Hekla’s Children reviewed


Hekla’s Children by James Brogden. Titan £7.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

Quite simply, I was captivated by this novel almost instantly. I admit that some may think I’m somewhat biased: I’ve known James Brogden for many years and have included some of his short stories in the magazines I edited for the British Fantasy Society, as well as publishing a collection of his finely crafted short stories (Evocations, The Alchemy Press). However, and trust me in this, if I hadn’t enjoyed Hekla’s Children I wouldn’t have read it so quickly and you wouldn’t be reading this review.

Nathan is a teacher who has a simple task, guide four teenagers round Sutton Park as part of the Duke of Edinburgh scheme. Except that he’s too infatuated with Sue and hangs back observing them from a distance. As the children cross a stream and continue trekking, he sees the terrain alter. The stream is now a river, the ground becomes a wooded hill. Yet within moments the real world returns – all except the four kids.

Continue reading

Alchemy Press book launch


For those going to FantasyCon by the Sea this year, The Alchemy Press launches two anthologies at noon on Saturday 24 September:

Promises to be a great book launch. Many of the contributors will be in attendance.


Miss Peregrine’s Home… reviewed

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs. Quirk Books $17.99

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

This is a better-late-than-never review. I obtained this book in hardcover back when it first appeared in 2011. It went into the teetering to-be-read heap and that’s where it stayed until I recently spotted the second book in the series in W.H. Smith. So I thought: I really should find Miss Peregrine and read it. I am so glad I did. Miss Peregrine is best described as “weird fiction” — a story that makes you look at the world askance, that makes you shiver because of its strangeness and charm.

Can you judge a book by its cover? Or in this case, by the overall production values? Did the smart layouts and internal photographic illustrations mask a less-than-good read? In this case, no, they did not; in fact they enhanced the book. The whole package looks fabulous and the story is equally fabulous (see later).

Jacob’s grandfather is killed. His last words are cryptic hints that disturb the 16 year old boy, which together with grandfather’s tall tales, lead to nightmares and obsessive behaviour. Eventually Jacob learns of an island, off Wales, on which he hopes to find the mysterious Miss Peregrine and her home. He travels there, with his father (on a bird-watching trip), only to discover the home is in ruins, the result of a bomb dropped on it in 1940, over 60 years ago.

Yet there is something else going on, something … peculiar. Jacob comes across Emma and other youngsters, and eventually enters Miss Peregrine’s home, stuck in a time loop. Stuck there because of the dangers of the outside world. Dangers that threaten to find them, destroy them.

I read fewer and fewer novels these days. I usually stick to short story collections because too many novels are not edited down, not tight enough. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is not one of these books. Even when Riggs seems to wander off on occasion it doesn’t matter because – and this is a real bonus – the writing sparkles. It engages. It carries you along. The only problem I have is that the last chapter, the big climax, is a bit over-written; Riggs describes too much of the action which, I feel, slows down the pace when it should be racing. Despite this, Miss Peregrine is a tremendous read, thoroughly recommended. Although Jacob is 16, this is not simply a YA book. Ransom Riggs tackles the youth’s problems with a grown-up approach; it is a book for all ages.

A few nitpicks. Some of the references that Jacob makes (the book is in the first person) feel a bit too adult. I made a note of these but, typically, I’ve mislaid that piece of paper. I don’t think that the people in the time loop would use metres – they’d be measuring distances in Imperial. And the book will undoubtedly draw similarities with the X-Men and their school for gifted youngsters. Don’t worry about them. They certainly are not enough to spoil the reading experience.



The Death House reviewed

Death House 02

The Death House by Sarah Pinborough. Gollancz.

Reviewed by Peter Coleborn

I’ve been kicking myself (metaphorically of course) for not reading The Death House until now. It’s been sitting on my shelves waiting patiently for its pages to be turned, its words read.

Sarah Pinborough’s science fiction novel is set in a dystopian future/alternate world (it’s not obvious which and it’s not important), in a house that resembles an approved school on an isolated island somewhere far from civilisation. It’s a place where “Defective” children are housed until they die from the illness triggered by their defective genes, a place where there is only one way out – on a gurney, their existence then wiped away. It’s a bleak scenario and yet, despite the death that awaits the inmates, it is a coming-of-age story that bubbles with the promise of life.

Toby is the de facto head boy of Dorm 4. He whiles away the days in semi-boredom, avoiding the attention of Matron and her staff, living for the nights when he is alone, echoing the location’s isolation. The status quo is shattered when a new bunch of Defectives arrive, including the teenage girl Clara. At first he resents her, that she too has discovered the secret of the vitamin pills; soon, though, he becomes besotted. Together, they plan their escape (from a place that no-one, ever, has escaped from).

Sarah Pinborough readily gives away two of her inspirations for this novel: The Lord of the Flies and the Narnia books (there are hints of others). And yes, the children do form tribes, do develop friendships and hatreds. Unlike Lord of the Flies, however, they know their future; know that there is no ship on the horizon to release them from captivity. She is able to enter the heads of the boys with consummate ease, depicting their concerns expertly – no doubt lessons she learned as a teacher.

