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Friday, January 30, 2009

“Drood” by Dan Simmons (Reviewed by Liviu C. Suciu)

Order “DroodHERE

INTRODUCTION: As the celebrated author of the magnificent Hyperion Cantos saga, the critically acclaimed bestseller “The Terror”, and many other wonderful novels, Dan Simmons has proven time and again to be a writer of great versatility and appeal. In “Drood”, Mr. Simmons offers a stunning literary mystery that is audaciously tied to Charles Dickens’ final unfinished novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”…

SETTING:Drood” takes places in London and its surrounding environs from 1865 through 1889, with the bulk of the story occurring from June 1865 to June 1870. With its superb descriptions of a world long gone—the dark sewers of London, mysterious cults, country manors, and city-exclusive clubs—“Drood” vividly reminded me why I love Victorian fiction in the first place.

FORMAT/INFO:Drood” stands at 784 pages divided over fifty-three chapters. The narrator is none other than the famous Victorian-era writer, Wilkie Collins, younger disciple, friend and secret rival of Charles Dickens—though in this novel “dedicated to posterity”, we cannot be sure just how reliable a storyteller Wilkie really is. The story covers the last five years of Charles Dickens’ life as told by Wilkie about twenty years after the great writer's death, and ends with succinct recollections of the intervening events as pertaining to the rest of the characters.

February 9, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Drood” via
Little, Brown, and Company. A UK edition (see inset) will be published March 5, 2009 via Quercus.

PLOT HINTS AND ANALYSIS:Drood” is such a great book that at first I just wanted to write a two-line review:

Masterpiece. Read the novel as soon as you can get it.”

But then I decided to talk a little bit more about the book, even though no reasonable amount of discussion can do the novel justice since it covers so much. At its most basic however, “Drood” is a detailed recollection of the last five years of Charles Dickens' life as told in a secret journal by Wilkie Collins after the tragic train accident that turned Dickens’ life upside down, and includes the genesis of several famous novels and the beginning of Dickens’ cult-like celebrity. The book also explores obsession, artistic creation, addiction and the dark recesses of the human mind—and of London in the late 1860's.

Of the characters, Wilkie Collins is not a particularly likable narrator, nursing both a deep admiration and resentment toward his famous collaborator and friend, but he does possess quite enlightened views for the time period, especially regarding the role of women in society. Contrast this with Dickens who “exiled” his wife of twenty-two years, allowing only their eldest son to live with her at their country estate, while he continued secret assignations with his young mistress, though he maintained conventional Victorian views of women as “homemakers” in public…

About fifteen years younger and tied not only by literary collaboration and friendship, but by the marriage of Wilkie's brother to Dickens’ favorite daughter Kate, Collins is the one that Charles turns to whenever he encounters the unusual. So when the terrible train accident and the encounter with the mysterious and sinister Drood unhinges Dickens, it is Wilkie who becomes his partner in their explorations of the London underground.

The famous police inspector Hatchery, chronicled vividly by Dickens in a famous novel, is the counterpart to the shadowy Drood, and soon Wilkie finds himself torn between loyalty to Charles and a desire to upstage him once and for all by collaborating with Hatchery to expose Drood and Dickens himself…

Overall, “Drood” is not an easy read because of its size, the generally dark and foreboding tone, and how much is packed between the pages, but the novel is very engrossing, brims with energy and has quite a few humorous and lighter moments. For one, Mr. Simmons manages to insert a number of barbs to some of the foibles of our current society, and the opening page of the book is quite the tone-setter.

In conclusion, I can’t recommend “Drood” enough. It’s a literary gem that will compete for numerous awards in 2009, and enshrines Mr. Simmons as one of the best fiction authors writing today…
Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Tim Lebbon


2008 FAVORITES:

For many years now I've been keeping a list of all the books I read in a particular year, then for my own fun I choose what I think were the best three of the year. In some ways, that makes this feature quite easy for me! So, in no particular order, the best books I read in 2008 (and I'm aware that none of them were actually 2008 books . . . what can I say, I have a lot of catching up to do) were:

1)Bad Men” by
John Connolly is just painfully talented. “Bad Men” is a brutal crime novel with an extremely spooky, and also quite brutal supernatuaral aspect. It's a brilliant siege story, a complex tale of interwoven destinies and stark vengeance (both in this world and the next). His characters, especially Moloch and Melancholy Joe Dupree, took up residence in my house while I was reading this one . . . both superb creations, chilling and beautifully drawn. This would look fabulous on the big screen.

2)The Road” by
Cormac McCarthy. The first Cormac McCarthy novel I've read. Shattering, stunning, heartbreaking, it's a landmark piece of writing that will probably be referenced for many years to come whenever anyone discusses disaster/apocalyptic fiction. Any parent reading this book can't help but be affected by its intensity, and the hopelessness of the father's position. Made me cry.

3)Darkness, Take My Hand” by
Dennis Lehane. I know, it's taking me a while to catch up with Dennis Lehane, but I look at it this way: I've still got so many of his books to read, that I consider myself lucky. Already one of my favourite crime writers, and someone who is so successful at creating tension on the page that reading his books is an exhausting experience. Brilliant.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009:

The main book I'm looking forward to in 2009 is “Drood” by
Dan Simmons. After “The Terror”, which I think was quite possibly his best book yet (and that's saying something), I'm filled with anticipation for this next book. Also really looking forward to “Bad Things” by Michael Marshall.

ON THE HORIZON FOR TIM LEBBON:

And for me in 2009 ... quite a few releases lined up. “The Map of Moments” (co-written with Christopher Golden) is out now. “The Island”, my fourth
Noreela novel from Bantam Spectra, is due out very soon, both in the USA (trade paperback) and the UK (hardback). This year will also see the mass market paperback releases of “Fallen” (in the UK and USA) and “Mind the Gap” (USA only). “Bar None”, my first horror novel for a couple of years, is due sometime this year from Night Shade, and from Dark Horse will come “Hellboy: The Fire Wolves”. For full updates on all these and more (there are still several unnaounced projects due this year), check out http://www.timlebbon.net/

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Tim Lebbon is a British writer of horror and dark fantasy. He has won three British Fantasy Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, a Shocker and a Tombstone Award. Tim’s bibliography includes the “Dusk/Dawn” duology, the Noreela novel “Fallen”, “Beserk”, “The Everlasting”, “Hellboy: Unnatural Selection” and the New York Times bestselling movie novelization of
30 Days of Night. He is also the author of the novella “White”, soon to be a major motion picture. For more information, please visit the author’s Official Website.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index
HERE.

