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Monday, December 31, 2007

"Lye Street" by Alan Campbell

Order “Lye StreetHERE

One of the earliest reviews that I ever wrote for Fantasy Book Critic was for Alan Campbell’s debut “Scar Night” (Reviewed HERE). Looking back on it, it probably seems like I didn’t like the book very much, but in reality, I loved the concept, loved the imagination, and was just disappointed because I thought the novel could have been so much better. Regardless, the sequel to “Scar Night”, titled “Iron Angel” (April 29, 2008)—also known as “Penny Devil” (May 2, 2008) in the UK—remains one of my most anticipated releases of the New Year, and to help alleviate the waiting time for the follow-up, Mr. Campbell has graced us with “Lye Street” (January 8, 2008)...

Lye Street” is a 135 page novella exclusively available from
Subterranean Press in two unique, limited editions—a fully cloth bound hardcover signed by the author (numbered to 2000) and a signed leatherbound copy housed in a custom traycase (numbered to 26). Cover artwork is provided by Dave McKean—longtime Neil Gaiman collaborator (The Sandman, Hellblazer) and noted CD cover artist (Tori Amos, Stabbing Westward, Fear Factory)—while the wonderful interior illustrations are done by the award-winning Bob Eggleton.

One of the best things about “Scar Night” was the thrilling prologue which first introduced the demonic Carnival, a deranged and immortal angel who feeds on the blood of victims every ‘scar night’. “Lye Street” is the prequel to that prologue and ends just where “Scar Night” begins. Since Carnival was one of my favorite characters from the book, I found the novella to be particularly satisfying especially because we get to delve a bit deeper into the renegade angel’s intriguing madness. Specifically, we discover that in addition to the ritual ‘scar night’ slayings, Carnival has also been regularly murdering the descendants of a certain family every fifty years for five generations. Sal Greene is the next target on that list, but the old prospector isn’t going without a fight…he’s hired a phantasmacist to summon the demon Basilis—formerly Ayen’s Hound Master and Heaven’s Lord of Warfare—to kill the scarred angel. Alas, plans never go quite the way you expect them to, and Sal soon finds himself on a strange quest to free the demon’s physical aspects from the memories of his hounds. Meanwhile, Presbyter Scrimlock has learned of Carnival’s vendetta against the Bucklestrappe family and uses that knowledge to set a trap to destroy the angel once and for all…

Writing a novella or short story is obviously different from writing a long-form novel, especially one that’s part of a series, and not every writer can pull it off. Fortunately, Alan Campbell seems to have a knack for the format and delivers a story that was well-written, fun and interesting—it’s kind of like a gothic, grown-up fairy tale that Neil Gaiman or Tim Burton would cook up—featuring the visually arresting imagery of the city Deepgate and a macabre sense of humor that reminded me of Steven Erikson’s Bauchelain & Korbal Broach novellas. In fact, I was really surprised by how amusing the novella could be at times, which was something that “Scar Night” lacked, and I’d love to see more of that same wit in the sequel :)

In the end, I really enjoyed “Lye Street”. Part of it of course is returning to the unforgettable world of Deepgate and learning more about Carnival, but also a lot of the problems that plagued the debut are nowhere to be found, and in a couple of areas, the novella actually excels over the book. So, if you were a fan of “Scar Night”, I’m pretty confident that you’ll like “Lye Street”, which is an excellent companion piece to Mr. Campbell’s debut while whetting our appetites until the release of “Iron Angel/Penny Devil”. And if you haven’t read “Scar Night” yet, then no worries because “Lye Street” is also the perfect introduction to author Alan Campbell and the Deepgate Codex
Friday, December 28, 2007

Fantasy Book Critic's 2007 Favorites

When running Dynamic Rock, I was never a fan of the yearly ‘Best Of’ lists. The way I saw it, how could I possibly judge what were a year’s ‘Best Albums’ if I hadn’t listened to every single record that was released that year. I couldn’t, and I feel the same way towards literature. So instead, I’m providing readers with a list of my ‘Favorite’ books of 2007, based on the novels that were released this year and that I actually read. I’ve broken my ‘Favorites’ up into categories since there were so many titles to choose from, and also threw in a couple of other groupings like ‘Favorite’ cover art and books that I wanted to read this year, to spice things up. Unfortunately, what I didn’t get to do was provide rankings and commentary on the books that made the list, but perhaps next year. Also, by no means is this a definitive list. I’m sure there are many titles that I’ve overlooked or forgotten and for that I apologize. In the end, I know it’s not much, but hopefully it will make for some entertaining reading over the holiday break :)

2007 Favorites – Fantasy:

Acacia” by David Anthony Durham (Reviewed HERE)
Auralia’s Colors” by
Jeffrey Overstreet (Reviewed HERE)
God’s Demon” by
Wayne Barlowe (Reviewed HERE)
Heaven’s Net Is Wide” by
Lian Hearn (Reviewed HERE)
Night of Knives” by
Ian Cameron Esslemont (Reviewed HERE)*
Seeing Redd” by
Frank Beddor (Reviewed HERE)
Red Seas Under Red Skies” by
Scott Lynch (Reviewed HERE)
The Blade Itself” by
Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed HERE)**
The Book of Joby” by
Mark J. Ferrari (Reviewed HERE)
The Court of the Air” by
Stephen Hunt (Reviewed HERE)***
The Name of the Wind” by
Patrick Rothfuss (Reviewed HERE)
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin & Spice” by
Catherynne M. Valente (Reviewed HERE)
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy” edited by
George Mann (Reviewed HERE)
The Sword-Edged Blonde” by
Alex Bledsoe (Reviewed HERE)
Thunderer” by
Felix Gilman (Reviewed HERE)

*Originally published in 2004 as a limited hardcover, then in 2006 as a trade paperback
**US debut
***Released in UK Only in 2007

