The Magician’s Guild – Trudi Canavan

20 12 2010

The Magicians' Guild (Black Magician Trilogy, #1)The Magicians’ Guild by Trudi Canavan

Seeing as the story revolves around a pre-teen child who has no knowledge of her magical abilities but ends up being whisked away to a magicians guild and ends up being pretty much the top of the pile there were always going to be similarities drawn between this book and the Harry Potter series.

I really can understand how on the face of things it all seems a bit of a coincidence. Especially when in the second book of the trilogy we discover that the real enemies were believed defeated years ago but are back in secret and it will take huge sacrifice to defeat them…

Ok so I lied –  the similarities aren’t just on the surface. This really does read in parts like a mild re-write of some of the HP books.

But that didn’t really detract from my overall enjoyment, not just of this book but of the trilogy as a whole. The story is different enough that you don’t feel like you should just be replacing the name Sonea with that of HP himself and for the most part is well written, if a tad simplistic.

The class issues that Canavan brings up are a little bit clumsy and play out much as expected but even so it is a nice touch and helps keeps things fresh when otherwise you could be about to swap the Magicians Guild for Hogwarts.

There are however two big problems for me that keep me from scoring this book higher and unfortunately they carry on pretty much through out the latter installments of the trilogy.

Firstly there is the characterisation which is a little bit lacking on occasion.
The principal characters are surprisingly two-dimensional and formulaic and you never really find yourself building any attachment to them or indeed giving two hoots as to whether they all die in a fire.

This is a real shame as there is plenty of potential to really build some tension between the main protagonists right from the start.

 One prime example of this is the relationship between Sonea and her friends in the slums; it is obvious that Cery, one of the thieves, has strong feelings for Sonea but rather than build this up into anything too deep or emotive Canavan has the character dismiss his own feelings and cast them aside quite casually over the space of two or three paragraphs.

The second big issue that I have with this series is that I never really get a sense of immersion into the world the story is set in.

The slums and the guild are outlined reasonably well but even they are rather thin on detail and everywhere else we venture is so sketchily outlined that you are squinting to see it.

I am not asking for Tolkien like levels of detail about every blade of grass crushed underfoot but I would like to feel some sense of connection.

If I had to give an example of a fantasy writer who manages to pull this off to perfection it would have to be Terry Pratchett; on one hand I haven’t a clue what colour the second daffodil to the left of the buttercup and indeed don’t want to know was but on the other hand I can walk the streets of Ankh Morpork in my head without having to fill in huge chunks of blank canvas.

When I read that Sam Vimes stops and buys a sausage in a bun off of C.M.O.T Dibbler I can not only see Sator Square where they are standing I can smell the sausage.

In contrast to this I can read that some Bolhouse (a pub in Sonea’s world) is about to be destroyed by marauding Sachakan magicians (the bad magicians) and I really couldn’t give two figs. I haven’t a clue about the place in question other than the mere fact that it is a kind of pub and that they better have insurance. 

I am probably coming off sounding more displeased with this series than I mean to; it really isn’t bad but I feel that it lacks depth and a bit of originality and I am hoping that Canavan’s next installments will give me a bit less Potter and a bit more sense of her world and what she wants the reader to see.

View all my reviews

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Stilton Beer…

20 12 2010

British cheese-makers have recently announced that in conjunction with the Belvoir brewery they have developed a Stilton based beer.

The beer has been cunningly named “The Blue Brew” and is said to capture the distinctive creamy and salty flavours of the world famous  blue cheese  by adding stilton whey in with the wort as the beer is fermenting.

Bosses from the Stilton Cheese-makers Association and Belvoir Brewery say it took several attempts to get the drink right but they are convinced drinkers will like the taste of this unique 4.2% real ale.

I reckon it is going to be quite sometime before one of these beers happens to cross my path but I will admit to being rather excited to sample it.

In the meanwhile the information surrounding this beer is a little bit sketchy so I have contacted Belvoir to see if there is any more light they can shed on this cheesy tipple.





Santa’s Sack Christmas Ale

16 12 2010

I had this recently as part of Wetherspoon’s selection of festive beers.

It is the last of Thwaites  “Signature Range” for 2010 and  having enjoyed several of the earlier offerings I was looking forward to an enjoyable pint.

My first impressions were pleasing as the pints that were set in front of me a really dark ruby red with a nice  thick foamy white head on them.

There was a fairly distinct aroma coming off  the beer which was a mixture between chocolate and what smelt like ovaltine, suggesting to me that there should be a really malty depth to the beer.

Well it turns out that looks can be deceiving, I led to believe I was going to be spirited away to a magical Dickensian Christmas  full of luxury and richness. Instead I was dragged on a 3 hour bus ride to Weston-Super-Mare, in the rain, with the windows open and the heater broken.

