Sephirot by Gordon Bonnet

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Drops the reader into a dark metaphysical journey full of intrigue.

 

Our main character is Duncan Kyle, a man of indeterminate age or origin who one night falls through the floor of his apartment and finds himself in a dark and mysterious world, one of many within the Sephirot that he must journey through and return home. This is a standard Voyage and Return type plot; Our hero wanders aimlessly in a strange land, having adventures and drawing wisdom and revelation through his experiences before returning home. In Kabbalah the Sephirot is ten different emanations/revelations of God. Each contains a different characteristic emotion or virtue, and through attaining enlightenment of any one of these levels one brings their self closer to the divine knowledge of God. In Bonnet’s book the Sephirot are represented by different fantasy realms that must be physically journeyed through; and with the Sephirot being a creation of the hero’s own mind, it is thus a journey to attain an enlightened knowledge of his self. Unfortunately, Bonnet fails to give as much thought to characterisation or setting as he does to concept or structure; ironically, crafting a journey that is, instead of being enlightening, one that feels hollow.

We don’t know anything about the protagonist and, only towards the last half of the book do we discover things about our hero, but then it is too late. The story is about the hero’s self discovery, not the reader’s discovery of the hero, and in this it is hard to find an emotional connection to Duncan Kyle or to emotionally invest in his journey. As well an uninteresting character, the conflicts he faces are resolved quickly, or avoided completely via last-minute portals opening and allowing him to escape into the next realm. Another over-used cliche is the quick discovery in every realm of the ‘mysterious helper’ archetype: a potential foil or background character who dispenses knowledge and advice and assistance to Duncan at almost every step of his journey. The impact of these story devices is that the tension is stripped from the book; any dangers presented to the main character are aesthetic and offer little tangible threat.

Despite these flaws, it is an enjoyable read with some interesting ideas and varied and interesting settings. I would have liked to have spent more time getting to know the different worlds, and the book could have benefitted from more consistent pacing, but the general direction of the book kept me intrigued. 6/10 stars.

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The Observers by C. R. Downing

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A buddy-cop comedy of errors in the tradition of Douglas Adams or J. D. Crayne. This is what happens when a science teacher writes fiction. Not to be confused with Damon Knight’s ‘The Observers’.

The Observers explores complex scientific themes; should science and technology advance simply for the sake of progress? Who should be in control? Who does ownership of information really belong to? These themes are explored through our two main characters, Mxpan and Zerpall. Mollusc-like telepathic beings, Glieseians have made themselves technological overseers that monitor species technological development and intervene as necessary. The Observers is a comedic buddy-cop novel about two investigators, one being the by-the-book professional, and the other being a fun-loving take-it-as-it-comes kind of guy.

Despite interesting and well-written characters the book falls flat, however, with its setting and plot. There are three major plot lines in this book. Each is contextually irrelevant to the other and the book feels like three short stories were stuck together and as it progresses it begins to feel disconnected. The story is forgettable and the major plots lack satisfying conclusions, leaving you feeling underwhelmed.

Downing is a teacher of science, and his knowledge and love for technology and biology clearly show, but he has missed some major opportunities. As with the forgettable plot, so are the settings equally uninteresting. Different alien worlds and civilizations are treated almost indifferently – despite well developed characters downing has forgotten to characterize the worlds or environments, and with the vague story this lends to the feeling of staleness throughout the book.

However, this is a comedy book and the humour is well written: timing is everything in comedy, and Downing delivers witty punch-lines and well-paced gags that carry the reader through an often drawn-out experience. The banter between Mxpan and Zerpall is delightful and Zerpall’s child-like innocence is often laugh-out-loud material. If Downing had given even a fraction of the attention he gave his characters to the settings and plot, this book could have been a monumental entry to the genre, placing him with the likes of Heinlein or Asprin. 5/10.

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Kumari: Goddess of Gotham

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Dark and humorous, Kumari is a fun read that comfortably bridges the divide between Adult and Young Adult fantasy. Lees has written a heroine that is complex and endearing.

Amanda Lees parents met in the Borneo jungle where her Glaswegian-born mother had set up a hospital and her father was an Oxford-educated Gurkha officer. Goddess of Gotham was written as a tribute to her late mother, and to reflect Lee’s own exotic upbringing, exploring her love of the world and it’s different cultures.

