Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, read by Stephen Fry

Sometimes books and narrators are perfectly matched. Stephen King’s Dark Tower series and the voices of George Guidall and Frank Muller is one example, Guy Gavriel Kay’s works and Simon Vance another. And we also have Stephen Fry and Harry Potter, which is a match made in heaven.

It’s surprising to find that the first book in J. K. Rowling’s series, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, will celebrate its nineteenth anniversary this year so a review of the audiobook in 2016 may seem a little odd. But there is a good reason, and that is that all seven audiobooks are finally available on Audible.co.uk, with whom I have a yearly membership.

One thing I will say before the review itself is that a good narrator can make an average book better and a poor narrator can make a good book seem average. This is why reviewing audiobooks is often so difficult. But this audiobook review is easy as the first Harry Potter book is excellent and Stephen Fry nails it.

There’s not much you can really say about Harry Potter that has not already been said. I’ve always found it a delightful book, wish-fulfillment of the highest order and written with great energy and humour. The children (and the millions of adults like myself) that found themselves spellbound by this book didn’t just want to read about Hogwarts, they wanted to go there. It is the Hobbiton of its generation. Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone is a lovely story which draws on the elements I have always enjoyed – we have the young, unsuspecting hero in a horrible situation with horrible people (the unforgettable Dursleys) discovering that he is not quite as ordinary as he believed. And in short order he finds himself at the most wonderful school of magic with friends (for life), a brilliant assortment of teachers and more adventure, thrills and danger than you could shake a wand at.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone audiobook cover

But what makes this audiobook so wonderful is that it is a wonderful story read to you by a simply wonderful story-teller. I’m old enough to have followed Stephen Fry through the decades and have seen pretty much everything he has been involved in. I have seen him on screen with Robbie Coltraine (Hagrid), Emma Thompson (Miss Trelawney), Kenneth Branagh (Gilderoy Lockhart) and I find it charming to think that he is doing impersonations of close friends when he voices these characters. He also produces excellent voices for Harry, Ron and Hermione, who are the most important of all as they feature is what must be every chapter of the book. Harry’s Uncle Vernon, Dumbledore and Miss McGonagall are other great voices that stand out. There is simply no weak link in Fry’s narration and to create such unique and rich voices for what, over seven books, becomes a very large cast indeed, is a remarkable achievement.

Audiobooks simply don’t come much better than this. If Harry Potter is not your thing then fair enough, this won’t change that, but if Harry Potter is your thing and you want someone to read it to you while you drift off to sleep, wash the dishes, go on a run or drive to work (which is where I did my listening), then this reading is simply sublime.

Don’t believe me? Then head over to Audible.co.uk and listen to a 5 minute sample.

Review: The Official A Game Of Thrones Colouring Book

When my Mum informed me that she needed to borrow some of my Derwent colouring pencils, I was a bit surprised. Turns out, however, that adult colouring has taken the world by storm. Bookstores all over the world are now selling colouring books for adults, with themes from intricately drawn flower mandalas to cats.

And A Game of Thrones.

The Official A Game Of Thrones Colouring Book is an marvellous selection of intricate drawings that will keep any adult colouring extraordinaire busy for hours (and the rest of us for days).

Done very much in the style of decades’ worth of fan and professional art inspired by a fantasy book series – including art by the world-famous John Howe, who is renowned for his The Lord of the Rings artwork, and his subsequent heavy-involvement with The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies – the nearly-50 original black and white drawings found inside cover everything from House crests, dragons, wolves, battles, and your favourite characters.

Even if you are just starting out into the world of adult colouring, this book will be an absolute blast – and all the more fun if you are a fan of A Game of Thrones.

Sequel to The War of the Worlds due January 2017

Gollancz have announced the acquisition of World rights to The Massacre of Mankind, a sequel to one of the most famous and influential science fiction books ever – The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells. The novel will be written by multi-award-winning author Stephen Baxter.

First published in 1897, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells has been both popular (having never gone out of print) and influential, spawning half a dozen feature films, radio dramas, a record album, various comic book adaptations, and a television series.

In Stephen Baxter’s sequel, set in late 1920s London, the Martians return, and the war begins again. But the aliens do not repeat the mistakes of their last invasion. They know how they lost last time. They target Britain first, since we resisted them last time. The massacre of mankind has begun.

“HG Wells is the daddy of modern SF. He drew on deep traditions, for instance of scientific horror dating back to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818) and fantastic voyages such as Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726). And he had important near-contemporaries such as Jules Verne. But Wells did more than any other writer to shape the form and themes of modern science fiction, and indeed through his wider work exerted a profound influence on the history of the twentieth century. Now it’s an honour for me to celebrate his enduring imaginative legacy, more than a hundred and fifty years after his birth,” said Steve Baxter.