“Mortal Coils” by Eric Nylund (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Eric Nylund Blog
Order “Mortal Coils
HERE
Read An Excerpt
HERE
Read BookSpot Central’s Interview with Eric Nylund

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Eric Nylund is a New York Times bestselling author of several novels including three books based in the Halo videogame universe and the World Fantasy-nominated “Dry Water”. Eric is also a creative writer and story consultant for Microsoft Game Studios and has helped shape the intellectual property for some of the world's best videogame developers including Bioware (Mass Effect, Knights of the Old Republic), Ensemble Studios (Age of Empires), and Epic Games (Gears of War, Unreal). In comics, he co-wrote the “Battlestar Galactica: The Cylon War” mini-series—a prequel to the hit television show, first issue out January 2009—while the “Halo: Genesis” graphic novel will be published in the spring of 2009, and will appear in the Limited Collector's Edition of Halo Wars. Eric also has a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in chemistry, and is a graduate of the 1994 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop.

ABOUT MORTAL COILS: Nestled in a small town between San Francisco and the heart of the California wine country, a set of twins—Fiona and Eliot Post—live a life of mundane obscurity under the oppressive rule of their grandmother, which includes being home schooled, forced to work at a local pizzeria, and following ‘Grandmother’s 106 Rules’. On the eve of their fifteenth birthday, however, everything changes…

It turns out that Fiona and Eliot are much more than ordinary teenagers. They are the result of a single mistake: An immortal goddess and a fallen angel falling in love. To protect them from their dangerous heritage, their grandmother—Audrey Post—valiantly kept the twins hidden and camouflaged from the entities that have sought them over the years, transforming the divine into the dull.

But now they have been found—not only by their maternal relatives, but also by their paternal ancestors. For millennia, the Immortals and the Infernals have abided by a strict law that they may not meddle in each others' affairs. The twins represent a new balance of power, however, and can potentially open a door into the unknown. If they tip one way, they can be a great boon for the Immortals. If they tip the other way, they will be a powerful asset to the Infernals.

Each family is determined to gain control of Fiona and Eliot. But in order to establish the twins' proper place and rightful allegiance, each family devises tests to determine which side the twins favor. The Immortals create three heroic trials inspired by urban legends, taking them into deeper and more dangerous pockets of mythology incarnate in the modern world. The Infernals fashion three diabolical temptations for the twins, each one an attempt to forever isolate brother from sister.

The time has come for Fiona and Eliot to be judged, and it is a matter of life—and death—that they band together and learn to use their fledgling powers. For family allegiances are constantly shifting and the twins' actions could ultimately cause a war of apocalyptic proportions…

CLASSIFICATION:Mortal Coils” is a classic tale of good vs. evil centered around young protagonists who are much more than they seem—a concept commonly found in many epic fantasies. Except “Mortal Coils” is no simple epic fantasy novel as it takes place in contemporary times on Earth and draws heavily from recognizable mythology including Greek, Norse, and Biblical. The overall result is a fantasy novel that is both like and unlike anything I’ve read before with the closest comparison I could think of being Mark J. Ferrari’sThe Book of Joby”. And like “The Book of Joby”, “Mortal Coils” is a highly accessible fantasy that possesses Harry Potter-like appeal for both adults and younger readers…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 608 pages divided over eight Sections and eighty-two titled chapters. Narration is in the third person, mainly via the two protagonists Fiona and Eliot Post, but there are several other POVs including their grandmother Audrey, the driver Robert, Louis and characters from both the Immortals and Infernals families—Sealiah, Uncle Henry, Beal, etc. “Mortal Coils” is the launch of a five-book series, so Fiona & Eliot’s adventure is far from over, but this novel offers satisfying closure while also introducing a couple of interesting developments to be explored in the next volume. February 3, 2009 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of “Mortal Coils” via
Tor Books.

ANALYSIS: Eric Nylund’sMortal Coils” was one of several titles that immediately grabbed my attention when I first browsed through
Tor Books’ Winter 2009 Catalog. Aside from the short description and synopsis though, I really had no idea what to expect from “Mortal Coils”—especially since I’ve never read anything by the author—so I was quite surprised by all that the book had to offer…

For starters, the writing—which includes prose, characterization, plotting, pacing and research—is just superb. Basically, Eric really knows what he's doing as a writer, which is obvious from the very first page, and is a major reason why “Mortal Coils” is such an impressive book.

Beginning with the prose, Eric's writing style is efficient and accessible—characterized by a detailed eye for description and exceptional dialogue—and reminded me some of Mark J. Ferrari, although the writing is not quite as witty.

Characterization meanwhile, is outstanding particularly of the twins. Fiona & Eliot are the heart and soul of the book and Eric appropriately spends the most time on them, establishing their personalities—both are incredibly book-smart (like walking encyclopedias), but are shy and naïve of the world around them—their fears and desires; and unique traits like the vocabulary insult game they always play or the rules they've been ingrained to follow since they were little children:

Rule 55: No books, comics, films, or other media of the science fiction, fantasy, or horror genres—especially, but not limited to, the occult or pseudosciences (alchemy, spirituality, numerology, etc.) or any ancient or urban mythology.

Rule 34: No music, including the playing of any instruments (actual or improvised), singing, humming, electronically or by any means producing or reproducing a rhythmic melodic form.

