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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Winners of the Nightside, Gaiman/Pratchett, Charlie Huston and Tobias S. Buckell Giveaways!!! Plus, Misc. News...

Congratulations to Steve Gillette (Michigan), Mark Sanders (Canada), and Gard Kjøsen (Norway) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of Simon R. Green’s Nightside Omnibuses from Solaris Books, including copies of “Into the Nightside”, “Haunting the Nightside” and “The Dark Heart of the Nightside”!!!

Congratulations also to Alison Turner (United Kingdom), Billie Boyes (Minnesota) and Sandra Tole (Michigan) who were all randomly selected to win COPIES of both
Neil Gaiman’sThe Graveyard Book” and Terry Pratchett’sNation”, courtesy of HarperCollins Children’s Books!!! If you didn’t win, no worries :) Today is the official release date for both “The Graveyard Book” and “Nation”, so be sure to pick up a copy!

Congratulations also to Cathleen Nash (Illinois), Judie Dooley (Maine), and Steph Elias (Minnesota) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of
Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels including copies of “Already Dead”, “No Dominion”, “Half the Blood of Brooklyn” and “Every Last Drop”, courtesy of Ballantine Books!!! “Every Last Drop” also comes out today and if you’ve been following the series, you’ll definitely want to pick this up. I finished reading the novel myself last week, and even though it’s mostly setup for the fifth and final Joe Pitt novel—which is going to be flat-out awesome by the way—the book is vintage Huston and you can’t get any better than that…

Lastly, congratulations to Kristin Munson (Rhode Island) who was randomly selected to win a SET of
Tobias S. Buckell’s science fiction novels including copies of “Crystal Rain” (Paperback), “Ragamuffin” (Paperback) and “Sly Mongoose”, courtesy of Tor Books!!!

In news, you may recall about this ‘First Contact’ story contest I blogged about
HERE. Well, the winners were recently announced and congrats to Dennis Lien (Minneapolis), Steven H. Silver (Deerfield, IL) and J. H. Woodyatt (San Francisco)! Each winner will receive a Limited Edition Chapbook that was issued to promote the publication of Ian R. MacLeod's short fiction collection “Breathmoss and Other Exhalations” (Golden Gryphon Press, 2004). The chapbook is autographed by author Ian R. MacLeod and superb cover artist Bob Eggleton! A very nice prize :) So thanks to everyone who submitted suggestions, and of course the person behind the contest, Marty Halpern

Finally, join “Blood Moon” author
A.W. Gryphon and Jeepers Creepers’ Jonathan Breck for an auction of celebrity collectibles, hosted by the Charity Folks organization, in support of the Entertainment Industry Foundations Women’s Cancer Programs.

October ends with Halloween and its
Breast Cancer Month all month long. Join in on the bidding at Charity Folks for a host of celebrity items, including a personalized Jeepers Creepers 1 DVD paired with a Signed Creeper Action Figure and a personalized, Leather Bound, No. 1 copy of “Blood Moon” from a limited edition series.

The bidding begins on September 30th and closes on October 14th, the night of this year’s
Blood Moon!

Every penny helps. So please visit the
Events Page for more information about Charity Folks, EIF Women’s Cancer Programs and how you can help or Start Bidding Now!
Monday, September 29, 2008

Read an 11-Page Preview of Dabel Brother’s “Mercy Thompson: Homecoming” written by Patricia Briggs and illustrated by Francis Tsai!

PRESS RELEASE: Dabel Brothers Publishing is excited to premiere the first eleven pages (DOWNLOAD HERE) of the much-anticipated Dabel Brothers project, “Mercy Thompson: Homecoming”. Artist Francis Tsai beautifully illustrates all the covers and interior pages to this series, with author Patricia Briggs herself penning the original story. Place your orders today before the first issue ships this November.

Francis Tsai (Marvel Adventures, Impaler) is one of the few artists who can fully paint his interior pages and his style is a perfect fit for the project. As these first eleven pages show, he's done an amazing job and will continue to impress as the series goes on. Author and Mercy Thompson creator Patricia Briggs has been absolutely thrilled with the results so far.

“The artwork is impressive and beautiful,” says
Patricia Briggs. “I think we've captured exactly what the world of Mercy Thompson is all about—real world troubles like getting a job and paying the bills—broken up by moments of terror and humor. Fun stuff. I'm so excited about this project!”

For those unfamiliar with the work, Mercedes “Mercy” Thompson is a Volkswagen mechanic—she's also a coyote shapeshifter and an observer of the supernatural community, though not part of it: she’s the perfect intermediary between the things that go bump in the night . . . and the things that bump back. This prequel to the best-selling Mercy Thompson novels finds Mercy smack in the middle of warring packs of werewolves and face to face with angry vampires. Worse still, she faces the dreaded job interview!

Patrica Briggs' Mercedes Thompson series began in 2006 with the publication of “Moon Called”. The second and third books in the series, “Blood Bound” and the #1 New York Times bestseller “Iron Kissed”, have only helped to cement Briggs as one of the rising stars in the realm of paranormal fantasy. With a new, highly anticipated Mercy novel coming out in February 2009 called “Bone Crossed” (see image above), expect this series to drive her legions of fans straight to comic book stores when the first issue debuts in November.

Dabel Brothers continues to impress with new projects that continuously gain widespread appeal,” says Robert Randle, Brand Manager at Diamond Comic Distributors, Inc. “We're all anxious to see where their new projects end up and what new stuff they still have in store for us down the line.”