The Massacre of Mankind will be published in hardback, £20, and eBook, £19.99, on the 19th January 2017.

Reviewed: The Wheel of Time Companion

The long awaited The Wheel of Time Companion has finally reached a worldwide audience, and it is everything any true WoT fan could ask for.

The Wheel of Time Companion cover

Coming in at over 800-pages, this encyclopedic work is legitimately “the ultimate resource for the Wheel of Time, and unmissable reading for fans of this worldwide bestselling series.” Detailing the entire Wheel of Time world from A-to-Z, this book includes original material from Robert Jordan himself (who passed away in 2007, before he had a chance to finish the series as a whole), as well as material written subsequently by his widow, Harriet McDougal – who was also the editor of the series – and Robert Jordan’s writing assistants, Maria Simons and Alan Romanzcuk.

Specifically, the book includes:

  • An entry for each named character
  • An inclusive dictionary of the Old Tongue
  • New maps of the Last Battle
  • New portraits of many characters
  • Histories and customs of the nations of the world
  • The strength level of many channelers
  • Descriptions of the flora and fauna unique to the world
  • And a whole lot more!

Here is an excerpt from the book, published by Tor.com back in July, for Serafelle Tansiloe:

“Serafelle Tanisloe”

A Murandian Aes Sedai of the Brown Ajah and the loyalist contingent, with a strength level of 23(11). Born in 862 NE, she went to the White Tower in 891 NE. After spending ten years as a novice and four years as Accepted, she was raised to the shawl in 905 NE. She was 5’4″ tall, and pretty in a plump fashion, with brown hair and large hazel eyes. Sometimes, especially when thinking, she had the physical mannerisms of a spoiled noblewoman, which she was. Serafelle was a wilder who slowed at age nineteen. She was married, but lost her husband and three children to a fever; she herself barely escaped death. Of the middle nobility, she was a pampered, self-indulgent woman, but after the deaths, she reassessed her life and decided to become Aes Sedai. At age twenty-nine, she lied about her age, claiming to be eighteen, in order to be allowed into the Tower. Two years passed before sisters discovered the truth, and by that time, she had to be allowed to continue. That lie, though, was possibly the reason she was not allowed to test for Accepted for ten years; she believed that, with some justification. She was a quick study and a fast learner—very observant, very intelligent and quick-witted. She would have be- come Yellow except that she possessed a minimal Talent for Healing. She accompanied Siuan to Fal Dara, and was part of the circle that Healed Mat of his connection to the Shadar Logoth dagger.

http://www.tor.com/2015/07/01/the-wheel-of-time-companion-serafelle-tanisloe/

In the end, this book is an absolute must-have for any type of Wheel of Time reader – be it hardcore enthusiast who just wants some light reading before bed, or those of us who haven’t read in a while, and need a companion to help them make it through the many people, places, and names that populate the series as we try to finish.

Spotlight: CrossBack by Paul Proffet

This month’s book spotlight is on CrossBack by Paul Proffet.

A daemonic child-killer is on the loose, leaving dozens of shattered lives in its wake. After recovering from their mauling during the battle with The Pariah, Doyle and his companions are back in the hunt. Following the trail of supernatural destruction, they soon cross paths with a secretive warrior, lying in wait for her most hated enemy. Can they trust her? Or will her thirst for vengeance see them all dead?

CrossBack cover image
CrossBack cover image

You can find Paul Proffet on these channels

Crossback purchasing options

And you can purchase CrossBack from Amazon by clicking on the buttons below:

Ever wanted to own a house in Innsmouth?

Until now, the only way to visit the ancient town of Innsmouth was through Lovecraft’s fiction, but thanks to an innovative crowd-funding campaign you can now actually purchase property in horror’s most legendary town.

As part of a crowd-funding campaign for the graphic novel Beyond Lovecraft, multiple award winning artist Rob Moran is building a huge scale diorama of Innsmouth, based on extensive research. As one of the campaign’s perks, Rob will build a select group of contributors a scale model of a house at one of Innsmouth’s prime locations. The house will come complete with a fully illustrated sales brochure, a deed of sale and a special letter of thanks from the town’s leading realtor.