In short, Fiona and Eliot, despite their unusual upbringing, feel like real people and are characters that readers can really bond with. The supporting cast on the other hand, doesn't possess the same kind of depth and complexity as the twins, but the Infernals (Beelzebub, Lilith, Mephistopheles, Abbadon, etc.) and Immortals (Hermes, Gilgamesh, Ares, the Sisters of Fate, etc.) are certainly attention-grabbing with the former deliciously larger-than-life—they have titles like Master of the Endless Abyssal Seas, Handmaiden of Armageddon, and the King of the Blasted Lands—while the latter are flawed and mysterious. Then there's the Driver Robert Farmington and Julie Marks who are both a bit flat as characters despite playing important roles in the novel, but hopefully they'll be better developed in the sequels.

Story-wise, “Mortal Coils” features a plot that is at once delightfully complex—full of Machiavellian scheming and engrossing mysteries—and comfortably familiar including coming-of-age themes, budding romances, and heroic adventures. Some of the mysteries and subplots like the identity of the twins' parents, Julie Marks' decision and Louis' plotting are easy to figure out ahead of time, but for the most part Eric does a good job of mixing things up and keeping the reader engaged. The pacing is particularly impressive, as the book never feels rushed or too long despite clocking in at over 600 pages.

Where “Mortal Coils” really separates itself from other fantasy novels though, is the imaginative manner in which Eric uses mythology from all cultures and ages including Greek, Norse, Biblical, European fairy tales, the legend of King Arthur, Shakespeare, and so on. For instance, Ares is not depicted simply as a Greek god, but as an Immortal who draws from different myths like the Red Horseman of the Apocalypse, the Charioteer, Lancelot, and the King of the Sacred Grove. The same can also be said for Lucifer (the Morning Star, the Prince of Darkness), Hermes (Big Bad Wolf, Loki Sly Boots) and any of the other Infernals or Immortals in the book. It's not just the characters that are inspired by mythology either. Magic—such as Eliot's gift for playing the violin, Fiona's ability to cut through anything, divining the future, Golden Apples, the fifth element, etc.—comes from the same sources, while Eric also utilizes urban legends (alligator in the sewer), Faustian deals and conspiracy theories (Area 51). And that's just scratching the surface. In fact, the book even uses footnotes from texts like “Gods of the First and Twenty-first Century”, “Mythica Improbiba”, and “Golden's Guide to Extraordinary Books” to help the reader out:

2. The fire-bringer legend is ubiquitous in many cultures, in which heroes/gods endure trials or engineer trickery to bring the gift of fire to humanity. Many of these heroes are revered, but many others are punished. In Greek mythology, Prometheus for his crime was chained to a rock and every day an eagle would rip out his liver, which regrew overnight, which was to repeat throughout eternity. It is considered an apocryphal lesson to teach primitive man not to meddle with the gods. Yet without the gift of fire, where would mankind be? Many anthropologists wonder if this tale is not actually a propaganda piece, martyring those who have defied the gods. Gods of the First and Twenty-first Century, Volume 4: Core Myths (Part 1), 8th ed. (Zypheron Press Ltd.).

Overall, “Mortal Coils” is an incredibly ambitious novel that required a ton of work and research, and is all the more impressive because the book is also brilliantly written and narrated, features a memorable cast of characters, and is greatly rewarding. Even more impressive is the fact that "Mortal Coils" is only the first book in a projected five-volume series, which makes me simply marvel at the scope of what Eric Nylund is trying—successfully I hope—to accomplish.

CONCLUSION: Eric Nylund is currently best known for his
Halo novels and his work with videogames, but I have a feeling that when all is said and done, this epic five-volume series started by “Mortal Coils” will be remembered as the author's magnum opus. Just a magnificent blend of magic, myth, dysfunctional families, imagination and storytelling, “Mortal Coils” is a future classic…
Monday, January 26, 2009

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Lev Grossman


2008 FAVORITES:

There was a second there when I froze and thought, holy God, I can't think of enough great SF and F from 2008, and I will be exposed for what I am, a bad author who doesn't read enough. Then it all came back to me. Whew.

1)Matter” by
Iain Banks. “Sursamen collected adjectives the way ordinary planets collected moons. It was Arithmetic, it was Mottled, it was Disputed, it was Multiply Inhabited, it was Multi-million-year Safe, and it was Godded.” To me Banks is one of the Great Living Masters. Not only has he created a far-future, ultra-high-tech universe that feels as rich and detailed as, well, reality, he's created a whole rich, detailed, living vocabulary to describe it with. And he's funny, too.

2)The Graveyard Book” by
Neil Gaiman. A little boy whose parents have been killed wanders into a graveyard. The ghosts there decide they will bring him up as their own. Thus are the comforting and the horrifying mingled together so closely that you can't tell where one stops and the other starts. Each chapter of this book is as dense and moving as an entire novel by another, lesser author. Damn you Neil Gaiman.

3)Anathem” by
Neal Stephenson. I found it hard to get into this book, and once I was in I find it impossible to leave. The plot: cloistered mathematicians maintain the integrity of their scholarship by staying safely locked away from the contaminations of the outside world, and of other orders of mathematicians. Until the outside world goes to hell and needs some math to fix it. It seems impossible that anybody could be this smart and also this good of a writer. And yet here's the evidence.

4)The Great Outdoor Fight” by
Chris Onstad. The first major-label print book from the webcomic masterpiece Achewood. The Great Outdoor Fight: “3 Days. 3 Acres. 3,000 Men.” Achewood is one of those things that's kind of hard to explain. If you don't get it, you don't get it. But if you do get it? You've come home, son.

5) I'm having trouble cutting this list off at five.
Rich Burlew, the genius auteur behind “The Order of the Stick”, released another print volume this year, “War and XP’s”. If you're reading OOTS then you're probably also reading the equally great “Battle For Gobwin’s Knob”—still waiting for a print version of that. The final issue of “Y: The Last Man” came out this year. I think. And Naomi Novik released the fifth Temeraire book this year, “Victory of Eagles”. Dragons plus Napoleonic warfare—so great.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009:

The great but difficult to pronounce
China Miéville has “The City and the City” coming up later this spring. The great, easily pronouncable George R.R. Martin has sworn a mighty oath to deliver “Dance With Dragons” this fall. Please, oh please. Also looking forward to volume 2 of “All-Star Superman”. Oh, and Daniel Suarez'sDaemon”, too. Though if we're going to stickle, “Daemon” Is already out, since it went on sale on January 8. And he self-published it back in 2006. And I've already read it. But it's still great.