The first in a trilogy, Goddess of Gotham is the story of Kumari, a thirteen year-old girl who is a goddess-in-training and lives in a hidden kingdom in the mountains. Despite being a goddess, her life is full of restrictions and instructions and she becomes disillusioned with her preordained role in the universe. All of this changes when her mother, the goddess, is killed and Kumari attempts to resurrect her and find the truth. But Kumari has not yet mastered her magical powers, least of all resurrection, and suddenly finds herself in the strange and fantastic world of modern day New York.

The city is no place for children, and she quickly finds herself placed in a foster home, attending state education and falling in love with a cute boy. The mortal realm is not so bad and she thinks she could get used to living here with her new friends and family. But there is a downside – she must leave her new-found life behind, or she will become mortal and never be able to return to her kingdom. But she does not know where her kingdom is, or even where New York is. Time is running out. Soon, she will lose all her powers and become mortal and she will never find the truth of who killed her mother. And who are the men that keep trying to capture her. Who do they work for, and how do they know who she is?

Inspired and steeped heavily in Nepalese and Hindu belief, Kumari, Goddess of Gotham is a riveting read that blends the magical and fantastic with the real-world. Often times a dark and thrilling adventure, Kumari is also a brightly coloured and light-hearted story. The characters are well-written and are believable and relateable, the story is original and gripping from the first page.

The first book in a trilogy, and also Amanda Lees debut novel, Goddess of Gotham is an emotional and exciting read for Young Adults or Adults alike. 8/10

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Star Wars: Ylesia by Walter Jon Williams

YlesiajediorderYlesia is the sixteenth installment in the New Jedi Order series. Set in the Expanded Universe (now known as Star Wars Legends) it takes place approximately thirty years after A New Hope, though the EU/Legend stories are all now considered non-canonical since the Disney purchase of Star Wars. Ylesia takes place specifically between chapters 21 and 22 in Williams’ Star Wars novel The New Jedi Order: Destiny’s Way.

On the planet of Ylesia a group of traitors and criminals have set up a collaborationist government working in tandem with the devastating invasion forces of the Yuuzhan Vong. Inadvertantly finding himself leading these traiters is Han Solo’s nephew, Thrackan. The forces of The New Republic are planning a massive offensive to obliterate all collaborators on the planet and make an example of anyone that hinders the Republic.

Jacen Solo, Han Solo’s son, has a bitter resentment towards the Yuuzhan Vong, once being their prisoner. He proposes a raid into the heart of Ylesia’s capital, to capture the collaborators and hold them for trial and exile them offworld; a prolonged trial, he hopes, will extend the message that traitors to The New Republic will be held to account. What The New Republic doesn’t realize is that Yuuzhan Vong reinforcements have been sent, and the simple extraction of political officials turns into a full-on battle.

Not being familiar with this particular time-line in the Star Wars Legends universe, it took me a while to familiarize myself with the characters and settings. I didn’t read the blurb or synopsis and had no idea of what the book would be about. Once I knew the who and the what, the story became very self explanatory. Ylesia is a novella, so Williams doesn’t have page space to drag out character development, but does so efficiently with the time and word count that he has.

This is not a book filled with light-sabre battles and storm troopers – this is a more thought out political drama dealing with more complex issues, while still providing the expected stock of (limited) force-use, alien creatures, spaceships and explosions. It is an enjoyable book, despite doing very little to stand out, but it does nothing to really make me criticize, either. It is a genuinely good book, that left me wanting more. I wanted to know where these characters were going, what the consequences of the battle of Ylesia were. It was an unsatisfying ending for me, because I was left wanting so much more. Now that I know this is actually set between chapters in a larger Star Wars novel, I see now that I shall have to find and read this book as well. Like anything Williams writes, the book has excellent dialogue and action sequences, and you never feel lost in the excitement or confused by inconsistent characterization.

I recommend this book to Star Wars fans and rate it a 4/5. To download a FREE copy of this e-book follow this link here: Ylesia Download.

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Ad Infinitum by William Fripp

71j6qqjmpllWilliam Fripp has created a dark universe that blends the style of Stephen King with the cosmic nihilism of Lovecraft. The idea is intriguing and the imagery is superb. Fripp has written characters that are engaging and has crafted a villain that grips you by the throat and refuses to let you go until the book is finished.

Ad Infinitum is a retelling of the basic core mythos of Christianity; where instead of Christ or Angels we have the Sojourners. They are an ancient entity that seeds life across the universe – until the one known as The Other becomes a dark and twisted force of evil.