The Beyond Lovecraft Indiegogo Campaign starts on 10/5/2015 and can be found here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/beyond-lovecraft/x/9785467#/

Beyond Lovecraft is a portmanteau horror story that draws directly on the work of H. P. Lovecraft. Drawn by Rob Moran, and written by award winning horror writer Jasper Bark, Beyond Lovecraft is set in the apocalyptic aftermath of the return of the great god Cthulhu. A scattered band of survivors scratch a bare living, hiding in the shadows of their lost world. A tiny group of scientist from Miskatonic university find a way to access the fabled Library of the Yith. An alien archive that contains the entire history of the universe, first mentioned in Lovecraft’s novella: The Shadow Out of Time.

The scientists hope to find a way to stop humanity’s extinction and win back their planet from the Elder Gods. Instead they uncover four tales of cosmic terror, and personal loss, that will forever change the way you view the Cthulhu mythos.

Writer Jasper Bark, says: “I think the main thing that makes our campaign stand out, is that it belongs to whoever gets involved. So many readers feel they have a personal stake in the Cthulhu mythos because, from the very beginning, Lovecraft shared his mythology with other authors as well as his readers. We want to continue this in our approach to the campaign. Every perk we’re offering, is designed to put contributors at the heart of this campaign, to give them a sense of ownership. You know when you pick up a comic and think: ‘This was made just for me!’? If you’re a Lovecraft fan, that’s how we want you to feel about ‘Beyond Lovecraft’. We’re putting it together especially for you.”

Rob adds: “Apart from being a cracker of an idea, some wonderful new twists and insights on the classic Lovecraft stories by Jasper and, all modesty aside, probably the best art of my career, I think there is a great thirst for Lovecraft to be done properly. Can you imagine Lovecraft drawn by Bernie Wrightson or Frazetta or Jesus Blasco? That’s the kind of art I want on Lovecraft stories and I think a lot of Lovecraft purists might feel the same way.”

Spotlight: Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

The Awakening: Book 1

Winner 2015 CIPA EVVY awards for Fiction/Fantasy

Current finalist 2015 Writer’s Digest Self Published Book Awards for Genre Fiction

#1 Bestseller in Epic, Historical and Coming of Age Fantasy

Dawn of Wonder by Jonathan Renshaw

Dawn of Wonder book coverWhen a high-ranking officer gallops into the quiet Mistyvales, he brings a warning that shakes the countryfolk to their roots. But for Aedan, a scruffy young adventurer with veins full of fire and a head full of ideas, this officer is not what he seems.

The events that follow propel Aedan on a journey that only the foolhardy or desperate would risk, leading him to the gates of the nation’s royal academy – a whole world of secrets in itself.

But this is only the beginning of his discoveries. Something is stirring in the land, something more ominous than the rising threat of hostile nations. Fearful travellers whisper of an ancient power breathing over Thirna, changing it, waking it. In the very heart of these stirrings, Aedan encounters that which defies belief, leaving him speechless with terror – and wonder.

You can purchase Dawn of Wonder from Amazon:

Our #SPFBO champion

Over the last few months Fergus and I have read steadily through our five short-listed Self-Published Fantasy Book-Off entries and we are pleased to announce that a winner has been chosen.

Before we announce the winner, here are our thoughts on the four other excellent short-listed titles.

Runner-up: Frotwoot’s Faerie Tales (The Unseelie Court #1) by Charlie Ward

Frotwoot's Faerie Tales coverThe Seelie and Unseelie Courts are at war. On one side: Noble knights, fighting for freedom. On the other: Not-so-noble terrorists, fighting for the right to rule. Caught in the middle: A very confused, very lost teenage boy. His name is Frotwoot Crossley. And he’s about to find out that, somehow, that’s not even the weirdest thing about him…

Our thoughts: We found this to be a charming and pleasantly irreverent story which both older children and teens should love. It is a very well-written story ideal for readers who have already enjoyed The Narnia Chronicles by C. S. Lewis and The Chrestomanci series by Dianne Wynne Jones.

Runner-up: The Penitent Assassin by Shawn Wickersheim

The Penitent Assassin book coverThirty years ago, when Mallor was a child, he was the sole survivor of genocide. Five years ago, while pursuing his revenge he was ambushed and killed. His goddess offered him a chance to return on the condition he became her assassin. Mallor agreed. Now, he is back, in the dank city where it all began using an old identity to hunt down a list of old foes, but thirty-six hours before his revenge would be complete, he learns a couple of things; he has a daughter, she’s been kidnapped by a sadistic magic abuser and the price for her release would not only ruin all of his plans but also kill his goddess. Mallor is nobody’s hero, but can he sacrifice his daughter to save his goddess, or will he forsake his faith and his need for revenge to rescue her instead?

