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- "Encrypted" by Lindsay Buroker (Reviewed by Liviu ...
- More Upcoming and Current 2011 Books of Interest, ...
- More 2011 Notable Upcoming Novels: The Samuil Petr...
- "The Heroes" by Joe Abercrombie (Reviewed by Liviu...
- “Blackveil” by Kristen Britain (Reviewed by Robert...
- Quick Note on "Review Policy" and Commenting (by L...
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Read 50% of Encrypted HERE
Order "Encrypted" HERE (Kindle)or Smashwords (HERE)
Official Lindsay Buroker Website
INTRODUCTION: "Encrypted" is another indie novel I found out about through a review inquiry; the author actually let us know about her series debut The Emperor's Edge and while I liked its blurb/excerpt and asked for a review e-copy, I also noticed her other novel Encrypted which tempted me so much that I bought it on the spot and read it soon after.
Of course I plan to read The Emperor's Edge too - it starts great with the same engaging style of Encrypted - so in a month or so, I should have a review of that one here too, but for now I will talk about Encrypted since it resonated with me quite a lot and I want to explain why - the essential reason is because of its very close similarity in spirit and style with one of my all time favorite duologies.
Encyrpted is set some 15-20 years earlier in the same universe of The Emperor's Edge and it is a standalone with mostly different characters, though one of the main characters from the latter one appears here too in a pretty important role, so from that point of view it makes also a great introduction to the universe.
"Professor Tikaya Komitopis isn’t a great beauty, a fearless warrior, or even someone who can walk and chew chicle at the same time, but her cryptography skills earn her wartime notoriety. When enemy marines show up at her family’s plantation, she expects the worst. But they’re not there to kill her. They need her to decode mysterious runes, and they ask for help in the manner typical of a conquering empire: they kidnap her, threaten her family, and throw her in the brig of their fastest steamship.
Her only ally is a fellow prisoner who charms her with a passion for academics as great as her own. Together, they must decipher mind-altering alchemical artifacts, deadly poison rockets, and malevolent technological constructs, all while dodging assassination attempts from a rival power determined the expedition should fail... "
OVERVIEW: Encrypted is set on a secondary world with a mix of paranormal stuff like telepathy and teleportation and early industrial tech.
There is a militaristic empire - Turgonian - that shuns magic and which faces the "magicians" of Nuria, the "mysterious" scientist from the formerly neutral and pastoral islands of Kyatt who helped the Nurians once the empire offered the islanders a deal it would not take no as an answer on, Tikaya Komitopis, a socially awkward woman with a talent for languages who breaks the Turgonian codes leading to their containment and reluctant truce, the mysterious artifacts that prove deadly in the Turgonian capital forcing them to kidnap Tikaya from her peaceful island and try and convince her to help them, the prisoner known as Five on the Turgonian ironclad that speeds towards the frozen wastes were the artifacts had come from, the Nurian saboteurs and later the expedition to find the artifacts and the surprises it encounters.
As you can see from this overview, substituting "paranormal" with advanced biotech and the one-world of this book with a multi-stellar polity and you get something that resembles in spirit the superb pre-Miles dulogy of Lois Bujold that starts with Shards of Honor and more than once when reading Encrypted, I thought the comparison apt in quite a few ways.
While today "Encrypted" fits under secondary world fantasy mainly for its elements of paranormal, for most of sff's history it would have been considered pure-sf since teleportation, telekinesis and telepathy have been staples of sf for a long time, so this is a book that should appeal to both lovers of fantasy and sf.
ANALYSIS: Why read Encrypted?
The first reason is that the novel is written in a very fast, page turning and fun way, alternating action, discovery with great dialogue especially between Tikaya and Rias - as this is the name the prisoner known as "Five" gives her once they get to know each other - but with several other compelling characters, most notably Bocrest, the Turgonian commander of the ship and expedition, the "good" corporal Agarik vs nasty sergeant Ottotark and later the young boy/assassin Sicarius, personal representative of the emperor and a familiar acquaintance of Rias and Bocrest.
