Coming Soon -

The Terror by Dan Simmons
Strange Tales Vol III ed by Rosalie Parker
In The Courts Of The Sun by Brian D'Amato
Creatures Of The Pool by Ramsey Campbell

Sunday, 20 December 2009

The Scalding Rooms by Conrad Williams

The Scalding Rooms
by Conrad Williams
Publisher: PS Pubishing, 2007.
Hey it's nearly christmas and everywhere the tiny children are laughing in the snow whilst listenting for sleigh bells. Good will and joy are everywhere. What better way to celebrate then than with one of the most visceral, gruesome and downright dark books you are ever likely to read.

The Scalding Rooms is a short but highly effective post apocalyptic vision of a society where life is all about survival. Our "hero" is Junko Cane, a slaughterhouse worker who is forced into nefarious dealings by his criminal boss. The rest of the time he spends scavenging trinkets from the remains of executed bodies.

Quite how the world got in this mess, quite who is executing the bodies and quite why people don't just throw themselves off the nearest cliff rather than live like this is never fully explained. In effect though it's a book about family. Junko Cane, despite everything, is compelled by a primeval urge to protect his family, no matter how strained his relationship.

The intensity of this protect and survive mentality in an ultimately selfish society keeps the books moving quickly and although only a novella, the descriptive writing really paints the picture of the setting and the characters in brain searing detail.

Conrad Williams is well known for writing dark, dark horror and there is "none more black" than this one. A true Tale From the Black Abyss. Conrad Williams is also noted for the strength and quality of his writing and this is a standout example.

Rating 5 out of 5

The Island by Tim Lebbon

The Island

by Tim Lebbon

Format: Hardback, 446pages,

Publisher: Allison and Busby, 2009.

We have been to Tim Lebbon's fantasy land of Noreela before, most recently in the excellent Fallen, so I was keen to revisit for more of the same but one thing I have learned is that Tim Lebbon doesn't do " more of the same". The setting may be familiar but once more Lebbon shows that he is one of the most inventive genre writers around.

Set almost entirely around the small fishing village of Pavmouth Breaks this is a book that focuses more on characters than locations. Kel Boon is the main protagonist, a seemingly simple life is thrown into chaos by a tsunami and the subsequent appearance of a mysterious Island. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Kel Boone is anything but a simple woodcarver and gradually his background as a secret agent in the Core (think Noreelan SAS) is revealed.

When the inhabitants of "The Island" start to arrive in Noreela it's Kel Boon and partner Namior that suspect something is not quite right. What follows is a race against time to protect the people and traditions of Noreela. The story has elements of steampunk, fantasy, science fiction and horror but is, deep down, a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.

There is little of the epic sweep of Fallen here, though it does share a common sense of mystery, this is all about survival. Survival from a feared but largely unknown antagonist. There are elements here that could almost reflect modern politics as a technologically advanced nation threatens to overrun a much less advanced and far more traditional lifestyle.

In Tim Lebbons usual skillful prose style he keeps the pace moving by gradually revealing more details throughout the book. This coupled with the inventiveness of the setting made this a pleasure to read. If anything it was too short leaving quite a few questions but also leaving the way clear for (hopefully) sequels.

It's not quite as powerful as Fallen but that may just be down to my preference for epic quests but once again we are given a unique snapshot of life in Noreela which pushes fantasy to its boundaries and often beyond. It may have swords and even sorcerers (well witches) but this is about as far from traditional fantasy as you could get. Lebbon's stories almost take on a mythic quality mixing the genres up in a suitably strange and potent brew.

You can read more about Tim Lebbon here or publishers Allison and Busby here.

Rating 4 out of 5

Buy The Island