Friday, 29 July 2011

Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines for under £4!

Steam sales can be a thing of beauty, when a game you've wanted to get for years suddenly crops up on sale for the equivalent of pocket money.

In this case, for this weekend only, the critically-acclaimed RPG Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines is at 75% off. In the UK that equates to £3.74. For a game that's six years old and whose development company no longer exists, Bloodlines has rarely cropped up on Steam sales and has maintained a mid-ranking price of £14.99 for most of that time. So this price drop is great news for people who've been waiting to try the game out for a while.

There are a number of fan-made patches available for the game, though it's a bit of a minefield trying to work out which one is the best. Rock Paper Shotgun covers some of these issues here.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Original TRANSFORMERS storyline to resume

For a laugh, I recently went through the original run of Transformers comics on the forum. This incorporated all 80 issues of the original US comic published Marvel between 1984 and 1991, as well as the British comic stories that were interwoven with them. It was therefore a very surprising, but appropriate, coincidence that IDW (the current license-holders for Transformers comics) then announced that they would be picking up the original storyline left truncated by the comic's unexpected conclusion in June 1991.

The original creative team - writer Simon Furman and artist Andrew Wildman - are returning and the new comic will pick up storylines left dangling back in 1991. Apparently they are ignoring the Generation 2 sequel mini-series that ran in 1993-94, since they feel it hasn't aged as well as the original comics.

Transformers #81 will be released in 2012. The current plan is for a 19-issue arc taking the comic up to #100 and a grand conclusion to the original story begun way back in 1984. Depending on when the exact dates, that could carry them through to the franchise's 30th anniversary in 2014. Needless to say, old-school Transformers fans who still have all of their old comics in a secure drawer (cough) are very pleased by this news.

Simon Furman on what to expect from the new title:

"It is going to shatter your trousers! Guaranteed!"
Excellent. Though probably not a hint that the first storyline will be called Shattered Trousers.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Brandon Sanderson update on A MEMORY OF LIGHT

Brandon Sanderson has Tweeted that the final Wheel of Time novel, A Memory of Light, is about one-third done. He's caught up with some material he worked on whilst working on the first leg of the final three books back in 2007-09, and the percentage completed bar on his website should move up significantly in the next week or so.

A Memory of Light is currently planned for release in November 2012. Tor have also recently announced that Michael Whelan will be creating the cover art for the e-edition of the series, though Darrell K. Sweet will be providing the hardcover image for the sake of uniformity with the earlier books in the series.

EDIT: In a further Tweet, Sanderson confirms that he hopes to turn the book in to Tor in November this year.

Interview with R. Scott Bakker, Part 2

Pat has posted the second part of an interview with R. Scott Bakker here. This is an interesting exchange as Scott gets into some detailed discussions of the metaphysics and backstory of his world, some of which may be spoilerish for The Unholy Consult, the next book in his series.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A Game of Thrones - The Board Game: 2nd Edition

Fantasy Flight's A Game of Thrones: The Board Game has been a major success ever since it was first published in 2003, spawning two expansions and winning the Origins Award for best original board game. The game has recently drifted out of print and started commanding insane prices on eBay, so Fantasy Flight have decided to release a new 2nd Edition of the game, incorporating elements of the expansions into the core game. This also means an excuse to trot out some fantastic artwork of King's Landing on the new box:

The game will be out before Christmas, and is likely to sell well given the ludicrous boost in sales the books have gotten from the TV series.

Wertzone Classics: The Uplift War by David Brin

Far across the Galaxy, a dolphin-crewed starship has made a discovery of startling significance. Senior Galactic clans have dispatched fleets to find that ship, but have also decided to hold Earth and her colony worlds hostage for the data being handed over. To this end, Earth and her Tymbrimi allies have been forced to pull back most of their military to defend their homeworlds, leaving outlying colonies vulnerable.