Our thoughts: We found that the darkness that lurked at the edges of this book added greatly to its appeal. The narrative constantly raised questions that we wanted answering, such as ‘who are the dark replicants?’ and ‘who is/was Mallor?’. Full of unexpected happenings, twists and turns this is a very good book with great anti-hero that Gemmell fans will enjoy.

Runner-up: Whill of Agora (Legends of Agora #1) by Michael James Ploof

Whill of Agora book coverIt is the year 5170 in the land Agora, where humans, dwarves, and elves have existed in peace for centuries. Now, however, the human King Addakon has invaded and waged war on neighboring Isladon. The once peaceful Kingdoms of Agora are on the brink of continental war. The Dark Elf Eadon, and his army of Dragon-Elf crossbreeds, the Draggard, threaten to conquer all kingdoms.
Enter young Whill, a nineteen-year-old ranger with battle savvy and untapped abilities. Having spent years roaming Agora and training with his mentor Abram, Whill has become a bright intellectual and a master of combat. What he seeks most, however, is the identity of his birth parents. Instead, he finds a tumultuous terrain and a prophecy placing him in the center of the struggle. Along the way, Whill encounters an equally inspired group of companions that are matched in skill and mission. These include Rhunis the Dragon Slayer, the young Tarren, the fearless Dwarf Roakore, the beguiling warrior Elf Avriel, and the powerful Zerafin. As Whill joins forces, he forges bonds far mightier than their escalating travails. With high adventure and fierce friendship, Whill of Agora will capture your imagination and grip your heart during every super-charged escapade that Agora’s bold and grinning brotherhood embraces.

Our thoughts: We both liked this one a lot, in fact we both thought it was the best-written of the five shortlisted. However, we also felt that lacked its own stamp of uniqueness, the individual elements and concepts that set a fantasy book out from the rest. The story had all the ingredients of a first-rate fantasy tale: a hidden hero, an oncoming war and old secrets long kept. Reading this book brought back memories of old stories we loved, in particular the Shannara and Wheel of Time novels. But in the end this is why it was not our winner. However, we would both heartily recommend Whill of Agora to anyone who is looking for classic fantasy in the vein of Jordan, Brooks and Eddings.

Runner-up: Paladin’s Redemption (Kingdom’s Forge #1) by Kade Derricks

Paladin's Redemption coverPaladin, Traitor, Outcast, Mercenary… Dain Gladstone has been all of these. From childhood he’s been groomed for battle and trained in the Light. When war came he was branded a traitor and exiled for a treasonous act of mercy. To make his way in the world Dain has sold his skills to the highest bidder. But now he’s grown tired of war, tired of fighting for causes not his own, and he’s got a plan. Galena… rumors fly of a great fortune there, one buried beneath the snow-covered mountains, one vast enough to purchase an entire kingdom. Dain isn’t the only one seeking Galena’s riches. Men and elves and orcs all have plans of their own. Fortune has a way of twisting fate and turning the finest of plans on their heads.

Our thoughts: This book begins very well with a grimness to the character, landscape and story which felt fresh. But as the narrative progressed it entered into more common fantasy areas with golden elves, brown elves, orcs etc. providing a fantasy brew of Tolkien, Feist and Word of Warcraft themes, which will appeal to many.

Winner: What Remains of Heroes (A Requim for Heroes #1) by Bavid Denem

What Remains of Heroes book coverLannick deVeers used to be somebody. A hero, even. Then, he ran afoul of the kingdom’s most powerful general and the cost he paid was nearly too much to bear. In the years that followed, his grief turned him into a shadow of his former self, and he spent his days drowning his regrets in tankards of ale.
But now an unexpected encounter casts Lannick upon an unlikely path to revenge. If he can just find the strength to overcome the many mistakes of his past, he can seize the chance to become a hero once more. And with an ancient enemy lurking at the kingdom’s doorstep, he’d better…

Our thoughts: Surprisingly this was not the pick of the bunch after the first chapter. If the book has any flaws they are – in our opinion – found in the first chapter where a couple of major plot elements don’t quite feel right. But from chapter two onwards it was like reading a fantasy pro with years on experience and large publishing house behind them. We both bought into the characters and the story and that is really all it takes – once an author has achieved that with a reader much of the hard work is done. Added to this was a wry humour that worked really well and world building that felt, well, like a real world being described. The book strengthened with each page and was, we felt, the best book we read as part of the self-published fantasy blog-off.

And so there we are, What Remains of Hero is the book we are pleased to put forward to the next round of the competition where we would like to wish David Benem the very best of luck.

