out to do the same. We haven't seen him since, so if you have any information regarding his whereabouts, please inform the authorities.)

The only sad thing about Will Swyfte, for us, was that in a conversation, with Steve, Nick inadvertently and lamentably, referred to the main character--on accident of course--as Will Smith. The name stuck, and we couldn't read the rest of the book without thinking of the Will Smith, the Fresh Prince, in place of Will Swyfte. Now you won't either.

Look, we know we are incredibly important people, that you look up to, admire, and worship us. But seriously...why are you still reading this review? Go to your local bookstore to immediately pick up THE SILVER SKULL.

Recommended Age: 16 and up.
Language: Nothing you won't find in a PG movie.
Violence: Yep. Quite a bit of it. Thought it isn't very bloody or graphic.
Sex: While actual descriptions of sexual acts don't run rampant through the book, there are more than plenty of sexual acts, innuendos, inferred acts, "doxies", etc. Of course, being that there is a James Bond feel to much of this novel, does the inclusion of innuendo surprise anyone?