Tag Archives: reviews

Another review of Great Southern Land

Yes, it has been quiet around here. However, life continues apace and I am busily engaged in a  few secret projects that will hopefully be ready to announce soon.

In the meantime, I stumbled across another lovely review of Tales of Australia: Great Southern Land. The reviewer had some great things to say about the anthology, and was particularly kind about my story.

“Set Your Face Toward the Darkness” by David McDonald, told in journal style, also hit the spot for me. It’s a dark gothic story that re-imagines the fate of explorers Burke and Wills. While touching lightly on social commentary about the invasion of the country, the tale also shows the characters’ growing understanding about the natives’ “connection to the spirit of the land”, with descriptions of the harsh terrain emphasising the growing terror and isolation they feel. A great sense of place, well-developed tension and all-round, a good story.

It’s a very nice feeling when someone “gets” your story, and seems to understand what you were trying to achieve. I am new enough to all this to be unused to reading people’s thoughts on my stories, and I am thrilled. You can follow the link above for the full review and read about the other awesome stories in the anthology.

And, if you so desire, you can buy both paper and electronic copies of the anthology here!

GSL Cover




Review of Great Southern Land

I don’t know about other writers, but I really struggle to judge the quality of my own work so I usually just assume it is terrible! So, it has been nice this week to get some great feedback on a couple of stories. It was an especially pleasant surprise to come across a review of Tales of Australia:Great Southern Land by the industrious Aussie reviewer, Sean the Bookonaut. He covers most of the stories in the book, and has some very kind things to say about mine:

The collection finishes on David McDonald’s Set Your Face Towards the Darkness and having read his work before, this story is a bit of a departure from his normal style.  It is written in journal format – the secret journals of explorer John McKinlay, who was sent to find Burke and Wills.  McDonald does a good job of capturing a reserved 19 century style in these entries written to McKinlay’s sweetheart, Jane.  I think the most challenging thing in writing fiction in journal and letter form, is building and maintaining tension and McDonald does this in his interesting mix of alternative history and pop culture horror trope. If you like Australian gothic horror and reading between the lines of historical journals you’ll appreciate Set Your Face Towards the Darkness.

You can read the complete review here.

And, if you want to pickup a copy of the anthology, either directly from the publisher, or from Amazon. At only $4.99 for the ebook you can’t go wrong!

GSL Cover

AWWC 2012 – The Creature Court Trilogy

Disclaimer: Aussie Spec Fic is a very small world, so in most cases I know the writers whose books I am reviewing. And, these will all most likely be very positive reviews, as I find it very hard to get motivated to go to the trouble of writing a review for a book that didn’t excite me. So, while you won’t get an impartial review, you will get the reasons why I loved a particular book, and why I genuinely believe it’s worth your time. This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to find out more go here.

“She almost missed the sight of a naked youth falling out of the sky. He was long and lean and muscled … He was also completely off his face.”

A war is being fought in the skies over the city of Aufleur. No one sees the battles. No one knows how close they come to destruction every time the sun sets.

During daylight, all is well, but when nox falls and the sky turns bright, someone has to step up and lead the Creature Court into battle.

Twelve years ago, Garnet kissed Velody and stole her magic. Five years ago, he betrayed Ashiol, and took his powers by force. But now the Creature Court is at a crossroads … they need a Power and Majesty who won’t give up or lose themselves in madness …

I was a bit annoyed with myself after reading Power and Majesty, the first book in the Creature Court Trilogy. After all, I had promised myself that I wasn’t going to get sucked into another fantasy series that wasn’t finished. There is only so much waiting for the next book to come out a man can take! I had only picked up Power and Majesty because at Swancon 2011 everyone had been talking about it and it had won the Ditmar. So, I thought I should check it out and, as it turned out, I devoured it on the plane flight back to Melbourne. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait long for the second book because at that point I was completely hooked. But, then there was agony of waiting for the final book to come out so that I could get some closure on one of the most addictive trilogies I’ve read in a long time….

It’s hard to classify the Creature Court trilogy, dark fantasy might be pretty close, but it has elements from all sorts of styles, from historical fiction to steampunk. I’d say that it is the perfect for people wanting a break from Epic fantasy, but that might give you the impression that it is light reading or lightweight which couldn’t be further from the truth. The author manages to pack in a vast range of ideas and a twisting, turning plot without ever putting the brakes on what is a cracking story. I read at least one of the volumes in a sitting, and all of them were incredibly hard to put down.