Neil Gaiman endorses the hardcover edition; Stephen King the paperback. Who am I to disagree with these two giants of the field? The Death House is a thoroughly engaging read (it’s a cliché but I really found it difficult to put the book down when I had to get on with life). Toby, Clara and the others are real people and if you don’t finish this novel with tears welling up then you are probably a robot. A tremendous book and one I have no hesitation in recommending.


New books

  • Neal Asher – Dark Intelligence – Pan £8.99
  • Tony Ballantyne – Dream Paris – Solaris £7.99
  • Christopher Fowler – The Sand Men – Solaris £7.99
  • Alexander Freed – Star Wars: Battlefront: Twilight Company – Century £19.99
  • Wayne G Hammond & Christina Scull — The Art of the Lord of the Rings — Harper Collins £25
  • Marcus Hearn – Thunderbirds: The Vault – Virgin £25
  • Dave Hutchinson – Europe at Midnight – Solaris £7.99
  • George RR Martin — A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms — Harper £20
  • Paul Meloy – The Night Clock – Solaris £7.99
  • Adam Nevill – Lost Girl – Pan £7.99
  • Stephen Nicholas & Mike Tucker – Doctor Who: Impossible Worlds – BBC £35
  • Terry Pratchett – The Shepherd’s Crown – Doubleday £20
  • Rob Redman (ed) – Long Grey Beard and Glittering Eye – Fiction Desk £9.99
  • Justin Richards – Doctor Who : The Time Lord Letters – BBC £20
  • Brandon Sanderson – Shadows of Self – Gollancz £18.99
  • Brandon Sanderson – Legion – Gollancz £8.99
  • Brandon Sanderson – Legion: Skin Deep – Gollancz £9.99
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir – The Undesired – Hodder £14.99

New Books


  • Joe Abercrombie – Half a War – Harper £12.99
  • Trevor Baxendale – Doctor Who: Deep Time – BBC £6.99
  • Bradley Beaulieu – Twelve Kings – Gollancz £16.99
  • Jim Butcher – Skin Game – Orbit £8.99
  • Ernest Cline – Armada – Century £16.99
  • Joshua Gaylord – When We were Animals – Del Rey £12.99
  • Laurell K Hamilton – Dead Ice – Headline £ 19.99
  • Robin Hobb – Fool’s Assassin – Harper £8.99
  • Robin Hobb – Fool’s Quest – Harper £20
  • Mark Hodder – The Return of the Discontinued Man – Del Rey £8.99
  • Andrew Michael Hurley – The Loney – John Murray £14.99
  • Erika Johansen – The Invasion of the Tearling – Bantam £14.99
  • James Brogden — Evocations — The Alchemy Press £10.99
  • Jasper Kent – The Last Rite – Bantam £7.99
  • Dean Koontz – Saint Odd – Harper £7.99
  • Mark Lawrence – The Liar’s Key – Harper £14.99
  • Una McCormack – Doctor Who: Royal Blood – BBC £6.99
  • Alexander Maskill – The Hive Construct – Corgi £7.99
  • Weston Ochse – grunt Traitor – Solaris £7.99
  • Seth Patrick – Lost Souls – Pan Macmillan £7.99
  • Gary Russell – Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation – BBC £6.99
  • Yrsa Sigurdardottir – The Undesired – Hodder £14.99 (October)


Worlds of the Unknown

Spectre Press logo

Worlds of the UNKNOWN is a new magazine that endeavours to emulate the feel of three magazine now no longer with us: the pulp magazine Unknown / Unknown Worlds, the golden years of the digest magazine Fantastic, and the short-lived digest magazine Beyond Fantasy Fiction. So far Spectre Press has produced two Volumes of Worlds of the UNKNOWN.

Spectre Press UW1and2

Volume 1 contains stories by Adrian Cole, Andrew Darlington and Mike Chinn, with artwork by Bob Covington and Jim Pitts, Issue 1 also includes an essay by Mike Ashley about Unknown. The cover art is by Jim Pitts.

Volume 2 contains reprints of Theodore Sturgen‘s ‘IT’ from Unknown; Arthur Machen‘s ‘The Bowmen’ plus one other of his stories to mark 100 years since World War 1; many more original stories; and an article by Jon Harvey about Beyond Fantasy Fiction.  The cover is by Bob Covington who also provided a four-page comic called ‘The Angels of War’.

Both issues are available for £10 plus £1.50 each p&p in the UK. Copies can be obtained by Paypal, using the email jon.harvey @ talktalk.net, or a cheque made out to Jon Harvey, at 56 Mickle Hill, Sandhurst, Berkshire, GU47 8QU.

The publisher (Jon Harvey) is currently organising Volume 3, which contains stories by Andrew Darlington, Marion Pitman plus tales first published in Beyond Fantasy Fiction. Jon states:

 I am looking for more stories in the vein of the three magazines mentioned above.  I am also looking for artists to illustrate various stories and covers.  I have used artists such as Bob Covington, David Fletcher, Fergal Fitzgerald, Russ Nicholson and Jim Pitts in the first two volumes, but I need more artist to help ease the load.  Authors and artists, please contact me at jon.harvey @ talktalk.com.  All copyrights will remain with you, plus original artwork.

If you are interested in a catalogue of Spectre Press publications or you wish to discuss contributions to WOTU magazine, please contact the editor:

jon.harvey @ talktalk.com