Blog Archive

View My Stats
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Dämoren by Seth Skorkowsky (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky (Guest Post) 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Seth Skorkowsky
was born in east Texas in 1978 and always dreamed of being a writer. His short story "The Mist of Lichthafen" was nominated for a British Fantasy Award (long list) in 2009. Dämoren is Seth's debut novel. He recently signed a two-book deal with Rogue Blades Entertainment for his "Black Raven" sword-and-sorcery collection. When not writing, Seth enjoys travel, shooting, and tabletop gaming. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: A secret society of monster hunters. A holy revolver forged to eradicate demons. A possessed man with a tragic past. A rising evil bent on destroying them all.

Matt Hollis is the current wielder of the holy weapon, Dämoren. With it, he stalks and destroys demons. A secret society called the VALDUCANS has taken an interest in Matt’s activities. They see him as a reckless rogue—little more than a ‘cowboy’ corrupted by a monster—and a potential threat to their ancient order.

As knights and their sentient weapons begin dying, Matt teams up with other hunters of his kind such as Luiza, a woman with a conquistador blade; Allan, an Englishman with an Egyptian khopesh; Malcolm, a voodoo priest with a sanctified machete; and Takaira, a naginata-swinging Samurai.

As the hunters become the hunted, they must learn to trust one another before a powerful demonic entity thrusts the world into a terrible and ageless darkness.

CLASSIFICATION: The Valducan series is an action-packed urban fantasy series with a rather strong streak of horror running through it. Think Jim Butcher meets James Rollins with a dash of Lovecraft

FORMAT/INFO: Dämoren is 320 pages long divided over twenty-one numbered chapters. Narration is in the third person solely via Matt Hollis. This is book one of the Valducan series.

April 14th, 2014 marked the e-book publication of Dämoren via Ragnarok Publications. Cover design is by J.M. Martin.

ANALYSIS: With urban fantasies nowadays, there’s only so much being done. Faced with the usual bandwagon of vampires, werewolves, faeries, elves and other tropes, it can get a tad disappointing for an urban fantasy fan like me. Of course we have authors like Ilona Andrews, Liz Williams, Myke Cole, Tim Marquitz, and Rachel Aaron who dare to stretch the limits and pave new ground.

Seth Skorkowsky’s Dämoren was a book, which after reading the blurb, I was hoping that would also be different. The blurb details a world wherein there’s a series of holy weapons that have been wielded by men and women to defeat all sorts of unnatural and nasty creatures. Matt Hollis is our protagonist who is also the current wielder of Dämoren and he’s been doing his job (of sorts) since he learnt what the world truly is. In his teenage years when he went by Spencer Mallory, he came to know what a wendigo is and what savagery a group of them can inflict. Saved by a stranger who wielded Dämoren, Matt/Spencer is drawn to the gun with a mind of its own. Fastforward fourteen years to the attack, we encounter Matt investigating a strange phenomenon in Canada.

That’s where he meets the Valducans, a strange group of people who wield similar weapons and who request him for his help. There’s much more to the weapons than Matt knows but the only way he can get information is if he decides to join this motley bunch. The spanner in the works is that Matt has a secret of his own and it might endanger everyone.


You have to admit Seth Skorkowsky has gotten a nice hook with this story. There’s a magical weapon, a freaking revolver with a blade. It’s sentient as are other weapons and a mystery organization is holding them to battle with all sorts of nasty creatures. The author does really go out of his way to make this tale an international one by having the story move around from locale to locale and doesn’t conform to any one specific mythology either. Utilizing a whole gamut of creatures from European, Native American and Hindu mythos, he keeps the story and the readers on an even keel. There’s also a strong undercurrent of horror that the author utilizes effectively within the action sequences and with certain plot points.

The story also moves at a very fast pace and has some terrific action sequences interspersed. Additionally the author also has some neat twists reserved for the end, which go on to explain some exciting hints about the mythology of the holy weapons. The author also gives some important information about the world between chapters as book excerpts and other such, which really helps the reader without going into unnecessary exposition. The story is nicely streamlined as the Valducans are constantly hammered on all fronts and Matt has to figure it out before the suspicions against him turn violent. The story also ends on a big climax that should satisfy most of the readers and points excitingly towards a sequel.

Now to the points that didn’t make this it a five star read, in regards to the characterization of the protagonist. We are given enough of a clue about him and his past however the circumstances with which he grew up would have been exciting to explore. A boy who has been savaged by wendigos is saved by something beyond his control and yet looked on with hostility by his savior. That’s a terrific origin story right there! Of course with regards to the story he wanted to tell, I can imagine why the author directly jumped to the present. Also in regards to the other characters, we don’t get much background on them but they aren’t cardboard cutouts either.

Another thing I would have enjoyed is that if the author had explored as to how all the world religions and mythologies tie in together, there are a few things mentioned here and there. But nothing concrete is offered, this is what usually ruffles the read for me. I would have liked to see how the world religions have been affected or atleast some hypothesis in regards to it. But with this being book one in a series, it can be understood if the author didn't want to reveal all his cards. Lastly one more interesting thing the author manages is that he very effectively sidesteps the question of which brand of belief is the correct one. I thought that was a very smooth move.

CONCLUSION: Dämoren is an exciting debut, as it offers the best of both urban fantasy and thrillers have to offer. Seth Skorkowsky writes a story that is an excellent combination of horror, action and mythology, furthermore his writing flows smoothly and makes for a damned good read as well. Check out Dämoren if you like Jim Butcher's works mixed in with a strong dash of James Rollins' thrillers.
Tuesday, April 15, 2014

GUEST POST: Building The Perfect Revolver by Seth Skorkowsky


When writing DÄMOREN, the pistol's physical description was critical. I wanted a gun that was unique, yet historically accurate for the time period she was made. It went through several changes before I finally knew what she would look like. I had already decided that Dämoren was originally a holy sword that was broken in the 19th Century. The owner then took the pieces to a gunsmith and had them made into revolver (which at the time was the pinnacle of weapon technology). A friend suggested the idea that she should be single-action and the bullets should be loaded one at a time, making it even slower than modern revolvers.


