Tag Archive: St. Martin’s Press


Wild Fire

Review by C.J. Bunce

Anglophiles will be hard-pressed to find a more intriguing murder-mystery police procedure television series than with the five seasons (and soon to be seven seasons) of the BBC’s Shetland Douglas Henshall (who won a BAFTA for the role) plays detective inspector Jimmy Perez, a one-of-a-kind, conscientious and thorough cop who manages a small police department on the Scotland archipeligo.  The television series is based on a series of novels by British author Ann Cleeves, who chose to set her police story in the sparse, cold, austere setting in the far northern latitudes.  Altogether Cleeves explored the exploits of Perez in nine novels, the final of which, Wild Fire, has just arrived in its first paperback edition.

Wild Fire finds DI Perez on the case of a murder of a young woman named Emma, who is found strangled and hanged in the barn of a local family.  Among many quirks is the fact that this isn’t the first time someone was found hanged in their barn.  Cleeves’ last case for Perez finds him chasing leads across the country, piecing together the background of the victim, which is unveiled something like Jon Krakauer’s story of Christopher McCandless in his novel Into the Wild.  Emma is not so interesting as McCandless, but by the time the reader catches up to the murderer, you’ll feel like you’ve interviewed plenty of witnesses, including a young autistic boy in the home she worked in, and more than a few self-absorbed quirky couples, most futile diversions from the key story.

For fans of the television series exploring the novels for the first time, expect many surprises.  Perez of the novels is not quite so engaging, instead a man of few words and emotions that keeps his thoughts close to his vest.  The only other main character common to the TV show is Perez’s reliable detective constable Sandy Wilson, who is completely the same put-upon, over-achieving character that he is on the small screen.  Perez’s daughter Cassie is only a child here at the end of Cleeves’ novels, who spends most of the novel being watched off-book by biological father Duncan, yet fans of the show know her and Duncan as key to the appeal of the TV series.

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A Bond Undone

Review by C.J. Bunce

As the paperback edition of Anna Holmwood’s English translation of A Hero Born–book one of Jin Yong′s Legends of the Condor Heroes novels–arrives in bookstores tomorrow, the first English translation of Volume 2 is coming late this month.  In the spirit of Homer, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, J.R.R. Tolkien, Akira Kurosawa, and George Lucas, Jin Yong’s epic adventure continues in A Bond Undone A sequel as exciting a follow-up as The Two Towers, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Godfather II, Jin Yong takes his epic, legendary wuxia heroes into a riveting, unputdownable volume of honor, loyalty, bravery, cunning, and devotion.  And English audiences get to experience it for the first time this month thanks to a compelling, tightly written translation by Gigi Chang.  The 1950s series has sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the books are finally being made available to U.S. and UK readers.

Two young men whose destinies were determined before they were born, Guo Jing and Yang Kang, were made sworn brothers by their fathers, and their lives came crashing together 18 years later in A Hero Born (awarded our Best Read of 2019, reviewed here at borg), as the truth of their shared past finally caught up with them.  By the end of the first book they had each developed relationships with powerful women, Lotus Huang with Jing, Mercy Mu with Kang, all four among the most promising martial artists of the early 13th century of this work of historical fantasy.  The story takes on tones of a Shakespearean tragedy, as Mu and Kang’s relationship is one of confusion and despair, as they are driven together and then apart by Kang’s fear at parting ways with a life of privilege, the only life he has ever known.  Jing, the saga’s hero, is constantly mocked for his ignorance, but the quick wit and love of Lotus, and his pursuit of her hand, allows him to come under the teachings of the greatest of China’s masters.

Adding to their former teachers or shifus, in A Bond Undone Jing and Lotus learn secret kung fu from a new shifu, Count Seven Hong, Chief of the Beggar Clan, a comical sort who will do anything for great food.  As Jing stumbles into getting himself engaged to more than one woman (one by order of Genghis Khan, one by his former shifus and a mentor), Lotus is pursued by Gallant Ouyang, a handsome but conniving member of a tribe who has amassed an unwilling army of women warriors, all at his beck and call, as well as a more powerful kung fu.  Jing has his own enemies, not the least of which is the deadly Cyclone Mei, who possesses one of two volumes of the Nine Yin Manual, a book of secret, ultimate martial arts, the understanding of which could make someone the greatest master of them all.  The book is both the Holy Grail and One Ring of the series.  But Mei was also the student of Lotus’s father, the Heretic Apothecary Huang, as was her husband Hurricane Chen, inadvertently killed by the reflexes of a six-year-old Jing, told in the first volume of the series.  Apothecary Huang is repulsed at the thought of his daughter betrothed to the killer of one of his students, which sets up the key action of the story.

