Urban Enemies- various

urban enemies cover

“Villains have all the fun – everyone knows that – and this anthology takes you on a wild ride through the dark side!”

The idea of this collection really appealed to me: a series of short stories set in ‘famous’ worlds, but giving the author a chance to explore the baddie’s point of view. I thought it’d be a good chance to explore some series that I haven’t yet tried, as well as a few that were familiar but from a very different angle.

Alas, it didn’t quite work out for me – as the very long gap in my reading probably shows! There’s nothing at all wrong with these stories, the writing is all very well done. However, not being familiar with most of the worlds being (re)visited here, I struggled to get in to many of the stories. They probably work very well if you’ve a familiarity with the series already, but the new-to-me and unusual viewpoints weren’t a great place to start.

The one series I am very au fait with would be the Dresden Files, but alas (again) this story didn’t do much for me. I know the characters, but the tale just didn’t grab me. I’d expected more, I think, as quite often the villains are if not the most then certainly often highly intriguing characters, but I just didn’t find myself hooked.

On the other hand, there were a few that worked despite my lack of prior knowledge. Seanan McGuire is an author I’ve been hearing great things about for a while, and her contribution here – paranormal creatures that look human but can make people do anything they want – did exactly what I expected this collection to do: made me want to reach for the main series.

Overall, there’s nothing bad about this anthology, and I’m a bit disappointed it didn’t click more with me. On the other hand, there are definitely some intriguing ideas here, including a pocket dimension that looks like a film back-lot, and a (I assume) fallen angel turned monster with a pretty good explanation even in such a short tale. If you’re familiar with any of the ‘worlds’ already then the alternate viewpoint could well be even more interesting.

The authors/series here are: Jim Butcher/Dresden Files, Kelley Armstrong/Cainsville, Seanan McGuire/October Daye, Kevin Hearn/The Iron Druid Chronicles, Jonathan Maberry/Joe Ledger, Lilith Saintcrow/Jill Kismet, Carrie Vaughn/Kitty Norville, Joseph Nassise/Templar Chronicles, Domino Finn/Black Magic Outlaw, Steven Savile/Glasstown, Caitlin Kittredge/Hellhound Chronicles, Jeffrey Somers/Ustari Cycle, Sam Witt/Pitchfork County, Craig Schaefer/Daniel Faust, Jon F Merz/Lawson Vampire, Faith Hunter/Jane Yellowrock, Diana Pharoah Francis/Horngate Witches.

NetGalley eARC: 448 pages / 17 stories
First published: 2017
Series: short stories from various SFF series
Read from 5th July 2017 – 12th June 2019 (put it down in the middle, for a loooong stretch!)

My rating: 6/10

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Avengers: The Age of Ultron (2015)

age of ultron poster

One question that was frequently asked after the first Avengers movie was “why is this character fighting alone? Where are the other Avengers?” Here, we kick off with just that: the gang back together, kicking Hydra butt.

There’s little love for this middle-est of movies, but I enjoyed it fine at the time and more than that now. Now, it’s clear to see what this movie sets up for the future: Wakanda, vibranium, Ulysses Klaue? Ah, Black PantherThanos and the Infinity Stones and Gauntlet = Infinity War / Endgame. How Hulk ends up in RagnorokAnd the bickering between team members is going to walk us straight to Civil War.

But, we still need a movie now, and while this serves well as a bridging between Avengers and future outings, it still has plenty of character development and action.

I’d argue, as ever, Tony Stark is at the heart of this. He’s still traumatised from going through the wormhole in New York, and when new character Scarlet Witch shows him his worst fear – and ooh, is that scene going to be important come Endgame?! – his reactions are both too much, but understandable. Attempting to create a future that does away with the need for the Avengers, his creation, Ultron (wonderfully voiced by James Spader), goes a bit Skynet, seeing the ultimate goal of peace needing a bit of destruction first. Oops.

We also get to see Steve Rogers accepting that ‘the man who went into the ice’ isn’t necessarily who he is now. There is a brief mention of the ‘quest’ from the end of Winter Soldier, making it feel like we’ve not forgotten everyone’s in the middle of something, although events are now more pressing elsewhere.

Perhaps the lack of love for this stems from how tied in it is to everything else. You kind of need to have seen Winter Soldier to understand why SHIELD is in disarray, and the Avengers are now a thing by themselves. The character stuff only makes as much sense when you’ve followed their stories so far.