Garth is one such world, a verdant planet nearly wrecked in an ecological holocaust millennia earlier. Humans and their neo-chimpanzee clients have worked hard to restore the planet to a livable state, but now find their world under occupation by the hostile, avian Gubru. With most of the human populace imprisoned, it falls to a band of chimps, a single free human and the Tymbrimi ambassador and his daughter to resist the occupiers...and try to keep a secret that Garth has held for years.

The Uplift War is the third novel in David Brin's Uplift Saga, originally published in 1987, and takes place concurrently and just after the events of Startide Rising, but many thousands of light-years away. Whilst the events of Startide Rising set in motion The Uplift War, knowledge of that novel is not required to really enjoy The Uplift War, which stands alone. The novel won the Hugo and Locus awards for Best Novel in 1988.

The Uplift War is a fine SF novel which is notably different in tone to Startide Rising; in the intervening four years Brin had penned three non-Uplift novels and had become a better, more experienced writer. The Uplift War is slightly darker and much less frantic than its forerunner, with a somewhat less frivolous tone. The cast of characters is smaller, with a much greater focus on the motivations and ambitions of each individual character. Startide Rising was good at this, but the larger cast meant that there was a fair bit of 'off-screen characterisation' (i.e. we are told about great a character is but only get glimpses of it ourselves due to limited page space). Here much more is on the page, and more effective for it. Brin seems to have realised that his alien races in the previous novel were very broadly sketched, so here we get much more information and depth to the Tybrimi, Gubru and Thennanin, as well as the neo-chimpanzees whose culture and social structure are as well-realised as that of the dolphins in the previous novel.

The book is essentially a war story where the military conflict is undertaken under extremely limiting rules of war (though the ruthless Gubru show some ingenuity in getting around these restrictions), resulting in occasionally humorous comedy-of-manners moments as the chimps (who, as a junior client species, have to show respect for senior Patron races, even enemy ones, at all times) bow and use formal greetings and dialogue against the Gubru whilst simultaneously trying to blow them them with prejudice. These lighter moments are set in contrast to the more ruthless methods imposed by the invaders at other points.

This is a long novel - over 600 pages in paperback - but moves quite quickly. Brin's prose is easy to read and quite page-turning, but bogs down a little whenever the Tymbrimi characters appear, as they express emotions through a series of psi-glyphs which appear above their heads. Rather than explaining what these glyphs mean in the text, Brin instead merely mentions their name and expects the reader to refer to the glyph-glossary at the front of the book, the sort of narrative 'cheat' more commonly encountered in epic fantasy. This interrupts the narrative flow, but fortunately becomes less common in the second half of the book.

Brin develops an ecological theme throughout the novel. The Uplift universe is based on the idea that if races were allowed to exploit each planet they colonised however they liked, then all of the Five Galaxies would be 'burned out' in a few tens of millennia (an eyeblink for a civilisation between two and three billion years of age). Even the most fanatically conservative Galactic clans are aware of this danger, so ecological maintenance and repair is a primary responsibility of all races. This also handily explains the virtual non-existence of biosphere-wrecking weapons, such as nukes and antimatter, from the Uplift least whilst the rules of war are being respected. Brin doesn't use this as an excuse to lecture - although the importing of one of Earth's endangered species to Garth to help in the ecological recovery skirts close to it - but instead as a way of intelligently developing the plot and bringing about a logical conclusion to the crisis. I suspect at the time (this book came out just before the movie Gorillas in the Mist) the ecological angle may have come across as a bit more strident.

The Uplift War (****½) is well-written, with memorable characters (flamboyant neo-chimp Filben could helm his own spin-off series) and some great ideas. There are moments of cliche and perhaps a slight feeling that everything falls out a little too neatly to allow for a happy ending (contrasted to the messy ending to Startide Rising, with multiple characters killed or abandoned in hostile territory), which dents the book a little, but overall this is a fine, colourful and entertaining space opera. The novel is available now in the USA and, second-hand, in the UK.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Alastair Reynolds to pen DOCTOR WHO novel

With Michael Moorcock penning last year's big Doctor Who hardcover and Dan Abnett writing this year's one, BBC Books seems to be developing a taste for getting known SF figures to work on the series. They have just announced that SF author Alastair Reynolds is working on a Doctor Who novel called Harvest of Time.