(Old-style revolvers used a little latch called a Loading Gate to load and unload the pistol.)

MAGIC

The original concept was to have a gun that could kill a demon. Magical swords have always existed in folklore, and the blade of a magic sword hitting and killing its opponent is easy to understand. A magical gun, however, is a different matter. A gun never touches the target, so in order for it to work, the power must somehow transfer to the bullet. My original solution was to have a prayer etched along the inside of the barrel. As the bullet travels down the barrel, it gains this blessing. To finalize the consecration, the word "Amen" would be molded into the bullet itself, thus charging it with demon-killing magic.

Since the bullets had to be molded to have the word "Amen”, that meant my hero would need to cast and load each bullet. I decided that even the brass shells should be engraved and special, and that the hero would only have a limited number of them. Therefore he'd have to save and reuse the shells over and over, while casting new bullets. This also added a few more hindrances on my protagonist, which I liked. I didn't want having a demon-killing handgun to be too easy.

At the time I was coming up with these ideas, I wasn't a very experienced shooter. I was talking to a friend (who was very experienced) about the concept when he mentioned that brass shells don't last forever and eventually do wear out. He said that it shouldn't be a problem since the magic of the gun could also cause the shells to be more durable or heal themselves. I agreed (can't argue with science), but wanted to further explain why holy weapons might heal minor damage, rather than just saying "magic" and ignoring it. Without giving too much away, the solution changed the course of the world mythology. As a tribute to my good friend, who also taught me how to shoot properly, I named my hero's mentor after him. Clay.

CARTRIDGES

Because I wanted Dämoren's shells to be reloads, it meant that the gun had to have been made after 1866. That was the year that modern primer cartridges were first patented. Prior to that, bullets were either cap and ball or pinfire, neither of which I wanted. In order to qualify as an antique firearm, for a scene where the hero gets Dämoren past customs, it would need to be made prior to 1898 and not fire any normal-sized caliber.


(Pinfire (or Lefaucheux) shells had a firing pin that jutted from the side, unlike a primer in the back, as we have today.  They were terribly unsafe.  Bumping them could set them off.  I also admit I was very tempted to use them for Dämoren.)

THE BLADE

Surprisingly, Dämoren's most noticeable feature, the rather intimidating blade beneath her barrel, was one of the last additions I came up with. Early on, I had decided that Dämoren's power to kill demons wouldn't just be reserved to her bullets. As a holy weapon, she should be able to pistol-whip a demon to death. I imagined a scene where Matt, out of ammo and facing an oncoming monster, flips the gun around grabbing by the barrel and clubs the demon down. Then I learned how to shoot and found out how insanely hot a gun barrel is after firing (Who would have thought that TV and movies lied?). In searching for an alternative, I found this:


(Affixing a blade beneath the barrel transformed Dämoren from a spiffy magic gun into a badass demon killer.)

Since Dämoren was to have been made from a broken sword, having a blade in addition the the barrel became an obvious choice. I also decided that the bronze from the sword's crossguard would be the same metal used to make her special shells.

THE GUNSMITH

With magical or masterwork swords, there's always the scene where the owner proudly gives its lineage. Whether it was forged by God (Excalibur), Hattori Hanzō (Kill Bill), or Masamune (Highlander), you want to know that the iconic weapon was made by the best. My original plan was to have Beretta make Dämoren. Beretta has been crafting firearms since the 16th Century and arming my favorite action heroes since the 1980's. Unfortunately, Beretta was never known for their revolvers. Next, I chose Harris Holland of London who is known making firearms for royalty and the wealthy.

Then when researching more information on cutlass revolvers, I stumbled on the work of Celestin Dumonthier


Dumonthier was a French gunsmith known for making some of the most beautiful cutlass revolvers. He was also active during the time window I needed (1866-1898). While the beautiful lines and almost melted way the blade comes off the barrel isn't as all how Dämoren appears, I knew I had my gunsmith. Researching Dumonthier was a fun, albeit difficult, task. Not much is out there about him. The most helpful resource I found was "BLADES and BARRELS" by H. Gordon Frost, which has been out of print for 40 years now.

In the end, Dämoren's evolution was a gradual process from an ornate gun into what she eventually became. She is as much a character as any other in my novel, and building her (at least in my imagination) was a lot of fun. I hope my readers enjoy her and much as I do.


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Seth Skorkowsky was born in Texas in 1978. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, with his wife, and works for the University of North Texas. His short story "The Mist of Lichthafen" was nominated for a British Fantasy Award (long list) in 2009. Dämoren is Seth's debut novel. He recently signed a two-book deal with Rogue Blades Entertainment for his "Black Raven" sword-and-sorcery collection. When not writing, Seth enjoys travel, shooting, and tabletop gaming.
Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Northern Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE (US) and HERE (UK)
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Heresy Within
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Colour Of Vengeance
Read Fantasy Book Critic interview with Rob J. Hayes

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rob J. Hayes was born and brought up in Basingstoke, UK. As a child he was fascinated with Lego, Star Wars and Transformers that fueled his imagination and he spent quite a bit of his growing up years playing around with such. He began writing at the age of fourteen however soon discovered the fallacies of his work. After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey. Rob lived on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy. 

OFFICIAL BLURB: The Northern Sunrise is a standalone book by the author of The Ties that Bind trilogy. Set in a new world of corruption, deceit and thievery; mixing magical fantasy and alchemy-punk with a healthy smattering of airshippery.