As the main lead of the novel, Tikaya carries it well end-to-end and she makes a very compelling heroine - an almost genius philologist in her mid-30's with a talent for languages and patterns, neither beautiful, nor graceful but with a talent for bow shooting and courage and wit to match, while the Turgonian men around her - whether resenting or even hating her for her role in their defeat in the war, being neutral, or being friendly and more - offer a great contrast and variety. Rias slowly develops from the almost savage Five to the charismatic war-hero he used to be and later in the novel he almost takes it over, while Sicarius - who seems to be the main lead in The Emperor's Edge 15-20 years in the future -is excellent in his role of enigmatic boy-assassin here.
So despite starting as the enemies and with their militaristic and patriarchal culture to boot, the author's portrayal of the Turgonians is quite nuanced, while Kitaya's supposed allies the Nurians actually want to kill her - maybe for good reasons from their point of view - and this reversal of roles and expectations was another reason I enjoyed the book.
The expedition, its discoveries, the mysterious runes and deadly artifacts are also very well done combining the familiar with twists that were partly predictable, partly surprising, but that never failed to entertain, while the action builds up with both physical and psychological components until the excellent finale. I would not want to spoil more about the core of the novel since a large part of the enjoyment of the book lies in trying to figure out what's what before the heroes experience it...
Encrypted (A+) is a fun romp, an adventure in the Lois Bujold Barrayar spirit, with a clear ending though ample scope for more and which I highly recommend if you like your sff fast, page turning with action, mysteries and a dash of romance.
Three of these four are books two in series that debuted in 2010 and were all reviewed and recommended by me in the 2010 summations posts, while Home Fires seems to be another mind-bending winner after last year's Sorcerer's House, another one reviewed here and appearing in the recommendation post mentioned.
While unrelated to The Sorcerer's House (FBC Rv) and set in a strange but also familiar future, this one starts very exciting with a conversation between the main hero and a "dead woman", resurrected - for a fee of course, paid monthly as long as Skip wants the resurrected woman to hang around - at his behest as a "gift" for his reunion with his soon-to-return fiancee after relativistic effects made decades pass for him and years for her... If this does not sound mind-bending enough, the blurb for Home Fires which is available right now, offers more goodies:
"In a future North America not quite crumbling but somewhat less than utopian, Skip and Chelle meet and marry in college. But Chelle has to do her term of military service against aliens many light-years away. Twenty-five years later, thanks to the time-dilation effect, she is a still-young but convalescent combat veteran. Skip is a wealthy businessman. And they are still in love. Unfortunately, when they take a Caribbean cruise to celebrate, they run into pirates, politics, aliens, and Murphy’s Law running wild.."
Another current book and direct sequel to Servant of the Underworld (FBC Rv), I only had a chance to browse the first 5 pages of Harbinger of the Storm since I got it yesterday, but it seemed to still have the magical writing that made me enjoy a lot the author's debut last year. The same setting and first person narrative and picking up when the first one ends. Here is the blurb for more:
"THE AZTEC EMPIRE TEETERS ON THE BRINK OF EXTINCTION.
As the political infighting starts within the imperial court, Acatl, High Priest for the Dead, makes a macabre discovery in the palace: a high-ranking nobleman has been torn to pieces by an invocation - and it looks like the summoner belongs to the court itself..."
City of Hope and Despair is coming in late March from Angry Robot and from the quick browse I did yesterday seems to be a direct sequel to the excellent City of Dreams and Nightmares (FBc Rv) though set somewhat later since the main hero seems to be now part of the establishment so to speak. Another ultra-promising novel to keep an eye on, while if not done so, go and try the first installment which was also the author's novelistic co-debut in 2010 alongside the superb The Noise Within (FBC Rv) - that's another one whose sequel, The Noise Revealed, will come soon from Solaris this time and which I will try to get and read it asap...
"A SECOND VISIT TO THAIBURLEY: THE CITY OF DREAMS, THE FABLED CITY OF A HUNDRED ROWS.