ON THE HORIZON FOR LEV GROSSMAN:

My book “The Magicians” will be out in May in the U.K. and in August in the U.S. It's a novel about a boy named Quentin who's obsessed with a series of fantasy novels about a magical land called Fillory. Quentin winds up attending a secret college for magic—a bit like Hogwarts but more dangerous and with more drinking. Then when he graduates he discovers that Fillory isn't fictional at all...

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

A graduate from Harvard with a degree in Literature, Lev Grossman is the author of “Warp”, the internationally bestselling “Codex”, and the upcoming “The Magicians”. He has written for a number of notable publications including the Village Voice, Entertainment Weekly, Time Out New York, Salon and the New York Times, and is currently a book critic/technology writer for
Time. Lev is also the twin brother of Austin Grossman who wrote “Soon I Will Be Invincible”. For more information, please visit the author’s Official Website.

NOTE: For more author responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index
HERE.

“End of the Century” by Chris Roberson (Reviewed by Fábio Fernandes)

Order “End of the CenturyHERE

Good writers don´t necessarily try to “make it new”, as Ezra Pound used to say. Pound, alas, is dead, and so is Modernism, for that matter. What good writers do, though, is tell a compelling story mixing and remixing old tropes and experimenting with clichés so they can still bring the reader some joy and surprise, suspending disbelief, even when he or she is pretty much sure that all the important, interesting things were already said and done (another assumption which should be very dead by now, by the way).

That´s what Chris Roberson does in his new novel, “End of The Century”—he mixes very different storylines and characters in a 21st century approach to a more than revisited plot premise: the Quest for the Holy Grail.

First, in the Sixth Century CE, we follow young Galaad of Glevum in his travel to Caer Llundain, also known as Londinium, where he intends to consult with High King Artor about the strange visions he´s been having since he suffered an accident. This pilgrimage will make him, Artor and his Knights of the Round Table, go to a very strange place and face a really fearsome—and apparently supernatural—adversary.

The second storyline takes place in 1897, in Victorian times London. There, we meet Sandford Blank and Roxanne Bonaventure, a couple of very unusual Victorian detectives, not dissimiliar in gestures and actions to that famous TV couple of the sixties, The Avengers (Blank and Bonaventure, reminded me of Mr. Steed and Emma Peel—though more him than her, actually). Together, the duo faces the evil deeds of a serial killer, the Torso Killer, who cuts off heads and dismembers bodies . . . and not only female ones as Jack the Ripper did.

In the last storyline, we meet young Alice Fell, an American runaway girl in 1999 London intent on unraveling a mystery involving visions of a wheel—visions that she’s been having since she suffered an accident as an infant. Completely clueless and lost in London, she is attacked by a mysterious figure and is saved in the nick of time by an elderly gay ex-secret agent...

Roberson interweaves the three timelines very deftly, making the narrative an integrated, non-stop piece. The Galaad tale is told almost in an epic style. Dialogues are realistic, but the situations they come to face are indeed of an epic scale, reminiscent of Gene Wolfe in stories as “The Knight”. The Blank/Bonaventure narrative reads like a Sherlockian mystery, with a fair share of action scenes as well. The Alice Fell story is a high-paced espionage thriller, complete with secret hideouts (the entrance by a toilet stall is definitely Avengers-like) and bizarre futuristic weapons. Her newfound friend seems to be a more tranquil, cool version of Moorcock´s famed Jerry Cornelius.

In their respective timelines, the band of knights, the Victorian detective duo, and the unlikely couple of runaway girl/gay agent battle a bloody enemy, known only as the Huntsman, a being no longer human and which is always followed by a pack of equally transformed hounds. They must vanquish this enemy in order to fulfill their destinies, whatever they are—and they are everything but simple.

The coincidence is that I was reading Sideways in Crime at the same time I started reading “End of The Century”, so I read Roberson´s short story “Death on the Crosstime Express” and learned about his concept of the Myriad. Well, I not only love Michael Moorcock´s Multiverse, but Alan Moore and Kim Newman (to whom Chris dedicates the book, along with Moorcock) are among my favorite writers. So I figured “End of the Century” would make a good reading.

I was wrong. “End of the Century” is EXCELLENT reading.

One of the most important things the reader should keep in mind about “End of the Century” is that it stands all by itself. You may have never read anything by Chris Roberson before, and you will understand every bit of the story—or the stories, since there are three of them alternating with each other almost until the end, when they merge in a very coherent way, tying all (or almost all) the loose ends.

On the other hand, even though the cover is beautifully done (and Alice Fell is portrayed almost to perfection, except that Roberson describes her as having a nose ring, not a pierced lip, as she is drawn in the cover), I found it deceiving (and just a little bit disappointing, conceptually speaking), because it almost tricked me to believe this was a girl´s adventure—no, I don´t have anything against girl´s adventure books, but they are not my cup of tea, actually. If I hadn´t read Chris Roberson before, I could have dismissed this novel, or at the very best put it aside for a few weeks.

But one should know better than to dismiss a book for its cover. I didn´t do it, and it was all for the best. Because “End of The Century” is one of the best 2009 books I´ve read in 2008. Roberson raised the bar of my expectations.
Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fantasy Book Critic’s 2008 Review/2009 Preview — Robert Thompson


At first, I wasn’t sure if I would do a Year End’s list, partly because I hardly read anything after August 2008, but also because I’ve been so busy. But, I managed to find some free time and, inspired by Lou Ander’s contribution HERE, I’ve decided that my list would cover more than just literature. So, even though it’s a little bit late, here’s my 2008 Review/2009 Preview...

