Friday, June 29, 2012

Review - Doom Rider

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): Seth Crow has lived a thousand lives, and in each one he's been murdered before he turns thirteen.
And now he's being hunted again. But this time it's different.
Enter Lily, who tells him of his fate: Seth is CONQUEST. The first of the four riders of the Apocalypse. And people want him dead, before he can fulfil his destiny. 
Seth's only hope lies in finding the other riders - Strife, Famine and Death. 
Together, the fate of the world lies in their hands ...

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A wonderfully dark and twisted take on the horsemen of the Apocalypse. 

Dearly Departed,
We are gathered here today to discuss Doom Rider, by David Gatward. I am big fan of high-concept ideas – if you can sum it up in a sentence, there’s a good chance I’ll be interested. In this case, the moment I heard ‘boy discovers he’s one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse’ and saw the awesome cover, I was sold. Of course, it didn’t hurt that I knew it was being penned by the phenomenal David Gatward. Thanks to his previous series, The Dead, I had an inkling that I’d be in for a wonderfully dark and twisted read. I wasn’t disappointed.

The very first thing that struck me was the brand of religion found in the world of Doom Rider. Seth’s life on the travelling faith show circuit was a really fascinating foundation for the character. I must admit, my own religious knowledge is practically non-existent, but The Way seemed to be a mix of evangelical faiths, borrowing from a few of the mainstream religions without resembling any too closely. This background makes Seth a very conflicted character, and it was precisely because of his origins that I found him so interesting, even more so than Gatward’s previous protagonist of the Dead series, Lazarus Stone. The cast of supporting characters is also varied and colourful, particularly when we begin to meet the other riders, and it’s here that the book really starts to shine.

I read in an interview with Gatward that he decided to take his interpretation of the riders all the way back to their original roots, so he could portray them differently. Well, it worked, because these versions of the horsemen of the apocalypse are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and this originality makes them all the more awe-inspiring, purely because I was completely unprepared for the strangeness of their abilities (especially Death!). Gatward really has a knack for description, and there are some fantastically gruesome scenes in this one. Whenever I read one of Gatward’s books, I’m reminded of that old creative writing class tip to do with description – use all the senses, not just sight. Gatward is a master of this, and all the senses are constantly engaged, to the point where you’re really there alongside Seth as he struggles with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

Doom Rider is a fantastic addition to the YA horror genre, one that every reader with a taste for the darker side of life should read. It will be released in Australia on 5 July 2012.

Check it out on Goodreads, find out more on David Gatward's site, or pre-order it from Readings.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Review - The Fury

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): Cal, Brick and Daisy are three ordinary teenagers whose lives suddenly take a terrifying turn for the worst. They begin to trigger a reaction in everybody they meet, one that makes friends and strangers alike turn rabid whenever they are close. One that makes people want to tear them to pieces
Cal and the other victims of the Fury – the ones that survive – manage to locate each other. But just when they think they have found a safe place to hide from the world, some of them begin to change...
They must fight to uncover the truth about the Fury before it's too late. But it is a truth that will destroy everything they know about life and death

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A brilliant epic in the same vein as Michael Grant's Gone and Charlie Higson's The Enemy.

Check out my other review of The Fury here.

Dearly Departed,

We are gathered here today to discuss The Fury, by Alexander Gordon Smith. I'm sitting here stuck for words because I really don't know where to begin… okay, here: this book is amazing. It really, really is. There are just so many good things about it that I want to say at once, which might make for a bit of a confusing review, so I'll start on what I loved most about it - the characters.

Smith has masterfully created the characters of Brick, Daisy, Cal (and others) whose lives have been disrupted by the fact that everybody wants them dead. What I found so clever about this scenario is that these characters would never have got along under normal circumstances: you have Brick, the misunderstood big kid who has 'one of those faces' you take an instant dislike to; Cal the a sports star beloved by all who isn't used to anyone not liking him, let alone hating him; and then there's Daisy, who is young and na├»ve, yet incredibly wise and calm at the same time. Normally they wouldn't have chosen to be friends, but now that the whole world has turned against them, they have no choice, and it's in these stressful moments of forced interaction that the characters' personalities really shine. 

I was watching Cloverfield the other night, and while I liked the setup, I quickly grew bored by the characters. They were stereotypical horror fodder, and they made bad decisions. In an effort to make the characters appeal to everyone, the filmmakers made them too generic. By the end, I was cheering as each of them fell. The Fury is like the complete opposite of this - I genuinely liked all of the characters, and they were all perfectly brought to life on the page to the point where I was really worried about the fate of one of the main characters in particular, and found myself thinking that if something happened to this character, I was going to have to write an angry letter to Smith. I was even cheering for the characters who weren't typically 'good guys' because I understood where they were coming from and I agreed with their motives.

