books monthly july 2017

This month's SF & Fantasy page is dominated by Star Wars...

 In this issue:

Home Page

Adult Fiction

  Crime and Thrillers

Science Fiction & Fantasy

  Children's books

  Nonfiction & Reference
  The Nostalgia Page
  The Military History Page

  The Jerry Dowlen Column

Stephen King: The Dark Tower - The Gunslinger

Published by Hodder & Stoughton 20th June 2017

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba. "An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King's greatest literary achievement" (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series. A #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King's most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.


My understanding is that only The Gunslinger is being issued as a movie tie-in version, but that the other six novels will be "tweaked" in some way... this is the first iconic novel in King's magnum opus, The Dark Tower - there can't be any King fans who haven't read it, surely? It is in my opinion the first episode in the greatest fantasy series since The Lord of the Rings...




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J R R Tolkien: Beren And Luthien

Published by Harper Voyager 1st June 2017

Painstakingly restored from Tolkien’s manuscripts and presented for the first time as a continuous and standalone story, the epic tale of Beren and Lúthien 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 Lúthien 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 Lúthien: for Beren was a mortal man, but Lúthien 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 Lúthien. This is the kernel of the legend; and it leads to the supremely heroic attempt of Beren and Lúthien 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 Lúthien 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.


I find it remarkable that Tolkien wrote so much in the way of background stories and material, some of which he later used in The Lord of The Rings, but also so much about Middle Earth that has still not been published. Christopher Tolkien has done a brilliant job in pulling together this material to compile the stories of Beren and Luthien - a most welcome return to Middle Earth for those of us who number Peter Jackson's trilogy as the finest films in the history of motion pictures. Behind every great film is an often greater book. This magnificent tale reminded me, by way of its structure, of Paradise Lost. Immerse yourself in the glory of Tolkien's Middle Earth once again with a mesmerising story about humans and elves and the enormous sacrifices they have to make to be together. If anyone was ever in any doubt that Tolkien was the finest fantasy author of all time, this should dispel those doubts once and for all!

George R R Martin: A Knight Of The Seven Kingdoms

Published by Harper Voyager 1st June 2017

The A century before A GAME OF THRONES, two unlikely heroes wandered Westeros... A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS compiles the first three official prequel novellas to George R.R. Martin's ongoing masterwork, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Before Tyrion Lannister and Podrick Payne there was Dunk and Egg. A young, naïve but courageous hedge knight, Ser Duncan the Tall towers above his rivals - in stature if not experience. Tagging along with him is his diminutive squire, a boy called Egg - whose true identity must be hidden from all he and Dunk encounter: for in reality he is Aegon Targaryen, and one day he will be king. Improbable heroes though they be, great destinies lie ahead for Dunk and Egg; as do powerful foes, royal intrigue, and outrageous exploits. A KNIGHT OF THE SEVEN KINGDOMS brings together for the first time the first three official prequel novellas to George R.R. Martin's ongoing masterwork, A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, set in an age when the Targaryen line still holds the Iron Throne, and the memory of the last dragon has not yet passed from living memory.


An amazing prequel to A Game of Thrones - all of the magic is there, just waiting for the master to unfold it and turn it into the fantastic story it was going to be. Prequels are great, and this is simply one of the greatest. Tolkien's greatest apprentice...

Anna Stephens: Godblind

Published by Harper Voyager 15th June 2017

Fantasy’s most anticipated debut of the year. There was a time when the Red Gods ruled the land. The Dark Lady and her horde dealt in death and blood and fire. That time has long since passed and the neighbouring kingdoms of Mireces and Rilpor hold an uneasy truce. The only blood spilled is confined to the border where vigilantes known as Wolves protect their kin and territory at any cost. But after the death of his wife, King Rastoth is plagued by grief, leaving the kingdom of Rilpor vulnerable. Vulnerable to the blood-thirsty greed of the Warrior-King Liris and the Mireces army waiting in the mountains… GODBLIND is an incredible debut from a dazzling new voice of the genre.


This amazing debut has everything, all of the elements of great fantasy. In my opinion some of the best most recent fantasists have been women, and Anna Jacobs's characters and sense of fantasy mark this is as a major entry into the genre. I'm not that keen on the cover art, but you can't have everything, and the story is paramount, and in this case, flawless.