The predominant taste was that of cheap sugar and burnt toffee, none of the rich fruits, spices or chocolate notes that I would expect to get from a Christmas ale or winter warmer.

The body was so light as to be non-existent and if there was one that sticks out in my mind most about this pint it is wet.

I know that a number of people online have been raving about this beer but I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy it. So much that I took my pint back unfinished as did my mate.

1/5





Naga Viper – The World’s Hottest Chilli Pepper?

15 12 2010

There has been a lot of buzz for a while now that the fearsome Bhut Jolokia has been knocked off its top spot as the world’s hottest chilli pepper.

It was announced back in October that Gerald Fowler from the Chilli Pepper Company had grown a new chilli that had not just beaten the Bhut but had destroyed it…. not only that but it has been developed and grown in the UK of all unlikely places.

The name of this deadly little beauty, the Naga Viper and here it is:

Rather unassuming for something that would melt your face and having you rushing for the chilled toilet paper.

The Viper is the result of selective cross breeding of the Bhut Jolokia, Naga Morich and the Trinidad Scorpion all of which are so hot it is not even funny.

Warwick University HRI have carried out HPLC testing on the Viper and have returned some pretty impressive numbers, it seems this bad boy has a LOT of heat 1,349,000 SHU to be precise.

Now numbers by themselves don’t always mean a lot to people so here is a quick comparison:

Bhut Jolokia – 1,001,304

Red Savina Habanero – 350,000 – 577,000

Jalapeno – 2500-8000

So we are looking at a chilli that is over 250 times the heat of a jalapeno, now that is hot!

There is an awful lot of dispute going on as to the veracity of the results, in particular there are claims that NMSU  are the only real authority in terms of accurately measuring the heat of a chilli, whether NMSU are the be all or not one thing is certain further verification will be required before Guinness start handing out world record certificates.

As of the end of October Gerald Fowler was in the process of sending pods away for DNA testing so before too much longer it will be official one way or the other.

Personally I think that whether or not the Viper is crowned top dog it is only a matter of time before someone in the UK turns out a world-beating variety and it says a lot about the skill and dedication  of chilli growers in the UK that they are turning out chilli peppers that are even in contention considering the huge climatic disadvantages we suffer from in this part of the world.

Picture credit – cascade news




12 Worst Foods Ever

15 12 2010

I happened to stumble upon a supposed news item the other day showing what the site in question deemed to be the 12 most unhealthy foods known to man – click here to view

I agree with a couple of their entries but some of them  just didn’t illicit a suitable level of disgust from me.

So here is my very own list; I haven’t limited myself to foods that are merely unhealthy I have also included a few that are just downright vile:

 Pork Scratchings – Well what is there to say about pork scratchings?  This nasty pub snack consists of pork rind and fat deep-fried until it is hard and then seasoned with salt, if you are really unlucky you will find the elusive soft scratching that is literally pure deep-fried pig fat mmm.

This is the sort of awful crap that needs to go the same way as the dinosaurs, there are plenty of other snacks that you can enjoy with your pint that don’t come with a free heart attack.

 

KFC Double Down – When I first heard that KFC had launched something called the Double Down I simply had to find out what it might be.

It transpires that it is a delightful fried chicken sandwich that instead of a bun has 2 fried chicken breasts between which nestles cheese, Colonel sauce (I don’t even want to know) and bacon.

Now forgive me if I am wrong but where I come from chicken breasts are normally found inside a sandwich, not masquerading as the bread.

Luckily they don’t offer this particular delicacy here in the UK but that didn’t stop me finding someone who had been brave enough to give one a go – click here to check  out a video review from Scott Roberts enjoying the mighty Double Down in all its greasy glory.

Cheese Burger in a Can – I have been camping more times than I can remember, whilst camping I have eaten many meals that I would normally turn my nose up at back in civilisation. Be it US military MRE, British Forces Ration Packs or ready prepared meals from a camping store they all have pretty much one thing in common: they are shite.

I have sat shivering in the cold and wet eating my last remaining Biscuits Brown and wished that they were pretty much anything else at all. The one thing that I never wished for was this:

Cheeseburger in a can… Once I get past my initial reaction, which is pretty much to vomit in advance of eating it there by cutting out the middle man, I start to wonder what sort of sick twisted maniac invented such a thing.

Well it turns out we have Swiss company  Katadyn to thank blame for visiting this evil upon the world.

The idea is that you pop the unopened can into boiling water for a couple of minutes and hey presto you have a tasty hamburger to munch on whilst the bears move in for the kill.

As much as the overall idea  offends my stomach I find myself more concerned by the fact that it will stay fresh for over a year without refrigeration – just wtf is it made out of?