While some of the world’s features appear to be adapted from parts of our own history, it is not simply a thin veneer of fantasy polish whacked over a real world setting, the author has created a complex and convincing world, with its own customs and history. Unlike some fantasy worlds, the pieces fit together in a believable fashion and you can easily imagine the characters acting the way they do and the society working the way it does. But, there is also a disquieting sense of something not quite right about the daylight world and the sense that something is going on beneath – a feeling that is borne out as the story develops.

The characters are more than just the usual fantasy tropes, and each of them has a believable set of motivations that drive their actions and the story, rather than simply being ciphers. Over the course of the series it is hard not develop sympathy for even the nastiest of characters, and as someone who has little patience for moral ambiguity it is a mark of the author’s skill that I invested so deeply in all the characters and empathising with the nastiest of people. Immoral acts are not excused or consequences waived, but we are constantly given a convincing insight into why people act the way they do that is a nice change from the simplistic black and white that we find in too much fantasy. There is a rich back story that is gradually and skilfully revealed, throwing light on the way the characters interact and showing how the past impacts on the present. Velody especially is one of the best realised fantasy characters I have come across in a long time.

One of the things I admired most about this trilogy is that it serves as an example of how to tackle themes of gender and orientation.  It doesn’t pretend that sexism doesn’t exist, in fact gender roles play a huge part in the plot as the constraints that exist on women in this society and the way various characters attempt to transcend them are explored in depth. And it was refreshing to see how sexual orientation was treated, not in stereotypes or as the sole defining characteristic of a character, but simply as a part of the fabric of life and relationships throughout the story. But, there is never a sense of preaching, like everything else all these things serve the story and add to its resonance. As a writer, it’s given me something to aspire to.

The Creature Court trilogy is probably not for the prudish, being completely drenched in every bodily fluid you can possibly imagine, but even this is done in a way that only adds to the story. The air of rich sensuality which permeates the way characters interact with one another creates a hedonistic atmosphere, something which makes perfect sense as you read on. If you a little sheltered like me you might be tiny bit shocked at times, but there is nothing gratuitous, certainly nothing more graphic than many of the other fantasy titles in the bestseller list.

Despite the depth of the themes explored, the Creature Court trilogy is above all an entertaining and captivating read that deserves all the accolades it and awards it has received. I’m not going to say it is the best Australian fantasy trilogy I’ve read, it doesn’t need that qualifier, it’s one of the best I have read full stop. I read it at a canter the first time through, desperate to find out what happened and actually caught unaware by the ending, an ending that ties it all together very neatly and resolves the story perfectly (though I was very unhappy with the author for a while there for reasons that have nothing to do with the quality of the writing!!). I’ve since gone back and reread a number of times, enjoying it even more. If you are looking for a fantasy trilogy of the highest calibre to tide you over until the next volume in whatever ongoing series you are reading is released, then you can’t go past this magnificent story.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge

Newsflesh Review

Just as an example of the trouble that conversations at the bar during conventions can get you into, you can read a conversational review of the Newsflesh trilogy that I was recently involved in. As you will see, I am rather naive at times!

And, how cool is it that we are all so connected now thanks to the wonders of the internet that the author found our review, read it and commented on it on Twitter?! I love the future.


AWWC 2012 – Madigan Mine

Disclaimer: Aussie Spec Fic is a very small world, so in most cases I know the writers whose books I am reviewing. And, these will all most likely be very positive reviews, as I find it very hard to get motivated to go to the trouble of writing a review for a book that didn’t excite me. So, while you won’t get an impartial review, you will get the reasons why I loved a particular book, and why I genuinely believe it’s worth your time. This review was written as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, to find out more go here.


 When Alex meets Madigan again everything changes. His childhood sweetheart is beautiful and impulsive, but there is something wrong with her. Something dangerous.

Then she commits suicide.

Now Alex can’t get Madigan out of his head. Is it all in his mind, or is she communicating with him?