2007 Favorites – Science Fiction:

Black Man/Thirteen” by Richard K. Morgan (Reviewed HERE)
Dust” by
Elizabeth Bear (Reviewed HERE)
Empyre” by
Josh Conviser (Reviewed HERE)
End of the World Blues” by
Jon Courtenay Grimwood (Reviewed HERE)
Hilldiggers” by
Neal Asher (Reviewed HERE)
Radio Freefall” by
Matthew Jarpe (Reviewed HERE)
Stealing Light” by
Gary Gibson (Reviewed HERE)
The Dreaming Void” by
Peter F. Hamilton (Reviewed HERE)*
War Machine” by
Andy Remic (Reviewed HERE)

*Released in UK Only in 2007

2007 Favorites – Misc. (Horror, Urban Fantasy, Comic Books, Graphic Novels and anything else that didn’t fit in the other categories):

Baltimore, or The Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire” by Mike Mignola & Christopher Golden
Crooked Little Vein” by
Warren Ellis (Reviewed HERE)
Dark Tower: The Gunslinger Born” by
Stephen King, Peter David + Robin Furth
Daughter of Hounds” by
Caitlin R. Kiernan (Reviewed HERE)
Gentlemen of the Road” by
Michael Chabon (Reviewed HERE)
Half the Blood of Brooklyn” by
Charlie Huston (Reviewed HERE)
Soon I Will Be Invincible” by
Austin Grossman (Reviewed HERE)
The Arrival” by
Shaun Tan
The Bestiary” by
Nicholas Christopher (Reviewed HERE)
The Intruders” by
Michael Marshall (Reviewed HERE)
The Missing” by
Sarah Langan (Reviewed HERE)
The Shotgun Rule” by
Charlie Huston (Reviewed HERE)

2007 Favorites – Debuts:

Auralia’s Colors” by Jeffrey Overstreet (Reviewed HERE)
Crooked Little Vein” by
Warren Ellis (Reviewed HERE)
God’s Demon” by
Wayne Barlowe (Reviewed HERE)
Night of Knives” by
Ian Cameron Esslemont (Reviewed HERE)*
Radio Freefall” by
Matthew Jarpe (Reviewed HERE)
Soon I Will Be Invincible” by
Austin Grossman (Reviewed HERE)
The Blade Itself” by
Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed HERE)**
The Book of Joby” by
Mark J. Ferrari (Reviewed HERE)
The Devil You Know” by
Mike Carey (Reviewed HERE)**
The Name of the Wind” by
Patrick Rothfuss (Reviewed HERE)
The Sword-Edged Blonde” by
Alex Bledsoe (Reviewed HERE)
Thunderer” by
Felix Gilman (Reviewed HERE)

*Originally published in 2004 as a limited hardcover, then in 2006 as a trade paperback
**US debut


2007 Favorites – Covers:

Acacia” (German Version) artwork by Mikko Kinnunen (Reviewed HERE)
Bright of the Sky” artwork by
Stephan Martiniere
Crooked Little Vein” (
Subterranean Press Version) artwork by Siege (Reviewed HERE)
God’s Demon” artwork by
Wayne Barlowe (Reviewed HERE)
kop” artwork by
Chris McGrath (Reviewed HERE)
Kushiel’s Justice” artwork by
Cheryl Griesbach & Stanley Martucci (Reviewed HERE)
Queen of Candesce” artwork by
Stephan Martiniere
Seeing Redd” artwork by
Vance Kovacs (Reviewed HERE)
The Electric Church” artwork by
Jae Lee (Reviewed HERE)
The Orphan’s Tales: In the Cities of Coin & Spice” artwork by
Michael Komarck (Reviewed HERE)
The Solaris Book of New Fantasy” artwork by Jon Sullivan (Reviewed
HERE)
The Spiral Labyrinth” artwork by
Tom Kidd
The Sword-Edged Blonde” artwork by
Justin Sweet (Reviewed HERE)
The Summoner” artwork by
Michael Komarck (Reviewed HERE)
The Terror” artwork by
Erich Lessing (Reviewed HERE)
The Well of Ascension” artwork by
Jon Foster (Reviewed HERE)

2007 Wishlist (Books I wanted to read this year):

20th Century Ghosts” by Joe Hill
2012: The War for Souls” by
Whitley Strieber
A Sword From Red Ice” by
J.V. Jones
Axis” by
Robert Charles Wilson
Bang Bang” by
Theo Gangi
Before They Were Hanged” by
Joe Abercrombie
Brasyl” by
Ian McDonald
Bright of the Sky” by
Kay Kenyon
Confessor” by
Terry Goodkind
Darkness of the Light” by
Peter David
Dexter in the Dark” by
Jeff Lindsay
Dreamsongs: Volumes I + II” by
George R. R. Martin
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” by
J.K. Rowling
Inferno” edited by
Ellen Datlow
Ink” by
Hal Duncan
Jack Knife” by
Virginia Baker
Let Me In” by
John A. Lindqvist
Mainspring” by
Jay Lake
One For Sorrow” by
Christopher Barzak
Ragamuffin” by
Tobias S. Buckell
Reaper’s Gale” by
Steven Erikson
Scarlet” by
Stephen R. Lawhead
Spook Country” by
William Gibson
Territory” by
Emma Bull
The Children of Húrin
J.R.R. Tolkien
The Queen of Bedlam” by
Robert McCammon
The Queen of Wolves” by
Douglas Clegg
The Reincarnationist” by
M.J. Rose
The Seven Days of Peter Crumb” by
Jonny Glynn
The Spiral Labyrinth” by
Matthew Hughes
Queen of Candesce” by
Karl Schroeder