"There comes a point in every thief's life where one has to take stock of all that they have achieved. We have stolen almost everything there is worth stealing: Prince Henri's Jadefire ring, the Marquisse d'Bola's collection of prized toy soldiers, Elize Gion's Living Autumn, the very first airship schematic, and who could forget we definitely made off with Baron Rivette's pride."

"The trick, I find, is not to break in. No. The trick is to convince the mark to invite you in." 

FORMAT/INFO: The Northern Sunrise is divided into twenty-five chapters and an epilogue. The narration is in third person via Isabel de Rosier, Jacques Revou, Shadow concieller Renard Daron, and Amaury Roche. This is a standalone story.

March 19, 2014 marked the US and UK e-book publication of The Northern Sunrise and was self-published by the author.

ANALYSIS: After reading Rob J. Hayes’ debut effort, I was suitably impressed. With this tale being a standalone and specifically not related to his previous trilogy, I was wondering how this effort would turn out be.

Isabel de Rosier and Jacques Revou are two consummate thieves who have accomplished several different sorts of heists and larceny. Their most recent efforts have them squarely in the sights of Renard Daron, the shadow conceiller to the king of Sassaille. Isabel and Jacques are forced into a final job for Renard Daron and fiercely watched by Daron's two deadly shadows Franseza Goy & Amaury Roche. Going into a job blind, has never been their sort of thing but with all their bank accounts frozen and with not a single penny to their name. Isabel and Jacques must learn to dance to the shadow conceiller's tune however they are not without their own tricks.

This was a very different offering from the author’s debut, and I’m glad for that very reason. So often authors tend to repeat what they have done before and they run the risk of being labeled as one-trick ponies. Rob J. Hayes certainly bucks that trend with this standalone tale about thieves coerced into working with a spymaster for his own nefarious ends. Also this story is a far cry from his previous work which made most grimdark stories look like YA ones.

As with the previous books, the characters are what make this story so enjoyable, beginning with our main characters, who are quite an adorable duo. They keep the story from getting too dreary and also keep the reader entertained. Another plus point is that the author makes their voices distinct so as to not confuse them. Also with the other POV characters, they are quite individualistic and also make the story that much more intriguing. Ultimately this story is about wills and the deception that people engage in. With Isabel and Jacques, it’s all about their skills in fooling people into believing whatever they want them to. With Daron, it’s basically about the kingdom and its needs, however what Daron thinks what’s best for the kingdom might not be entirely correct.

Amaury and Franseza aren’t given that much space but their motivations and instincts are quite clear to discern. The story is quite fast paced and has a reasonable amount of twists that will keep the readers wanting to know how it will all end. A trick the author utilizes is the use of flashbacks before the start of the chapters, which further help in fleshing out the story and the characters. Another plus point is that the world setting which includes air ships, guns and a remarkable type of creature that the readers will have to find out more on their own. The world technology level is set about a pre-industrial level and the characters and world seems to be based on French culture which is a slightly refreshing change from the usual British one.

I thought this book was a fun read that offered some remarkable twists and ended the tale on a strong note. The ending however also lends to a sequel should the author ever want to revisit the world but the ending I must say is a proper one and the story can be considered complete. In the age of numerous series, it’s very refreshing to see a proper standalone story and in this case, it was good to see a different story from an author whom I have very high expectations for.

CONCLUSION: The Northern Sunrise by Rob J. Hayes is a surprisingly fun thriller even though it deals with deception, spy craft and other dastardly activities. Rob J. Hayes certainly is his own writer and know how to buck reader expectations and give a story which while different is no less a pageturner.
Friday, April 11, 2014

Bird Box by Josh Malerman (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Page
Pre-0rder the book HERE

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Close your eyes and imagine the basso sound of voiceover icon Don LaFontaine intoning, “In a world gone mad…” and that is pretty much where Bird Box begins. Open your eyes and go mad. Kill others, yourself. Can you keep from peeking? For how long? In Josh Malerman’s post-apocalyptic, eye-opening scare-scape, something happened. An invasion? Some natural phenomenon? No one is really certain. But what has become clear is that anyone who steps outside with their eyes open goes insane, not just gibbering or confused, but violently and destructively, homicidally mad.

In the near-future today of the story, Malorie is a young mother, with two small children in her charge. She has been training them for over four years, to hear, with a sensitivity and acuity more usually associated with flying mammals. They embark on a river journey to what she hopes is a safe haven, twenty miles away, blindfolded. Any noise could be someone, or something following them. She must rely on the skill she has rigorously drilled into the boy and girl every day to help guide them, and alert them to danger. And we must wonder if the destination she aims for will offer relief or some version of Mistah Kurtz.

Chapters alternate, mostly, between the river journey and Malorie’s back story. We follow her from when The Problem began, seeing death and destruction in first a few isolated locations, then spreading everywhere, seeing loved ones succumb, then finding a place to live, a refuge, with others, and watch as they cope, or fail.

In horror stories, it helps to have an appealing hero. I am sure most of us have seen our share of splatter films in which the demise of each obnoxious teen is met with cheers rather than with dismay. The other sort is of the Wait until Dark variety, in which our heart goes out to the Audrey Hepburn character beset by dark forces. Bird Box is the latter type. Malorie is a very sympathetic character, an everywoman trying her best under ridiculous circumstances, more the Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) of Nightmare On Elm Street or the Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) of Halloween, than the Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) of Alien, but Malorie does what she must to survive and to prepare with patience and diligence to sally forth against the unknown.

