books monthly  june 2018 - sf and fantasy Star Wars Special!

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Sarah J Maas: A Court of Frost and Starlight

Published by Bloomsbury 1st May 2018

A companion tale to Sarah J. Maas's #1 New York Times bestselling A Court of Thorns and Rosesseries that takes place several months after the explosive events of A Court of Wings and Ruin. Narrated by Feyre and Rhysand, this story bridges the events in A Court of Wings and Ruin and the upcoming novels in the series. 
Feyre, Rhys and their companions are still busy rebuilding the Night Court and the vastly changed world beyond. But Winter Solstice is finally near, and with it a hard-earned reprieve. Yet even the festive atmosphere can't keep the shadows of the past from looming. As Feyre navigates her first Winter Solstice as High Lady, she finds that those dearest to her have more wounds than she anticipated - scars that will have a far-reaching impact on the future of their court.

 

Sarah J Maas started out with teen and YA fantasy and has graduated now to full-on adult fantasy on a grand scale. Court of Frost and Starlight is powerful, dramatic and pure fantasy of the highest standard, making her probably by now the best of all female fantasy writers. I cannot praise this one highly enough.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book of the month - Mark Salisbury: The Moviemaking Magic of Star Wars Creatures + Aliens

Published by Abrams 25th May 2018

Go behind-the-scenes of the biggest movie franchise of all time in this immersive and interactive book to see how favorite characters—Chewbacca, Yoda, Jabba and more—were created from concept to screen. This collectible book includes 20 special interactive elements, including six-page booklets, accordion folds, and flaps that reveal the magic behind the movie with concept sketches, molds, digital imagery and more! Includes creatures and aliens from all 10 Star Wars films from A New Hope to Solo: A Star Wars Story

 

Having already written the reviews for the two Dorling Kindersley Star Wars books (below) I was totally unprepared for this one, described as A Cinemagic Book There have been other great Star Wars books, encyclopedias etc., most of them published by DK, but this one is in a galaxy all of its own - there's a label on the back that says "Abramsyoungreaders.com" but that's not really the case with this book. It's not an encyclopedia, but rather a series of case studies of how the most important and fascinating creatures and aliens were created that have appeared in all eight (including Solo, A Star Wars Story) Star Wars films so far released (and here's hoping they continue to make them!). The layout of the book is amazing, with booklets, interactive flaps and accordion folds, many of them featuring concept sketches by the great Ralph McQuarrie. The illustrations are fantastic, picturing the many people behind the CGI and stop motion magic that has made Star Wars the most popular movie franchise in the history of the cinema. This amazing book is a celebration of everything that's great about Star Wars, and could well end up being my Book of the Year for 2018. Amongst the revelations included in this great book is the fact that Warwick Davis was just eleven years old when he auditioned for the part of an Ewok, being then promoted to the part of Wicket as he was simply such a good actor and so enthusiastic. The book is peppered with snippets like this, and packed with great behind the scenes pics and facts. I asked for a review copy of The Art of Solo and was alerted to this title by the Abrams publicist, whom I count amongst my very special online friends. It wasn't in the Abrams catalogue from which I normally make my selections (at least, if it was, I missed it), and I am so glad that she brought it to my attention. I love Star Wars and I love books. With this beautiful book, I have the best of both worlds. Stunning, fantastic, jaw-dropping, brilliant - there simply aren't enough words to describe this book....

 

Phil Szostak: The Art of Solo A Star Wars Story

Published by Abrams 25th May 2018

The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story reveals, for the first time, the design evolution of each new fantastical set, otherworldly machine, and unforgettable character in the film. Packed with hundreds of spectacular images, including production paintings, concept art and sketches, storyboards, and matte paintings, The Art of Solo: A Star Wars Story is the definitive guide to the art of the film―and a must-have keepsake for fans.