The book will feature the Third Doctor and Jo Grant facing the Master. In his blog post on the subject Reynolds talks about his love of the series and why he decided to use this particular Doctor/companion/enemy combination.

The novel should be released in 2012.


I've been ambivalent about the new Conan movie. Jason Momoa looks great in the role, but the existing trailers made the film look a bit cheesy. However, this (NSFW) new clip is great:

Pure Conan attitude there (especially spitting the egg out at the end) and Ron Perlman is always good value. I might check this out when the movie is released next month.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Davos and Brienne join THRONES

Hot on the heels of yesterday's news about Stannis and Melisandre, HBO have also confirmed that Liam Cunningham has joined the cast. Gwendoline Christie was also announced a few weeks ago, which I missed at the time.

Liam Cunningham is a highly experienced Irish actor with numerous roles on screen, stage and TV. He has appeared in the movies First Knight, Jude and Clash of the Titans, and recently had starring roles in the TV series Camelot and Outcasts.

On Thrones Cunningham is playing Ser Davos Seaworth, the 'Onion Knight', so-called for smuggling a cargo of onions into the besieged castle of Storm's End to feed the garrison under Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). Stannis forgave him his smuggling background, knighted him and gave him lands, but took the top knuckles of each finger on his left hand in compensation. Davos is Stannis' most loyal and reliable vassal, but is looked down on by many other lords for his humble birth.

Gwendoline Christie is a British actress who has had some roles on stage and a minor role on the movie The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus. She is 6'3" in height. Her agent was alerted to the potential role of Brienne by a contributor from the Winter is Coming website and she was one of several fan-favourites for the role.

On the series Christie is playing Brienne, the Maid of Tarth, an island in the Narrow Sea. Brienne is the only daughter and heir of Lord Selwyn of Evenfall Harth. Brienne dreams of becoming a knight and is a formidable warrior in her own right, trained with shield, sword and armour, but her interest in 'manly' pursuits has put off many potential suitors. She has pledged her sword to the service of King Renly Baratheon.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Famous for the wrong book?

The Guardian has an interesting topic asking if novelists' most famous works are their best. Their list examines literary fiction, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the SFF field.

Stephen Donaldson
Most famous work: The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever.
Best work: The Gap Series.

Stephen Donaldson became one of the founders of the modern epic fantasy movement in 1977 with Lord Foul's Bane, the first in his Chronicles of Thomas Covenant series (originally a trilogy but now nine books, with one more to come). It's his biggest-selling and most famous work, and certainly a laudable attempt to bring more adult and literary techniques to bear on the subgenre, but for me it's outclassed by The Gap Series. The Gap starts with a short, lyrical novella about perspective and truth before suddenly exploding into a colossal SF reworking of Wagner's Ring Cycle, filled with complex clashes of characters and cultures and delicious political intrigue. The best thing Donaldson's written. No-one bought it though, hence the return to the Covenant books.

Arthur C. Clarke
Most famous work: 2001: A Space Odyssey
Best work: Childhood's End

Thanks to the era-defining movie version, 2001 is easily Arthur C. Clarke's best-known work. However, the novel is actually among his less impressive books, rich in atmosphere but lacking in overall incident. In fact, purely on a novel basis, I'd rate its sequel 2010: Odyssey Two as being a much stronger book. Childhood's End, on the other hand, is for its day visionary, transcendent and mind-blowing, with a stunning finale marking the end of the human race (or rather our current stage of existence) and doing so in an unforgettable way.