Helen Line: I Hear You Calling

Published by Matador 28th May 2017

Rae Simpson, Education Officer, is struggling to recover from her marriage to a control freak. Richard Banks, 9-year-old student, is floundering as he tries to please both his controlling father and his headmistress. A difficult task, as the very thing that pleases his father is the thing that most puts his school place at risk: Richard gives messages from the dead. Whilst sceptical Rae tries to work with Richard, his overzealous father and a head teacher who thinks compromise is a dirty word, her ex-husband arrives back on the scene. As control rapidly begins to fall away from them both, Rae and Richard find themselves victims of dramatic events that unite them in a way that Rae never thought possible. Soon enough, the question is not 'Can Rae save Richard's school place?' but 'Can Rae save Richard's life?' I Hear You Calling is a fast-moving story of love, loss, trust and control that will take you into areas you may never have visited before. A contemporary novel with a paranormal flavour, it will appeal to those with an interest in spirituality and what lies beyond our world.


Simon Marlowe: Zombie Park

Published by Matador 28th May 2017

Set in 1984, at a time when political and social change is sweeping through Britain and the last Labour battle is soon to usher in a new economic order, Zombie Park follows the story of Roland Cauldron, who considers himself lucky to be starting a new career as a student psychiatric nurse, living and training on an old asylum in the outskirts of London. But it's not just his patients Roland has to worry about. He's working under a management triumvirate led by the psychopathic Interim Chief Executive Morten Slaney, the militaristic Nursing Manager Fitzpatrick and the self-serving Doctor Caldwell, who are only concerned with preserving the reputation of the institution. Roland knows he's in trouble with the management and his fears are elevated when he meets Annie Buchanan, a former staff member who confronted the sinister Slaney and ended up as a patient on the ward. When Roland meets fellow student Sophie Smith, she challenges him to prove he's not just all talk and no action, and they team up to take on the management regime. But Roland falls in love with Sophie and this fuses the mix of the personal and political in the closed world of the surreal sanctuary. Roland's experiences are punctuated by an eclectic series of tragi-comic events. As he copes with the extremes of institutionalised mental illness, he vacillates between helplessness and anger to affect any meaningful change. The easy solution is to self-medicate with his colleagues the Pothead Pixies. Eventually, facing defeat in love and politics, Roland is left abandoned, betrayed and fighting for his life, with only the enigmatic patient Alan Starr to guide and save him from himself. Inspired by Joseph Heller's Catch 22, Simon Marlowe's debut novel will appeal to readers who enjoy black comedy and political fiction. It will also appeal to fans of the American Horror Story: Asylum series.


Gavin Chait: Lament For The Fallen

Published by Black Swan 1st June 2017

A strange craft falls from the stars and crashes into the jungle near an isolated West African community. Inside, the locals discover the broken body of a man unlike any they have seen before – a man who is perhaps something more than human. His name is Samara and he speaks with terror of a place called Tartarus – an orbiting prison where hope doesn’t exist. As Samara begins to heal, he also transforms the lives his rescuers. But in so doing, he attracts the attention of a warlord whose gunmen now threaten the very existence of the villagers themselves – and the one, slim chance Samara has of finding his way home. And all the while, in the darkness above, waits the simmering fury at the heart of Tartarus . . .


This one is sufficiently different to spark your interest - the fact that it's set in West Africa is enough to separate it from mainstream SF, and the concept of Samara telling his story in order to set the scene for what is to come is quite extraordinary and very well done.


Anna Smith Spark: The Court of Broken Knives

Published by Harper Collins 29th June 2017

Perfect for fans of Mark Lawrence and R Scott Bakker, The Court of Broken Knives is the explosive debut by one of grimdark fantasy’s most exciting new voices. They’ve finally looked at the graveyard of our Empire with open eyes. They’re fools and madmen and like the art of war. And their children go hungry while we piss gold and jewels into the dust. In the richest empire the world has ever known, the city of Sorlost has always stood, eternal and unconquered. But in a city of dreams governed by an imposturous Emperor, decadence has become the true ruler, and has blinded its inhabitants to their vulnerability. The empire is on the verge of invasion – and only one man can see it. Haunted by dreams of the empire’s demise, Orhan Emmereth has decided to act. On his orders, a company of soldiers cross the desert to reach the city. Once they enter the Palace, they have one mission: kill the Emperor, then all those who remain. Only from ashes can a new empire be built. The company is a group of good, ordinary soldiers, for whom this is a mission like any other. But the strange boy Marith who walks among them is no ordinary soldier. Marching on Sorlost, Marith thinks he is running away from the past which haunts him. But in the Golden City, his destiny awaits him – beautiful, bloody, and more terrible than anyone could have foreseen.


I'm not familiar with the term "grimdark fantasy", and don't particularly welcome the label. Anna Smith Spark's story is, for me, conventional fantasy at its profound best. It's a story that could quite easily be taken out of context and applied to any historical set of circumstances, but Anna has chosen to make it fantasy, and there is sufficient fantasy in it for it to be recognisable as such. Hugely enjoyable.


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth 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.