 

In recent years cinema-goers have come to expect books featuring artwork concepts for the major film releases - there is a series of six stunning books on the three Hobbit movies that remain amongst my all-time favourite film books, and there have certainly been a fair few "The Art of" books associated with the new generation of Star Wars films. I have read a number of UK reviews for Solo: A Star Wars Story and the general concensus is that it's a great family adventure film and the advice is that people should go and see it. Not being a cinema goer myself, I prefer to wait for the Blu Ray and watch in the comfort of my own home, I will have to wait to see the film for a few months, but I can at least wallow in the glorious artwork and concept drawings that abound in this amazing collection, again published by Abrams. No one can fill Harrison Ford's shoes when it comes to Han Solo, but the opportunity to find out how he turned out the way he did is not to be missed if this book is anything to go by. Where once we only had three Star Wars films, now we have eight, and although the three prequel films are not a patch on what went before and what came after them, they are still very watchable and part of the Star Wars canon. I hope Solo does well at the box office, because if it does, that means they will probably make a follow-up. And then there will be another glorious book of art for me to pore over. A sumptuous book. These two, this and the one above, are undoubtedly the finest Star Wars books I have ever read. Watch out, Dorling Kindersley, your crown is slipping...

 

Jason Fry: Star Wars The Last Jedi

Published by Century 8th March 2018

Written with input from director Rian Johnson, this official adaptation of Star Wars: The Last Jedi expands on the film to include scenes from alternate versions of the script and other additional content. From the ashes of the Empire has arisen another threat to the galaxy’s freedom: the ruthless First Order. Fortunately, new heroes have emerged to take up arms—and perhaps lay down their lives—for the cause. Rey, the orphan strong in the Force; Finn, the ex-stormtrooper who stands against his former masters; and Poe Dameron, the fearless X-wing pilot, have been drawn together to fight side-by-side with General Leia Organa and the Resistance. But the First Order’s Supreme Leader Snoke and his merciless enforcer Kylo Ren are adversaries with superior numbers and devastating fire power at their command. Against this enemy, the champions of light may finally be facing their extinction. Their only hope rests with a lost legend: Jedi Master Luke Skywalker. Where the action of Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended, Star Wars: The Last Jedi begins, as the battle between light and dark climbs to astonishing new heights. Featuring an 8-page color photo insert of thrilling images from the hit movie

 

Having recently watched The Last Jedi, I was eager to read the story as realised by Jason Fry, and I was not disappointed. As always, there is a lot more material in the book than in the film, but it's all useful information and enhances the novel greatly. The version I was sent to review has a centre section of coloured photographs from the film, which is brilliant. The story plays out just as it does in the film, and Fry's account of the screenplay is one of the ore superior Star Wars novels in the series. Star Wars fans will not be disappointed with this one.

Daniel José Older: Star Wars The Last Shot

Published by Century 19th April 2018

Even the fastest ship in the galaxy can’t outrun the past. . . .

THEN:

It’s one of the galaxy’s most dangerous secrets: a mysterious transmitter with unknown power and a reward for its discovery that most could only dream of claiming. But those who fly the Millennium Falconthroughout its infamous history aren’t your average scoundrels. Not once, but twice, the crew of the Falcon tries to claim the elusive prize―first, Lando Calrissian and the droid L3-37 at the dawn of an ambitious career, and later, a young and hungry Han Solo with the help of his copilot, Chewbacca. But the device’s creator, the volatile criminal Fyzen Gor, isn’t interested in sharing. And Gor knows how to hold a grudge. . . .

NOW:

It’s been ten years since the rebel hero Han Solo last encountered Fyzen Gor. After mounting a successful rebellion against the Empire and starting a family with an Alderaanian princess, Han hasn’t given much thought to the mad inventor. But when Lando turns up at Han’s doorstep in the middle of the night, it’s Fyzen’s assassins that he’s running from. And without Han’s help, Lando―and all life on Cloud City―will be annihilated.

With the assistance of a young hotshot pilot, an Ewok slicer prodigy, the woman who might be the love of Lando’s life, and Han’s best and furriest friend, the two most notorious scoundrels in the New Republic are working together once more. They’ll have to journey across the stars―and into the past―before Gor uses the device’s power to reshape the galaxy.