2008 FAVORITES — Books:

~Fantasy:

True to the name of the blog, I read more fantasy than any other genre in 2008. And even though there were many outstanding titles that I didn’t get to like Steven Erikson’sToll the Hounds”, Joe Abercrombie’sLast Argument of Kings”, Brandon Sanderson’sThe Well of Ascension”, Brent Weeks’ Night Angel Trilogy, Paul Kearney’sThe Ten Thousand”, Brian Ruckley’sBloodheir”, and Pamela Freeman’sDeep Water”, etc., I still ended up reading a ton of great fantasy:

01)The Kingdom Beyond the Waves” by
Stephen Hunt. Reviewed HERE. Set in the same marvelous world as “The Court of the Air”, “The Kingdom Beyond the Waves” is even better with greater thrills and adventure while retaining the magic, creativity and novelty of the first book…
02)Return of the Crimson Guard” by
Ian Cameron Esslemont. Despite a somewhat slow and haphazard start, “Return of the Crimson Guard” was a monster of a book, breathlessly epic in scope with awesome characters and a wonderfully elaborate story. It was almost the same level of mastery as Steven Erikson...
03)Iron Angel” by
Alan Campell. Reviewed HERE. Superior to its predecessor in every area, “Iron Angel” blew me away with it’s larger-than-life tale of a gothic, steampunk-influenced world of fallen gods, angels, and demons. It’s like a blockbuster videogame told in prose :)
04)The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” by
Galen Beckett. Reviewed HERE. Exquistely written, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is a remarkably charming, witty, and entertaining fantasy that evokes Jane Austen and “Jane Eyre”. I just couldn’t put it down...
05)The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” by
Greg Keyes. Reviewed HERE. Embodying the spirit of classic sword & sorcery fantasy like Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian, “The Hounds of Ash and Other Tales of Fool Wolf” is jam-packed with adventure, swordplay, magic, mythology, tongue-in-cheek humor and clever deception. I absolutely loved it!
06)Kushiel’s Mercy” by
Jacqueline Carey. Reviewed HERE. Jacqueline’s Kushiel novels are among my personal favorites, and with her latest book, Ms. Carey concludes the excellent Imriel trilogy on a very joyful and triumphant note. Even more, it’s one of the best books in the whole Kushiel saga...
07)Empire In Black & Gold” by
Adrian Tchaikovsky. Reviewed HERE. Offering a familiar, yet refreshingly original take on epic fantasy, “Empire In Black & Gold” was impressive as both a debut and the start to a promising new series :)
08)The Born Queen” by
Greg Keyes. Reviewed HERE. Individually, “The Born Queen” is not the best book in The Kingdoms of Thorn & Bone series, but as the rewarding endpiece to one of the more underrated and entertaining fantasy sagas out there, the novel is a brilliant standout...
09)Shadow Gate” by
Kate Elliott. Reviewed HERE. Much better than “Spirit Gate”, featuring rich worldbuilding, intimate characterization, thought-provoking themes and a compelling story, “Shadow Gate” was one of the most intelligent and ambitious fantasy releases of the year...
10)Lord Tophet” by
Gregory Frost. Reviewed HERE. A huge improvement over its predecessor, “Lord Tophet” is the richly rewarding conclusion to the Shadowbridge duology, and just a marvelous work of invention and storytelling.
11)Midnight Never Come” by
Marie Brennan. Reviewed HERE. Spectacularly researched, beautifully imagined, and utterly charming, “Midnight Never Come” is a spellbinding cross between an Elizabethan historical and a gothic fairy tale...
12)An Autumn War” by
Daniel Abraham. Reviewed HERE. The third—and in my opinion, the best—volume (so far) in the superb Long Price Quartet, “An Autumn War” delivers the goods including a jaw-dropping finale!
13)Havemercy” by
Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett. Reviewed HERE. One of the year’s biggest surprises, “Havemercy” really delighted me with its strong writing, wonderful characters and Sarah Monette-like uniqueness.
14)The Steel Remains” by
Richard K. Morgan. Reviewed HERE (UK Release). Bold, entertaining as hell, and tailor-made for adult readers, Morgan’s first foray into the fantasy genre is for anyone who likes their fantasy harsh, cynical, bloody and extreme…
15)The Red Wolf Conspiracy” by Robert V.S. Redick. Reviewed HERE. Even though the book falters at the end and I had some issues with the plot, “The Red Wolf Conspiracy” was intelligently crafted, highly imaginative with superb world-building, and highly appealing...
16)Blood Ties” by
Pamela Freeman. Reviewed HERE. Possessing the accessibility of a children’s book while telling a powerful coming-of-age story rich in imagination, emotion, and wonder, “Blood Ties” was undeniably charming and fun to read.

~Science Fiction:

2008 was not a good year for me when it came to science fiction as I somehow managed to not read many of the titles I was planning to including Neal Stephenson’sAnathem”, Peter F. Hamilton’sThe Temporal Void”, David Weber’sBy Schism Rent Asunder”, Walter Jon Williams’Implied Spaces”, David Louis Edelman’sMultiReal”, Greg Bear’sCity at the End of Time”, Tobias S. Buckell’sSly Mongoose”, Kay Kenyon’sA World Too Near”, and Andy Remic’sBioHell”. But of the titles I did read, there were a number of highlights:

01)The Host” by
Stephenie Meyer. Reviewed HERE. “The Host” is the first and only book that I’ve ever read by the author of the mega-popular Twilight Saga, and while it’s arguably more of a romance than science fiction, the book thoroughly impressed me with its superb storytelling and complex characters...
02)Escapement” by
Jay Lake. Reviewed HERE. Vastly improved over its predecessor, “Escapement” is a stunningly sophisticated, creative and distinctive mixture of steampunk, alternate history, fantasy, and science fiction with travelogue/coming-of-age elements, theology and philosophy all mixed in.
03)Singularity’s Ring” by
Paul Melko. Reviewed HERE. Acessible and involving with a truly unique narrative voice—a pod quintet named Apollo Papadopulos—“Singularity’s Ring” really left an impression on me.
04)Debatable Space” by
Philip Palmer. Reviewed HERE. Incredibly zany, unpredictable and unorthodox, “Debatable Space” was a totally wild trip—and I loved every minute of it :) I can’t wait for Palmer’s next offering.
05)Hunter’s Run” by
George R. R. Martin, Gardner Dozois, and Daniel Abraham. Reviewed HERE (US Debut). “Hunter’s Run” may not have lived up to its billing as a “new benchmark in modern SF”, but it was well-written and thought-provoking.
06)Death’s Head: Maximum Offense” by
David Gunn. Reviewed HERE. Full of brutal in-your-face action, sardonic humor and badass characters, “Death’s Head: Maximum Offense” is awesome, testosterone-fueled military SF fun :D
07)The Mirrored Heavens” by
David J. Williams. Reviewed HERE. Though flawed, “The Mirrored Heavens” was a smart, intense and engaging futuristic thriller that effectively combined cyberpunk, military science fiction and espionage...