Isaac Asimov
Most famous work: The Robots/Foundation universe
Best work: Nightfall

Picking out Asimov's most famous work would have probably involved some elaborate Twitter polling on whether I, Robot or Foundation was up there, but fortunately Asimov solved this problem by, somewhat unconvincingly, retconning them into the same universe. However, for me his strongest work is the short story Nightfall, in which some scientists on a planet with six suns in its sky discover that for the first time in recorded history there's going to be an eclipse with only one sun visible, meaning that for the first time in thousands of years, night will fall. A simple story based on a rudimentary scientific premise with tremendous ramifications for society and the individual people involved. Terrific and, rather unlike the 15-book Robots/Foundation/Empire universe, straight to the point. The novel version (with Robert Silverberg) is interesting but lacks the short story's punch.

Paul Kearney
Most famous work: The Monarchies of God
Best work: A Different Kingdom

Possibly a bit of a stretch, given that Paul Kearney is still chronically under-read and even the splendid Monarchies of God fantasy series is still reasonably obscure (though now rising, with the recent reissuing of the series in two omnibus volumes). However, when people talk about Kearney, it's his epic fantasy series which are always mentioned (Monarchies, Sea-Beggars and the current Macht trilogy). His finest work for me is A Different Kingdom, which starts out as a semi-autobiographical novel about growing up in rural Northern Ireland before fantastical events start taking place. The protagonist finds himself drawn into the woods neighbouring his farm, and finds a different world waiting. Rich and mythic, A Different Kingdom can be summed up as an Irish Mythago Wood, whilst also being totally different to Holdstock's masterwork. Overdue a re-release.

Christopher Priest
Most famous work: The Prestige
Best work: The Separation

Thanks to Chris Nolan, Priest's very fine novel about battling 19th Century magicians is now quite well-known. However, for me his finest novel remains his most recent, The Separation. Almost killed at birth by uncaring publishers, the book was rescued by Gollancz and is a staggering achievement. A pair of twins become embroiled in the Second World War, but not necessarily the war we are familiar with. With dizzying shifts in perspective and constant evolution of the backstory, the book is mind-blowing and will invite constant re-reads and analyses to tease out its secrets.

George R.R. Martin
Most famous work: A Game of Thrones
Best work: Fevre Dream

After HBO's great adaptation of A Game of Thrones, it's easily currently Martin's best-known work. But it's not his best. In the context of A Song of Ice and Fire itself, my favourite piece of writing is The Hedge Knight, the novella set 90 years before the novels and introducing the adventures of Ser Duncan the Tall and his squire, which uses Westeros' rich backdrop for a much simpler, much more concise story than the expansive novels. However, even beyond that, Martin's 1982 horror novel Fevre Dream has something going for it his fantasies don't (so far): an ending. Martin's story about vampires on the Mississippi trying to develop a drug to wean them off blood is dark, gripping, rich in atmosphere and tragic. Someone needs to make the movie (and cast Ron 'Rodrik Cassel' Donachie as Abner Marsh!) yesterday. And resist the urge to turn it into a True Blood prequel.

Tad Williams
Most famous work: Memory, Sorrow and Thorn
Best work: Otherland

Tad Williams exploded onto the scene with his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy in the late 1980s, which was hugely influential and set the scene for many of the authors who followed. Whilst overall a fine work, the trilogy skews very much to the traditional and has a somewhat annoying ending. Otherland, on the other hand, is much more original, being a cyberpunk-fantasy crossbreed. Williams uses the SF backdrop to explore a lot of excellent and fantastical ideas. Whilst the saga is still too long, its episodic structure makes it fun to read and the premise makes for a rich vein of story ideas which could sustain entire series (the reverse-Aztec invasion of Spain is particularly interesting). Overall, a strong series which has now spawned an MMORPG and a particularly large fanbase in Germany.

Any other thoughts and suggestions? On Twitter I've already had Gene Wolfe nominated, for Soldier of the Mist over The Book of the New Sun.

Stannis and Melisandre cast for GAME OF THRONES

HBO has confirmed that actors Stephen Dillane and Carice van Houten have been added to the cast of the second season of Game of Thrones.