2008 Wishlist (Release Dates are tentative):

The Red Wolf Conspiracy” by Robert V.S. Redick (February 1, 2008-UK)
The Domino Men” by
Jonathan Barnes (February 21, 2008-UK)
Last Argument of Kings” by
Joe Abercrombie (March 20, 2008-UK)
Dark Wraith of Shannara” by
Terry Brooks (March 25, 2008)
The Born Queen” by
Greg Keyes (March 25, 2008)
Before They Are Hanged” by
Joe Abercrombie (March 25, 2008-US Debut)
The Lost Ones” by
Christopher Golden (March 25, 2008)
Infected” by
Scott Sigler (April 1, 2008)
The Line War” by
Neal Asher (April 4, 2008)
The Sharing Knife: Passage” by
Lois McMaster Bujold (April 22, 2008)
Iron Angel” by
Alan Campbell (April 29, 2008)
Fallen” by
Tim Lebbon (April 29, 2008)
The Kingdom Beyond the Waves” by
Stephen Hunt (May 6, 2008-UK)
Mind the Gap” by
Christopher Golden & Tim Lebbon (May 20, 2008)
The Unblemished” by
Conrad Williams (June 10, 2008-Virgin)
Kushiel’s Mercy” by
Jacqueline Carey (June 12, 2008)
Tigerheart: A Tale of the Anyplace” by
Peter David (June 17, 2008)
In Odd We Trust” by
Dean Koontz (June 24, 2008)
Escapement” by
Jay Lake (June 2008)
Hespira” by
Matthew Hughes (August 1, 2008)
Listener” by
Warren Ellis (August 5, 2008)
Toll the Hounds” by
Steven Erikson (August 11, 2008-UK)
Return of the Crimson Guard” by
Ian Cameron Esslemont (August 11, 2008-UK)
The Steel Remains” by
Richard K. Morgan (August 21, 2008)
An Autumn War” by
Daniel Abraham (TBA 2008)
The Hero of Ages” by
Brandon Sanderson (TBA 2008)
The Republic of Thieves” by
Scott Lynch (If it comes out in 2008)
Dean Koontz’sFrankenstein”, Jim Butcher’sThe Dresden Files” and George R. R. Martin’sWild Cards” from Dabel Brothers (TBA 2008)
Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Best of 2007 Essay compiled by Justin Allen

Official Justin Allen Website
Order “Slaves of the Shinar
HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s REVIEW of “Slaves of the Shinar
(Photo Credit: Eduardo Patino)

Remember when I mentioned HERE that I was working on something a little special for the End of the Year festivities… Well, included below is a little preview of what you can expect. It wasn’t what I had in mind when I asked Justin Allen—author of the debut novel “Slaves of the Shinar” (Reviewed HERE)—to participate, but I was so impressed with the article that I decided that it deserved its own post. So thank you Justin for going over and beyond what I asked of you, and I hope readers will appreciate your efforts. If not, at least give his books a try ;)

A Best of 2007 Essay compiled by Justin Allen

That any ‘Best of’ list, no matter how carefully constructed or meaningfully considered, is by its very nature subjective in the extreme, is a fact so well-known, so already discussed at nauseating length, that to dwell long on the subject would be to shout into the cacophonous blur of a battle already well into its waging. Such lists inspire venom. They boggle the mind, distress the stomach and trouble the soul. But they also sell newspapers and magazines, invite readers as surely as a free bowl of ice cream, and inspire heated (if ultimately pointless) discussion. So, my dear friends, get used to them, because ‘Best of’ lists are here to stay.

The above are all excellent points, and their compiler should be congratulated both for his insight and frankness. However, there remains yet one other fact about ‘Best of’ lists that really ought to be pondered. They are so dreadfully OBVIOUS. Most lists are constructed of books we have heard so so so so much about already. “Hey, did you hear? The New York Times has chosen Beloved as the Best novel of time period x….” Let’s be honest, shall we? If Oprah’s having selected it for her book club, the creation of a positively horrendous movie, and reams of prostrating press ink, have not already induced us to lap up that bit of tasty cream, is its placement on a “Best of” list likely to do the trick?

Worse yet are those cowardly folks (I am ready to be blasted, so load your pistols) who choose Harry Potter. My God! How does such a choice help anyone? Is there one single individual in the entire universe who has not read a review of the latest Potter? And this goes, by the way, within the fantasy realm at least, for any mention of a book by that most discussed author of 2007, DurhAberRothLynch. As good as his work is – and it is good – it has been mentioned more than enough I should think.

So, as I have been invited to offer my opinions as to the best books of 2007, by that noble and oh-so-organized Fantasy Book Critic, I have elected to do something slightly different. I am simply going to tell you about a handful of books I thought were great, but which you may have missed, this being a fantasy site and all. They are, in very particular order:

05. Empire of Blue Water, by Stephan Talty – Actually, many of you may have heard of this. It is a book about the famed pirate Captain Henry Morgan. Rollicking good fun, historical, and fantastic in a most human sense. My only quibble is that the author told far too little about Captain Morgan’s wonderful rum, which I very much like to add to my eggnog this time of year.
04. The Communist’s Daughter, by Dennis Bock – I think it was SQT over at the Sci-Fi Fantasy Lovin’ blog who observed how much of our fiction concerns itself with war. Well, so does this. But it is a startling view of a surgeon and soldier who was involved in many of the major political clashes of the twentieth century. And he really lived. So check it out.
03. The Book of Joby, by Mark J. Ferrari – ‘Woah there, bucko,’ I can hear you saying. The Fantasy Book Critic has been praising this book to the moon. Doesn’t this defy your DurhAberRothLynch rule? Maybe it would, if more of us would actually PAY ATTENTION to the good press this book has gotten. As of the writing of this, The Book of Joby was ranked at Amazon…… Well, let’s just say the ranking was much too low for a fantasy novel of this quality. It is better than any other book out this year, according to many, and they are absolutely right. You should be embarrassed, you readers, you harbingers and discussers of speculative literature. How have you not pushed this to the forefront? I am beginning to think that the principal strike against this book is that it is complete in one volume. And we fantasy folks are known for demanding to be allowed to pay for our books at least three times. Sometimes many more than three times. Well, if this is the case, shame on us. That’s just the devil winning his latest bet with God.
02. Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben – In a way, this book could be of particular interest to Science Fiction fans. A couple of years ago, Bill (yes, I am on a first name basis) wrote a simply amazing book called Enough, about the nightmare of our post-human future. It was scarier than any cyberpunk novel as it was REAL. Now he has given us the antidote. Here is a book offering answers to the nihilism and hopelessness of the modern world, and to global warming and the rising need for community. It is about ETHICS, which I have always taken to be the science of living a better life. And as with everything Bill writes, it is freakin’ awesome.
01. On the Road: The Original Scroll, by Jack Kerouac – The best for last. Here’s the deal. This is one IMPORTANT book. And it just happens to blast right along with the sort of stuff we fantasy lovers like best. Let me put it to you this way – it’s about a pair of guys on a spiritual journey. They are looking for IT, the magic of human connection in a world in which Sauron and Gandalf (read Stalin and Eisenhower) each wound up with half of the One Ring (read A-bomb) and plan to blow everything all to hell. Theirs is a quest for meaning as real and moving as any I have read. PLUS, and this is why it is on this list, Kerouac’s scroll manuscript shows the attempt on the part of a great American artist to construct a new American Novel form. This speaks to me as a fantasy fan, as I am obsessed with the idea of creating a new type of AMERICAN LITERARY FANTASY. In essence, I am willing to acknowledge that Tolkien has won. He has taken over the world, and there’s nothing more we can do about it. But as for me, I just want to play a new non-British, non-European game. There has to be something beyond elves, orcs, dwarves and those innumerable rehashings of the Knights of the Table Round, doesn’t there? Maybe not. But I’m willing to hope.

That’s my list. I know – You HATE it. Well, so do I. First off, that last one is an obvious cheat, important though I believe it to be. What’s more, there were so many great books out this year – both those we all know, have read, or at least have heard about, and those that have skillfully flown in under the radar – that it makes me feel guilty almost to the point of shivering to have to name just five.

So I say let’s look ahead. I’m in no position to guess what the ‘Best Books’ of 2008 will be, and I won’t even try. Nope. Been burned that way once too often. Typically, whatever book I am looking forward to as the middle third of a trilogy will be a source of great sadness. Usually these come off as what they are, books without beginnings or endings – two things I generally like in a book. And they never charge us a penny less for these partial novels, do they? Nope. They do not.

What I am looking forward to is next year’s campaign for the presidency. And in that vein, I just want to take this moment, here and now, to announce my own intention to run. My platform will consist of my forthcoming novel, The American. It is an American Literary Fantasy (see how that comes around? Devious, no?), chuck full of gunfighters, cowboys and Indians. And a few classic literary characters come along for the ride. I know what you’re thinking. ‘But Justin, you’re too young to run for president, and a novel’s not a platform.’ True enough. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last sixteen years, it’s that neither laws nor rules apply to the president. And at the very least you ought to READ The American before you entirely discount it as my platform. Sheesh!

In signing off, let me just say that I am praying for a happy and healthful new year for each and every one of my fellow Americans. And I’ll see you from the campaign trail.

Vote Allen in 2008!
Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Across the Face of the World" by Russell Kirkpatrick

Official Russell Kirkpatrick Website
Order “Across the Face of the WorldHERE
Read An Extract HERE

First published in Australia/New Zealand by HarperCollins Voyager in 2004-2005, then in the UK in 2006, Russell Kirkpatrick’s debut fantasy trilogy Fire of Heaven is now making its US debut (January 1, 2008) thanks to Orbit Books starting with the release of the first volume in the series “Across the Face of the World” with “In the Earth Abides the Flame” (Volume Two) and “The Right Hand of God” (Volume Three) to immediately follow in February and March 2008 respectively.

Besides writing, Mr. Kirkpatrick has also earned a PhD in Geography and is actually a professional mapmaker having worked on several atlases. The author’s love for cartography is apparent as soon as you open the book which features several incredibly detailed maps provided by Mr. Kirkpatrick himself. Once you actually start reading the book, it’s also clear that Russell’s passion extends to his writing, especially the depth and realism that is used in depicting Firanes’ many different landscapes, some of which are truly breathtaking. Also benefiting from the author’s meticulousness is the worldbuilding, which is rife with several races of men—each with their own cultures, beliefs, and languages; a fully developed religion that closely resembles Christianity; a magic system that is tied in to the world’s religion; and an ample supply of mythology that usually comes in the form of generic info-dumping, though occasionally you get it in fairytale mode which I personally enjoyed :) In truth, it’s a lot of information to process, but thankfully there’s a very comprehensive glossary at the end of the book to help guide readers along, including pronunciations! The most amazing thing about the worldbuilding is that Firanes—where the bulk of the novel takes place—is really just a tiny part of the universe that Mr. Kirkpatrick has created. So, if you’re a fan of in-depth worldbuilding then you have a lot to look forward to in “Across the Face of the World”, and I’m assuming the rest of the Fire of Heaven trilogy as well.

For me, I thought the worldbuilding—along with the strikingly vivid descriptions of the topography—were easily the book’s highlights, but I did have a few complaints. One was the religion. As I mentioned before, Christianity is the model on which Faltha’s faith is built upon. Not the first time that’s been done in fantasy literature, except in this case Mr. Kirkpatrick doesn’t really do much with the concept. Apart from a few name changes—Most High instead of God, Destroyer instead of Devil, et cetera—and a few other noticeable alterations, Russell seems to take the easy way out and doesn’t inject much creativity into Faltha’s religion. This also applies to the book’s local plant and wildlife. I mean, if you’re going to put that much effort into creating different races—Fenni, Fodhram, Widuz, Bhrudwans—cultures, an entire mythology and so on, why not invent a few new animals or plants along the way or least change around some names and characteristics? Obviously this is more of a personal issue, but an important one in my book… Another thing that bothered me was the lack of magic in the novel. Aside from learning about the three different aspects of the Realm of FireIllusion, Word, and Power (dark users call it magic, light users Miracle)—we hardly see any of it in action except for one instance which reminded me of Darth Vader and the Force. I’m sure we’ll get to see more of the Realm of Fire in the sequels, but I would have liked more of a demonstration in this book.