Dark forces are gathering in the shadowy depths, and the whole city is under threat. The former street-nick, Tom, embarks on a journey to discover the source of the great river Thair, said to be the ultimate power behind all of Thaiburley. Accompanying him are the assassin Dewar and the young Thaistess Mildra. It soon becomes evident that their journey has more significance than any of them realize, as past secrets catch up with them and unknown adversaries hunt them... to the death! "
Camera Obscura which is coming from Angry Robot in late April is set in the same wonderfully realized alt-Victorian world with "Les Lezards", automatons and a mix of historical personalities and famous period characters from Jules Verne to Professor Moriarty belonging to the cast, where The Bookman (FBC Rv) made a splashing debut last year. This one seems not to be a direct sequel though since from my quick browse the characters seem to be different; on the other hand it starts very, very intriguingly too, while the blurb speaks for itself with the allusions to other famous period stuff...
"CAN'T FIND A RATIONAL EXPLANATION TO A MYSTERY? CALL IN THE QUIET COUNCIL. The mysterious and glamorous Lady De Winter is one of their most valuable agents. A despicable murder inside a locked and bolted room on the Rue Morgue in Paris is just the start. This whirlwind adventure will take Milady to the highest and lowest parts of that great city - and cause her to question the very nature of reality itself."
To be honest, the blurb below sounded a bit like a try at reviving the dated and almost dead cyberpunk of the 90's, so it was only of middling interest, but I really liked the way Mr. Morden expressed himself in those comments and Equations of Life became a higher priority for me than it otherwise would have been.
So when Orbit released an advanced copy of Equations of Life, I got it and I really got hooked on opening it, so I stayed way too late to finish it, while Theories of Flight from which I read some 50 pages so far, is my next read, the first thing when I get some decent chunk of continuous reading time. I will have full reviews in due time, close to the publishing dates, while for now only some thoughts, so you know to keep an eye on this series since the first volume was superb and the second starts as good as the first.
"Samuil Petrovitch is a survivor.
He survived the nuclear fallout in St. Petersburg and hid in the London Metrozone - the last city in England. He's lived this long because he's a man of rules and logic.
For example, getting involved = a bad idea.
But when he stumbles into a kidnapping in progress, he acts without even thinking. Before he can stop himself, he's saved the daughter of the most dangerous man in London.
And clearly saving the girl = getting involved.
Now, the equation of Petrovitch's life is looking increasingly complex.
Russian mobsters + Yakuza + something called the New Machine Jihad = one dead Petrovitch.
But Petrovitch has a plan - he always has a plan - he's just not sure it's a good one."
On the surface the combination of standard cyberpunk/post-apocalyptic stuff seems both done to death and already dated, but this book just grabs from the first page and never lets go and this is due to the style of the author and to the superb characters he creates:
Petrovitch first and foremost (young almost-genius physicist, radiation scarred and with a weak heart that may kill him at any sustained effort), but the whole cast with Inspector Chain (the detective that investigates the attempted kidnapping and related stuff), Sonja (the girl in the blurb), Madeleine (a big and strong young nun/bodyguard, member of a military Catholic order that has license to go armed and protect priests and churches from attacks), Sorenson (a dodgy American businessman and technologist), the very wealthy businessman/gangster/(read the book to find out what more) Oshicora (an ultra-traditionalist Japanese who tries to recreate the now sunken under the waves Japan at least virtually, Sonja is his daughter with his English wife who is presumed dead in the disaster that overtook Japan), his various minions (all Japanese survivors too), rival gangster Marchenko (a Stalin worshiper and a gangster boss far-second to Oshicora in influence, who orders the kidnapping, provides lots of comic relief) and his minions, Epiphany (Pif) Ekanobi, Petrovich's fellow (true) genius scientist on the verge of proving a GUT and many more (assorted gangs, cafe owners, the priest protected by Madeleine...)
Set in the 2020's in a future alt-hist diverging from ours in 2002 or so with Armageddon coming around that time - more about it is in the stories available free online HERE and which seem to be more-or-less in tune with the novels - in the London Metrozone which is essentially the main governable part of England at the time, the book reads in many ways like a combination of JC Grimwood superb cyberpunk alt-histories (RedRobe, Remix) with a dash of PF Hamilton Mandel series - this one less in setting or tech, but more in general "feel".