Mercy Thompson: Homecoming” is a four-issue mini-series with issue #1 hitting comic book shelves in November 2008. The series will be collected in hardcover and distributed by
Del Rey in 2009.

About Patricia Briggs and the Mercy Thompson Series:

Patricia Briggs began writing in 1990, and published her first novel “Masques” in 1993. Her skill at crafting convincing characters eventually led her editor to ask if she would write an urban fantasy series. The genre was showing promising growth, and the publisher wanted to expand their offerings. Patricia accepted, signing a contract for three books. Recently, Patricia announced there will be at least seven novels in her best-selling Mercy Thompson series. She is also the author of the Sianim series, the Hurog and Raven duologies, and the Alpha and Omega series which is set in the same world as her Mercy Thompson books.

About Francis Tsai:

Francis Tsai is a freelance illustrator and concept designer living and working in Southern California. Degrees in physical chemistry and architecture inevitably led to a career in entertainment, where he now has the good fortune to work on video games, books, comics, movies and TV commercials. His clients include Marvel Comics, Dabel Brothers, Devil's Due Publishing, Top Cow Productions, Warner Brothers, Wizards of the Coast, Rockstar Games, High Moon Studios, and ImagineFX Magazine.

About Dabel Brothers Publishing, LLC:

Dabel Brothers Publishing, LLC, is a comic book studio dedicated to bringing many of the best and most popular novels in the world of fantasy to the comic book medium. Since its inception in 2001 they have produced adaptations of novels by bestselling authors including George R.R. Martin, Orson Scott Card, Laurell K. Hamilton, Raymond E. Feist, Tad Williams, Richard A. Knaak, and Robert Silverberg. Currently on the schedule is a remarkable list of high-profile projects including adaptations of major novels by bestselling authors: Dean Koontz's Frankenstein: Prodigal Son, an original story set in the world of Jim Butcher's bestselling series The Dresden Files, a Wild Cards series edited and overseen by George R. R. Martin, and a brand-new Mercy Thompson adventure by Patricia Briggs.

Recently announced
Dabel Brothers projects include Malcom Wong’s Dog Eaters, Jim Dresden’s Dresden Files: Storm Front, Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time, The Warriors, Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Dark Hunters and the Illustrated George R.R. Martin A Song if Ice & Fire 2009 Calendar.

“The Temporal Void” by Peter F. Hamilton (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “The Temporal VoidHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

INTRODUCTION: Peter Hamilton needs no introduction since he is one of today's leading science fiction writers and the ‘King’ of modern space opera. Even his second tier space operas are head and shoulders above most everything written in the genre. But at his best like in The Night's Dawn trilogy which is my all time favorite sff series, or in “Pandora's Star” with its vividly described future and multilayered plotlines that converge in so many interesting and unexpected ways, the author evokes a sense of wonder that is unrivaled…

The Temporal Void” is the second book in The Void Trilogy, after “The Dreaming Void”, and will be followed by “The Evolutionary Void”. The trilogy itself is set over a thousand years after the end of The Commonwealth Saga (Pandora’s Star, Judas Unchained) and is part of the Commonwealth Universe that began in “Misspent Youth”. Since a large part of enjoying this novel is provided by the many twists and turns of its multiple plotlines, I will avoid major spoilers. Luckily this is a novel that can be reviewed meaningfully this way, but the review will contain some spoilers from “The Dreaming Void” since “The Temporal Void” picks up exactly where the first one ended.

SETTING: The multiple smaller threads of the first two Void books are set in the Intersolar Commonwealth starting in the year 3589 A.D. The Commonwealth of the Pandora's Star and Judas Unchained novels of 2384 A.D. has changed quite a lot, but it is still recognizable with humans and post-humans of various kinds still competing for this or that on a larger canvas than before, though for mostly similar reasons as regular humans throughout history. Even the super powerful post-humans now existing in the virtual reality of the ANA governance of the Inner Worlds—though able to reincarnate at will if wishing to partake of the joys, sorrows and limitations of flesh—have their profound differences about the meaning of life and the way the future should be.

Overhanging all of this is the Void, the Galaxy-devouring alternate Universe with different physical laws that was supposedly created by a powerful but long gone civilization, and that has been expanding from the Centre of the Milky Way in fits and spurts throughout the ages. When Inigo dreams of humans living a magic-filled life on the Planet Querencia in the Void through the eyes of a human Void dweller with super powerful psychic abilities known as The Waterwalker, and broadcasts his dreams to humanity at large through the techno-psychic Gaiafield, he forms a religion called Living Dream whose followers regard the Void as a traditional religious Heaven which can be reached without dying. After all, the ancestors of the humans inside the Void reached the planet somehow in the "great lifeboats dispersion" following the Starflyer War.

The main thread of the first two Void novels follows Edeard, a young boy from a rural area gifted with extraordinary psychic powers, even for a Universe where such powers are taken for granted. In "The Dreaming Void" Edeard makes his way to the major city Makkathran to find his Destiny,. While working as a junior constable in the local police force fighting entrenched corruption and official neglect, he becomes known as The Waterwalker after some dramatic events. In "The Temporal Void", Edeard The Waterwalker is set to make Makkathran and the whole Querencia a better place, and in the process he may finally find his Destiny. This thread is the heart of the novel and succeeds extraordinarily well.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 746 pages (ARC version) divided over five Commonwealth parts and Inigo's Eighth through Thirteenth Dreams. The Commonwealth parts are narrated through multiple third person POVs typical of epics and reacquaints us with Aaron, Inigo, Troblum, Paula Myo, Oscar Monroe, Marius, Araminta, The Delivery Man, Gore, Justine and Kazimir Burnelli as well as the menacing Ilanthe and several others. The Void part stars Edeard The Waterwalker, although his friends and squadmates have important roles as do many other Makkathran characters, both new and familiar. As mentioned above, “The Temporal Void” is the second volume in The Void Trilogy and it’s necessary to have read “The Dreaming Void” first. “The Temporal Void’s” main narrative comes to a natural stopping point and doesn’t have any major cliffhangers, although the smaller threads will presumably converge and tie in with the main one in “The Evolutionary Void.”