And to the four runner-ups: Thank you for submitting your work, we really enjoyed it and both Fergus and myself will be reading it to completion in our own time.
Lee and Fergus, July 2015

The Collectors: Celebrating the 20th anniversary of His Dark Materials

The Collectors book cover imageIt’s been twenty years since the publication of Northern Lights, the first volume in Philip Pullman’s award-winning and highly popular fantasy series, His Dark Materials. It’s hard to believe that so much time has passed isn’t it? And makes me feel a little old…

I loved the first two books in the series, Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife, but was left with reservations regarding the final volume, The Amber Spyglass. I’d always planned to re-read the series to discover what exactly caused these reservations. So when I saw The Collectors available for review on Netgalley I immediately jumped at the chance to read and review it as I enjoyed a previous short story set in same world, Once Upon A Time in the North, so much. And so it proved with The Collectors. The story reminded me immediately that Pullman is a very good author indeed and this is an excellently written and fascinating (if you are interested in the world of His Dark Materials) story and it has made me want to very much read the original trilogy again – and that is exactly what I will do.

The Collectors is not just a must-read for lovers of the His Dark Materials trilogy (as it delves into the past of Mrs Coulter) but also a recommended toe-in-the-water for those unsure as to whether they should give the trilogy a go.

I liked it. I liked it a lot. Very atmospheric and edgy.

If you are interested in the His Dark Materials trilogy our reviews can be found on Philip Pullman’s biography page.

Game of Thrones: Book vs Show

Maria Ramos takes a look at the major differences between the books and the HBO series.

Excitement recently brewed for the fifth season of Game of Thrones, which is premièred April 12, 2015. The acclaimed HBO series has been very popular with viewers since its release in 2011 but A Song of Ice and Fire, the series of novels by George R. R. Martin that inspired the show, has been around for much longer. Because the novels contain thousands of pages of in-depth storytelling, it has been a challenge for the show’s producers to capture all of the details of the plot, leading to some major changes.

As the show continues into its fifth season, it is likely to move further from the original plot outlined in the books. This makes it the perfect time to investigate some of the differences between Game of Thrones and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

(WARNING: some minor spoilers ahead for both show and book!)

A Song of Ice and Fire is an epic fantasy series that currently spans five books. The story begins in A Game of Thrones, the first in the series, when it is discovered that King Robert Baratheon’s children are the product of an affair and are not biologically his own. When the king dies and news spreads that he has no legitimate heir, it leads to a massive civil war as several factions vie for the throne. While the majority of the country is engaged in battle, trouble is brewing in the far North, where the undead Others begin to gather power and threaten all life in the land.

While the show generally follows this plot, there are many details that distinguish it from the novels. Because the show attempts to condense huge volumes into one-hour weekly segments, it inevitably has to cut interesting events that may not serve the purpose of their story arc. Several characters have been cut for this reason; in fact, one of the biggest surprises of last season was the absence of a character many fans were excited to see. While disappointing for some readers, this decision was made in the interest of saving time.

Not all of the show’s changes are due to time constraints. Some are made to alter the audience’s perceptions of certain characters. Those that have never read the books may view Tyrion Lannister as a witty and handsome dwarf with a heart of gold, but this image of one of the series’ most beloved characters doesn’t completely match the novel’s’ portrayal of him. In A Song of Ice and Fire, Tyrion is described as having mismatched eyes and deformed limbs. During the Battle of Blackwater, his nose is completely cut off, making him even more unappealing.

While it is likely that the show chose to make Tyrion more attractive so the audience would be more sympathetic to his plight, Tyrion’s ugliness is essential to his character. The books make it clear that he has been rejected throughout his life due to his appearance, so many fans find it difficult to accept that he is so handsome on Game of Thrones. Tyrion’s behavior in the show is also altered to make him more likeable; in the books, Tyrion kills Shae in a fit of rage, but in the show, she is armed with a knife, making it seem much more justified.

Many fans are concerned with how quickly the show is progressing. The fourth season covered the events of A Storm of Swords, the third book in the series. The next season is expected to involve material from the fourth book, A Feast for Crows. George R. R. Martin’s novels are being released fairly slowly; the sixth book is not expected to be released until 2016. Since George R. R. Martin has already filled the producers in on his plans for the final two novels, it’s likely that the show will soon surpass the books.

Although devoted readers would love to see events in the show unfold exactly as they did in the books, due to time constraints and the nature of film, it sometimes isn’t possible. George R. R. Martin himself has stated that the HBO series is meant to be an adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, not an exact retelling. Although viewers of the fifth season may not get the exact same experience as those who have read A Feast for Crows, the April 12th première was still full of the excitement and intrigue that fans have come to expect from Game of Thrones.