As far as the story and the characters, this is where “Across the Face of the World” starts to lose its way. Plot-wise, it doesn’t get any more contrived than this: a teenage boy living in an unimportant village in the middle of nowhere is the prophesied ‘Right Hand’ and must go on an epic quest to prevent Faltha from falling to the evil Undying Man. While there are little differences here and there like the quest originally starting out as a rescue attempt for Leith’s mother & father and then a journey to Instruere to warn the Council of Faltha about a pending invasion, the fantasy tropes are many and you’d have to be blind not to see the Tolkien resemblances. I was also reminded a bit of Robert Jordan’sThe Eye of the World” and J.V. Jones’A Cavern of Black Ice”. My main beef with “Across the Face of the World” though, aside from the clichés, is that for over 500 pages (out of 671) the story is just one long journey after another, where not much really happens, deus ex machinas seem to occur at a regular basis—although there is an explanation for this—and after a while, I just got bored. Maybe if the characters had been more interesting I wouldn’t have minded so much, but alas, they were not.

Like the plot, the characters were highly conventional. You have the aforementioned ‘Right Hand’ who just wants to be normal; a cantankerous, worldly-wise old man who is much more than the simple farmer he appears to be; the village girl that the hero is in love with, but she doesn’t reciprocate those feelings; a hermit with prophetic abilities; brothers seeking revenge for the death of their father; a musician, and various other clichés. There were a couple of characters that showed promise like the overweight Haufuth (village headman) who’s an atheist and the disabled HalLeith’s adopted brother—who seems to possess angelic-like qualities, but they are few and far between and suffer from the same lack of development that everyone else does. And that’s the main problem. You see, there are numerous characters in the story and Mr. Kirkpatrick likes changing up the viewpoints—this routinely happens from one paragraph to the next which was an annoying tactic—and the end result are personalities that are basically one-dimensional and lifeless.

In the end, I’m not sure I can recommend Russell Kirkpatrick’sAcross the Face of the World”. Maybe a YA audience might enjoy the novel or someone who hasn’t read very much epic fantasy, but serious aficionados who have devoured the works of Tolkien, George R. R. Martin, Robert Jordan and Steven Erikson, would probably find the book sorely lacking. I know I did. I think what disappointed me the most was that it seemed like two different people were writing the novel. One showed tremendous descriptive abilities and an aptitude for worldbuilding. The other was an amateur still trying to figure out how to plot a story and write believable characters. Thankfully, those are areas that a writer can improve in, and who knows, perhaps Mr. Kirkpatrick does just that in the next two books of the Fire of Heaven trilogy. After all, he’s already hard at work on his second trilogy Husk, volume one of which, “Path of Revenge”, is currently available in Australia/New Zealand so that has to be promising. Unfortunately, I just didn’t enjoy “Across the Face of the World” enough to want to find out if the author has improved or not. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever revisit the trilogy, but at the moment the sequels are not very high on my reading list…
Friday, December 21, 2007

"Blood Dreams" by Kay Hooper

Official Kay Hooper Website
Order “Blood DreamsHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Watch the “Blood DreamsTrailer HERE

Taking a little break from fantasy and science fiction, I decided to give the new Kay Hooper thriller a spin. While I’ve never read anything by the writer, Ms. Hooper is an award-winning author of more than sixty novels including eleven consecutive New York Times bestsellers so I figured I was in pretty good hands :)

What first attracted me to “Blood Dreams” was the serial killer angle. As I’ve already mentioned in my review
HERE of Chelsea Cain’sHeartSick”, I just have a fondness for the genre :) The second thing that attracted me was the promise of a trilogy. I like knowing ahead of time how many volumes are going to be in a series and looking at Kay’s track record, I should be seeing the next two sequels in 2008 & 2009 respectively. The final and deciding factor was the mention of an all-new cast. Apparently there are already ten Noah Bishop or Special Crimes Unit novels out there with “Blood Dreams” numbering eleven. Now normally I never start a series in the middle, but because the author was introducing a new storyline and characters, I thought I could get away with it in this case. Fortunately, I was proven correct ;) While I can’t claim to differentiate between the returning characters and the new with a hundred percent accuracy, I’m pretty sure I could make some strong guesses. As far as having not read the previous SCU novels, I had no problem with that. Sure, there were some references that I probably missed out on and some character development, but I thought Kay did an excellent job of making the book accessible to readers new to the series.

Regarding the story, I have to admit that “Blood Dreams” surprised me a bit. You see, based on what little I had read about the novel, I thought it was going to be a standard suspense thriller—serial killer on the loose, a manhunt, some police procedural thrown into the mix and so on. What I didn’t expect was the Special Crimes Unit to be a team of psychics! I know that psychic abilities in police work is nothing new to literature, film or television, but I just wasn’t expecting it with this particular book, so I was caught off guard, but in a good way :)

Funny enough, despite the book’s supernatural elements, “Blood Dreams” still ended up utilizing a lot of familiar tropes. You have the recurring dream/vision which foreshadows the end of the novel; the varying point-of-views between numerous characters including the killer and his victims; the killer leaving clues for his pursuers; an obligatory romance; dealing with bureaucratic red tape—in this case a powerful Senator who wants revenge for his daughter’s murder and a new FBI Director who doesn’t believe in psychic abilities; and the inevitable red herrings and unexpected revelations.