Stephen Dillane is a British actor best known internationally for playing Thomas Jefferson in the excellent HBO mini-series John Adams. His studied, intense but slightly cold performance earned him an Emmy nomination. He has also appeared in the movies King Arthur, The Hours and the Mel Gibson version of Hamlet.

Dillane is playing the role of Lord Stannis Baratheon. The younger brother of King Robert and the older brother of Lord Renly, Stannis a cold, battle-hardened martinet, known to be without humour or mercy. He always does the 'right' thing, no matter the cost. During Robert's Rebellion he held the Baratheon castle of Storm's End against siege for a full year, reduced to eating rats and a few cargo holds full of onions smuggled into the castle by the pirate Davos. During the Greyjoy Rebellion, Stannis' fleet caught the Greyjoy armada unprepared in the Fair Isle Straits and destroyed it in a pincer movement, allowing King Robert's forces to storm Pyke. Since Robert came to power, Stannis has served as Lord of Dragonstone, commanding the ancestral stronghold of the Targaryens out in Blackwater Bay.

At the end of the first season of Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark sent a message to Stannis informing him that his supposed nephew, Joffrey, was a bastard born of incest, and that he was the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Stannis has since claimed the throne, but faces a battle against not just Joffrey and the Lannisters, but also his own younger brother Renly, who was also claimed the throne with the support of the extremely powerful House Tyrell.

Carice van Houten is a Dutch actress who has won three Golden Calf awards for various roles. In English-language cinema, she is best-known for her Melisandre-like turn in Black Death (appearing alongside Game of Thrones alums Sean Bean and Emun Elliott), as well as appearances in Repo Men and Valkyrie.

In Thrones van Houten is playing the role of Melisandre of Asshai, a priestess of the red god R'hllor, Lord of Light, who is obscure in Westeros. Melisandre has established herself on Dragonstone as an advisor to Stannis Baratheon and his family.

DARK TOWER movie and TV series cancelled

Ron Howard's extremely ambitious adaptation of Stephen King's Dark Tower novels is dead in the water. The complex project, envisaged as three movies and a linking television series, had been in development for a couple of years at Universal with Javier Bardem lined up to star and Howard himself in the director's chair. The cancellation is being blamed on Universal's new parent company, Comcast, which wants Universal to focus on low-budget, low-risk projects, which The Dark Tower definitely wasn't.

Sad news. Given the difficulties of adapting the complex books as films, the hybrid TV/movie approach was interesting and innovative, but also potentially impractical. It's back to the drawing board, unless another company takes an interest. I hear Warner Brothers has just had a vacancy open up for a new seven-volume fantasy series to adapt.

The Wheel of Time Art-Off, Part 2

VIII. The Path of Daggers

This may be my favourite piece of Sweet art for The Wheel of Time, showing Rand as a commander leading his troops into battle. There's a lot of great detail here, and especially on the back cover which shows the old statue that Rand is left pondering over at one point. A strong image.

The new cover, by Julie Bell, is quite good in the sense that the figures are fine and the picture is nice and colourful. But, no matter which way you look at it, it still looks like a pop video from the mid-1980s. You can almost hear the power ballad chorus kicking in.

Winner: Sweet's easiest victory here.

IX. Winter's Heart

Another army on the move here, but compared to the previous one this cover is weak. Perrin looks like a dwarf and the level of fine detail is severely lacking compared to the previous cover. Not Sweet's worst image, but definitely mediocre.

The new cover image, by Scott Fischer, isn't brilliant and without any context looks a bit weird (who's that tiny guy holding a blue ball down front?), but once you realise what it's supposed to be depicting, it's actually reasonable.

Winner: The new cover, though more down to Sweet's weakness than any greatness in the new image.

X. Crossroads of Twilight

Sweet's cover is yet more people on horses faffing around in the woods. Again a fairly poor image, most notably poor Tuon who looks like a kid in pyjamas.