October 3, 2008 marks the UK Hardcover publication of “The Temporal Void” via
Pan Macmillan. Cover art provided by. The US version (see inset) will be published by Del Rey on March 24, 2009.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: For me “The Dreaming Void”, while highly enjoyable, was a second tier Peter F. Hamilton novel for two reasons. Firstly, in the Commonwealth plotlines, there was too much worldbuilding, with the action only starting to develop meaningfully towards the end. And secondly, the Void’s main thread utilized the way overused “young man with secret powers in search of his destiny” plotline which is typical of clichéd epic fantasies. Sure, it was very well done and it had its unique twists due to the nature of the Void where magic is inscribed into fundamental physical laws, but only the climax of this thread started to provide some essential differentiation.

The Temporal Void” though is quite different since the set up has now been finished and we get to start enjoying the payoff with superb action sequences, twists and turns that slowly reveal major revelations and showcase the extraordinary plotting skills of Mr. Hamilton, while the Void thread morphs into epic fantasy at its best…

The novel starts with a bang when an upset Skylord spurned by the stunned Second Dreamer starts a new terrifyingly fast Void expansion leading to the vivid destruction of Centurion Station. The incarnated Justine Burnelli, present there as ANA representative, makes a fateful decision to try and find her way into the Void to negotiate with the Skylords an end to the Galaxy-devouring phase. The other Commonwealth threads start similarly in high octane fashion with Troblum on the run and hoping to meet Paula Myo, but encountering someone almost as terrifying as a Skylord in her own distinctive, torture-loving ways. Araminta meanwhile, is also on the run and cornered by the Living Dream invasion force—it's possible not even Oscar Monroe and his team of Knight Guardians can save her, especially since they have no clue who the person is they need to protect. Then of course Aaron, Inigo and Corrie-Lyn have the “minor” problem of being on a planet convulsing in the throes of destruction after a mini-blackhole has been shot into its core with the hidden life-saving starship quite far away from their present location on Hanko. And it only gets better from here, with plots, counter plots, revelations and surprises.

These threads are almost nonstop action and they are hard to stop when Edeard and his friends make their appearance. Luckily, the Void thread is also very absorbing and we start to find ourselves caring a lot about The Waterwalker and his crusade for the common people. And when he is confronted with one of the most fateful missions of his career—the kidnapping of a six year old noble girl for the precise purpose of killing and discrediting him—Edeard starts coming into his own and we finally get an inkling of why those Inigo dreams of his life could have such a profound impact on billions of humans—enough so that they formed a religion willing to destroy the Milky Way to enter into the Void and follow in his footsteps…

In addition to all of the breakneck action, there are many humorous moments that help alleviate the heart-stopping suspense, as well as quite a few touching moments of love and togetherness, some coming from quite unexpected places. Gore Burnelli shows once more that common sense is still alive and well even among powerful post-humans, while Paula Myo keeps having insights that stun even the supposedly almost all-knowing ANA, though nailing down the traitorous ANA faction requires hard proof that is not so easy to get when the opposition has suicide quantum-busters and is willing to use them if cornered.

There are cameos from several old friends from the original Commonwealth novels and hints of more to come in the final novel. And the ending of the Void thread is absolutely stunning and superb at the same time.

In short, “The Temporal Void” is highly, highly recommended and the best Peter F. Hamilton novel since “Pandora's Star”…
Sunday, September 28, 2008

Del Rey Manga Announces Publishing Partnership with Cartoon Network and New Manga Series & Guide for 2009

DEL REY MANGA PARTNERSHIP WITH CARTOON NETWORK:

Del Rey Manga, an imprint of Ballantine Books at the Random House Publishing Group, in collaboration with Cartoon Network Enterprises, announced on September 27, 2008 a new manga publishing partnership that will launch with original manga based on two of Cartoon Network’s most successful series: Bakugan Battle Brawlers and Ben 10 Alien Force. This announcement marks the first partnership between Cartoon Network and the Random House Publishing Group’s manga imprint.

Christina Miller, vice president,
Cartoon Network Enterprises says, “Cartoon Network is the home to many of the leading brands, and manga and film-comics are natural extensions of our rich and immersive content. As one of the category’s best publishers, Del Rey Manga will bring these stories to life, starting with the incredibly successful Bakugan later this year.”

The first book published under the new partnership will be released in December 2008. Bakugan Battle Brawlers: The Battle Begins, incorporates full-color stills from the animated show in a manga-style graphic novel format. A second volume will follow in March 2009. As one of the hottest boys properties currently in the market,
Bakugan, has been a hit in the US since it first aired on Cartoon Network in February of this year. A character-rich animated series aimed at boys 6-11, Bakugan follows the adventures of Dan and his fellow Battle Brawlers as they use strategy and skill to unleash their Bakugan power and save Vestroia and Earth from destruction.