Malerman was bitten by the horror bug as an early teen:

"My big introduction was Twilight Zone: the Movie, the first horror movie I ever saw. After that came Saturday Shockers and sneaking in whatever I could at a friend’s house (Faces of Death, PsychoBlaculaProm Night.) I was also reading a lot. There’s a great period of horror fiction history, before the novel-boom of the 70’s spearheaded by Rosemary’s Baby, The Other, and The Exorcist, in which the short story ruled the genre. That period is golden and completely bursting with ideas. I read M.R. James, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Blackwood, Bierce, et al. When you first approach it, the genre, it feels infinite, but it’s not. So, come high school, I was trying to write my own scary stories, weird poems, strange tales." (from Detroit CBS Local news interview)

He likes to write with horror movie soundtracks on. And he is a musical sort as well, singing and playing in the band The High Strung. In fact, fans of Shameless, on Showtime, have already been exposed to Malerman’s work, as the writer and performer of that show’s theme song.

The dynamics of the house-full of refugees in the back story will feel familiar. Who to let in, or not, concerns over sharing limited resources, discussions over what adventuresome risks might or might not be worth taking re looking toward the future, or in trying to learn more about the cause of their situation. One might be forgiven for seeing here a societal microcosm, but I do not really think this was what Malerman was on about. He does offer a bit of a larger, thematic view though, tied to the central image of the book, which definitely adds to the heft of the story. A wondering at more existential questions:

 "She thinks of the house as one big box. She wants out of this box. Tom and Jules, outside, are still in this box. The entire globe is shut in. The world is confined to the same cardboard box that houses the birds outside. Malorie understands that Tom is looking for a way to open the lid. He’s looking for a way out. But she wonders if there’s not a second lid above this one, then a third above that. Boxed in, she thinks. Forever."

You really want Malorie to reach safety with the children, but there is a gauntlet to be run, and there is no certainty that any of them will make it. The dangers are human, natural and eldritch, and I mean that in a very Lovecraftian way. You will definitely not want to put Bird Box down once you pick it up.

This is a very scary, and gripping novel. If you are reading on the train, you may miss your stop. If you are reading at bedtime, you will definitely miss a few winks, and might want to sleep with the lights on after you finish.

A generic problem I have with the book is that the dark elements here sometimes tend to step back when they have decided advantages, failing to make the most (or worst as the case may be) of their positions. It was not obvious to me that there was some point being made by these unexpected choices. Nevertheless, Malerman takes the notion of the unseen and pushes readers to create the scariest thing of all, that which lurks in the imagination.

CONCLUSION: It is not at all dangerous to see how much fun this book is. Usually it is considered a good thing to think outside the box, but in this case it is clearly a far, far better thing that Malerman has done his thinking inside one.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Josh Malerman picture courtesy of  Sara Castillo and Fearnet.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Guest Review: Harry Potter and The Goblet Of Fire by J.K. Rowling (reviewed by Achala Upendran)


Official Author Website
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Chamber Of Secrets
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Harry Potter and The Prisoner Of Azkaban

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Every hero reaches a watershed moment in his development. Whether it was Achilles losing Patroclus in Homer’s Iliad, Frodo deciding to carry the Ring to Mordor or Arthur drawing out the Sword in the Stone, something happens that sets them on a journey that will result, ultimately, in their being celebrated and placed among their fellows in the halls of legend. For Harry Potter, that moment comes in his fourth year at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is, thus far into the series, the most widespread of the books. It moves out of Hogwarts far more than its predecessors, with nearly one fifth of the book’s action taking place before Harry even reaches school. What looks like Harry’s dream summer rapidly devolves into a nightmarish adventure; a trip to the Quidditch World Cup final sees not just terrorist activity in the form of Muggle torture, but Voldemort’s mark appears for the first time in thirteen years. Once back at Hogwarts, the excitement shows no signs of abating. The Triwizard Tournament, a competition held between three wizarding schools, is set to take place here, and someone has entered Harry’s name as Champion for Hogwarts. The dangerous nature of the Tournament’s three tasks would seem to indicate that whoever did put him down did not do so entirely out of a desire to see him shine.

Meanwhile, dark things continue to take place outside the school walls. Harry’s dreams have also taken a curious turn, showing him glimpses of a large, sprawling house in a little village in the countryside, a house where a certain Dark Lord may just be residing, planning his (in inimitable Dark Lord style) return.

In Goblet of Fire, Rowling really works the concept of a ‘wizarding world’. We meet wizards from across the continent: students of France’s Beauxbatons, Slavic-appearing Durmstrang and are also treated to a brief cameo by the Bulgarian Minister for Magic. Granted, Rowling doesn’t step beyond Europe even in these jaunts (something I really wish she’d done, if only because it might have been interesting to see how other, predominantly ‘non-white’ cultures used magic and whether Latin is the universal language of spellcraft), but this is better than nothing.


However, it must be noted that the foreign wizards, to a great extent, remain stereotypically ‘French’ or Eastern European. The Beauxbatons students are represented by Fleur Delacour who is not only part-Veela (a sort of alluring, siren-like creature), but amazingly attractive as well as rather emotionally intense. Viktor Krum, the Durmstrang champion, is a silent, brooding presence, characterized by a slouching gait and surly expression. The movie version of the book capitalized on this sort of cultural stereotyping, turning the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang into single sex schools: for girls and boys respectively, thus hyping the ‘femininity’ of French culture and the aggressive masculinity that simplistic popular culture representations accord, more often than not, to the Baltic and Slavic states.