Greg Ruth's artwork is a bit cartoony, but it's a really moody shot depicting Perrin's pivotal decision to choose between the hammer and the axe. Given a paucity of notable moments in the novel to cover, this is a good choice and works well.

Winner: The new cover, by some distance.

XI. Knife of Dreams

Dwarf-Perrin returns, this time consulting with a woman suffering from muscular spasms. Hmm.

It's Komarck. 'Nuff said.

Winner: The new cover. There isn't really any comparison at all.

XII. The Gathering Storm

This is easily the worst cover art put on a book from a reputable, big publishers in the 21st Century. It's staggering that Tor actually had the bravery to put a book so hideous on shelves, and even moreso that it got to #1 on the NYT bestseller lists. Staggeringly awful.

Old-skool fantasy artist Todd Lockwood gives us a strong image depicting the Seanchan assault on the White Tower and Egwene rising to lead the Aes Sedai in their moment of need. A bit old-fashioned, but still impressive.

Winner: The new cover art, unquestionably.

XIII. Towers of Midnight

Sweet comes back strong (well, stronger) for his most recent artwork which isn't totally embarrassing. Lacking in dynamism, but there's an element of foreboding as Mat, Thom and Noal set out on a dangerous and long-awaited quest. Unfortunately, the cover image doesn't match the description in the books (of a bare metal tower on a grassy plain with no trees nearby).

Raymond Swanland's new art is terrific, ferociously moody with a real sense of attitude and destiny coming from Perrin as he forges his new warhammer. A much more foreboding and appropriate image for the penultimate volume of the series.

Winner: The new cover, though Sweet's image isn't totally awful.

New Spring

Sweet revisits his Eye of the World composition with a bit of a spin on it, which is an interesting idea but feels a bit derivative.

Jason Chan's Asian-flavoured image is evocative and intense, showing the moment Lan and Moiraine begin their twenty-year search for the Dragon Reborn. An iconic moment captured very well.

Winner: The new cover.

Full-Time Score: Sweet 4 - New Covers 10

Well, there you go. Sweet put up a stronger struggle than I was expecting, but ultimately the new covers are mostly fresher and more modern. So good job to Tor. However, I'm not sold on their use of borders and cover fonts, which take up a third of the cover image. It'll be interesting to see if they keep that design when they reprint the physical books with new covers some time after A Memory of Light is published.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Wheel of Time Art-Off, Part 1

Over the last couple of years, Tor have introduced new cover art for The Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan, presumably due to repeated complaints that the paper covers by Darrel K. Sweet are 'rather variable in quality' (that's being kind). Whilst for now the new art is restricted to the ebooks, it's assumed that they will be rolled out for the hard copies some time after A Memory of Light is published at the end of 2012.

So are the new covers better than the old? Does Sweet get a bit of a rough deal? Let's check out the old covers and the new ones. This post will cover the first seven books in the series and obviously feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments.

I. The Eye of the World

The Darrell K. Sweet original. Simple, straightforward, even classic. Sure, strewn with ridiculously bizarre touches (Lan has been replaced by a samurai for no discernible reason) and it's very dated in style, but likable, and shows the content of the book pretty well: a bunch of people setting out on an adventure.

The ebook cover by Dave Grove. Avast, me hearties! A somewhat odd choice of image, of Rand clinging to the mast of Bayle Domon's ship as it passes down the Arinelle with the Tower of Ghenjei in the distance. Points for emphasising the Tower, but then it does so in a rather unsubtle manner. Focusing on Rand is good, but not showing his compatriots feels like a shame, especially since the Rand-Mat relationship is a key part of the novel and Mat is missing altogether. It's a good painting, but feels like an internal image from a deluxe illustrated edition rather than a summing-up of the content of the whole novel.

Winner: Sweet, by a nostalgic nose. This probably won't happen very often.

