Friday, 29 January 2010

The BoSS for 29/01/10

Welcome, everyone, to the first proper installment of the Bag o' Speculative Swag, wherein one humble blogger takes account of the various proofs and review copies that have narrowly escaped the clutches of a particularly savage postman throughout the month of January, may it rest in peace.

But I burbled enough in Meet the BoSS earlier today. Without further ado, let's get this show on the road.


by Joe Hill

Release Details:
To be published in the UK on
18/03/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache... and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

"Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned American musician, and the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic. Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone - raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances - with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty.

"Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere.

"It's time for a little revenge; it's time the devil had his due."

Commentary: I know some readers found fault with Joe Hill's debut, Heart-Shaped Box, but I went in expecting very little and came out thinking I'd read one the best, most modern horror novels in years, and the short stories collected in 20th Century Ghosts didn't diminish my opinion of Hill at all. Really looking forward to this one. The premise sounds like wicked fun. Expect a full review just as soon as I've finished with the monstrous-long Tome of the Undergates.

by Jeff Vandermeer

Release Details:
Published in the US on
03/11/09 by Underland Press

Review Priority:
5 (Immediate)

Plot Synopsis: "VanderMeer's third book set in the fungus-laden city of Ambergris is an engrossing recasting of the hard-boiled detective novel. Traditional tropes - femmes fatales, double-crossing agents, underworld crime lords - mix seamlessly with a world in which humans struggle to undermine the authority of sentient fungi a century after the events of Shriek: An Afterword. By the time the titular detective solves the double murder of a human and a fungus, he's been drawn into a conflict in which he can't be sure who is manipulating him nor why he's so important to their plans."

Commentary: Stayed up through the wee hours last night and into the morning proper to finish this one, and the end didn't disappoint. Let me paraphrase a tweet composed in the immediate aftermath of that sublime reading experience: Finch is a grimy, noirish pseudo-sequel to Vandermeer's Shriek: An Afterword about a conflicted detective gone to war against mushroom people with fungus guns. Great book, if rather difficult reading to begin with. Coverage of this one is very much in the pipeline.

Tome of the Undergates
by Sam Sykes

Release Details:
To be published in the UK on
18/02/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
4 (Very High)

Plot Synopsis: "Lenk can barely keep control of his mismatched adventurer band at the best of times: Gariath the dragon man sees humans as little more than prey, Kataria the shict despises most humans and the humans in the band are little better. When they're not insulting each other's religions, they're arguing about pay and conditions, so when the ship the gang are travelling on is attacked by pirates, things don't go well. They go a whole lot worse when an invincible demon joins the fray.

"The demon steals the fabled Tome of the Undergates - a manuscript containing all a body would need to open the undergates. And whichever god you believe in, you don't want the undergates open. On the other side are an array of additional, equally impervious demons; the manifestation of all the evil of the gods. And the Gods, well... they want out."

Commentary: You haven't seen fast-paced until you've read Tome of the Undergates. Breakneck, bawdy, balls-out fantasy fun from foul-mouthed debut author Sam Sykes. It's a big 'un, but not too dense; I'm powering through it and having a fine time too. I'll publish a review when I'm done, probably a week from now, and if you're very, very lucky, readers, The Speculative Scotsman could well play host to an interview with the man himself in the near future. Not that I've asked him yet. How about it, Sam?

by Scott Westerfeld

Release Details:
Published in the UK on
01/10/09 by Simon & Schuster

Review Priority:
3 (Moderate)

Plot Synopsis: "The year is 1914 and Europe, armed with futuristic machines and biotechnology, is on the precipice of war. Prince Aleksandar is fleeing for his life, having discovered that his parents have been assassinated and that he is now a target for the Clanker Powers, a group determined to take over the globe with their mechanical machinery.

"The Clanker Powers will stop at nothing to get what they want, so Alek knows his only choice is to keep on running. When he meets Deryn Sharpe, an orphan girl who has disguised herself as a boy so she can to join the British Air Service, they form an uneasy, but necessary, alliance. But the pair will soon discover that their emerging friendship will dramatically change their lives and the entire course of the Great World War..."

Commentary: I had fun with Boneshaker by Cherie Priest, the first steampunk I'd read in some time, but what with all the hype behind it, the actual article left me a little cold. With Westerfeld here writing for the YA market, which for once I think could be a plus, I've higher hopes for Leviathan. Alternate history escapades await. And I've rather fallen for that gorgeous cover.

A Matter of Blood:
The Dog-Faced Gods Trilogy
by Sarah Pinborough

Release Details:
To be published in the UK on
25/03/10 by Gollancz

Review Priority:
2 (Fair)

Plot Synopsis: "The recession that grips the world has left it exhausted. Crime is rising in every major city. Financial institutions across the world have collapsed, and most governments are now in debt to The Bank, a company created by the world's wealthiest men. But Detective Inspector Cass Jones has enough on his plate without worrying about the world at large. His marriage is crumbling, he's haunted by the deeds of his past, and he's got the high-profile shooting of two schoolboys to solve - not to mention tracking down a serial killer who calls himself the Man of Flies.

"Then Cass Jones' personal world is thrown into disarray when his brother shoots his own wife and child before committing suicide - leaving Cass implicated in their deaths. And when he starts seeing silent visions of his dead brother, it's time for the suspended DI to go on the hunt himself - only to discover that all three cases are linked . . . As Jones is forced to examine his own family history, three questions keep reappearing: what disturbed his brother so badly in his final few weeks? Who are the shadowy people behind The Bank? And, most importantly, what do they want with DI Cass Jones?"

Commentary: Not at all sure what to make of this one. I'm not above a little crime fiction from time to time - on holiday in Croatia last year I devoured Steig Larsson's Millennium trilogy almost despite myself, and I've had a great deal of fun with the two Tana French novels published to date - but that said, there's apparently more to this one than meets the eye. I'm told it's Ian Rankin meets Clive Barker, and that, well, that sounds very fine. We shall see. You can, at the very least, expect a Quick Book of A Matter of Blood: The Dog-Faced Gods once I've overcome the ARCs with more immediate release dates.


Click through to read Meet the BoSS for an explanation of why you should care about the Bag o' Speculative Swag.


  1. 'Horns' and 'Finch' are essential reads, no doubt about it! I've seen a couple of lukewarm reviews for 'Tome' but it's still one that I'll be picking up soon. If 'A Matter of Blood' is like Sarah Pinborough's horror fiction then it should be worth a look at least, I'll be reading it before the release date.

    Have a great weekend!

  2. Not to give too much away in advance of the Tome review I mean to run in the next week or so, I can honestly say I've been enjoying Tome of the Undergates. I'm perhaps two thirds through it as of now, and though the extended action sequence it opened with left me a little cold, from the appearance of the horrific Abyssmyth on I've been having a whale of a time.

    Finch is officially taken care of, and Horns is next on the agenda. Breaking news... broken!