My quibbles with Rowling’s cultural representations aside, what is perhaps most compelling about Goblet as a story is the manner in which it weaves together the almost mythic nature of the contest being staged in Hogwarts and the political and social changes taking place outside of it. The outside world has never been more intrinsically involved in the school, its greatest representative being Rita Skeeter, a reporter for the wizarding newspaper, The Daily Prophet. Rita is a particularly repellent character, and functions as Rowling’s brilliant spoof of the tabloid journalist. Constantly poking around Hogwarts for scandalous scoops on Harry and his friends, Rita depicts the very real manner in which the media can and is used to shape political and personal opinion. She also succeeds in highlighting another aspect of the racial tensions that riddle the wizarding world. Not only are people discriminated against on the basis of their wizarding genealogy or lack thereof, but also whether and to what degree they harbour ‘non-human’ blood. Harry’s world certainly does have a lot of issues that are not visible at first glance.

Finally, Goblet marks a transition moment not only for Harry, but also for his best friends, particularly Ron. For the first time, we see serious fissures in the trio. Certainly Ron and Hermione have had fights and fall-outs earlier in the series, and even Harry has had occasion to be more than a little upset with her, but now we see him have a very serious disagreement with Ron. Until this point, Ron has functioned as a source of unquestioning support for Harry, ever faithful and strong at his side (Hermione has shown much more tendency to disapprove and think independently). Finally tired of being ‘second best’, Ron’s insecurity boils over, resulting in a break between the two. The intensity of their friendship is well evidenced in the complete bafflement and anger that Harry manifests at this point; Rowling even describes him as ‘hating’ Ron – a strong emotion that has never reared its head until this point, and certainly never during his spats with Hermione.

Of course, being teenagers, the two make up soon enough, but this break sets an important precedent in Ron’s character arc. Readers can no longer dismiss him as ‘Man Friday’, as naught more than a faithful sidekick. Honestly, which fourteen-year-old boy wouldn’t be jealous of his famous best friend? Rowling thus adds more than a dash of realism to her fantastic world, making her characters extremely relatable and explaining, perhaps, the books’ enduring popularity.

CONCLUSION: If Goblet marks the start of something new for Harry, it is also the beginning to something new for his creator. With this book, Rowling steps firmly into the epic fantasy terrain, no longer content to play in the kiddie pool of boarding school/mystery narrative. Her hero is more insecure, his friends less than fully supportive and the outside world no longer content to remain on the ‘outside’. It’s time for Harry to let go of childhood and take on more than his fair share. Dark Lords, after all, do not remain out of action for long.

*----------*----------*----------*



GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Achala Upendran is a freelance editor and writer based in India. She blogs about fantasy literature, with a special focus on the Harry Potter series, at Where the Dog Star rages. You can also follow her on Twitter at @AchalaUpendran

Achala will be reviewing all of the seven Harry Potter books, so enjoy her thoughts as she brings a special focus on the series, characters and world that have enchanted so many of us.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Shorter Reviews of Six 2014 Novels: R.J. Bennett, R. Ford, S. Saylor, J. Sprunk, A. Furst and A. Roberts (with comments by Liviu Suciu)



"A densely atmospheric and intrigue-filled fantasy novel of living spies, dead gods, buried histories, and a mysterious, ever-changing city-from one of America's most acclaimed young SF writers.

Years ago, the city of Bulikov wielded the powers of the Gods to conquer the world. But after its divine protectors were mysteriously killed, the conqueror has become the conquered; the city's proud history has been erased and censored, progress has left it behind, and it is just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power. Into this musty, backward city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the quiet mousy woman is just another lowly diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, Shara is one of her country's most accomplished spymasters-dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of a seemingly harmless historian. As Shara pursues the mystery through the ever-shifting physical and political geography of the city, she begins to suspect that the beings who once protected Bulikov may not be as dead as they seem-and that her own abilities might be touched by the divine as well."

So far the biggest positive surprise of the year for me and the current top fantasy for 2014 - though "heavy hitters" from A. Ryan, B. Weeks, D. Wexler and A. Tchaikovsky are due in the summer and I expect at least one of those to get to the top - Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs is one of the rare secondary world fantasy novels that succeed superbly at being different and showing that it is possible to do new things and not recycle the faux-medieval, far eastern, classical or Victorian settings as the genre tends to do over and over, however well done on occasion.

As lots of things happen and I do not want to spoil the twists, I would just mention that there is everything one wants - drama, romance, battles, fights, mysteries, amazing world building and great characters who stay with you.
 
Regarding originality, the last fantasies I felt similarly about were The Last Page by A. Huso, Thunderer by F. Gilman and Perdido Street Station/The Scar by C. Mieville.

Here is just a small taste of the wonders of the book - an extract from a list of miraculous things now stowed away in a secret warehouse whose content are of course of great interest to our heroes and villains:

"368. Shelf C5-158. Glass of Kivrey: Small marble bead that supposedly contains the sleeping body of Saint Kivrey, a Jukoshtani priest who changed gender every night as part of one of Jukov’s miracles. Miraculous nature—undetermined.

369. Shelf C5-159. Small iron key: Name is unknown, but when used on any door the door sometimes opens onto an unidentified tropical forest. Pattern has yet to be determined. Still miraculous.

370. Shelf C5-160. Bust of Ahanas: Once cried tears that possessed some healing properties. Users of the tears also had a tendency to levitate. No longer miraculous.

371. Shelf C5-161. Nine stone cups: if left in a place where they receive sun, these cups would refill with goat’s milk every dawn. No longer miraculous.

372. Shelf C5-162. Ear of Jukov: an engraved, stone door frame that contains no door. Iron wheels on the base. Speculated that it has a twin, and no matter where the other Ear is, if the doors are operated in the correct manner one can pass through one door and come out the other. We speculate that the twin has been destroyed. No longer miraculous.

373. Shelf C5-163. Edicts of Kolkan, books 783 to 797: fifteen tomes mostly dictating Kolkan’s attitudes on dancing. Total weight: 378 pounds. Not miraculous, but content is definitely dangerous.