 

The Han and Lando film is now out, although I shan't see it until it becomes available on Blu Ray. To keep me going, and to keep my appetite whetted, Daniel José Older has turned in a terrifically entertaining rebel-rouser of a novel that stays true to the heart of the Star Wars universe and homes in on one of the most revered characters in the saga. There are times when it's tempting to think that this one has been aimed at older children, but the story is sound and the writing is tight and mostly enjoyable. I'm not sure if this is the book of the film, as I haven't seen the film, but it's pretty good...

Star Wars Block: Over 100 Words Every Fan Should Know

Published by Abrams 1st May 2018

The world of Star Wars is rich with content, from its iconic characters to its stunning locations. This sixth title in the Abrams Block Book series takes readers on a tour through Star Wars, featuring popular characters and moments from all films, up to and including Rogue One.
 
As in previous Block Book titles, Star Wars Block includes die-cut shapes on every spread and the charming art of British design team Peskimo. Additionally, each spread features important words every Star Wars fan, from the littlest Skywalker to the most seasoned Kenobi, should know

 

A fantastic introduction to all of the major characters in Star Wars aimed specifically at little people. Charming character profiles, brilliant illustrations, this is a gem of a book!

 

 

 

Star Wars Absolutely Everything You Need To Know

Published by Dorling Kindersley December 2017

Why does Kylo Ren talk to a helmet? What type of trooper guards a tropical beach? With brand new content, including a sneak peek of the Star Wars: The Last Jedi(TM), discover fun facts about Star Warscharacters like Rey, BB-8, Jyn Erso, Admiral Thrawn, and Snoke, and feast your eyes on interesting trivia on locations such as Jedha, Maz Kanata's castle, and Starkiller Base. DK's best-selling title Star Wars: Absolutely Everything You Need to Know has now been updated and expanded with all-new weird and wonderful data, strange-but-true facts and cool "Did you know?" Q&As, featuring material from Star Wars: The Force Awakens(TM), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story(TM), Star Wars Rebels(TM), and Star Wars: The Clone Wars(TM). Get a sneak peek of characters, costumes, and creatures from the upcoming and much-talked about new movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. From movie-making trivia to quirky data you never knew you never knew, this book will excite new and old fans alike of that galaxy far.

 

My problem with this book is that more than two thirds of it, in my estimation, is based on The Clone Wars and not on the eight main films in the franchise. I think the writers of this otherwise excellent book could have focused more on those films and their characters. It seemed that every page I turned I was faced with some 3D or cartoon representation of characters I'd never heard of. A tad disappointing, to be honest...

 

Star Wars Encyclopedia of Starfighters and Other Vehicles

Published by Dorling Kindersley 5th April 2018

Learn all about over 200 of your favourite Star Wars vehicles, from the A-wing to the Y-wing. Want to know how the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel Run in such a short distance? Don't know your X-wing from your Y-wing? Not sure what type of craft Slave I is? Look no further than the Star Wars Encyclopedia of Starfighters and Other Vehicles. From the swamps of Kashyyyk to the deserts of Jakku, from inner-city Coruscant to the vastness of hyperspace, Star Wars Encyclopedia of Starfighters and Other Vehicles will show you the right craft for the job. Covering vehicles from across every Star Wars movie, as well as Star Wars: The Clone Warsand Star Wars: Rebels. This handy guide is full of fun facts and intriguing information, guaranteed to enthral fans for hours on end.

 

Same comments as with the tite above. Not enough main movie content, and far too much from the Clone Wars. Sumptuously produced, as the book above, but not really doing it for me.

 

 