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Our borg Best of 2019 list continues today with the Best Books of 2019.  If you missed them, check out our review of the Best Movies of 2019 here, the Kick-Ass Heroines of 2019 here, the Best in Television 2019 here, and the Best Comics of 2019 here.

We reviewed more than 100 books that we recommended to our readers this year, and some even made it onto our favorites shelf.  We don’t print reviews of books that we read and don’t recommend, so this shortlist reflects only this year’s cream of the crop.

So let’s get going.  Here are our selections for this year:

Best Read, Best Fantasy Read, Best New Edition of Previous Published Work, Best Translated Work – A Hero Born: Legends of the Condor Heroes 1 by Jin Yong, translated by Anna Holmwood (St. Martin’s Press).  The first book in one of the most read books of all time finally makes its way to the U.S. after its premiere in Great Britain.  Readers will learn why George Lucas pulled its concepts for his Skywalker saga, and why generations of Chinese fans of fantasy of flocked to its heroes and villains.  Honorable mention for Best Fantasy Read: A Labyrinth of Scions and Sorcery by Curtis Craddock (Tor Books), The Dark Lord Clementine by Sarah Jean Horwitz (Algonquin Young Readers).

Best New Novel, Best Horror Novel, Best Historical Novel, Best Mystery Novel – The Cthulhu Casebooks: Sherlock Holmes and the Sussex Sea-Devils by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  A truly literary work combining a smart Holmesian adventure and the dark mind of H.P. Lovecraft.  Readers will love Lovegrove’s approach, Holmes and Watson’s journey, and all the creepy surprises.

Best Sci-Fi Novel, Best Thriller – The Andromeda Evolution by Daniel H. Wilson (HarperCollins).  Wilson successfully conjured the spirit of Michael Crichton for this smart, creepy, and oddly current sci-fi sequel to The Andromeda Strain.  A cast of characters just like Crichton would have put together, and a must-read.

Best Franchise Tie-In Novel – Firefly: Magnificent Nine by James Lovegrove (Titan Books).  One of the best authors around crafts a worthy story to expand the Firefly canon and give fans their own new movie of sorts for the franchise.  Runner-up: Alien: Prototype by Tim Waggoner (Titan Books).  Honorable Mention: Death of the Planet of the Apes by Andrew E.C. Gaska (Titan Books).

Best Retro Read – Mike Hammer: Murder, My Love, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (Titan Books).  Collins continues to bring Spillane’s characters to life with thrilling prose and all the best pieces of noir drama and action.  Honorable mention: Brothers Keepers by Donald E. Westlake (Hard Case Crime).

Best Genre Non-Fiction – Industrial Light & Magic Presents: Making of Solo: A Star Wars Story by Rob Bredow (Harry N. Abrams).  Bredow’s unique access to the production made for a rare opportunity in any production to see details of the filmmaking process.  Every movie should have such a great deep dive behind the scenes.  Honorable mention: The Making of Alien by J.W. Rinzler (Titan Books).

There’s much more of our selections for 2019’s Best in Print to go…

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In his fourth novel expanding on the world of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, The Adventure of the Peculiar Protocols, writer and movie director Nicholas Meyer adds another mash-up to his repertoire, weaving Doyle’s dynamic duo together with real-life contemporaries and events in England and Russia in 1905.  In keeping with Doyle’s subtext of having his heroes address and attempt to thwart social injustices, Meyer takes a real-life hoax document used for more than a century to discredit Jewish people and weaves it into the fictional narrative to address and mirror racism, governance, and propaganda in current government and politics.  Meyer overlays his own lessons of history on a murder plot brought to Holmes by renowned brother Mycroft, the solving of which takes Holmes and Watson outside their familiar England to far-off Russia.