374. Shelf C5-164. Glass sphere. Contained a small pond and overhanging tree Ahanas was fond of visiting when she felt troubled. No longer miraculous" 
 
************************************************************* 


  
"The King is dead. His daughter, untested and alone, now wears the Steel Crown. And a vast horde is steadily carving a bloody road south, hell-bent on razing Steelhaven to the ground

...or the city will fall

Before the city faces the terror that approaches, it must crush the danger already lurking within its walls. But will the cost of victory be as devastating as that of defeat?"

The Shattered Crown by Richard Ford is the second Steelhaven novel after The Herald of the Storm which was a surprise hit of 2013 due to its mixing of the familiar with a somewhat outrageous twisting of it in the various story-lines that follow the multiple and wonderfully diverse in all ways cast.

I was wondering a little if that was a one time trick only as there is a clear logic to the "usual" fantasy storyline - whether new gritty and ambiguous or older traditional with clear sides - and what reads new in a first series novel can look gimmicky and become tired fast in a second, but The Shattered Crown managed to deliver another superb reading experience one could not put down.

This time I would say that the novel is less interested in twisting the familiar tropes and more in brutal no let up action that has our main characters in continual dangers as the outside threat of the dark magic invader army becomes imminent; sides are drawn, agents are exposed or make their final move and the novel bursts with action from page one to the last. 

Overall. another highly recommended installment of this wonderful series.

 ************************************************************* 



"In 88 B.C. it seems as if all the world is at war. From Rome to Greece and to Egypt itself, most of civilization is on the verge of war. The young Gordianus—a born-and-raised Roman citizen—is living in Alexandria, making ends meet by plying his trade of solving puzzles and finding things out for pay. He whiles away his time with his slave Bethesda, waiting for the world to regain its sanity. But on the day Gordianus turns twenty-two, Bethesda is kidnapped by brigands who mistake her for a rich man’s mistress. If Gordianus is to find and save Bethesda, who has come to mean more to him than even he suspected, he must find the kidnappers before they realize their mistake and cut their losses. Using all the skills he learned from his father, Gordianus must track them down and convince them that he can offer something of enough value in exchange for Bethesda’s release.

As the streets of Alexandria slowly descend into chaos, and the citizenry begin to riot with rumors of an impending invasion by Ptolmey’s brother, Gordianus finds himself in the midst of a very bold and dangerous plot—the raiding and pillaging of the golden sarcophagus of Alexander the Great himself.

New York Times bestselling author Steven Saylor returns, chronicling the early years of his detective, Gordianus, before he assumed the title of The Finder. Raiders of the Nile is the latest in his much-loved series of mysteries set in the late Roman Republic."


Raiders of the Nile by Steven Saylor is the 2nd young Gordianus book and it is excellent stuff and another top 25 of mine for 2014, as it is more coherent and unitary than the short fiction like The Seven Wonders, though it continues strands of the storyline there.

The novel is also much more adventure oriented and Gordianus plays action hero, fights some bandits and joins some others, befriends a lion and even uses his budding observation skills to inadvertently wreak havoc.

The postscript of the author - in the form of a q/a - explains his thinking behind the structure of the young Gordianus books and I definitely want more, though the long promised March Ides book would do quite well too. Any Gordianus will do actually as my older post about this wonderful series explains why!

As an aside, in the upcoming Rogues anthology, Steven Saylor has a young Gordianus story that uses the 40's pulp sf heroes Fafrhrd and the Gray Mouser as legendary beings in the classical worlds, showing again how sff interacts with other genres in occasionally surprising ways,

*************************************************************



"Set in a richly-imagined world, this action-heavy fantasy epic and series opener is like a sword-and-sorcery Spartacus.

It starts with a shipwreck following a magical storm at sea. Horace, a soldier from the west, had joined the Great Crusade against the heathens of Akeshia after the deaths of his wife and son from plague. When he washes ashore, he finds himself at the mercy of the very people he was sent to kill, who speak a language and have a culture and customs he doesn't even begin to understand.

Not long after, Horace is pressed into service as a house slave. But this doesn't last. The Akeshians discover that Horace was a latent sorcerer, and he is catapulted from the chains of a slave to the halls of power in the queen's court. Together with Jirom, an ex-mercenary and gladiator, and Alyra, a spy in the court, he will seek a path to free himself and the empire's caste of slaves from a system where every man and woman must pay the price of blood or iron. Before the end, Horace will have paid dearly in both."

 Blood and Iron by Jon Sprunk is a reasonably well executed version of the "humble stranger turns out to have great powers in a different world" version of action adventure fantasy, engagingly written and refreshingly modern in attitudes and language, but not bringing anything new, while the characters and narrative energy on which such stuff depends the most are reasonably interesting to have kept me reading, but not outstandingly so to keep me overtly interested in what comes next. 

Non stop action where the main hero seems not to have any time to do anything but keep saving the world, or at least his current slice at the time...

Overall, a B plus level pulp fantasy which lacks that extra to raise it to the top so far, the way Brent Weeks' novels - by far the best practitioner of this fantasy subgenre of today - do.

*************************************************************



"Paris, 1938. As the shadow of war darkens Europe, democratic forces on the Continent struggle against fascism and communism, while in Spain the war has already begun. Alan Furst, whom Vince Flynn has called “the most talented espionage novelist of our generation,” now gives us a taut, suspenseful, romantic, and richly rendered novel of spies and secret operatives in Paris and New York, in Warsaw and Odessa, on the eve of World War II.
 
Cristián Ferrar, a brilliant and handsome Spanish émigré, is a lawyer in the Paris office of a prestigious international law firm. Ferrar is approached by the embassy of the Spanish Republic and asked to help a clandestine agency trying desperately to supply weapons to the Republic’s beleaguered army—an effort that puts his life at risk in the battle against fascism.
 