Of course, Ms. Hooper isn’t a rookie so she throws a few wrinkles into the book to keep the story fresh like the main character Dani and her twin sister who both possess some unique talents—the ability to take other consciousnesses into dreams, discharging static electricity, etc. What I liked personally was the idea of a killer with psychic powers. Not only that, but a killer who can steal other psychics’ abilities. Not that original I know if you’ve been following Heroes, but what I can say—Sylar is a pretty cool villain so I don’t mind a clone or two. Plus, the book hints at a much deeper conspiracy going on with the serial killer, even a Prophecy, and there’s also a nice little twist at the end… Which also happens to be a cliffhanger, but what did you expect in a trilogy ;)

Overall “Blood Dreams” was about what I was expecting it be, even if the paranormal aspects surprised me ;) Being a fan of speculative fiction though only made me like the book more, especially since the supernatural elements added some much needed freshness to the story. It also helped that Kay is such an experienced writer because the superb pacing and excellent tension-building helped me to overlook some of the novel’s more derivative moments. Other than that, I can’t complain. I was looking for a fun diversion from all of the fantasy and science fiction that I had been reading, and “Blood Dreams” delivered. Even better, I’ve discovered another author to enjoy—it was kind of like reading a Dean Koontz thriller—and you can be sure that the next two books in the trilogy (Blood Sins, Blood Ties) are high on my reading list…
Wednesday, December 19, 2007

"Dust" by Elizabeth Bear

Order “DustHERE

Earlier this year I read and really enjoyed “A Companion to Wolves” (Reviewed HERE), which was co-written by Sarah Monette and Elizabeth Bear. Sarah I’ve been a fan of having followed her excellent Doctrine of Labyrinth series (Mélusine, The Virtu, The Mirador reviewed HERE), but I was only familiar with Elizabeth in passing. So, I dug around a little and was surprised to discover that while Ms. Bear is fairly new—her first novel “Hammered” debuted in 2005, the same year she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer—she has also been amazingly prolific producing the Jenny Casey trilogy, two standalone novels (Carnival, Undertow), the aforementioned collaboration with Ms. Monette, the first two volumes of the Promethean Age, numerous short stories, and a couple of collections. So, when I heard about “Dust” which was the first volume in a new trilogy, I thought this was as good a place as any to see what all the fuss was about and boy was I impressed…

While “Dust” is categorized as science fiction, there were actually a lot of familiar fantasy elements in the book which I found a little bit surprising, but quite enjoyable. For example, a number of medieval concepts are employed in the novel like a ruling family of nobles; politics regarding bloodlines, successors and inheritances; knights, castles, swords as the preferred choice of weaponry, chivalry, et cetera. Then there’s the story which features a servant girl who discovers she’s someone important, a couple of quests including one to prevent a war between the House of Rule and Engine, and the presence of near-omniscient angels who play the role of ‘meddling gods’. On top of that you also have Garden of Eden and other Christian references, prophecy told through a deck of cards, the appearance of a dragon, a basilisk side character and a necromancer…

In all honesty, if “Dust” had been a straight-up fantasy novel it would be hard to ignore all of the tropes that Ms. Bear uses, but because of the sci-fi setting, they actually complement the story. And that’s where things get interesting. For starters, the ‘world’ that the book is set in is actually a gigantic generation colony ship called Jacob’s Ladder, which, over the centuries, has forced evolution on its occupants through nanotechnology colonies and symbionts, resulting in the angelic-like Exalts. Overseeing this world are ‘angels’, who are actually fragments of one large entity called Israfel. The problem is that the star system Jacob’s Ladder has been orbiting is on the verge of going supernova and to have any chance of survival, the ship must be moved to a new location. In order for that to happen however, the ship has to be repaired first and all of the Israfel fragments united as one. That means war between the different remnants—namely Jacob Dust the Angel of Memory, Samael the Angel of Biosystems and Asrafil the Angel of Blades—each of whom have their own selfish objectives. Tangled up in the middle of this conflict is the exalt Percival Conn, the key to success for whichever angel comes out on top, but it’ll actually be Rien the servant girl and her companions who determine the fate of Jacob’s Ladder

Besides the fun story which mixes traditional fantasy with space opera adventure, “Dust” also features interesting characters. I liked Rien the most because she changes the most throughout the novel being Remade from a common Mean into an Exalt, consuming the memories of a Chief Engineer, and discovering a family she never knew she had. Of the other two main characters, I thought Jacob had the most entertaining scenes especially his interactions with the other Angels, and I enjoyed the struggle that Percival faced with Pinion, a set of sentient wings that act as her ‘guard & warden’. I will admit that a lot of the supporting cast including Lady Ariane, Benedick Conn, Tristen Conn, et cetera were pretty generic and undeveloped, but I was fond of Mallory and the basilisk Gavin. Additionally, there were some interesting SF concepts in the book like the symbiosis between the nanotechnology colonies and their hosts; the deadly unblades that create unhealable wounds; how Angels and Exalts can ‘consume’ others to gain memories & knowledge; and the whole idea of a ship existing as a world complete with different cities and societies.

As far as the writing, there’s not much you can criticize. “Dust” is deftly paced & plotted; the main characters are well-constructed; action scenes are dutifully exciting; and the prose is descriptive, elegant and accessible. Furthermore, Ms. Bear, like Sarah Monette, is pretty open when it comes to sexuality as “Dust” includes a Kant—an ungendered referred to as sie or hir; a hermaphrodite, and relationships that would be considered taboo in our society… In fact, the only thing that I can really complain about is the cover art which doesn’t do the book justice, but I don’t believe Ms. Bear had anything to do with that ;)

As mentioned earlier, “Dust” is the opening volume in the Jacob’s Ladder trilogy. I know that some readers don’t like to start a series until it’s been completed, but I think this book could be an exception. While the story stops at a climactic point, Elizabeth reconciles a lot of the novel’s subplots and I have a feeling that the next volume in the series is going to have a much different vibe from the first one and I can’t wait to see what happens with it :) In the end, I’m extremely happy that I finally read one of Elizabeth Bear’s novels. I’m not sure how “Dust” compares to the author’s other works, but I had a blast reading it and would definitely recommend adding the book to your Christmas shopping list…
Monday, December 17, 2007

"Thunderer" by Felix Gilman

Official Felix Gilman Website
Order “ThundererHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

Is it too early to be discussing the Best Fantasy Debut of 2008? Not necessarily. There’s already a pretty strong buzz surrounding Orion/Gollancz’sThe Red Wolf Conspiracy” by Robert V.S. Redick, Jonathan Barnes’The Somnambulist” is making its US debut in February, and there are a few other titles starting to build their cases. Into that mix I’d like to throw in Felix Gilman’sThunderer”. Though technically a 2007 release (December 26th), the novel will probably get its strongest marketing push in the New Year and deservedly so.