II. The Great Hunt

The original art for The Great Hunt has become infamous over the years, mainly since it seems to mark the start of Sweet's bizarre insistence on painting Trollocs as normal guys with horned helmets rather than monstrous crossbreed creatures. Loial looks like a hairy Vulcan with thin legs, not really any taller than Rand, and Selene seems to be in a nightie. Not great.

Clever. Kekai Kotaki revisits the same image, but in a way that is notably less crap. The Trollocs look right and the human figures are more dramatic and interesting. I was thinking that some more of the new covers would revisit the old images and update them, but Tor clearly wanted to go in a new direction. Or didn't want to risk embarrassing Sweet any further.

Winner: The new cover, easily.

III. The Dragon Reborn

One of Sweet's better images, showing the iconic moment Rand al'Thor claims Callandor, which marks him as the Dragon Reborn. This is a reasonable image, showing the Heart of the Stone, but Rand looks a bit neat considering the several months of harsh travel and life-and-death struggle he's gone through to get to Tear, whilst Perrin seems to inexplicably dropped by from a costume-fitting for a remake of The Warriors. Despite these problems, I quite like this image, despite the absence here of Ishamael's burning face on the spine (which apparently gave Harriet - Robert Jordan's wife - nightmares).

The new artwork, this time by Donato Giancola, is...nice. A good-quality image of Rand, erm, chilling out on a tree somewhere. It's a good-quality image but lacks dynamism.

Winner: Sweet, surprisingly.

IV. The Shadow Rising

Rand and Mat, who appears to have transformed into a hobbit, chilling out on a tinker's cart in the Aiel Waste whilst, erm, someone makes tea (is that Moiraine or Egwene? Or someone completely different?). The environment art (more clearly seen on the back cover) is actually really good, but the cover image is weak.

The new cover art by Sam Weber is dark and moody, showing Mat in a sinister and ill-omened light contrasting his normal jovial depiction. Excellent.

Winner: The new cover, by about five light-years.

V. The Fires of Heaven

Mat, Rand and Aviendha get lost in Rhuidean whilst more not-Trollocs look on threateningly from the shadows ('the shadows' in this case being about three feet from Rand whilst he's looking straight at them). Pretty much nonsensical, especially given only a few chapters are set in Rhuiden.

Dan Dos Santos gives us Moiraine Damodred, badass channeller, laying down the law on Lanfear.

Winner: The new cover, most definitely. Moiraine's last stand is one of the more iconic scenes from the series and definitely worthy of a cover shot.

VI. Lord of Chaos

The aftermath of Dumai's Wells is a good image to go with, but not if you turn Rand into the cover hero from a Mills & Boon novel whilst a kneeling Aes Sedai swoons over him and a Draghkar flies overhead (not that any Draghkars are present at the battle, but whatever).

Greg Manchess paints some Agents from The Matrix blowing up some attacking ninjas! Awesome! Explosions! Lightning! Men running around on fire! Yeaaah! And it has a bigger version!

Winner: The new cover. It's a bit corny, to be honest, but also dynamic with lots of action.

VII. A Crown of Swords

Rand flexing his muscles in Shadar Logoth, as you do when Mashadar is floating two feet in front of you in a random pit. Not a great cover, but the detail on the buildings is quite nice. Plus this was the first hardcover novel I ever bought, so it has some nostalgia value for me.

The new cover, by Melanie Delon. It's a non-instinctive image from the book to go for. In fact, considering the book features the Seanchan storming the Fortress of the Light, a Seanchan fleet battling its way into Ebou Dar Harbour, the Shaido being scattered over the landscape and Rand bending the Sea Folk to his will (more or less), neither images are the most immediately obvious ones. This could have been made to work well, but here it doesn't. Nynaeve looks nothing like Nynaeve, Lan looks like a low-res character model from Oblivion and both are straight out of the uncanny valley.

Winner: Sweet, disappointingly since his image isn't great either. But it makes a bit more sense and is a bit less oddball than the new one.

Half-Time Score: Sweet 3 - New Covers 4

Still all to play for in Part 2.