Joining Ferrar in this mission is a group of unlikely men and women: idealists and gangsters, arms traders and aristocrats and spies. From shady Paris nightclubs to white-shoe New York law firms, from brothels in Istanbul to the dockyards of Poland, Ferrar and his allies battle the secret agents of Hitler and Franco. And what allies they are: there’s Max de Lyon, a former arms merchant now hunted by the Gestapo; the Marquesa Maria Cristina, a beautiful aristocrat with a taste for danger; and the Macedonian Stavros, who grew up “fighting Bulgarian bandits. After that, being a gangster was easy.” Then there is Eileen Moore, the American woman Ferrar could never forget.
 
In Midnight in Europe, Alan Furst paints a spellbinding portrait of a continent marching into a nightmare—and the heroes and heroines who fought back against the darkness."

After Mission to Paris, the superb previous novel of Alan Furst from his long running Night Soldiers series of late 1930's suspense with different main cast but keeping quite a few secondary characters around,  Midnight in Europe fails to repeat its success despite an exciting start. 

The atmosphere is there and the main character is the vintage non-military Furst one - successful early 40's professional with a taste for women and the good life, but also quietly decided to oppose the creeping menace of Hitlerism - however there is something that doesn't gel together as in the more successful installments. 

Still a page turner I couldn't put down, but overall a B plus Furst versus the A+ of his best like Dark Star - which a bit surprisingly is mentioned as inspiration by RJ Bennett for his City of Stairs novel above - one more example how sff and other genres interact and why "narrowness in reviewing" is self-defeating in many ways...

 *************************************************************



"It is 1955. Funded, in part, by a reclusive Swiss millionaire and working -- it is claimed -- from Nemo's actual blueprints discovered in India, the French Navy build a replica Nautilus. Crewed with sailors and scientists, and commanded by the short-tempered Captain Mason, it is launched in great secrecy from Bayonne.

Almost as soon as it is underwater, however, and having passed beyond the Continental Shelf, an accident (or sabotage!) sends it plummeting towards the ocean floor. The crew desperately attempt repairs as the pressure builds, threatening to crush the entire craft.

But then something very strange happens: despite the fact that they are still descending, the pressure equalises. The descent continues for days; soon passing the 5000m depth that ought to mark the bottom of the ocean. As days turn to weeks, the mystery of their plight only grows deeper: for they pass hundreds and soon thousands kilometres of 'depth' with no ill effects.

Other constraints press upon them: particularly the need to find food, and conserve fuel. Pressures amongst the all-male crew intensify as well, approaching breaking point as weeks pass, and the depth becomes measurable in millions of kilometres. Are they dead, trapped in an eternal descent to Hell? Have they passed through some portal into a realm of infinite water? Or have they somehow stumbled upon -- or been deliberately lead to, via the mysterious Indian blueprint -- some truth about the world too profound even to be measured in trillions?

Then, when they think all hope is lost, and as they approach the trillionth kilometre of depth, they see light below them ..."

Usually Adam Roberts' novels are in my top 25 of the year, but Twenty Trillion Leagues Under the Sea  was very uneven: as a Vernian pastiche including the superb drawings by Mahendra Singh, it was quite in the spirit, from the lack of female characters, to name checking, to crazy but scientific jargon adventure. 

Unfortunately, it mostly remained that and the genre has moved a lot since the 19th century so the novel fell flat as modern sf which was a bit surprising since Adam Roberts also wrote Swiftly (a Gulliverian pastiche) and Splinter (more Verne) that worked very well, with Splinter one of my huge favorites from the author's work.

On the bright side, the novel was not an utter disaster like the Null-A sequel by J.C. Wright, as its style was good and the pages turned by themselves.

Overall a minor Roberts and one hopes the upcoming Bete will revert to form.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

NEWS: Aghast by George C. Cotronis and The Mahaelian Chronicles by Dave de Burgh.


George C. Cotronis is an author, illustrator and the chief editor of KRAKEN PRESS. As an illustrator, he has done cover work for publishers such as Permuted Press, Ragnarok Publications, Evil Hat Games, Pelgrane Press, Cubicle 7 and Nightscape Press.

Currently he is running a kickstarter for his newest creation AGHAST: A Journal Of The Darkly Fantastic. Here’s what it’s about:

"AGHAST is an illustrated bi-annual journal of horror and dark fantasy short fiction. It will be available online, as well as in print and digital formats (eBook $5, print $10). This Kickstarter will help us launch the journal and publish the first few issues."

"AGHAST will feature original short fiction. Each issue will be between 30k and 50k words. It is a paying market. Each short story will be accompanied by an illustration by artist George Cotronis. Interior illustrations will be in black and white."

AGHAST will be edited by George, and assisted by slush reader Jeff Barr. The following authors have linked themselves to this project:
 - Gemma Files
 - Jonathan Mayberry
 - Jeff Strand
 - Tim Waggoner
 - Megan Arkenberg
 - And many more to come

So check out this truly fantastic project and please pitch in if you like the darker side of fiction.


It’s always heartening to see fellow bloggers take a step towards the writing side and even more so when they are one of the kind folk such as Dave de Burgh, who is the mind behind the excellent DaveBrendon's Fantasy & SciFi Weblog. I was introduced to Dave and his blog when he raved about The Painted Man by Peter V. Brett. After reading the debut, I couldn't agree more.