Through thousands of years of reincarnations the Sojourners have watched and subtly guided life on Earth; and for thousands of years, so has The Other. But now it has found it does not need to be reborn, but can pass between bodies at the moment of death. With this knowledge it starts killing its way through humanity, leapfrogging between bodies. Soon, its destination is in sight and once it is in Washington it will have enough influence over the course of mankind that it will set the world aflame.

William Fripp has written a multi-layered and complex story with colorful characters. Like a spiritual superhero origin story, individuals discover and learn how to use their latent psychic abilities in the war against evil, complete with melodramatic backstories and tragic love stories.

Ad Infinitum boils down to a selection of main characters: Kimberly Holly who must survive the physical and spiritual assault of being hostage to The Other; Aaron Stiles, a college graduate who’s sudden development of strange and powerful abilities find him medicated and isolated in a mental health institution; Detective Anne Richards, investigating the gruesome murders which are somehow all connected, and Indirah Singh and Mwele Botu – two powerful incarnations of Sojourners who are connected to everyone and involved in everything, who are fighting against time to save teach Aaron to control his abilities, help Detective Richards find Kimberly before she is killed by The Other, and confront the ancient enemy and defeat him.

William Fripp doesn’t leave you time to catch your breath as he takes you for a ride through a world where entities that birthed stories of Angels and Demons walk among us, and where the human soul is the most powerful force in the universe. Ad infinitum is his first published book and can be bought from Amazon here. He has also written a sequel called Ad Perpetuam, which can also be bought from Amazon.

I give Ad Infinitum 4/5.

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Judgement on Janus by Andre Norton

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Naill Renfro is a refugee who, out of desperation, sells himself into labour and winds up logging the forests of the planet Janus. Unfortunately the planet is run by a fanatic cult who treat their laborers like slaves or prisoners and ritualistically punish those who are found to have ‘sinned’.

Naill discovers a jewel in the forest – one of the ‘forbidden treasures’ that one must never touch – and hides it before the overseers can destroy it and punish him. But touching the jewels is it’s own punishment – he is transformed into one of the original denizens of Janus, the Iftin, and gains partial memories of being an indigene. He discovers the forest is a living, breathing, thinking entity and goes on an exodus to find his long lost people.

Right off the start this seems like a wildly original story. And it is. It could also be argued as being a fierce inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar. Judgement on Janus is set thousands of years in the future. Janus is a forest planet (not unlike pandora) where the natives (Iftin) can communicate telepathically with animals and live in giant trees.

But we can’t in good faith compare Janus to Avatar. Norton’s masterpiece was written in 1963 – a good fifty-odd years before Cameron’s Avatar was filmed. I enjoyed the beginnings of the book, but felt the fanatical cult-planet idea could have been explored more and the ending seemed premature, (though the story picks up in the sequel, Victory on Janus.)

I can however appreciate that part of Norton’s prowess was her courage to experiment with topic and theme, and to go beyond the standard or expected structure of a story. This is why her books are so memorable – she isn’t following some pre-established format – she is a frontier-writer, boldly writing into the unknown.

This book has so many interesting and original ideas, that despite the anti-climactic ending and often confusing narrative, I felt compelled to keep reading. I needed to know what the sentient force was that antagonized the heroes, and I needed to know why they were transformed.

As always, Norton has written well, mastering the English language – though I don’t feel this is one of her stronger works. Sometimes you can experiment too much and instead of being ground-breaking can come off as confusing or unfinished. I will definitely read Victory on Janus to see how this duology will conclude.

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White Dwarf Magazine

gw-60249999302White Dwarf was first published in 1977  and, edited by Ian Livingstone, specialised mainly in Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games. Eventually, when Games Workshop began producing their own miniatures, the magazine branched off from D&D to be it’s own separate brand, dedicated to Games Workshop products.

Almost 40 years later and the magazine is more popular than ever, and is a major source of inspiration for artists, writers, gamers and model makers worldwide. Each issue of the magazine serves to market the latest Games Workshop products, mainly: Warhammer Fantasy Battle, Warhammer 40,000, Lord of The Rings, Necromunda and The Black Library. The Black Library is the stand-out division as it produces novels, audio-books, graphic novels and comics, all centred within the Warhammer Games Universe with under 700 different novels and anthologies so far.

White Dwarf magazine also has game reports written up into a fictional account of battle, short stories to expand on backstory for product lines, and incredible artwork – often there are detailed sketches and concept art or full colour paintings. White Dwarf is a fantastic source of inspiration for anyone interested in Science Fiction or Fantasy.

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