To save himself and those he loves, Alex must uncover the sinister reason why Madigan took her own life – and why she won’t lie still in her grave.

When Madigan Mine came out it was nominated for a number of awards, and received a great deal of critical acclaim. When you read it, you will see why. Madigan Mine works on a number of levels, and I was able to enjoy it immensely both as a reader and a writer.

A gripping tale of psychological disintegration, Madigan Mine deals with grief, obsession and how love can be used against someone. It’s not for the faint hearted; visceral and confronting, it pulls no punches as we see exactly how far someone can fall.

Kirstyn is clearly an author at the top of her game, and as a writer I found myself full of admiration and no little envy at the skill evident in this book. The prose is haunting, the images painted with words rather than merely described. Some of them will stay with you for a long, long time. I found the way that flashbacks were handled particularly clever, done in a seamless manner that carried me along with the timeline of the story. While reading this, I assumed (wrongly, I believe) that she must have been born and bred in Melbourne, because she writes about this city the way Stephen King writes about Maine, with an intimate knowledge not only of its geography, but of its soul. Any Melbournian will nod knowingly at the descriptions of familiar places, landmarks and inhabitants, but it is not so heavy handed as to limit the books accessibility to those not fortunate enough to call this city home.

But, as beautifully written as it is, that would mean nothing if the story was all style over substance. However, this is where Madigan Mine truly excels, with a compelling narrative that drags you along, not wanting to see what is going to happen, but unable to look away from the carnage as the protagonist loses control of more and more of his life, almost everything he has of value stripped away. There were more than a few scenes that left me genuinely upset, and it doesn’t follow a safe and predictable formula – all bets are off as things continually escalate. There is a real sense that anything could happen, that you shouldn’t get attached to anyone or anything. I actually found myself dreading turning the page at times, scared of what I was going to find next. There is no sentimentality on the author’s behalf, she is more than willing to put the characters through the ringer in service to the story.

The true horror in this book comes from the knowledge of how cruel someone can be to another person, and in that regard it paints a picture scarily faithful to real life. We see how love can be used as a weapon to possess and compel another, and how hard it is to actually let go of someone you’ve lost. Just like the protagonist, you will find yourself unsure whether there is anything supernatural going on, or whether all this is happening in his mind.

It’s not for the faint of heart, but if you want to read a book that will haunt you for days after reading it, and that is an example of how Australia produces work every bit as good as (if not better than) anything coming from overseas, then Madigan Mine is for you.

Australian Women Writers 2012 Reading and Reviewing Challenge

REVIEW: Greatshadow: The Dragon Apocalypse by James Maxey

DISCLAIMER: After seeing a post on Mr Maxey’s blog, I volunteered to provide a review and was sent a preview copy.

Greatshadow is a very ambitious book that aims high and, for the most part, gets there. When I read the premise of the novel I was intrigued and penciled it in as something to keep an eye out for, hence why I leapt at the chance to get an advance reading. I had read one of Mr Maxey’s earlier books and, while I had found it a bit rough around the edges, I had really enjoyed the fast pace and frenetic action. I was hoping for more of the same in Greatshadow, and I was most definitely not disappointed.

Greatshadow starts with action, and doesn’t really let up for the rest of the book. I loved the narrator, who is unreliable in the true sense of the world, and I had to admire Mr Maxey’s ingenious solution to the problem of how a narrator sees things that are going on in places other than his physical location. While the narrator is far from perfect, we do find ourselves on his side, hoping for a happy ending. This “everyman” character gives us a point of engagement as we see the other characters through his eyes.

And, the real strength of Greatshadow truly does lie with its ensemble of super powered warriors, each of whom has a unique set of gifts. I won’t go into details as discovering them is half the fun for the reader, but Mr Maxey really has done an exceptional job of taking the standard fantasy archetypes (the paladin, the warrior princess, the mysterious eastern warrior and so one) and giving them his own, special twist. There was one hero in particular whose powers really impressed me as a fresh idea, and whose downfall was incredibly ingenious (if I say it’s to do with prayer you will find out who I mean!).

The only real problems I had with the book were some sloppy editing (changes of tense that seemed odd, for example) and the sometimes sophomoric humour and attitudes to women. The humourous shortcomings may just be to do with my taste, but I thought that some of the sexual references were a bit juvenile and that, while there are some very strong female characters, women too often fell into wish fulfilment territory.