Dave has since then taken leaps and bounds as that was his first review and gone on to write an epic fantasy series of his own. The first book and a novelette (prequel) recently got a cover reveal and I wanted to share it with all our readers

Betrayal’s Shadow is his first novel, and is book one in The Mahaelian Chronicles. A Song Of Sacrifice is the prequel novelette, which will be released later this month. Both the books and the remainder of the series (consisting of two more planned books and a couple more prequel stories) will be published by Fox & Raven and here’s the blurb of Betrayal’s Shadow:


"Betrayal casts long shadows – none know this better than Brice Serholm. As a decorated general in the kingdom’s elite Blade Knights, Brice had to overcome the tain of treason and betrayal to attain his rank."

"When Brice and a force of knights are sent on a mission to investigate claims of rebellion in one of Avidar’s provinces. Their ships are magically attacked, and the resulting investigation tests every oath Brice swore before his king."

"Meanwhile, an inhuman infant escapes the capital’s slave hold. The King’s mistress comes into possession of a unique dagger and Del’Ahrid, the king’s most trusted first advisor, begins to question everything he built his honor and life upon."

"Events are in motion that will test every man, woman and child – and a conflict is coming that will shake the kingdom to its very foundations. So begins the Mahaelian chronicles…"

Also the fantastic cover to A Song Of Sacrifice was done by Lucas Gill, of Gill Designs and will be released in the later part of April so keep an eye out for that. Lastly the epic looking cover to Betrayal’s Shadow was by Rashieq Sasman, and Hannes Strydom did the cover design.

So what do you think, beautiful aren’t they? Also keep an eye out in the future for reviews of both titles as well as an interview with the man of the hour Dave de Burgh.
Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Cress: Lunar Chronicles 3" by Marissa Meyer (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)






Visit Marissa Meyer's Official Site Here
Read FBC's Review of Cinder Here
Read FBC's Review of Scarlet Here

OVERVIEW: In this third book in the Lunar Chronicles, Cinder and Captain Thorne are fugitives on the run, now with Scarlet and Wolf in tow. Together, they’re plotting to overthrow Queen Levana and her army.

Their best hope lies with Cress, a girl imprisoned on a satellite since childhood who's only ever had her netscreens as company. All that screen time has made Cress an excellent hacker. Unfortunately, she’s just received orders from Levana to track down Cinder and her handsome accomplice.

When a daring rescue of Cress goes awry, the group is separated. Cress finally has her freedom, but it comes at a high price. Meanwhile, Queen Levana will let nothing prevent her marriage to Emperor Kai. Cress, Scarlet, and Cinder may not have signed up to save the world, but they may be the only hope the world has.

FORMAT: Cress is the third book in the Lunar Chronicles. Cinder is the first book and Scarlet is the second book. It is a YA novel that is a unique re-telling of the famous Rapunzel story. There are elements of sci-fi, fantasy, magic, political intrigue, adventure, mystery and romance.

Cress is 550 pages and was published February 4, 2014 by Feiwel & Friends.

ANALYSIS: I admit it. When I read Cinder – Book 1 of the Lunar Chronicles – I wasn't impressed. There was an idea there and I felt the need to add all these new technologies and illnesses overshadowed from how great the book could be.

I still kept up with the series and Scarlet was a little bit better and showed just enough improvement that I continued on to Cress. All I can say is I am glad that I kept up with the series, because Cress was the book that did 'it' for me and now has me hooked.

Looking back, I think the Lunar Chronicles is a series that gets better as you read it. Cinder is filled with so many new and interesting things that it is almost overwhelming. Scarlet, keeps those new things, yet focuses more on developing all of the characters. Cress sort of ties up a lot of loose ends and questions that I had and really pushes the main plot – the war – forward.

Cress introduces a handful of new characters to the mix, which takes some time getting used to while reading. Meyer doesn't just throw a character out there and hope readers 'click' with them. She takes a character and really spends time developing them, building up a background/story for them, and really just lets the character grow/change before the reader's eyes.

Just because there are new characters doesn't mean the old ones have gone stale or stalled in terms of development. All of the characters, even loveable Iko, still continue to grow. Cinder still struggles with her new found powers/background, Throne is faced with new challenges, and Kai is slowly coming to terms with the arrangements that he has made and what his future holds.

One of the biggest highlights of Cress – and this entire series – is that Meyer has taken well-loved and very familiar fairy tales and made them her own. While reading these books, you get a familiar sense that you know the story, but it isn't the same old, same old. There is something new and unique added to each and every character. This could be a different background and new personality trait, no matter what it is different.

Another highlight is that Meyer takes readers to new, exciting areas within the same 'universe'. Cress is mostly held within a remote African village. This keeps the series 'fresh' and exciting.

Does Cress have some flaws? Of course. Throne, one of my favorite characters, seems to do a 180 in personality. I found him lacking some of his former 'spark', which was a little disappointing.

I also found that Cress is a typical 'mid'-series book. It is designed to move into the big war between Earth/Lunar, but it doesn't start the war. This means there is a lot of plotting, scheming, and mindless wandering. That isn't to say it isn't good, but it is clear this book is meant to leave readers wanting more.

A few chapters to the end, Cress introduces Winter to readers. Winter is mad as a hatter and probably one of the characters I am most excited to explore in the next novel. She's crazy – or so you might think. Giving readers just a small taste of this character was brilliant. It made you want more of her, yet you'll have to wait till the next book for more.

Overall, Cress was a good read. In fact, better than I expected. The quirks and questions that I – and many others – raised throughout the series are slowly starting to get answered. Meyer continues to grow as a writer, while keeping her ability to bring new takes on old classics.

If you love this series, Cress certainly won't disappoint. If you haven't tried this series and love fairytale retellings or are just looking for something new, I recommend you try this. If you were like me and found Cinder lacking, I'd say to give it a try again because this series certain gets better as it goes along.

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Shattered Crown”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Cauldron of Ghosts”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Rex Regis”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “The Great King”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Like A Mighty Army”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Fortune's Pawn”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about
Review HERE