Ben 10 Alien Force: Ben 10 Returns, the first title for the hit
Cartoon Network franchise, will be published in April 2009 and follows the same format, drawing art directly from the cartoon itself. The top-rated Ben 10 Alien Force show chronicles the adventures of everyone’s favorite hero, Ben Tennyson. Armed with the Omnitrix—which gives him the ability to transform into different alien superheroes—Ben, his cousin Gwen and former foe-now-friend Kevin Levin are on a mission to defeat the evil DNALIENS and save the Earth.

Original black-and-white, manga-style graphic novels based on
Bakugan and Ben 10 Alien Force will release in Summer 2009 and Fall 2009, respectively.

“We’re thrilled to join forces with
Cartoon Network. Fan favorites Bakugan and Ben 10 Alien Force are beautifully crafted animated series that lend themselves well to this unique artistic form of manga,” says Mutsumi Miyazaki, director of licensing and acquisitions for Del Rey Manga. “Our partnership with Cartoon Network will provide a new and exciting opportunity for Del Rey Manga as we further expand our publishing program.”

DEL REY MANGA ALSO ANNOUNCES NEW MANGA SERIES, GUIDE FOR 2009:

Del Rey Manga has also announced an eclectic range of new manga titles to be published in Summer and Fall of 2009. The new series acquisitions feature some of the best characters that the manga world has to offer, including fighting maids, a temperamental rain goddess, and—in a unique twist—cute, talking bacteria.

Moyasimon:Tales of Agriculture” by Masayuki Ishikawa, follows Tadayasu Souemon Sawaki, a first-year college student at an agricultural university in Tokyo. Tadayasu has a one-of-a-kind talent that may just come in handy at school: the ability to see and communicate with adorable bacteria and microorganisms. While this series showcases the author’s zany sense of humor, the series is so scientifically accurate it’s legitimately educational, too. The cute creatures have been a merchandising hit in Japan. A hilarious comedy and fantastical drama, “Moyasimon:Tales of Agriculture” is otaku-friendly and filled with scientific facts, making for a unique manga experience.
Del Rey Manga editor Tricia Narwani says, “Del Rey Manga has always ventured into new territory with our list, but this time, we’ve licensed something that has a true claim to total originality: the wholly unique and irresistibly charming Moyasimon: Tales of Agriculture.” The manga will make its North American debut in Fall 2009.

Learn more about the rich, complex world of
CLAMP’s Tsubasa with the “Tsubasa Character Guide 2”, set for publication in Summer of 2009. This second guide picks up where the first guide left off, and covers volumes 8-14 in the bestselling series. Fans can learn more about beloved characters such as Sakura and Syaoran, and discover details on “crossover” characters from other CLAMP series, including Cardcaptor Sakura and xxxHOLiC. Also featuring brand new full-color art and a fold-out poster, this fully-illustrated companion to Tsubasa is a must-have for CLAMP fans looking to broaden their reading experience.

Atsushi Suzumi brings her talent to the
Del Rey Manga lineup again with “Amefurashi”, a new shôjo manga. A small Japanese village’s fortune is dependent on the whims of the Amefurashi, the rain goddess. Gimey, a village resident, ends up meeting Amefurashi on his own and discovers that she’s actually a cute little girl. Gimey must now try to persuade her to save his village—by keeping this somewhat temperamental, demanding goddess happy. Suzumi is a co-creator of Haridama: Magic Cram School, published this summer by Del Rey Manga, and is also known as the creator of the popular series Venus vs. Virus. “Amefurashi” will be published in July 2009.

RAN is a rising talent in the manga world, having worked with superstar Ken Akamatsu on Mao-chan, which goes on sale from Del Rey Manga in November. Del Rey will publish “Maid War Chronicle”, written and illustrated by RAN, in May 2009. Playing into “Maid culture” with a sense of zany, non-stop action and humor, “Maid War Chronicle” starts by following Cacao, who has landed her dream job as a live-in maid for the Prince of the Urbansberg Kingdom. However, the kingdom finds itself under siege and the Prince and his five maids make their escape. In order to win back his kingdom, the super-cute maids need to be the warriors that the Prince needs—and be ready to save the day…

ABOUT CARTOON NETWORK ENTERPRISES:

Cartoon Network Enterprises (CNE), the global branding and merchandising arm of Cartoon Network, is charged with building consumer product franchises for Cartoon Network, its brands and characters from the channel's growing library of award-winning original programming. The division currently offers consumer product programs for an array animation franchises including Ben 10, Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends, Chowder, The Secret Saturdays, The Powerpuff Girls, [adult swim] and more, as well as serves as licensing agent for Nelvana Enterprises and Spin Master’s Bakugan brand.

Cartoon Network, currently seen in more than 91 million U.S. homes and 160 countries around the world, is Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.’s ad-supported cable service offering the best in original, acquired and classic animated entertainment for kids and families. Overnight from 11 p.m.-6 a.m. (ET, PT), Cartoon Network shares its channel space with Adult Swim, a late-night destination showcasing original and acquired animation for young adults 18-34.

ABOUT DEL REY MANGA:

Del Rey Books was founded in 1977 as an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of the Random House Publishing Group, under the guidance of the renowned Judy-Lynn del Rey and her husband, Lester del Rey. Del Rey publishes the best of modern fantasy, science fiction, and alternate history. Ballantine Books is an imprint of the Random House Publishing Group, which is a publishing group of Random House, Inc, the U.S. publishing company of Random House, the trade book publishing division of Bertelsmann AG, one of the world's leading international media companies. In 2004 it expanded by launching Del Rey Manga, which has grown to be a major force in the U.S. graphic-novel field. Bestselling titles include Tsubasa, Negima, xxxHolic, and The Wallflower.