Imagine David Gemmell crossed with “Grunts” by Mary Gentle, and it might give you an idea of what to expect. If you are after a book that is action packed, has some incredibly imaginative heroes, monsters and villains and can handle a bit of blood and guts then this is well worth your while. I know I would have been happy to have paid for a book that was this entertaining, and I will most definitely be buying the next one.

You can buy Greatshadow here.


Review: Gabriel’s Redemption by Steve Umstead

Over the last year I have enjoyed the fact that you can find a huge range of relatively inexpensive books on Amazon, and as a writer I have been very interested to observe the number of self published titles that are cropping up. Self publishing gets a lot of criticism, some warranted and some unfair, and the Amazon selection provides ammunition to both sides of the debate.

Quite a few of the books I have purchased are ones where I have read a few chapters and it has quickly become obvious that they are self published for a reason. Many haven’t been proofed properly and could have done with the services of an editor, or just contain terrible writing, and would have never seen the light of day if it weren’t for the platform Amazon provides. But, there have also been some books where the quality, both of production and of writing, has been indistinguishable from anything coming from a traditional publisher, and demonstrate why self publishing can be a legitimate avenue that provides opportunities for the production of great books.

“Gabriel’s Redemption” is one of those books. From a technical point of view the production values are excellent, with less errors than I have seen in releases from major publishers, though there were one or two places where an a little more editorial input might have been useful. Umstead’s writing is extremely tight, and gives the impression of someone who has been writing for a long time and has put a great deal of effort into honing his craft (whether this is the case I don’t know). Some self published work can be self indulgent and sloppy, but Umstead avoids this trap and is writer at the top of his game.

But, none of that would matter if the story itself wasn’t any good, and this where “Gabriel’s Redemption” really shines. Some so called “military sci fi” simply substitutes lasers for machine guns, but “Gabriel’s Redemption” is science fiction in the true sense of the term. It examines the impact that technological advances would have on combat and the changes it would bring about in traditional strategy, and creates a convincing future with a well fleshed out world and believable science.

This does not come at the expense of action by any means, “Gabriel’s Redemption” moves at a frenetic pace from beginning to end. The plot is full of twists, most of which I didn’t see coming, and the characterisation is strong. It was great to see some original concepts in what can be a derivative field, Unstead is to be commended for the scope of his ideas.

If you are a fan of this genre there is no excuse to not give it a try, especially at this price point (I felt vaguely guilty for getting it so cheap). If you enjoyed books like Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”, Michael Marks’ “Dominant Species” or S.M. Stirling’s “Draka” series you will undoubtedly enjoy this book immensely.


EX-HEROES – by Peter Clines

When I read the blurb for this book and saw it was super heroes vs zombies, I have to admit that I didn’t expect much in terms of quality. I thought I would read the sample chapter and then forget about it. Never have I been happier to be proven wrong. Not only did I buy the full copy and devour it, I have read again since and it is one of my favourite books.

Most zombie novels tend to dwell on the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse and with the day to day life of those who survived, but the author cleverly uses flashback chapters to illustrate the extent of upheaval of society, without letting it bog down the main story. It also fleshes out the characters, so instead of two dimensional comic book heroes you get a real sense of personality and of strengths and flaws.

While the heroes do echo some of the more famous ones you would have been brought up on they are not just fascimiles slightly modified to avoid copyright infringement. They are cleverly constructed and would be worth a comic book of their own.

There is definitely no shortage of action, and not just fights with standard zombies, it is more than just a splatter fest. You really get a sense of their rising despair as the heroes fought to stop the zombie plague and save the world, their regrets at failing, the cost to them as heroes and as people. But, you also will end filled with what super heroes are all about, hope.

I will be going into this further in a future post, but there is one speech which really shows that the author understands what a hero is, and what they symbolise.

The book features some clever twists in the plot, the origin of the virus for one, and some bits that will make you laugh and some that nearly made me cry.

If you love super heroes and zombie novels and well written books…buy this book. I really want to read more set in this world, so hopefully there will be a sequel soon forthcoming.

The author, Peter Clines, also has an excellent blog on writing that is well worth checking out.