Of course, not everything is spot on. Personally, I only ‘got’ the whole Nat/Bruce thing when she explicitly explains her interest. And I still hate hate hate the way she talks about being unable to have children and being a ‘monster’ for it – huge misstep in tone. Other revelations are a bit cliched, and there are several scenes that really needed a lot more time to make sense (e.g. Thor’s vision) but which were trimmed for an already over-long movie.

Still. I do love the series, and this is a core slice of that. We also get great scenes like everyone trying to lift Mjolnir (‘mew mew’ forever!) during a party, and a baddie I really like, actually 😉

Released: 23rd April 2015
Viewed: 22nd April 2019 (most recently)
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated: 12A

My rating: 7.5/10

Lies Sleeping – Ben Aaronovitch

Lies Sleeping cover

“His name was Richard Williams and he worked in public relations.”

Peter Grant’s ‘thing’ with London spirit, Mr Punch – teased since the earlier books introduced him and had him do horrible things to partner, Leslie – is coming to a head. Or, at least, taking a different path. What’s going on with Abigail’s talking foxes? And will the Folly’s magicians finally catch up with the Faceless Man aka Martin Chorley?

Seven books – plus a novella – into the series is obviously not the place to start with this, and I’d thoroughly recommend the earlier books anyway! In fact, I think this one is good but not the strongest of the series. Somehow, with the feel of so many things coming to a head after a couple of books’ worth of teasing, it didn’t quite feel as climactic as I expected.

It’s still a fun ride, but you are expected to know about Peter’s past – both training in magic, and his relationship with (I kid you not) a river – which aren’t given any explanation here. In some ways its nice for an author to treat his long-time readers with this kind of respect, but on the other hand, it just made some of this feel… flimsy? Insubstantial? Like a middle chapter, in some ways.

While the story progresses mostly at a reasonable pace, the lack of depth was a little disappointing. I still loved it and will read any further Rivers of London books, eagerly, but with this one it remains that the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts.

Hardback: 406 pages / 34 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Peter Grant (Rivers of London) book 7
Read from 12th-18th February 2019

My rating: 7/10

The Labyrinth Index – Charles Stross

labyrinth index cover

“As I cross the courtyard to the execution shed I pass a tangle of bloody feathers.”

Reading the latest few Laundry Files books in quick succession has worked really well, as they form an ongoing story leading us to the state we find ourselves at the start of The Labyrinth Index – look away now if you’re not up to date, and mention of events in book 9 are going to spoil any of 1-8 for you!

Still here? Grand 🙂 So, having signed a deal with the lesser of two dark horrors, Britain is now under New Management. And His Highness has decided priority one is to deal with the puzzling amnesia that seems to be affecting the US when it comes to their… urm.. presid… wait, what was I saying?!

After most of the early books were told from the point of view of Bob Howard, I admit I didn’t take too well to the change. The author’s first attempt at writing from a female view, Mo’s, felt a bit off to me. Switching to Alex in the previous book, The Delirium Brief, worked better, but I was concerned that going back to female with Mhairi might throw up similar issues. Thankfully not: Mhairi is spiky and no-nonsense, and even the ‘inner thoughts’ portion of her journal (for, all the Laundry Files books are technically journals…!) isn’t too whiny.

Story-wise, the shift to the US for this mission gives the book a little more self-contained feel, despite the ongoing story. It’s still not a good place to start – go back and get all the interesting back stories! A lot of the cast is used in brief, support-only roles, so it’s nice to know who they are rather than just a collection of random faces.

Overall, this is Laundry on fair form. Looking forward to the next book, and finding out how all of these end-of-times events play out!

Hardback: 354 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 9
Read from 7th-27th January 2019

My rating: 8/10

The Delirium Brief – Charles Stross

delirium brief cover

“It’s twenty past ten at night and I’m being escorted through the glass-fronted atrium of a certain office building in central London.”

Following straight on from events in The Nightmare Stacks, I’m delighted to say we have Bob Howard back as main narrator! Welcome back, Bob 🙂

It really makes a difference – I’ve been a little meh over the last couple of books (starting with Annihilation Score) but this hit the spot much more for me.

Of course, it’s hard to say anything about the plot without huge spoilers for previous books, but suffice to say the extra-reality threats that have been hinted at throughout the series are in full force. The threat level has risen over the course of eight books, and by this point the stakes are as high as can be.

What can go more wrong than tentacled horrors from the deep, or god-like horrors from other dimensions? What about an all-too-realistically dippit government disbanding the agency that stands between us and Them??