Before expanding on that, I’d like to thank Jeff VanderMeer for the heads up on Mr. Gilman’s debut—not only did Jeff mention it on his website
HERE and conducted the author’s first-ever interview HERE, but he also praises the book pretty generously along with fellow writers Brandon Sanderson, Tobias S. Buckell, Drew Bowling and David Keck. One caveat Jeff mentions though is the cover art. In my opinion, the artwork is somewhat generic and doesn’t really help the novel stand out from other fantasies, but before you judge the book by its cover alone let me just remind you that it’s what’s on the inside that counts ;)

Another thing worth noting is how the book opens. To put it briefly, Felix Gilman tries to kick off “Thunderer” with an exciting flourish, introducing readers to the legendary city of Ararat just as the Bird-God is making its long-awaited return, bestowing its magical gifts throughout the city. Unfortunately, the execution is a bit clumsy as the narrative jumps from one point-of-view to the next with haphazard glimpses of the book’s main players before culminating with the mighty warship Thunderer capturing and harnessing the power of the Bird-God for itself. From there, the story takes a little detour, revisiting the past of Arjun Dvanda Atyava and explaining his reason for journeying to Ararat in the first place. It wasn’t until about page 40, that Felix really started to find his groove as a writer and from that point on, it was nearly impossible to tear myself away from the pages. So just a warning—“Thunderer” may suffer from a somewhat rough beginning, but once the story gets going readers will be duly rewarded.

On that note, what an interesting concoction Mr. Gilman has conjured up! First, we have the aforementioned Arjun—a devout member of the Choristry which served the Voice through song and music—who has come to Ararat in search of their missing god, and in the process, unwittingly unleashes a damaged deity that could spell doom for the entire city. Then there’s Jack Sheppard who uses the Bird-God’s return to escape from his workhouse prison, returning to his former life as a street-kid where he discovers that he’s been blessed with amazing powers and starts up a gang—the Thunderers—in the name of freedom. Arlandes meanwhile, is serving Countess Ilona as the captain of the most powerful weapon in the city, but his promotion is marked by the death of his young bride Lucia who was killed during the Thunderer’s awakening. In addition to these main narratives, we also have supporting characters Professor Holbach and lawyer Olympia whose roles are important in tying together the many different subplots, which also includes an Atlas, censorship and revolution. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there is Ararat—a sacred city of a thousand gods and a thousand lords whose very fabric is ever-changing. It is a city that is unmappable and some say, infinite. And for me, it was easily the most fascinating character in the book blending Victorian influences (guns, typewriters, gas lighting, chapbooks, noble politics, et cetera) with astonishing mythology such as a thousand-year old pillar of fire, a spider god whose servants worship a lottery, the Iron Rose mechanical prison, and a man who sells imprisoned gods. There’s much more to Ararat than that but readers will definitely want to experience the city for their own.

In addition to the Victorian-like setting and chaotic menagerie of gods & religions, an assortment of other flavors can also be found in “Thunderer”. For instance, during Arjun’s narrative the book sometimes delves into Lovecraftian gothic-horror territory when dealing with the river-god Typhon. At other times, “Thunderer” adopts an adventurous spirit akin to H.G. Wells or Jules Verne and even ventures occasionally into the realm of ‘weird fiction’ (China Miéville, Steph Swainston). When reading Jack’s POV, it’s impossible not to see the Peter Pan references and the Dickens theme is also recognizable. And towards the end, I was reminded of Neil Gaiman and such anime movies as “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle”. In short, there’s a bunch of different parts that make up “Thunderer”, but the first-time author is skilled enough to not only make it all work, but delivers the book with an impressive blend of detailed worldbuilding, unconventional plotting—several times I was surprised by the direction Felix took the story; a memorable cast of characters, and wonderfully polished prose.

About the only thing I can see going against “Thunderer”, aside from the cover and the weak beginning, is that the book is hard to classify. I mean is it epic or high fantasy? Urban fantasy? Weird fiction? Gothic horror? Dickensian? To be honest, I’m not sure how I would describe Felix Gilman’s novel but I think that’s a large part of its appeal. Because if you give the book a chance, you’ll discover more than just a living, breathing world full of marvelous and horrific wonders at every turn; a plot that is at once familiar, yet unpredictable and entertaining; and characters that dramatically evolve right up to the novel’s triumphant finish. What ”Thunderer” offers is an experience that’s not quite like any other fantasy novel out there, and for those that take the plunge, I think you’ll agree with me that Felix Gilman’s first novel deserves to be included in the debate for Best Fantasy Debut of the Year, whether it’s for 2007 or 2008…

NOTE: I’m not sure if there will be a sequel to “Thunderer”, but the novel’s finale definitely leaves room for future installments and I believe that Mr. Gilman signed a 2-book deal so I personally hope that the author will revisit Ararat!
Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fantasy Book Critic Update

Happy Holidays!!!
First off, to all our readers I just wanted to wish everyone Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!!! I know it’s a bit premature, but starting today, my wife and I are taking TWO WHOLE WEEKS off from work, and as such, I’m taking a break from Fantasy Book Critic from December 15th through January 2nd as we enjoy some long-awaited family time :) Additionally, the other half of Fantasy Book Critic, David Craddock, will also be on vacation during those dates :)

That said, because of some careful planning, I have several posts all ready to go and will continue updating Fantasy Book Critic on a regular basis. Unfortunately, I won’t be replying to any emails or comments—with exceptions—until after the start of the New Year, but feel free to keep firing away!

