Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: Grimblades by Nick Kyme

Grimblades, An Empire Army Novel by Nick Kyme
416 pages
Advance Review Copy

When orcs and goblins invade the Empire, the Emperor Dieter IV does nothing. While the other elector counts bicker, Prince Wilhelm is left to defend the Reikland alone. The Grimblades are among his brave army that opposes the greenskins. Amidst desperate war across the Empire and a plot to kill the prince, the Grimblades must survive this orc invasion and be victorious...

Nick Kyme must have the coolest job in the world. He gets to write stories that are about the fantasy realms that make up the background for games of toy soldiers. How cool is that?!?

If you are in to the Warhammer Fantasy Battles tabletop miniatures game, or the Old World setting, then you probably know about The Empire, Karl Franz, Elector Counts, rough and tumble soldiers, political intrigue and Warrior Priests of Sigmar. It's a grim and gritty setting. There's dirt under the fingernails.

I play the tabletop game on occasion but for the most part I'm a fan of the lore behind the game as well as collector if toy soldiers. I used to have an Empire Army. Sold them off in favor of my Chaos and High Elf armies. The Empire had gotten boring.

So I received Grimblades and saw Mr. Kyme penned it. "Hrm, he's that guy who did the Dwarfs novels and Salamanders stuff. This may be worth digging in to." I wasn't able to read all night as I had to be up early for an appointment, but I read along the way, before the appointment as well as on the way back, and finished early the following evening. In-between I was surfing the Games Workshop website for prices on State Troops.

Needless to say, I DEVOURED it. The characters were set up from the word go. Good solid, characters with issues, who make bad decisions, deeply flawed characters we get to see succeed and fail, be heroes...and sometimes die for it. Nick Kyme did all the right things when he wrote this one! The plot is engaging and had me guessing who the good guys/ bad guys really were.

Previously Chris Wraight's Sword of Vengeance has been lauded as pretty much the best of the Empire-based stories. This one is creeping up on it! I think the only thing that keeps it from hitting the very top mark is that there are some instances where the soldiers of the Empire are just... too good. Times where the lone halberd-wielding soldier is gutting orc after orc.(an exaggeration on my part) That sort of thing. Small areas where the suspension of disbelief is marred slightly. Of course...this is an Empire Army Novel, so the perspective is a bit (and rightfully so) skewed.

I'm glad to have this section of ambiguous Empire History nailed down a bit.

 Nick Kyme is fast outpacing his contemporaries as a weaver of exceptionally deep, rich stories we can all relate to. A wonderful read!

4.5 out of 5 Stars.

P.S. I am in the process of assembling and priming about 2000 points of Empire troops now (again). My core unit? The Grimblades: a 40 man strong unit of State Troops wielding halberds. Thanks Nick, Black Library and games Workshop for feeding the toy soldier addiction...again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Review: The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton and Swinbourne in)


The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack (Burton and Swinbourne in) by Mark Hodder


Published: September 2010

ISBN: 978-1616142407

Reviewed by Earl Davis


London, 1861.

Sir Richard Francis Burton—explorer, linguist, scholar, and swordsman; his reputation tarnished; his career in tatters; his former partner missing and probably dead.

Algernon Charles Swinburne—unsuccessful poet and follower of de Sade; for whom pain is pleasure, and brandy is ruin!

They stand at a crossroads in their lives and are caught in the epicenter of an empire torn by conflicting forces: Engineers transform the landscape with bigger, faster, noisier, and dirtier technological wonders; Eugenicists develop specialist animals to provide unpaid labor; Libertines oppose repressive laws and demand a society based on beauty and creativity; while the Rakes push the boundaries of human behavior to the limits with magic, drugs, and anarchy. The two men are sucked into the perilous depths of this moral and ethical vacuum when Lord Palmerston commissions Burton to investigate assaults on young women committed by a weird apparition known as Spring Heeled Jack, and to find out why werewolves are terrorizing London's East End.


In 1864, Jules Verne published his first novel laying the groundwork for the subgenre affectionately referred to as “Steampunk” by its loyal disciples. Steampunk, once confined to basements, garages and science fiction conventions, can now be found in blockbuster films and network television. Like vampires, zombies and werewolves Steampunk is now main stream.

Fear not though! Mark Hodder’s debut novel harkens back to those glory days of yore. It is a love letter to every lady that ever slipped out of her modern life and into a bustle dress. It winks and nods at the gentleman who has traded his tracksuit for a stovepipe hat and cane sword.

Imagine a group of friends sitting around one evening chatting about nothing in particular, when someone pipes up and says, “I’m thinking about writing a Steam Punk novel”. With that simple statement the flood gates open; tropes and plot points, settings and character sweep the participants along the rapids. Then out of nowhere, a pre-teen daughter walks through the room and says “What about werewolves?” A novel is born.

In the hands of a lesser writer, juggling so many ideas at once could easily spell disaster. It’s not hard to imagine this novel becoming a shapeless, unreadable mess. Hoddor avoids the trap and maintains a steady hand guiding the reader along. At times, he is less a novelist and more like the conductor of a symphony ensuring that each section moves in time.

Not content to tell merely a science fiction tale, he wraps it in the shell of a grand adventure and mystery the likes of which Sherlock Holmes and Auguste Dupin would admire. Heavy handed exposition and lengthy description, often necessities in science fiction, are interspersed with swordplay, helicopter chases and enough intrigue to keep the beats moving forward at a brisk pace.

Oscar Wilde, Francis Galton, Charles Darwin, Laurence Oliphant, Edward Oxford, and many other notable figures from the Victorian era all move in and out of the narrative affecting the protagonists Sir Richard Burton and Algernon Swinburne, who are also famous Englishmen of the period. Burton is the classic adventure hero, an educated man and explorer, capable of violence when it is necessary. While he is a compelling hero, the character suffers from being one sided; focused solely on the needs of the mission at hand.

Burton’s partner in this adventure, Swinbourne, is a far more dynamic character and acts as a much needed support for the static Burton. Not merely content to be a “Watson”, Swinbourne’s enthusiasm and debauchery creates his own spotlight. In fact, it is Watson’s own masochism (he constantly allies himself with a know-it-all who chides and embarrasses him) that draws the greatest parallel to Swinbourne who is an acknowledged and proud follower of De Sade. Swinbourne’s delight and pleasure involving the infliction of pain add a unique flavor to scenes that would otherwise be throw-away material.

The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack is well worth the cover price. It teases and titillates and like a good lover leaves you spent, satisfied and waiting anxiously for more. Hodder has created high expectations with this novel and I sincerely hope that his sophomore effort lives up to his potential.


This is a novel for any adult reader. It stands as proof that there is quality and unique writing still going on out there in the ether. I whole heartedly recommend its purchase.

4 out of 5 stars