~Young Adult:

Even though I never got around to reading Neil Gaiman’sThe Graveyard Book”, Terry Pratchett’sNation”, Kristin Cashore’sGraceling”, Marie Rutkoski’sThe Cabinet of Wonders” and a number of other titles like I wanted to, I still read more YA/children’s books in 2008 than I did in 2007 including such highlights as Andrew Peterson’sOn the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness” and Christopher Golden’sPoison Ink”. But the two standouts of the year were easily
Cory Doctorow’sLittle Brother” (Reviewed HERE) and Peter David’sTigerheart” (Reviewed HERE). I loved both books equally but for very different reasons—“Little Brother” because it was smart, timely, plausible, provocative and fun; and “Tigerheart” because it was charming, whimsical, insightful, magical and timeless. In short, not only were “Little Brother” and “Tigerheart” two of the year’s best YA releases, but they were also two of the best books I read in all of 2008...

~Misc. (Horror, Literary, Urban Fantasy, etc.):

From horror, thrillers, historical fiction and urban fantasy to steampunk, literary novels, crime noir and all those in between, I branched out quite a lot in 2008. But since I didn’t really read all that much in any one of the aforementioned subgenres, I just decided to group together all of my miscellaneous favorites:

01)The Resurrectionist” by
Jack O’Connell. Reviewed HERE. Deftly blurring the line between reality and imagination, “The Resurrectionist” is a simply magical tale of drama, mystery and fantastical adventure. Arguably my favorite book of 2008.
02)Severance Package” by
Duane Swierczynski. Reviewed HERE. A wild mix of noir, espionage, and dark office humor—think Alias meets The Office meets Mr. and Mrs. Smith as imagined by Quentin Tarantino—“Severance Package” was the most entertaining novel I read all year. Bring on the movie!
03)The Monsters of Templeton” by
Lauren Groff. Reviewed HERE. “Part contemporary story of a girl’s search for her father, part historical novel, and part ghost story”, “The Monsters of Templeton” was 100 percent spellbinding...
04)Stalking the Unicorn” by Mike Resnick (Re-Release). Reviewed
HERE. Smart, highly inventive, and outrageously funny, “Stalking the Unicorn” (1987) was just a blast to read! A true classic that will stand the test of time...
05)The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski. Beautifully written, profound, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching, “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” is a stunning novel that I will be re-reading for years to come...
06)Sharp Teeth” by
Toby Barlow. Reviewed HERE. Mixing pulp fiction noir with horror and the supernatural, “Sharp Teeth” is a contemporary werewolf tale written in verse. Need I say more :)
07)Whitechapel Gods” by S.M. Peters. Reviewed
HERE. Full of imagination and movie/videogame-like action & adventure, “Whitechapel Gods” is a Victorian steampunk sci-fi/fantasy hybrid that totally kicks ass!
08)The Alchemy of Stone” by
Ekaterina Sedia. Reviewed HERE. A magnificent blend of steampunk, gothic romance, political intrigue, and fairy tale spirit, “The Alchemy of Stone” completely enchanted me with its exquisite prose and surreal imagination...
09)The Queen’s Bastard” by
C.E. Murphy. Reviewed HERE. Falling somewhere between historical fiction and Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel novels, “The Queen’s Bastard” was one of the year’s most pleasant surprises for me. Simply captivating.
10)Through a Glass, Darkly” by
Bill Hussey. Reviewed HERE. Dark, disturbingly imaginative, skillfully written, and featuring a story that see-saws between the psychological and the macabre, “Through a Glass, Darkly” was easily the best horror novel I read in 2008 :)
11)Infected” by
Scott Sigler. Reviewed HERE. A genre-busting blend of bio-thriller, horror fiction and suspense, “Infected” is a pulse-pounding novel that delivers both chills and thrills...
12)Happy Hour of the Damned” by
Mark Henry. Reviewed HERE. Sassy, sexy, and loads of fun, “Happy Hour of the Damned” turned out to be the most daring and original urban fantasy novel I read in 2008.
13) The Magician and the Fool” by
Barth Anderson. Reviewed HERE. Partly a contemporary tale of identity, love, and redemption; and partly a thought-provoking mystery based on the origins of Tarot and the founding of Rome; “The Magician and the Fool” opened up my imagination and challenged my perception of the unknown...
14)Inside Straight” edited by
George R. R. Martin. Reviewed HERE. A smart, imaginative and realistic look at a world with superheroes, “Inside Straight” exceeded the hype and made me a permanent fan of the Wild Cards universe.
15)Neuropath” by
Scott Bakker. Reviewed HERE (UK/Canada Release). Combining psychological/techno thrills with police procedural, horror, and a sprinkle of near-future science fiction, “Neuropath” offers a uniquely smart, provocative and unsettling reading experience…

Honorable mentions include Mike Carey’sVicious Circle” (US Debut) and David J. Schwartz’sSuperpowers

~Debuts:

More than anything else, I love reading debut novels, and even though I missed a few (Andrew Davidson’sThe Gargoyle”, Peter V. Brett’sThe Painted Man”, Nick Harkaway’sThe Gone-Away World", Hannah Tinti’sThe Good Thief”, etc.) 2008 was just full of outstanding debuts:

01)The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” by
Galen Beckett. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
02)The Monsters of Templeton” by
Lauren Groff. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
03)The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski. See comments above.
04)Sharp Teeth” by
Toby Barlow. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
05)Empire In Black & Gold” by
Adrian Tchaikovsky. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
06)Whitechapel Gods” by S.M. Peters. Reviewed
HERE. See comments above.
07)Through a Glass, Darkly” by
Bill Hussey. Reviewed HERE.
08)Singularity’s Ring” by
Paul Melko. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
09)Debatable Space” by
Philip Palmer. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
10)Happy Hour of the Damned” by
Mark Henry. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
11)Havemercy” by
Jaida Jones & Danielle Bennett. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
12)The Red Wolf Conspiracy” by Robert V.S. Redick. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
13)The Mirrored Heavens” by
David J. Williams. Reviewed HERE. See comments above.
14)The Wolfman” by Nicholas Pekearo. Reviewed
HERE. Blending hard-boiled crime noir with horror and the supernatural like Charlie Huston’s Joe Pitt novels, “The Wolfman” was a striking debut by an author whose life was cut short way too early...
15)The Somnambulist” by
Jonathan Barnes. Reviewed HERE (US Debut). Mixes Victoriana, detective mystery, gothic horror, black comedy, supernatural fantasy and an unreliable narrator for a bizarre, yet entertaining reading experience. Will definitely be picking up the sequel, “The Domino Men”.

Honorable mentions include Chris Evan’sA Darkness Forged In Fire”, David Oppegaard’sThe Suicide Collectors” and Dorothy Hearst’sPromise of the Wolves

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009 — Books:

If the books (Jasper Kent’s "Twelve", Eric Nylund’sMortal Coils”, Daniel Fox’sDragon In Chains”, Ken Scholes’Lamentation”) I’ve read so far are any indication, then 2009 is going to be another banner year for speculative fiction. I’ve already covered a bunch of titles that I’m looking forward to this year with my Upcoming 2009 Releases articles
HERE (Part 1) + HERE (Part 2), but there are still a ton of books that I can’t wait to get my hands on...

The Pretender’s Crown” by C.E. Murphy
Audrey’s Door” by Sarah Langan
Watcher of the Dead” by J.V. Jones
The Cardinal's Blades” by Pierre Pevel
The Unseen” by Alexandra Sokoloff
The Angel’s Game” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In Ashes Lie” by Marie Brennan
The Edge of the World” by Kevin J. Anderson
Death's Head: Day Of The Damned” by David Gunn
Naamah’s Kiss” by Jacqueline Carey
The Light of Burning Shadows” by Chris Evans
The Price of Spring” by Daniel Abraham
By Heresies Distressed” by David Weber
The Long Man" by Steve Englehart
Dragon Keeper” by Robin Hobb
The Desert Spear” by Peter V. Brett
The Red Tree” by Caitlin R. Kiernan
The Rats and the Ruling Sea” by Robert V.S. Redick
Dust of Dreams” by Steven Erikson
The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart” by Jesse Bullington
The Golden City” by John Twelve Hawks
The Other Lands” by David Anthony Durham
The Cold Commands” by Richard K. Morgan
My Dead Body” by Charlie Huston
Orbus” by Neal Asher
A Memory of Light” by Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan
...and many others that I’ve forgotten about or haven’t discovered yet ;)

2008 FAVORITES — Graphic Novels:

Ever since I started Fantasy Book Critic, I haven’t read nearly as many comic books as I used to. Still, I managed to read some really good graphic novels this year like Stephen King’sThe Gunslinger Born” and “The Long Road Home”, GRRM’sThe Sworn Sword”, Michael Easton’sSoul Stealer”, Garth Ennis’The Boys” and Ultimates 2. But three titles really stood out for me in 2008:

1)The Umbrella Academy” by
Gerard Way & Gabriel Bá. Despite the hype, I was pretty wary about checking out this series. I mean, since when has a rockstar ever written a decent comic book series? Well Gerard proved me wrong, and coupled with Gabriel’s deliciously distinctive artwork, the duo produced one of the most eclectic, yet rewarding comic books of the year...

2)Joker” by
Brian Azzarello & Lee Bermejo. Because of The Dark Knight I’ve been jonesing for anything Batman/Joker-related. Luckily for me, along comes the “Joker” original graphic novel, a superbly gritty and realistic vision of Batman’s arch-nemesis. Immediately ranks right up there with other classic Joker stories like “The Killing Joke” and “Arkham Asylum”...

3)Madame Mirage” by
Paul Dini & Kenneth Rocafort. Reviewed HERE. Now I admit that what I loved the most about “Madame Mirage” was Rocafort’s stunning artwork, but the story is nothing to scoff at either, and with Paul Dini’s stamp on it, you can bet you’re going to be entertained...

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009 — Graphic Novels:

Since I don’t read individual comic book issues any more, I have to wait for the collected editions to be released. As a result, my graphic novel wishlist is immense, but here are some of the more notable titles:

Stephen King’sDark Tower: Treachery
Stephen King’sThe Stand: Captain Tripps
Orson Scott Card’sEnder’s Game” + “Ender’s Shadow
Dean Koontz’sFrankenstein: Prodigal Son
Wild Cards: The Hard Call” by Daniel Abraham
Todd McFarlane’sHaunt
The Umbrella Academy: Dallas
Joe Hill’sLocke & Key: Head Games
Peter David’sSir Apropos of Nothing
Warren Ellis’Hotwire
Incognito” by Ed Brubaker
Batman: R.I.P.
City Of Dust” by Steve Niles
Mark Millar’sKick-Ass
Tales of the Green Woman” by Peter Straub & Michael Easton
Soul Stealer: Blood and Rain
Dark Delicacies Anthology Series

2008 FAVORITES — Movies:

I watch a ton of movies, not in the theatre, but I average about 3-4 DVDs per week. That’s a lot of movies, but I enjoyed no film more than
The Dark Knight. I already blogged about the film HERE, so let me just add that The Dark Knight wasn’t just my favorite movie of 2008; it’s now one of my all-time favorites right up there with the 1989 Batman and the original Crow starring the late Brandon Lee...

Other movies I really enjoyed included Iron Man, Kung Fu Panda, Hellboy II which I thought was a lot better than the first one, the inspirational August Rush, Horton Hears A Who, Cloverfield, Eagle Eye, Planet Terror, and the imaginative Hong Kong horror/dark fantasy film Re-Cycle.

