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Bookshelf (Starburst Reviews)

Bookshelf compiled by Anthony Brown
• part of Starburst's monthly Reviews section

Selected from Starburst #280

Selected this month: Robin Hobb's new novel
Fool's Errand

and Peter F Hamilton's Fallen Dragon

Ratings given are now
out of five

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In this issue: Sandy Auden hears from Robin Hobb herself on Fool's Errand, plus Red Dwarf star turned novelist Robert Llewellyn on Brother Nature, and Graham Joyce on Smoking Poppy.

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Fallen Dragon
by Peter F Hamilton • Published by Macmillan
634pp hardbk, 12 Oct • Reviewed by Anthony Brown

Fallen Dragon by Peter F Hamilton

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'Hamilton uses the tried and tested technique of interweaving different periods of the hero's life to stunning effect'

DON'T READ THE COVER BLURB! Not only does it mention an aspect of Fallen Dragon which should come as an unexpected plot development almost 500 pages in, it could also stop you getting full enjoyment out of the rip-roaring, corporate SF which makes up the bulk of the tale, by making it seem like a side issue which is delaying the main plot. It's not, and would have been more than enough to justify giving Fallen Dragon a five-star rating even if the conclusion hadn't opened out into larger - and rather astonishing - tale.

Lawrence Newton is a sullen teenager, whose addiction to an old Science Fiction series where spaceflight was more adventurous than it is in reality fuels his desire to escape his destiny as heir to the company which owns his newly terraformed homeworld and join the crew of an exploration starship. Twenty years later, he's the burnt-out sergeant of a marine platoon fighting for the Zantiu-Braun corporation, who hopes that a little ‘private enterprise’ during an ‘asset realisation raid’ (when the company uses troops to extort supplies from recalcitrant colonies) will let him buy himself out of corporate servitude. So what happened in the intervening years to change him..?

Peter F Hamilton uses the tried and tested technique of interweaving different periods of the hero's life to stunning effect, and his fast-paced prose is so easy to read that it makes the daunting thought of finally tackling his million word Night's Dawn trilogy seem almost inviting. His portrayal of the future is both convincing and down-to-Earth, and the notion that space exploration might prove to be like a boom, with slow returns forcing companies which put everything into establishing off-world colonies to sell out to asset strippers, is inspired.

Starburst Rating: 5/5Add to this some big ideas and a totally unexpected hard SF plot twist which suddenly changes an enemy into an ally, and you have a book which starts well and never lets up until a superb end.

Fool's Errand
by Robin Hobb • Published by Voyager
584pp, hardbk, 15 Oct • Reviewed by Barbara Davies

Fool's Errand by Robin Hobb

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'Hobbs' narrative skill ensures that the reader is never bored, as she deftly sets the scene'

This first book of Robin Hobb's new trilogy, The Tawny Man, picks up the story fifteen years after Assassin's Quest left off.

Though most think FitzChivalry, one-time expert assassin, is dead, he has in fact been quietly existing with his Wit-bonded (i.e. telepathically linked) wolf Nighteyes and his adopted son Hap. When his old mentor Chade suddenly asks him to tutor fifteen-year-old Prince Dutiful in The Skill, Fitz declines.

But Fate seems determined to drag him back to his old life. Prince Dutiful, who was sired by Fitz in unique circumstances, and his strange wildcat go missing. Have they simply run away, or has something more sinister happened? With old friend The Fool taking the part of the decadent Lord Golden (the Tawny Man of the title) and Fitz playing uncouth servant Tom Badgerlock, they go after the boy. But Fitz isn't as young as he was, and neither is his wolf....

Fool's Errand starts slowly, as Fitz gradually realises that he can't put his life on hold forever. But Hobb's narrative skill ensures that the reader is never bored, as she deftly sets the scene, sketching in past events where relevant, and showing us Fitz's fears for his son's prospects and his own future without the ageing Nighteyes at his side. When his life is finally turned upside down, we are as divided about it as Fitz is. By the book's close, Fitz has solved the problem of the Prince, but another more emotionally devastating one has taken its place.

Hobb lays the groundwork for some intriguing plot developments. Fitz's use of The Wit and The Skill is still erratic, so there is undoubtedly more to discover. The Elderlings and their black stone monuments are as intriguing as ever. Starburst Rating: 4/5And since Fitz and the Fool - an engaging double act - are also The Catalyst and The White Prophet, their actions will have unforeseen, far-reaching effects. I'm looking forward to the next book.

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