Song(s) of the Week: Garfield Mayor, Brandon Heath and Alex Band

For this week, I decided to go with a little theme, focusing on three singer-songwriters:

Garfield Mayor is the first artist signed to R Tel / Epic, the new label started by Matchbox Twenty’s Rob Thomas and EMI Music Publishing executive Evan Lamberg. Mayor, who wrote, arranged and produced all the songs on his debut, weaves pop melodies around trenchant lyrics that are filled with disappointment, such as the tale of a selfish man trying his best but still falling short in his lover’s eyes in the haunting first single “Take & Take” or the flawed anti-hero of “Invisible.”

Technically, Mayor’s debut album, “Take and Take”, is not due for physical release until sometime in 2009, but it’s been available for download on iTunes since July 2008. The lead single, also called “Take & Take”, immediately made me download the record, and while it is quite impressive at times, the single is easily the highlight of the album:

Official Garfield Major Myspace
Order “Take and TakeHERE

Brandon Heath is a Christian singer/songwriter from NYC. He’s released four albums so far, two independently and two through Reunion Records. His most recent record, “What If We”, came out on August 19, 2008 and was my introduction to the artist. For the most part, “What If We” is a solid, if unoriginal pop/rock album and the only reason I’m mentioning it is because of the awesome opening song, “Give Me Your Eyes”:

Official Brandon Heath Website
Official Brandon Heath Myspace
Order “What If WeHERE

If you were a fan of The Calling, best known for their hit song “Wherever You Will Go”, then you might enjoy Alex Band who was the vocalist for that group. Now a solo artist, armed with his own indie record label, Alex Band is putting the finishing touches on his long-awaited full-length album. In a preview of the record, Alex independently released a five-song EP on April 25, 2008 called simply, the “Alex Band EP.”

Now I’ve always been impressed with The Calling’s songwriting skills, but as a solo artist Alex has really taken it to another level. I mean, for an independent release, the “Alex Band EP” is head and shoulders above most major-label backed records and features five standout tracks led by the stunning “Only One”:

Official Alex Band Website
Official Alex Band Myspace
Order “Alex Band EPHERE

Previous Songs of the Week:

August 17, 2008
August 24, 2008
August 30, 2008
September 7, 2008
September 14, 2008
September 21, 2008
Saturday, September 27, 2008

“Graceling” by Kristin Cashore (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Official Kristin Cashore Blog
Order “GracelingHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt
HERE

Kristin Cashore's debut novel “Graceling”, follows Kasta, a young woman skilled with the Grace of Killing. The grace showed itself to her at the age of eight, and since then she has been used by the king of Randa—her uncle—as his “secret weapon”. As a weapon, Kasta was used to ensure terror throughout the country and keep various surrounding countries scared of Randa. All the while, Kasta is struggling with herself as to what she wants to do with her Grace—use it for good or for the evil of a king. A Graced one, as we learn, must report to the king, and if they are useful enough, they are to be in the service of that king. The majority of kings in this world use Graces for their own advancement in the standing of their countries.

The novel's storyline is primarily focused around the kidnapping of a high ranking member of a neighboring country's noble family. After Kasta rescues the noble on a Council mission, we are introduced to Po, the youngest son of the king of Lienid, who is in search of his kidnapped grandfather.

A relationship forms between Kasta and Po, who start out on a mission to find answers as to who and why the kidnapping took place. A twist in the adventure leads us to the mysterious king of Monsea who is loved not only by his subjects but by all seven surrounding kingdoms. His involvement makes for a surprising turn of events.

Great imagery, a cast of a half dozen characters, and evil doings lace “Graceling”, which is an adventure story alongside a coming-of-age tale of a girl graced with the ability to kill…

A major strength of the writing is the imagery presented throughout the novel. The book is filled with very vivid descriptions of almost everything from castles, landscapes, courts, and the journeys that the characters go on. In the beginning this imagery was very helpful as it gave the readers a great way to visualize a new fantasy world, which I found captivating. We learn all about the land—past and present—the people, and the kings. However, as the book continues the descriptions become almost tedious. There were times when there seemed to be an overwhelming amount of detail. For example, Kristin doesn’t just describe the land but the feel of the ground and the colors of every leaf, bush and blade of grass. There were also times when we would be getting a description of an area that we had just read a couple pages back, making it almost feel as if descriptions were being used as page fillers.

Along with imagery, there’s also the way that Cashore develops her characters which is another strength of the book. We read the story through Kasta's third-person perspective which is a great way for us to form a bond with her, and really feel not only her emotions, but see the thought processes that go into some of the choices that she makes. Even though this is the way that the majority of the story is told, we also occasionally get a first-person point of view into Kasta’s thoughts about people or a situation. There were some flaws with this back and forth flip-flopping between the point-of-views as it sometimes felt as though we had to reread about a situation we had already heard about. So a huge amount of time would be spent looking at a situation and then we would have the character overanalyze what to do about said situation. One or the other for various situations would have been sufficient.

It's hard to have a great story where the reader does not become attached to a character along the way so being able to bond with Cashore’s characters was a real plus. However, I feel that the character development starts to slip the further along we get in the book and the more we are introduced to different people. So even though we have a great bond with Kasta, and even Po the prince, there are some characters that I felt we could have spent a little more time with. For instance, there is Bitterblue, a princess who appears in the later part of the book and becomes a main character spending a lot of time with Kasta. Unfortunately, we know almost nothing about Bitterblue and she's a very flat character with little personality or emotion. I felt this way because of how closely we bonded with Kasta as a character, and anything less intense seems as though the character wasn’t developed enough.