J R R Tolkien: Beren and Luthien

Published by Harper Collins 3rd May 2018

Painstakingly restored from Tolkien's manuscripts and presented for the first time as a continuous and standalone story, the epic tale of Beren and Luthien will reunite fans of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with Elves and Men, Dwarves and Orcs and the rich landscape and creatures unique to Tolkien's Middle-earth. The tale of Beren and Luthien was, or became, an essential element in the evolution of The Silmarillion, the myths and legends of the First Age of the World conceived by J.R.R. Tolkien. Returning from France and the battle of the Somme at the end of 1916, he wrote the tale in the following year. Essential to the story, and never changed, is the fate that shadowed the love of Beren and Luthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Luthien was an immortal Elf. Her father, a great Elvish lord, in deep opposition to Beren, imposed on him an impossible task that he must perform before he might wed Luthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Luthien together to rob the greatest of all evil beings, Melkor, called Morgoth, the Black Enemy, of a Silmaril. In this book Christopher Tolkien has attempted to extract the story of Beren and Luthien from the comprehensive work in which it was embedded; but that story was itself changing as it developed new associations within the larger history. To show something of the process whereby this legend of Middle-earth evolved over the years, he has told the story in his father's own words by giving, first, its original form, and then passages in prose and verse from later texts that illustrate the narrative as it changed. Presented together for the first time, they reveal aspects of the story, both in event and in narrative immediacy, that were afterwards lost.

 

This is the paperback version of last year's major Tolkien hardback, and I'm thrilled to be able to report that it contains all of the stunning coloured illustrations by the great Alan Lee. This is worthy of anyone's bookshelves - a brilliant tale, perfectly illustrated and with copious notes and commentaries. Superb.

 

Peter V Brett: The Core

Published by Harper Collins 3rd May 2018

The war has begun… For time out of mind, bloodthirsty demons have stalked the night, culling the human race to scattered remnants dependent on half-forgotten magics to protect them. Two heroes arose―men as close as brothers, yet divided by bitter betrayal. Arlen Bales became known as the Painted Man, tattooed head-to-toe with powerful magic symbols that enable him to fight demons in hand-to-hand combat―and emerge victorious. Ahmann Jardir, armed with magically warded weapons, called himself the Deliverer, a figure prophesied to unite humanity and lead them to triumph in Sharak Ka―the final war against demonkind. But in their efforts to bring the war to the demons, Arlen and Jardir have set something in motion that may prove the end of everything they hold dear―a Swarm. Now the war is at hand, and humanity cannot hope to win it unless Arlen and Jardir, with the help of Arlen’s wife, Renna, can bend a captured demon prince to their will and force the devious creature to lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an inexhaustible army. Trusting their closest confidantes, Leesha, Inevera, Ragen, and Elissa, to rally the fractious people of the Free Cities and lead them against the Swarm, Arlen, Renna, and Jardir set out on a desperate quest into the darkest depths of evil―from which none of them expects to return alive.

 

It is probably almost a decade ago that Peter V Brett's Painted an series began, and it is still going strong as one of the more imaginative and inspired series of the genre. There is a touch of Lovecraft about Brett's writing that will appeal to fans of more hardcore SF/Fantasy, and it is compulsive and gripping stuff...

 

Tessa Gratton: The Queens of Innis Lear

Published by Harper Collins 17th May 2018

Tessa Gratton's debut epic adult fantasy, The Queens of Innis Lear, brings to life a world that hums with ancient magic, and characters as ruthless as the tides. The erratic decisions of a prophecy-obsessed king have drained Innis Lear of its wild magic, leaving behind a trail of barren crops and despondent subjects. Enemy nations circle the once-bountiful isle, sensing its growing vulnerability, hungry to control the ideal port for all trade routes. The king’s three daughters – battle-hungry Gaela, master manipulator Reagan, and restrained, starblessed Elia – know the realm’s only chance of resurrection is to crown a new sovereign, proving a strong hand can resurrect magic and defend itself. But their father will not choose an heir until the longest night of the year, when prophecies align and a poison ritual can be enacted. Refusing to leave their future in the hands of blind faith, the daughters of Innis Lear prepare for war – but regardless of who wins the crown, the shores of Innis will weep the blood of a house divided.

 

Tessa's Celtic-inspired Merlinesque fantasy is rich in symbolism and grounded very much in the tradition of Arthurian legend - a joy to read.