 Balut A whole fertilised chicken or duck egg allowed to reach between 17 and 21 days of incubation before being boiled and the whole disgusting mess being eaten, foetus and all.

I’m not sure there is much more that I or anybody else need to say about that…

Deep Fried Mars Bar – Ah Scotland, was there ever a nation so easy to pick on when it comes to dodgy food?

 To be fair to 99% of Scottish produce is outstanding but that is all pushed aside by that final 1%.

 In this case I am focusing in on Scotland’s most famous culinary disaster; The Deep Fried Mars Bar and trust me it deserves the capitals. This gastronomic turd gets bad press all the time but it really does take some beating in the crap food stakes.

Not only is it the idea that is shocking it is the food itself; first we take a Mars Bar, hardly the healthiest starting point. We chill the Mars to stop it melting and then coat it in the sort of thick fattening batter normally reserved for frying fish or sausages then of course we fry it.

Sadly the next step is to eat the bloody thing, followed promptly by throwing up a hot sugary mess all over the pavement.

I once ate a deep-fried mars bar for a dare; at first it was almost nice, there was a bit of a crunch followed by gooey sweet chocolate. Unfortunately the next stage of the eating process was reality kicking in. There realy is no overcoming the greasy taste of the batter and that mixed with the cloying sweetness of the chocolate actually makes you start to gag. I’m not proud of the fact that rather than finish this horrific morsel I pinned one of my mates down and made them eat it,I think he still has nightmares about it til this day.

Having sampled this most heinous of crimes against food I have no conclusion but to seriously worry about the sanity of our cousins north of the border….

 Deep Fried Haggis – I’m not squeamish when it comes to food and actually like most offal but there is something about deep-fried haggis that just turns my stomach.

I know that just plain old haggis is enough to have some people reaching for a bucket as it is but to deep fry it, has the World gone mad?

For anyone that was ever wondering what a sheep’s stomach stuffed with oats,onion and “Sheep’s Pluck”(heart, liver and lungs) looks like when deep-fried then prepare to vomit:

 Poutine – I was first introduced to this Canadian staple by a friend about a year ago. granted it isn’t as unhealthy as some of the foods that grace this list but to my mind it is one of the most revolting.

 For those of you lucky enough to have never encountered Poutine before it is French fries coated with gravy and topped off with cheese curds and just when you thought that couldn’t be made any more delicious the fries are supposed to be cooked in lard -mmm.

Poutine is not completely horrible for the first couple of bites whilst it is still very hot but as soon as it starts to cool it just becomes one big congealing mess of brown muck and you can’t help but face the stark reality that you are effectively signing your own death warrant.

 Snickers Pie – 1 packet puff pastry, 140g mascarpone, 110g soft cheese, 50g caster sugar, 3 eggs, 5 Snickers bars and milk.

 Does sound to you like the recipe for something ok for a child? Probably not. However bearded dwarf and celebrity chef  Antony Worrall-Thompson says that it is fine and he should know as he wrote it.

Last time I happened to look around a lot of children seemed to be quite fat and appear to my untrained eye to be getting ever fatter, I’m not trying to be unkind I am just pointing out the obvious. Now I might be wrong but I’m not totally convinced that a celebrity chef advocating this sort of “treat” is really going to go a long way towards changing this trend anytime soon…

This sugar and fat laden delight is so void of nutritional value that the Food Commision condemned it as being “one of the most unhealthy recipes ever published”. Each slice weighs in at a heavyweight 1,250 calories, 22 teaspoons of sugar and 11 teaspoons of fat.

I look forward to serving it at a children’s tea party in the near future, I fully anticipate that the children will be hyperactive due to the ridiculous sugar content and yet unable to move due to being completely spherical.

 Quadruple C Burger – I came across the Quadruple C Burger on one of my many wasted afternoons trawling the internet, it certainly made an impression on me and I’m sorry to say it wasn’t a good one.

One of the signature menu items at Dangerous Dan’s Diner in Toronto, the Quad C is one of a new generation of fat burgers whose aim is to  stare the health food movement in the eye and stick two fingers up in its face. Now I am all for people having freedom of choice and that includes the right to eat yourself into an early grave but this burger almost makes me want to call up the food police.

The more enquiring minds out there in cyberspace might be wondering what the four Cs stand for so here we have it, drum-roll please:

“The Colossal Colon Clogger Combo.” 

This meaty mountain is the Quadruple C in all it’s colossal colon clogging cancer causing glory, either impressive or sickening depending on how you choose to look at it.

So what goes into making one of these bad boys: one 24 ounce beef patty, half a pound of bacon, half a pound of cheese and to complete the combo in gut busting style a large shake and a serving of an another Canadian entrant from this list; poutine.

Luckily this burger is only available in Canada so your resultant trip to the emergency room will at least be free.

