As for science fiction and fantasy...

Gwen Ansell reviews three of the latest releases in the science fiction and fantasy genre

The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn (Bantam)
In the Age of Misrule and Kingdom of the Serpent series, Mark Chadbourn established a voice as the creator of gripping, distinctively British fantasies, drawing on the mythologies of Vikings, Saxons and Celts. Those books are dark-toned tales of 20th-century decline, and redemption through the reincarnation and martyrdom of heroes.

Sword of Albion is a freestanding novel set in an alternative Elizabethan court, at open war with the Spanish and in covert war with the Sidhe.

In the company of Dr John Dee, Kit Marlowe and more, hero Will Swyfte plays the James Bond role.

The historical research is meticulous, and the melancholy grimness of tone, leavened by smart gallows humour, will speak to Chadbourn fans.

But although the bucklers are stylishly swashed, the plot feels tired and over familiar. The book is a stand-alone, but there’s a certain inevitability about further episodes.—Gwen Ansell

Naamah’s Kiss by Jacqueline Carey (Gollancz)
Jacqueline Carey enjoyed New York Times best-selling success with her Kushiel series: essentially bodice-rippers plus magic.

Naamah’s Kiss is set in a new epoch of her universe, but isn’t much different. Carey’s heroine, the impossibly beautiful young minor witch, Moirin, fucks her way through a variety of thinly fantasised and at times jarringly anachronistic historical backdrops: Celtic (soft-focus teenage sex with a chieftain’s son); medieval French (sex with a Faustian dabbler, a wayward queen and an ivory dildo); and dynastic Ch’in (sex with a kung-fu fighter handy with his staff and a dragon embodied in a princess).

The whole farrago takes itself far too seriously, plastering on a pretentious environmental sub-theme—although connoisseurs of cliché will find plenty to entertain them amid the heaving thighs.—GA

The Folding Knife by KJ Parker (Orbit)
It would be reductive to see Parker’s latest novel as simply an allegory of Afghanistan and Iraq. After all, family Bush were by no means the first potentates to start wars for their own and their cronies’ financial benefit—ostensibly to pre-empt future aggression—and foster a system of worthless financial instruments to shore up the state.

Parker’s protagonist, Basso, is more Doge than Caesar: first citizen and chief executive of a mid-sized mercantile state in the world of the earlier books. Basso juggles the elements of power—religion, state, army, diplomacy—effectively (and far more successfully than those of his personal life) until, as the book jacket warns us, he makes one mistake.

Reading this finely crafted, scarily intelligent tale is like watching a doomed high-wire act. Half-horrified, you admire Basso’s audacious, amoral footwork, while trying to puzzle out which of his often-flawed actions will be the fatal step.

The book is probably Parker’s best to date: placing the customary nuanced characters in a frame that’s far tighter in construction and more economical with the blood than the 10 (12 if you count the novellas) that preceded it. The title, as usual, signals the containing metaphor; never mistake the nature of war.—GA

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