Another aspect of the characters was their interaction with one another. There is so much time spent getting to know the characters them selves, that when it comes to developing a relationship between characters it feels rushed or not very well described. As a result, there were times when I was often left wondering why a character was with someone else or why they would make that decision. Also, the conversations between characters were very stilted or short. Personally, I wish less time had been devoted to the descriptions of the land and countries, and more effort applied to the character interaction. After all, it’s a shame that we have all of these great characters that we spend time getting to know, and so little character interaction between them.

The evil villain of the story, the king of Monsea, only appears twice in the story. This is another aspect that could have been developed more as we are left with vague reasons as to why he is so evil. In fact, very little is even said about this villain at all in the story. Without this villain we would have just been left with a novel about a journey because a lot of time is spent wondering, who could have done this and why. We later find out who and why but there is very little time spent on the answers and it feels as though we have missed out on something.

With all this character development and imagery there is a slight weakness—the flow of the story. “Graceling” started out as a page turner, but then it feels as though we hit a wall. The book just slowed down, nothing new happened with our characters, no information was introduced and it seemed as if the author was just repeating what we read pages before.

Additionally, there were two other weaknesses that I saw with “Graceling”. First was the classification of what type of fantasy novel the book was. It starts off almost as an action adventure, which I was excited for because the main character was a fierce girl with the Grace to kill and I was waiting for some kick-butt action. Instead, the book turns into a coming-of-age story as Kasta is struggling to figure out if she can branch out on her own and not use her grace for evil. We also have the kidnapping storyline. Then all of a sudden, the book changes its focus. So although we're still trying to find answers to the kidnapping, we are now presented with a major fantasy love story. Love is a part of growing up and it would have fit nicely in the novel, but it feels as though it overtakes the story. Kasta's thoughts and actions are all based on why she loves this man, what she will do for him, and how conflicted she is with falling in love. Also, after the romance is introduced it seems as if the book slows down with very little happening to our travelers aside from a burst of slight action here and there.

The second weakness was the unevenness between the different storylines and how they were resolved like the kidnapping which took up the majority of the book and was worked out in only one or two paragraphs. Considering the book's main plotline revolved around the kidnapping, I felt that more of an explanation was needed. Due to the lack of explanation, I was left a little confused as to how the plot so quickly jumped from the kidnapping to a different theme and I found myself wondering if I missed what happened with the kidnapping or if it was even mentioned as to why this was done. It felt like there were too many ideas thrown together and we needed to finish one and just hop to the next idea without a real explanation. Perhaps a little less time spent on the romance aspect and more on resolving some of the themes that started out the story would have been better.

Overall, I was pleased with the way that the book turned out even if I was surprised by the focus on the romantic aspect and would have loved to see more action/adventure. So if you’re looking for a lot of action this might not be the type of book for you. I would also have loved to learn more about the Graces and how a person knows exactly what their Grace is. All that is said is that they know, but I wish to understand more about that and what the difference between a graced person's skill is and just a regular person's. Maybe these topics will be explored in future novels.

Author's first novels are always a delight to read. There is little known about how the writer will turn out—what their writing style will be like, how will the flow of the book feel, and how the characters are developed. Thankfully, Kristin Cashore'sGraceling” is a great start by a developing writer and I definitely look forward to seeing this writer grow with future novels as she shows tremendous potential…

NOTE: October 1, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication via
Harcourt Children’s Books—although the novel has already been available for a few weeks now ;) The UK version (See Inset) will be published by Gollancz on January 22, 2009. “Fire”, a prequel to “Graceling”, will be published by Harcourt Children’s Books in October 2009.
Friday, September 26, 2008

INDIE SPOTLIGHT: "In Her Hame" by Michael R. Hicks (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Official Michael R. Hicks Website
Order “In Her Name
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE

INTRODUCTION:In Her Name” is the debut novel of independent author Michael R. Hicks. The author brought “In Her Name” to my attention in a chance online encounter, and after reading the four chapter excerpts on Mr. Hicks’ website, I quickly wanted to finish it and bought the book. The novel is a mixture of military space opera and epic fantasy that works very well, and I recommend anyone who might be interested to check out the excerpts and decide for them selves.

SETTING: Sometime in the future humanity has expanded on many worlds under the aegis of a more or less democratic Confederation when it encountered the terrifying and totally alien Kreelan Empire. Technologically superior to humanity, the Kreelans—blue-skinned humanoids similar to mankind but all females as far as everyone knows—attack human colonies seemingly at random, using their advanced technology to disable humanity's modern weapons and then engage in hand-to-hand combat that mostly results in Kreelan victory, although they usually retreat leaving the survivors alone. With no prisoners taken on either side and no communication despite multiple attempts by the Confederation leaders, these attacks have been going on for a century now and have reduced humanity to a siege mentality. But in one such raid, a young child named Reza Gard, inflicts by surprise a face wound to one of the alien leaders, the warrior priestess Tesh-Dar. Tesh-Dar gives a similar scar to Reza and leaves him alone, but later their paths will meet again—by chance or destiny—and everything will change…