 Bacon Explosion – The Bacon Explosion has to be one of the most disgusting food items I have come across in a long time; the sheer volume of meat is quite simply worrying and just the thought of it is making my digestive system recoil in horror even as I type.

 So what is a Bacon Explosion, well it turns out that it is not as the name suggests a pig packed full of dynamite, so here is a quick run down:

Multiple strips of bacon are lovingly woven into a fatty, greasy mesh, onto which ground sausage meat is dumped before more cooked and crumbled bacon is sprinkled on top and the whole thing is rolled up into a big cigar full of porky goodness.

As always I have saved the best until last this bacon behemoth comes in at over 5,000 calories and more than 500 grams of fat – delicious.

Pizza Hut Double roll

According to a friend who has tried it in Tokyo the main selling point of this insult to Italian cuisine was that it had pigs in a blanket baked into the crust on half of the pizza.

If that isn’t enough to tempt you into trying the Double roll then read on….

The other half has cheese rolls for a crust and is liberally topped with mini hamburgers, Italian sausage, ham, bacon, bacon bits, sliced tomato, mushroom, onion, peppers, garlic slices, basil, black pepper and of course marinara sauce.

As if that wasn’t enough culinary goodness for you I am reliably informed that the whole thing can be flavored with maple syrup and ketchup by request.

I don’t know what would make me puke first, the maple syrup and ketchup flavouring or the entire buffet cart they have stuffed into the crust and topped it with.

 Windows 7 whopper – The Windows 7 Whopper was the brainchild of Burger King Japan; it was sold to mark the launch of the newest version of the Windows operating system and featured – yes you guessed it, 7 whopper patties – 7!!! That makes the heart stopping excess of the Quad Stacker seem like a light snack.

 The Japanese have long been held up as being paradigms of healthy living and we in the west have been implored to be more like them in terms of diet; obviously the nutritionists didn’t see this particular meat monstrosity.

 Thankfully for the world at large this particularly terrifying crap stack was only available for a short space of time following the launch of Windows 7 but I get the feeling that there is more to come from our friends in the east.





Burger King Pizza Burger WHY???

15 12 2010

So I was happily trawling through the net earlier on today when I came across this…

The Burger King Burger Pizza

This 2,500 calorie behemoth has been available at the BK’s “Whopper Bar” in Times Square, New York City since September.

According to BK officials the Pizza Burger is the answer to the age old dilemma of whether to grab a pizza or a burger in order to sate your hunger.

Now I realise I’m not representative of the populace at large but…. a.) I have never asked that question & b.) That monstrosity would never be the answer!

For those who aren’t puking in disgust at the thought of this let me give you a quick run down of what makes a pizza burger…

 9 1/2 inch bun

4 x flame broiled whopper patties

Pepperoni slices

Marinara sauce

Mozzarella cheese

Tuscan pesto sauce

 Burger King have said that they have no plans to roll this out to any other restaurants across their chain and that it is an homage to NYC, now I’ve been to New York on several occasions and never was I put in mind of a gigantic burger topped in mushy crap.

With the pizza burger following on the heels of the equally repulsive Enormous Omelet Burger and the Triple whopper I wonder if at this point Burger King’s entire R&D budget isn’t being blown on trying to create the grossest most fattening sandwiches known to man?

 

 

 





Make your own Mulled Wine

15 12 2010

What is more festive than a warming glass of hot mulled wine?  With its heady mix of fruit and spices it is quite literally Christmas in a glass.

I know that a lot of people buy those prepared bags of spice mix that you can get in the supermarket and they are all very well and good but once you have made your own mulled wine from scratch you will never even think of going back to the pre-made sachets or bags.

Ingredients:

75 cl bottle cabernet sauvignon red wine

75 cl bottle of port

25 cl apple cider

1 orange

12 cloves

2 clementines

3 lemons

6 tbsp honey

1 cinnamon stick

2 tsp ground ginger

3 fresh bay leaves

1 vanilla pod

2 star anise

1 whole nutmeg

2 measures of brandy/cognac – optional

Method:

This really couldn’t be any easier to make;

Take the orange and stud it with the cloves and chop the clementines and two of the lemons into slices, this can be done in advance

Add the port and the wine to a large saucepan and pour in the honey, cider and brandy, if you are using it, along with 2 pints of water. Give everything a good stir and pop the saucepan over a low heat to simmer.

Zest the remaining lemon and squeeze in half of the juice

Grate approx 1/3 of the nutmeg into the pan

Split the vanilla pod in two and  add to the pan along with the sliced fruit and the rest of the dry ingredients.

Allow to simmer for at least 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let the mulled wine boil or you will cook off all of the alcohol.

Serve warm in 1/2 pint mugs








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