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009 — Movies:

Like a lot of people, I’m most excited to see the adaptation of
Watchmen, although I might wait until the unrated and uncut version is released on DVD. But there are a lot of other films that I’m anxious to watch as well including G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra, the very cool-looking animated film 9, Terminator: Salvation, Star Trek, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Coraline, The Wolfman, Sherlock Holmes and James Cameron’s Avatar if it manages to come out...

~On DVD:

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Quantum of Solace
Let the Right One In
Midnight Meat Train
Gran Torino
Splinter
Repo! The Genetic Opera
Blindness
Quarantine

2008 FAVORITES — Television Shows:

All we have is very basic basic cable—local channels basically—so I’m a bit limited at what I can watch television-wise. Fortunately, ABC, NBC, FOX and CBS continue to offer some of my favorite programs like
Chuck, The Office, 30 Rock, Heroes, Family Guy and my number one favorite, Lost, which continues to captivate year in and year out. It’s also the show I’m looking forward to watching the most in 2009, although I am intrigued by Dollhouse.

And thanks to DVDs, my wife and I were introduced to a couple of new favorites in 2008 including the superb
Dexter and How I Met Your Mother. Myself, I finally decided to see what all of the buzz was about regarding the anime series Death Note, and was subsequently blown away...

Of the new shows, I’m really enjoying the hell out of
Fringe. Even though it’s basically an updated version of The X-Files and includes actor Joshua Jackson who I could care less about, it features great production & writing and is a program that I’ll be following weekly...

2008 FAVORITES — Videogames:

2008 was the year I finally got a PS3, as well as a Nintendo DS. And even though I didn’t get to play very many games, what few I did play simply reinforced why I bought the systems in the first place...

1)
Metal Gear Solid 4 (PS3). Apart from Final Fantasy and Resident Evil, there is no other franchise I enjoy playing more than Metal Gear. And even with all of the hype surrounding the game, Metal Gear Solid 4 exceeded all of my expectations and delivered one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had, punctuated by stunning graphics, an interactive movie-like story, and a memorable cast of characters...

2)
Fallout 3 (PS3). I bought this free-roaming RPG when it first came out in October and I’m still playing it. Massively huge, Fallout 3 is another super-hyped up game that delivers the goods and is just a blast to play...

3)
Dead Space (PS3). This was the surprise of the year for me. I had no expectations when I first started playing the game, but by the time I had finished beating it, Dead Space had become one of my favorite survival horror games of all time. Highly recommended to any fan of the genre...

4)
Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS). Castlevania is another videogame franchise that I’m a huge fan of and even though Order of Ecclesia is a bit old-school and wasn’t one of the better entries in the series, I still had a lot of fun vanquishing Dracula . . . again...

5)
Prince of Persia (PS3). The platforming and boss fights can get a bit repetitive, and the story itself is fairly simple, but Prince of Persia is just beautiful to look at, the controls are incredibly intuitive, and I have to applaud the developers for trying something different...

6)
Ninja Gaiden: Dragon Sword (DS). Featuring fast & furious ninja sword action that required the use of your stylus, Dragon Sword was incredibly fun to play, but doesn’t rank higher because it was just too damn short...

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009 — Videogames:

~PS3:

Resident Evil 5
Bionic Commando
Prototype
Batman: Arkham Asylum
The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf

And if they come out in 2009—Final Fantasy XIII, God of War III, Jak & Daxter: The Lost Frontier, the White Knight Chronicles, and Final Fantasy Versus XIII

~Nintendo DS:

Suikoden Tierkreis
Dragon Quest IX: Protectors of the Sky

2008 FAVORITES — Artwork:

Last year I provided a list of my favorite book covers, but for 2008 I decided to just honor one artist. Now, between the stunning pieces he contributed to the “Gardens of the Moon” limited edition (
Subterranean Press) and his amazing work on the A Song of Ice & Fire 2009 calendar, Michael Komarck would normally have been the runaway favorite. But 2008 also saw the passing of Michael Turner, my favorite comic book artist of all time, so I felt that it was only fitting that the honor went to him and the legacy that he leaves behind...

2008 FAVORITES — Music:

2008 was a year of disappointment for me as most of the albums I was anticipating failed to live up to expectations including records by Metallica, Coldplay, Guns N’ Roses, Snow Patrol, Keane, Weezer, Oasis, 10 Years, Death Cab For Cutie, Glasvegas, etc. On the flipside, I was surprised by a few albums I didn’t expect to enjoy like Akon’sFreedom”, Kanye West’s808’s & Heartbreaks” and MGMT’sOracular Spectacular”, while Head’s solo effort was much better than I thought it would be. Overall though, there wasn’t a single album that I liked from start to finish. There were several songs I enjoyed though:

Take & Take” by Garfield Mayor
Only One” by Alex Band
Mercy” by Ours
I’m Not Over” by Caroline Liar
Say (All I Need)” by OneRepublic
You Got Me” by One Block Radius
Insane” by Scars on Broadway
Spiraling” by Keane
Love Is Noise” by The Verve
Paranoid” (Ft. Mr. Hudson) by Kanye West
It Can’t Rain Everyday” by P.O.D.
Sensual Seduction” by Snoop Dogg
By the Way” by Theory of a Deadman

LOOKING AHEAD TO 2009 — Music:

I haven’t really paid attention to what’s coming out in 2009, but here are a few bands whose records I will be anticipating...

Blue October
The Fray
Julien-K
Lily Allen
Busta Rhymes
U2
Chris Cornell
The Prodigy
Depeche Mode
Deftones
Dr. Dre
Eminem
Green Day
Chipmunk
Tinchy Stryder
Korn/Jonathan Davis solo
Alice in Chains
Breaking Benjamin


NOTE: For more responses, please visit Fantasy Book Critic's 2008 Review/2009 Preview index
HERE.

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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Click here to find out more about “The Broken Eye”
Review HERE

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Click here to find out more about “Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki”
Review HERE

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Click here to find out more about “City of Stairs”
Review HERE

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

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

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Click here to find out more about “Edge of Eternity”
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Click here to find out more about “Towers of Samarcand”
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Click here to find out more about “Tyrant: Force of Kings”
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