FORMAT/INFO: I bought a Mobipocket e-book edition of “In Her Name” which is reflowable so does not have fixed page numbers but the trade paperback edition of the novel stands at 680 pages. The novel is divided over three main ‘Books’, each subdivided in numbered chapters to a total of 59 such and ending with an Epilog. The narration is present-tense third-person mostly through the POV of Reza Gard, but occasionally switches to secondary though important characters like Nicole, Jodi, Eustus, the main villains and several others.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS: Structurally, “In Her Name” is split into several parts that follow the main character Reza Gard from a very young boy in the middle of a brutal war with terrifying alien invaders, to the fulfillment of his extraordinary destiny many years later. The roughly six main parts are quite distinct in character, ranging from plucky exploited orphans fighting back against their corrupt “guardians” to epic fantasy with prophecies, blood curses, spirits, coming-of-age as a warrior in a society that practices combat as sport to hardcore military sf, political and military space opera and much more. Since a lot of the book’s enjoyment comes from the multiple twists and turns, I won’t reveal too much of the plot details…

The above structure seems an odd mixture of different science fiction subgenres with some epic fantasy thrown in the mix, and the transitions are disconcerting for a while—you think you have it figured out and suddenly there is a left turn so to speak in the book—but it works for two main reasons:

First, the author’s writing style is very engaging—even emotional if you want—which makes you keep turning page after page to find out what happens next, and in the process letting you live the book. That is the main reason I enjoyed “In Her Name” so much, and this being something based on personal taste, I strongly urge anyone who might be interested to check out the excerpts and see if they are drawn by Mr. Hicks' style as I was.

Secondly, the main character, Reza Gard, is very interesting. Human by birth, alien by upbringing, Reza struggles to straddle two mutually incompatible societies: a scientific, more or less democratic and individualistic human one; and a fantasy-like society—in the sense that sufficiently superior technology will seem like magic—which is communal, blood-bonded, hierarchic, and based on honor and place. As far as the rest of the cast, the main villains are a bit cartoonish, but most of the secondary characters are very well-drawn.

There are some intriguing mysteries in the book, especially regarding the Kreelan society and their special blood-bonding that remained somewhat ambiguous to the end, but the larger-than-life characters, the intense action and the diverse style of the author are the main strengths of the novel rather than detailed worldbuilding in itself.

The ending is very well done bringing together all the threads of the novel and the seemingly insoluble problem of co-existence finds a fitting resolution.

Overall, I thought Michael R. Hicks’In Her Name" was an excellent book and I highly, highly recommend it…
Thursday, September 25, 2008

Winners of the David Anthony Durham/Acacia (Mass Market Paperback) Giveaway!!!

Congratulations to Robert Miller (North Carolina), Daniel Vice (Maryland), Robert Jordan (Texas), Clifford Gardner (Colorado) and Dave Lesinski (New York) who were all randomly selected to win a COPY (Mass Market Paperback) of David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” (More information HERE) courtesy of Anchor Books!!!
Wednesday, September 24, 2008

“The Annotated Elminster Collector's Edition” by Ed Greenwood (Reviewed by David Craddock)

Ed Greenwood @ WIkipedia
Order “The Annotated Elminster Collector's EditionHERE
Read Reviews via BlogCritics

Perhaps the greatest boon of the DVD medium is the inclusion of lengthy documentaries and interviews with a film's cast and crew. Movie buffs can take in the behind-the-scenes features to learn how the director went about designing shots, how an actor prepared to deliver compelling dialogue, and what tricks of the trade were implemented by the crew to achieve dazzling special effects.

Another feature found on many DVDs is cast and crew commentary, an audio track that points out factoids while the film plays in the background. Commentary tracks are the equivalent of annotations found in many popular books. Typically, notes about characters and plot elements are jotted in margins next to their respective passages so that the reader can gain insight regarding the passage before or after reading it.

Ed Greenwood, creator of the
Forgotten Realms Dungeons & Dragons settings, has employed the behind-the-scenes-feature strategy to great effect in “The Annotated Elminster Collector's Edition”, an omnibus that collects the first three adventures of Greenwood's hawk-nosed adventurer, Elminster.

Even if you are able to recite “The Making of a Mage”, “Elminster in Myth Drannor”, and “The Temptation of Elminster” by heart, Greenwood's lengthy notes, which comprise almost 50 pages of the 880 contained in the tome, are worth this hardcover's price of admission. The notes for each book are divided into two sections, annotations and Realmslore, which follow their respective books. Such a format allows readers to enjoy each novel without interruption. Then, should readers desire, they can either delve into the author notes or jump to the next book.

The annotations section details the process of writing each book, and the Realmslore walks readers almost point by point through explanations of certain characters, locations, and myths that make up the sprawling Realms. While not required to understand any of the novels, each section reads as if one is sitting across from Greenwood in a tavern listening to him recount the trials, tribulations and victories of his time crafting the stories. Whether you're a casual reader or a
Forgotten Realms addict, Greenwood's comments are well worth reading.

Though the first of the three books contained in “The Annotated Elminster” is thirteen years old, each narrative is as fresh and captivating as it was at the time of its first publication. “The Making of a Mage” introduces us to Elminster, a hawk-nosed youth whose quiet life is shattered when a magelord burns his village to the ground, slaughtering his family and friends. Shortly after, El encounters a knight who informs him that he is the last prince of the realm of Athalantar. Incensed at what the magelords have done to his people, “El” embarks on a quest to destroy each and every magelord inhabiting the world of Faerun and retake the throne of Athalantar.