Readers who haven’t read the original Doyle stories would benefit by tackling a few of those first, or any of the several modern sequels, sidebars, and tie-in books we’ve reviewed over the past decade here at borg.  The Peculiar Protocols is a narrative for diehard Holmes & Watson readers, stuffed full with early 20th century psychology, Easter Eggs, callbacks, and a host of real historical figures interspersed convincingly in the style of a Kim Newman novel.  To absorb all the layers introduced into the story, readers will want to follow Holmes’ lead and pay close attention to the details–something readers will enjoy more after becoming familiar with Doyle’s original style.  Meyer’s “meta” conceit as backdrop for the story is the finding of diary pages believed to have been written by the real Dr. Watson, and so the Special Collections library folks at the University of Iowa, Meyer’s alma mater and keeper of his own original papers, deposited the material into Meyer’s hands for deft handling, knowing he’s done this before.

Meyer never forgets his Star Trek chops (having written three Star Trek movies and directed two).  Meyer, who I interviewed here at borg back in 2016, then confirmed his intent in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country to have created Sherlock Holmes as a real character in the world of Star Trek by having Spock refer to Holmes as one of his ancestors.  That movie doesn’t hide its reliance on Spock as a future master sleuth inspired by Doyle’s detective.  Now if you want to see the source of where Spock got his own signature fighting move, you might check out Peculiar Protocols if only to find Spock’s ancestor using a familiar method to debilitate a foe.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

When you think of epic adventures, maybe first that comes to mind is J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings or George Lucas’s Star Wars.  Maybe the cinematic stories of Akira Kurosawa, like The Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon.  Or maybe your epic adventures are more fantasy, like Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Conqueror, or historical, like Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Baroness Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel, C.S. Forester’s Lieutenant Hornblower, or go farther back, like Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte De’Arthur, the Maya’s Popul Vuh, the Old English Beowulf, the Old Norse Poetic Edda, or even the stories of Homer, The Iliad and The Odyssey.  What if someone wrote an equally exciting, rich adventure in the 1950s that has been read by more than 300 million readers, and you missed it, simply because it hasn’t been translated into English yet?  That would be the first English edition just released of A Hero Born, by Jin Wong, the pen name of Chinese author Louis Cha.  His novels sold more than 300 million copies internationally over the past 60 years, but the series is finally available to U.S. readers.

Two men, Skyfury Guo and Ironheart Yang, grow up together around 1200 AD.  Becoming best friends and blood brothers, they get married and have their firstborn both due at the same time.  They swear loyalty to each other, including a vow binding the futures of their family together that will survive these men, just as intruding warriors divide and even kill members of their family, leaving the friends and their families to disperse and flee.  Enter the Seven Heroes of the South (known by their enemies as the Seven Freaks of the South).  When the two friends are feared dead, this elite Magnificent Seven of sorts, a fabulous mix of warriors with every type of skill and weapon, makes a bargain with one of the revered seven Immortals, Eternal Spring Qiu Chuji.  They will separately train the offspring of the men, and in 18 years return for a showdown to see who are the better masters or shifu.  To one of the women a boy is born, named Guo Jing, and it is his story–his mythic hero’s journey–that the reader follows in this first adventure, which takes him from birth into adulthood, toward a destiny he may not be prepared for.  Guo Jing does not know his life and training is all based on a wager.  What does it take to have honor, to have character, to be a hero, and what surprises will he stumble upon on his way to meet his destiny?

Books like A Hero Born are why we have words like “epic.”  First published in Chinese in 1957, A Hero Born is the first of 12 novels in Jin Wong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes series set in the 13th century, following the life of a family in a community under the Song Empire who escaped to join Genghis Khan and his people.  It’s hard to believe the novel wasn’t written a hundred or hundreds of years earlier, or that George Lucas didn’t base his entire Star Wars saga on this story.  Anna Holmwood′s use of prose in her translation is pure artistry–A Hero Born reads seamlessly as if the novel was originally written in English.  Holmwood conveys the meanings of the hundreds of Chinese terms without seeming to explain them, weaving cultural nuances, the unique characters, the rich history of China, the Mongols, and Jin, the Taoist philosophy, and visual kung fu choreography into easy reader understanding.  The world-building will suck readers in and leave you wanting even more.  Luckily the entire series has been translated now, to be released over the next few years.

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