Regarding the updates, besides the regular book reviews and whatnot, Fantasy Book Critic will also be participating in some End-of-2007 festivities. One will be a Review that I was asked to participate in for the excellent
SFF World along with some fellow bloggers :) That was a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see how it turns out! I think it should be posted anytime now. Around the last week of December, I’ll be posting my own little review. Actually, it’s more of a ‘Favorites’ list of my Favorite Books of 2007 broken down into subcategories like ‘Favorite Fantasy’, ‘Favorite Science Fiction’, ‘Favorite Debuts’, ‘Favorite Cover Art’, etc. Unfortunately, because of time constraints I wasn’t able to get as elaborate with it as I would have liked, so it’s more a less just a list with zero commentary. There will also be a Best of 2007 Essay coming out that last week, and lastly, I’m working on something a little special for you readers ;) It’s kind of an ambitious project and I have a lot of work left to do, but I think it’ll be worth it in the end. Because of the vacation and such though, you probably won’t be seeing the article until the beginning of January sometime… Just keep your eyes peeled :)

And I think that’s about it. 2007 has been a great year :) I accomplished a lot more with Fantasy Book Critic than I ever expected; readers actually seem to visit the blog on a regular basis—thank you very much!!!—I’ve met a lot of cool people through the website...bloggers, fans and authors alike, and best of all, I got to read many, many enjoyable books and for that alone 2007 was a success! So, once again, Happy Holidays to everyone, and I can’t wait to see what 2008 has in store for us :D
Friday, December 14, 2007

Tor Books acquires Stephen Hunt’s fantasy novels and Solaris announces a new book deal for Eric Brown!!!

I recently got this press release from Stephen Hunt and just had to share it :) “The Court of the Air” was one of my favorite novels in 2007—you can read my review HERE and an interview with Stephen HERE—and thanks to Tor, it’s coming to the US, where I think it could make a really big splash along with its follow-up “The Kingdom Beyond the Waves”. For UK readers, the semi-sequel is currently set for a May 6, 2008 release and is one of my most anticipated books of the New Year. So be sure to keep an eye on these titles and here’s the Official Press Release:

December 14, 2007 – London & New York. Airlie Lawson and Tara Hiatt, Rights Directors at HarperCollins in London, have confirmed a major two-book deal with Claire Eddy of Tor Books in New York, to publish “The Court of the Air” by Stephen Hunt, and his follow-up fantasy novel, “The Kingdom Beyond the Waves”.

HarperCollins Voyager acquired World rights in three novels from literary agent John Jarrold, and have already sold German, French, Japanese, Spanish and Portuguese rights, and are presently pursuing interest in a number of other markets.

'I'm delighted,' said John Jarrold. 'I've known the guys at Tor for over twenty years, and they have a wonderful reputation. I don't think Stephen could be in better hands in the US. Congratulations to him, HarperCollins and Claire!'

Stephen Hunt'sThe Court of the Air” was the lead title for 2007 of HarperCollins' genre imprint, Voyager, and was published in the same week as HarperCollins other main fantasy novel of the year, “The Children of Húrin” (JRR Tolkien & Christopher Tolkien).

HarperCollins acquired “The Court of the Air” in 2006 after the company won a fierce auction for the work, seeing off many other major publishers to acquire Hunt's title.

Fantasy and science fiction author Stephen Hunt is the owner of
http://www.sfcrowsnest.com/, the second most popular sci-fi site on the Internet with close to a million readers a month, clocking up 30 million hits a month. Established in 1991, SFcrowsnest.com is one of – if not - the oldest science fiction and fantasy web sites on the web.

Hunt's author's web site can be found at
http://www.stephenhunt.net/

PRAISE FOR THE COURT OF THE AIR:

An inventive, ambitious work, full of wonders and marvels.” – The Times

Hunt can take his place alongside such eminent Magratheans as JRR Tolkien, Mervyn Peake and China Mieville. Creating a fully-realised other-world which feels new and different, yet cohesive and believable is half the battle in a fantasy novel, and it is a battle Hunt wins with honours... Hunt's world is so rich and colourful it keeps you engrossed...It's a confident audacious novel." – SFX

"The characters are convincing and colourful, but the real achievement is the setting, a hellish take on Victorian London where grim, steam-driven machines work beside citizens with magical powers. The Court of the Air is aimed at young adults, but the depth and complexity of Hunt's vision makes it compulsive reading for all ages." – The Guardian

"Wonderfully assured … Hunt knows what his audience like and gives it to them with a sardonic wit and carefully developed tension" – Time Out

In other news, Solaris Books has acquired three Bengal Station novels from science fiction author Eric Brown:

Necropath, Xenopath and Cosmopath feature Jeff Vaughan, a telepath employed by the spaceport on Bengal Station, a vast twenty-level city-port that dominates the ocean between India and Burma. As part of a security team working against terrorists and other undesirables, he reads the minds of visitors to Earth. The first novel follows Vaughan on the trail of a mysterious religious sect, a serial killer, and a soul-sucking alien life form secreted on the Station.”

Solaris Commissioning Editor Christian Dunn said: “Helix was such a fantastic read that we’re thrilled to acquire a sequence that will delight fans of hard SF. Eric is an outstanding talent and these books can only help push him towards the stardom he deserves.”

Sounds quite promising :) Looks like the first Bengal Station novel “Necropath” is slated for a Spring 2009 release, so in the meantime, be sure to check out Eric’s new novel Kethani when it comes out May 6, 2008, and read the full press release
HERE.

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Click here to find out more about “The Seal of the Worm”
Review HERE

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Click Here To Order M.R. Mathias’ “Rise of the Dragon King”!!!
Order HERE!