El's noble quest sees him travel the world and become a brigand and a thief, learning the ways of the streets in order to hone his survival instinct, before encountering the goddess Mystra while attempting to desecrate one of her temples. The sight and words of the beautiful goddess cause El to pause and consider the role of magic. Could it be, he wonders, that magic itself is not good nor evil, but dependent upon those able to wield it? El settles into his role as priest, slowly building his knowledge of magic, until becoming a mage and finally returning home to battle for his throne.

A nonstop adventure story filled with life lessons, “The Making of a Mage” is arguably “The Annotated Elminster's” best entry. As the story unfolds, Elminster is placed in danger several times, which Greenwood insists is vital to showing that Elminster, despite his growing magical prowess, is never a Superman character. His faults do indeed make him more relatable to readers, who will come to sympathize with El's highs and lows.

The second book, “Elminster in Myth Drannor”, continues El's journey of growth. Charged by his goddess to seek out the fabled elven city of Cormanthor and convince its ruler to lift the mythal, a barrier that hides Cormanthor from view, in the hopes of perpetuating racial acceptance and trade.

While “Elminster in Myth Drannor” is often as engaging as “The Making of a Mage” and does deliver on its primary theme of acceptance, Greenwood tends to put Elminster in and out of danger a bit too often. Showing the character's mortality is all well and good, but Elminster recovered from the brink of death so frequently that I found myself no longer concerned for his well-being, but aggravated that something of more consequence did not befall the character.

And of course, something of greater magnitude does eventually occur. At one point, El discovers a spell of such power that he goes on a furious rampage, slaughtering enemies and ravaging buildings with nary a thought to consequences. Having El fall prey to the temptation of power is a much more effective way to demonstrate his humanness than constantly being bludgeoned and battered—yet always saved by an overprotective goddess.

The theme of corruption takes center stage in “The Temptation of Elminster”. Having grown even more powerful, Elminster's trial entails rare contact by his goddess. His goal now is to forego magic, to re-learn how ordinary mortals live their everyday lives. This journey is a fascinating one, as El does use smatterings of magic, yet has to avoid being overcome with it as he was during “Elminster in Myth Drannor”. Greenwood also reigns in his sadistic treatment of Elminster, advocating mental growth and restraint instead of almost killing his protagonist ad nauseam.

Whether as an introduction to the
Forgotten Realms or for those who consider themselves more knowledgeable about them than Ed Greenwood, “The Annotated Elminster Collector's Edition” is a must-read. Elminster's first three adventures have aged gracefully, and Greenwood's thoughts on their creation, as well as that of the Realms themselves, should prove interesting for burgeoning writers, curious Realms fans, and those simply looking for several hours' worth of adventure.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Winners of the Joe Abercrombie/First Law Trilogy Giveaway + News Regarding "Fast Ships, Black Sails" and Frank Beddor's The Looking Glass Wars...

Congratulations to Richard Arthur (North Carolina), Carol Carter (Alabama), and Dan Smyth (Utah) who were all randomly selected to win a SET of Joe Abercrombie's The First Law trilogy including copies of “The Blade Itself”, “Before They Were Hanged” and “Last Argument of Kings”, courtesy of Pyr Books! “Last Argument of Kings” has already been out for a while now—in the UK and recently in the US—and has also been extensively covered, but a review of the novel will be forthcoming on Fantasy Book Critic.

In news, I’m a little late on this, but
Wired’s GeekDad blog is hosting a sneak peek HERE at the new pirate-themed fiction anthology, “Fast Ships, Black Sails”, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer and published by Night Shade Books. Not only does the article include a promotional video (see below) of the anthology featuring Kage Baker and Rhys Hughes, but you can also download (PDF) “Boojum”, a pirates-in-space meets Lovecraftian horror short story by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette!


In other news, I recently received the following update from film producer/actor/author
Frank Beddor:

“I thought you might be interested in knowing that I have taken my own leap into the Pool of Tears and formed a publishing imprint (
Automatic Pictures Publishing) to publish my Hatter M graphic novel trilogy among other planned future projects. Volume One of the Hatter M series will be out October 16 in paperback as a companion piece to The Looking Glass Wars prose trilogy and I am very happy to report my printer has done an excellent job and Ben Templesmith’s art pops and glows on every page.

With regard to Volume 2, the Hatter M Institute for Paranormal Travel is delighted to introduce our latest deep travel artist,
Tyson Schroeder. A cache of maps and journals circa 1868 America helped us track Hatter’s search and Volume 2 of the graphic novel trilogy is currently being illustrated by Tyson for release in Fall 2009. But while Tyson and the rest of the Institute are working at a feverish pace to put Hatter’s next adventure on the page we are cognizant of the need to supply our readers with deep travel updates. To this end I will soon be revealing ‘off map’ serialized webisodes dealing with the arcane and mystical side routes and characters that Hatter encounters as he searches for Alyss.

Meanwhile, in the prose world,
Penguin will be releasing the second book in The Looking Glass Wars trilogy—Seeing Redd—in paperback in October 2008 and the final book in the LGW series (title soon to be unveiled on LGW Message Boards) in Fall 2009.

On other fronts, I launched the
Card Soldier Wars, an online game based on my book series. Players are immersed in the visually rich Wonderland RPG environment as they recruit from the House of Cards to build their own Card Soldier armies and battle to place their Queen on the throne. Launched in January 08, to date there has been over 120 thousand visits and over 30 million page views.

And as a warning to all those who feel the lure of empowerment by Black Imagination, I will be releasing an interactive viral campaign featuring a furious monkey in a fez at
Pissed Off Monkey.com.”

For more information about Frank Beddor, Hatter M, or The Looking Glass Wars, please visit the
Official Looking Glass Wars Website.

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