The other thing that The Fury mastered was the scary monster. I'm not going to ruin anything here, but this puts such an interesting spin on our pre-existing notions of a particular concept. This should come as no surprise to those who have read Smith's Escape From Furnace series, which introduce the reader to some fantastically monstrous bad guys. There are two particular scenes in The Fury that are terrifying - possibly some of the most unsettling I've ever read. The skill in this comes from Smith's writing, and his ability to paint a very vivid picture without ever overwriting it.

Last week in the bookshop I was asked to recommend something to a boy who had read all of Michael Grant's Gone series. I started to recommend his other series, BZRK, when I stopped mid-sentence, picked up a copy of The Fury and shoved it in his hands, while commanding him to 'Buy this one. Now.' Maybe it was the brilliant cover, maybe he was afraid of me, but he did, and I know he won't be disappointed. While it's inevitable that The Fury will get compared to other horror tomes like Grant's and Charlie Higson's The Enemy, I think Smith's latest novel will attract its own Grant-esque army of followers because it's so damned good.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Scary School Review

The Eulogy (From the Publisher): You think your school's scary? Get a load of these teachers:
"Ms. Fang," an 850-year-old vampire
"Dr. Dragonbreath," who just might eat you before recess
"Mr. Snakeskin"--science class is so much more fun when it's taught by someone who's half zombie
"Mrs. T"--break the rules and spend your detention with a hungry "Tyrannosaurus rex"
Gargoyles, goblins, and Frankenstein's monster on the loose
The world's most frighteningly delicious school lunch
The narrator's an eleven-year-old ghost
Join Charles "New Kid" Nukid as he makes some very Scary friends--including Petunia, Johnny, and Peter the Wolf--and figures out that Scary School can be just as funny as it is spooky

The Epitaph (In a Nutshell): A frighteningly funny read for 8-12. One of the most hilarious and enjoyable books I've ever read.

Dearly Departed, 
We are gathered here today to discuss Scary School by Derek the Ghost AKA Derek Taylor Kent. I want to start this review with something that happened to me yesterday in the bookshop where I work. A man came in asking for something for his nine year old daughter to read. She loved The Witches by Roald Dahl (a very fine choice) but was having trouble finding something that was both dark and hilarious. Everything I showed him she’d either read (Philip Ardagh, Andy Griffiths) or wasn’t interested (Lemony Snicket). Eventually he walked away with Mysterious Benedict Society, but deep down I wasn’t really happy. I knew there was a book out there that would have been even better for her, but for the life of me I couldn’t think what.

Today, I sat down and read Scary School. I meant to spread it out over a couple of sessions, but I loved it so much that I put all my other work aside and finished it in one go. Spinechilldren, this book is hilarious. And terrifying. It is hilariously terrifying. And it is the perfect book for that nine year old girl. The next time I see her dad come in to the store, I am going to corner him and shove this in his face while shrieking incoherently about how awesome this book is. For the meantime, however, I hope I can coherently explain to you exactly why I loved this.

Scary School had me at hello, and the hello in question comes from Derek the Ghost, the book’s narrator, who reads your mind and compliments you on what an excellent name you have. He then goes on to introduce you to Scary School, where students die with alarming regularity (though this is okay, because they’ll usually be brought back to life as either a vampire or a zombie). Normally it’s the teachers doing the killing, from the lovely Ms Fang (who hardly ever kills any of her students) to the draconian Dr Dragonbreath, who ate almost an entire class on the first day.

And so we start to learn about the various comings and goings of the school as they prepare for the Ghoul Games, something akin to the Olympics for Scary kids and humans alike. Scary School reads more like a collection of short stories with constant callbacks and callforwards that help to weave all of the stories together into a complete novel. It’s a similar format to stories like Nanny Piggins by RA Spratt and Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger, two other favourites of mine, and I feel like in Scary School it works even better. When a new character or situation is mentioned, it will often be followed by ‘but more on that later’ which really made me want to keep reading to find out.

While I did adore the gory bits (which, delightfully, weren’t sanitised for the sake of the adults who might be reading over shoulders) it was the funny parts that stood out for me, and what will ultimately make this a huge hit for the 8-12 market, boys and girls. The humour ranges from wordplay to black comedy to wonderfully inventive back stories (ever wonder how Jason got his hockey mask and chainsaw?). If it had me waking my partner up at 6am this morning so I could tell him my favourite parts (the three Rachels – Rachael, Raychel and Frank, which is pronounced ‘Rachel’) it’s definitely going to get the intended audience excited.

Scary School has been out since June last year, so if you haven't snapped it up yet, what's wrong with you? And if I'm already preaching to the converted, Scary School 2: Monsters on the March comes out 26 June. To find out more, check out