 

R F Kuang: The Poppy War

Published by Harper Collins 3rd May 2018

A powerful epic fantasy novel with roots in the 20th-century history of China. Opium runs through the heart of the Nikara Empire, a constant reminder of the war with the Federation of Mugen that brought it to the empire’s shores. A war that only ended thanks to three heroes – the Vipress, the Dragon Emperor and the Gatekeeper – known as the Trifecta. They were legendary figures, each bestowed with god-like powers, who united the warlords of the Empire against the Federation. Decades have passed. The Trifecta is shattered; the Dragon Emperor is dead, the Gatekeeper is missing, and the Vipress alone sits on the throne at Sinegard. Peace reigns, yet the poppy remains. War orphan Fang Runin grew up with it. Her adopted family smuggles it throughout the Rooster province, making a living on the misfortune of those addicted to its smoke. But when Rin’s parents force her into an arranged marriage, Rin refuses to accept her fate and fights her way to the prestigious military academy at Sinegard. There she will learn of drug-fuelled shamanic powers thought to be myth, powers which might defeat the Federation during its third invasion. But the cost of some power is too great to pay, even if it means winning a war that threatens to destroy an entire nation.

 

Oriental influences very much to the fore in this powerful female-oriented fantasy...

 

Den Patrick: Witchsign

Published by Harper Collins 3rd May 2018

From celebrated fantasy author Den Patrick comes WITCHSIGN, the first novel in a fresh and exciting new fantasy trilogy. It has been seventy-five years since the dragons’ rule of fire and magic was ended. Out of the ashes, the Solmindre Empire was born. Since then, the tyrannical Synod has worked hard to banish all manifestations of the arcane from existence. However, children are still born bearing the taint of the arcane, known to all as witchsign. Vigilants are sent out across the continent of Vinterkveld to find and capture all those bearing the mark. No one knows when the Vigilants of the Synod will appear and enforce the Empire’s laws. But today they’re coming. And gods help those who bear the sign of the witch.

 

It seems to be the month for the resurrection of older fantasy themes, this time it's Den Patrick's Dragon revival - they were very much in vogue a decade or even longer ago and then faded as supernatural elements took over. This is a refreshing take on dragon lore, and thoroughly enjoyable.

 

Mark Lawrence: Grey Sister

Published by Harper Collins 17th May 2018

Second novel in the brilliant new series from the bestselling author of PRINCE OF THORNS. In Mystic Class Nona Grey begins to learn the secrets of the universe. But so often even the deepest truths just make our choices harder. Before she leaves the Convent of Sweet Mercy Nona must choose her path and take the red of a Martial Sister, the grey of a Sister of Discretion, the blue of a Mystic Sister or the simple black of a Bride of the Ancestor and a life of prayer and service. All that stands between her and these choices are the pride of a thwarted assassin, the ambition of a would-be empress wielding the Inquisition like a blade, and the vengeance of the empire’s richest lord. As the world narrows around her, and her enemies attack her through the system she has sworn to, Nona must find her own path despite the competing pull of friendship, revenge, ambition, and loyalty. And in all this only one thing is certain. There will be blood.

 

There were never enough female fantasy heroines for my liking - I always thought of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Mars and Venus series as fantasy rather than SF, and the only other female superheroine in fantasy literature was Red Sonja. Nona Grey is a worthy successor to all of those I've just mentiones, and Grey Sister is superb, a really cool fantasy novel which lots to like.

S A Chakraborty: The City of Brass

Published by Harper Voyager 8th March 2018

Among the bustling markets of eighteenth century Cairo, the city’s outcasts eke out a living swindling rich Ottoman nobles and foreign invaders alike. But alongside this new world the old stories linger. Tales of djinn and spirits. Of cities hidden among the swirling sands of the desert, full of enchantment, desire and riches. Where magic pours down every street, hanging in the air like dust. Many wish their lives could be filled with such wonder, but not Nahri. She knows the trades she uses to get by are just tricks and sleights of hand: there’s nothing magical about them. She only wishes to one day leave Cairo, but as the saying goes… Be careful what you wish for.

 

The inspiration for The City of Brass could almost be traced back to the Arabian Nights, one of the oldest fantasies ever written - and the inspiration has worked wonders in Chrakraborty's superb novel of the far Middle East. Nice to have true fantasy set in a world with which we are entirely familiar.

 


 

The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its twentieth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.