If I had to pick fault (and it’s a review, it’s half the point), then to be honest I really wasn’t keen on the sex-as-recruitment stuff; I dunno, it just felt lazy and icky. There’s a tricky path to be trod through the last chapters, as the operation is split into three missions, and we jump back and forth between the three in an almost-too-much fashion.

Overall, though, I really enjoyed this and felt that it was Laundry Files back on form. And best news? I’m about to start the next book to find out the fallout from signing deals with devils…!

Paperback: 435 pages / 11 chapters
First published: 2017
Series: The Laundry Files book 8
Read from 19th-29th December 2018

My rating: 8/10

The Nightmare Stacks – Charles Stross

nightmare stacks cover

“A vampire is haunting Whitby; it’s traditional.”

If you’ve not read any of the Laundry Files before, this might not be the best place to start. It’s not the worst, either, since we’ve got a new PoV character in Alex Schwartz, but you’ll miss a lot of background. For instance, Alex’s unfortunate infection with V-syndrome, turning him into a PHANG (aka vampire). Or why ‘Mr Howard’ is spoken of in such revered terms, or what put Mo in the hospital. You don’t *need* to know any of that, but it was a fun journey learning all of that information.

If you are up to date, then Nightmare Stacks alludes to events to date while being its own story. Alex is dealing with his vamp- urm, PHANG-ness, the loss of his high-paying City job, and his new government employer seeing fit to twist the knife by sending him back to his home town of Leeds.

Meanwhile, in another dimension, the last bastion of a suspiciously Elfish race is deciding that their only hope is to find another world to conquer as their new home. Guess where looks promising?

I’ve always enjoyed the Laundry Files and the mix of humour and supernatural and mundane. To be honest, I didn’t entirely take to the previous volume (although I said nice things about it at the time), thinking that Mo made a poor lead compared to Bob Howard. Here, I’m still missing Bob, but the omniscient narrator voice wasn’t as irksome.

Story-wise, I found this a mixed bag. I actually got a little bored at points, with the author showing a whole lot of research on tanks and artillery and other zzzz items. The story concept wasn’t at all bad, but the revelation in some of the darker, nastier bits didn’t seem to be as well balanced with humour as I was expecting.

Still. A good read, and I’m looking forward to catching up with the two volumes that have been published since.

Paperback: 385 pages / 19 chapters
First published: 2018
Series: Laundry Files book 7
Read from 22nd November – 9th December 2018

My rating: 7.5/10

Lucifer (season 1)

lucifer poster

Once upon a time a little graphic novel series, Sandman, told of the Lord of Hell, Lucifer Morningstar, growing bored of the job and deciding to decamp to Los Angeles – where else?! He opens up a nightclub and sets about living life to the full, encouraging the mortals around him to do the same.

Neil Gaimain’s story was picked up by Mike Carey, and Lucifer got his own spin-off comics – which have now been adapted for the small screen, but with the same irreverent humour and sympathy-for-the-devil tone that would probably have my granny rolling in her grave. Ahem!

So… after a shootout at Lux, his nightclub, Lucifer ends up consulting for the police department. He’s soon rather obsessed with Detective Chloe Decker – possibly the one person on earth who seems immune to his plentiful charms. But talking of immunity, how is Lucifer’s power, and his invulnerability, going to be affected by a prolonged stay in the mortal realm?

I’m a bit late to the party with this one, seeing as it was squirrelled away on a less-than-handy broadcaster. Still, better late than never – except for the bit where, after three series, they’ve only gone and cancelled this! Is it still worth watching? Hell, yes! 🙂

I absolutely love the story here. It’s dark and funny and not as blasphemous as some might think (ymmv). More, the intrigue levels are kept high – I practically bounced off the sofa at the big cliff-hanger statement setting up season 2!

Tom Ellis does wonderfully as the sardonic, not-quite-slimey-somehow title character, utterly clueless as to why he can’t walk through life doing and getting what – or who! – he wants. The fish out of water schtick works really well when your outsider character is a fallen angel with the power to make people blurt out their deepest, darkest desires…! His relationship with the detective is so-so, but his experience with therapy (yes, really!) is a hoot, and his faithful demon, Mazekeen, is absolutely kick-ass and I love her a lot!

Best of all, perhaps, is the way that Lucifer is so upfront about who and what he is and watching all the humans around him try to turn into into something else – metaphor, delusion, etc. Waiting for the penny to drop for some of them is the least of what’s keeping me watching, but watching I am! More!! #SaveLucifer all the way!

First broadcast: 2015
Series: 3
Episodes: 13 @ ~42 mins each

My rating: 9/10