Fast, furious, well written and with great, great characters and as good as gets in the subgenre...
Official Joe Abercrombie Website
Read FBC Review of "The Blade Itself" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Before They Are Hanged" HERE
Read FBC Review of "Best Served Cold" HERE
INTRODUCTION: Bursting upon the epic fantasy scene with his superb First Law trilogy, Joe Abercrombie became the "perfect" representative of the "new gritty" epic fantasy for me and his books have not disappointed so far. Best Served Cold was a top 5 sff of mine in 2009 so The Heroes should have been one of those "beg for an advance review copy" books that I use every spare minute to read when I get them..
Well, there was a hitch, namely the fact that the blurb made it clear the novel is about a battle and while books like that have a storied tradition - I have recently read one such, fittingly called The Battle by Patrick Rambaud and part of a trilogy to boot, that has won one of the ultimate literary prizes in the world, the Goncourt prize in France in 1997 - they do not really excite me that much since they are limited in scope. A battle is a battle is a battle...
On finishing The Heroes, I found myself conflicted - the book is very well written, maybe the best technically of the author so far and with all the stuff I came to expect from Mr. Abercrombie; it even transcends somewhat its limited setting but I still wish it would have been about more as he clearly has shown he can do it in his First Law trilogy and in the superb Best Served Cold. I came from The Heroes feeling I read a side episode in a saga - a long one at over 500 pages - but something that will later be regarded as a minor part of it.
The following will contain spoilers for the First Law trilogy and for Best Served Cold so be warned!
OVERVIEW: Technically a standalone, The Heroes takes place some four years after the end of Best Served Cold and eight years after the First Law trilogy and features many characters from there, though there are several new ones too. I believe that while you can read this one independently, the experience is considerably enhanced if you have read First Law before since a lot of undertones, motivations and general background come from there. The Best Served Cold references are less important except in Bremer van Gorst's case, but that backstory is fully told in due course.
The general outline in a nutshell is that after Black Dow took over the throne of the North at the end of The Last Argument of Kings, the Union objected since it had a deal with Logen Ninefingers and the intervening years saw low-level conflict between the Union troops and their "loyalists" allies led by the Dogman and the Northern clans under Black Dow and his carls.
But now the Union feels the drain in money and resources, the Gurkish are stirring, Styria did not go the way the Union wanted, so the orders came to finish the independent Northmen at all costs, hence a major battle is in the offing. Of course Black Dow has his allies too, while recently returned Caul Shivers is even more savage than usual as his right hand man and "enforcer"...
In the background, young "Prince" Calder, "renowned" as a coward and treacherous plotter and who had escaped execution so far only because his father-in-law is a powerful clan leader and to a lesser extent because his older brother accepted Dow's rule and settled as one of his major carls, wants to survive and just maybe claim want he regards as his heritage, Bremer van Gorst wants redemption for the happenings four years ago at a Styrian party and Finree dan Brock (nee Kroy, the daughter of the Union Army's commanding officer) wants to advance the fortune of her husband who is maybe the nicest character of the author, though of course he is marked as a famous traitor's son. Old warrior Craw and comic-relief corporal Tunny add a grunt's eye view of the events.
The major leaders, Black Dow, Caul Shivers and Bayaz dominate the pages in which they appear, but overall I would say that Calder, Bremer and Finree are the main "heroes" of the novel and they are all done superbly. We even get the famous internal monologues of the author from Bremer's perspective and those are one of the major highlights of the book.
ANALYSIS: "The Heroes" showcases everything I liked in the author's first four books and while there is a certain predictability to some of the things that happen, there is enough new to keep one happy. The heroes are definitely not that heroic, the prophecies may not quite happen as foretold, everyone gets their say and action and of course there is grit; true grit here as in mud, blood and sweat...
The novel transitions seamlessly between the various pov's and locations while the timeline is roughly chronological with the necessary backstory inserted at the right moments.
From an action point of view, The Heroes has the expected vitality and the battle scenes that constitute the core of the novel are vivid, though the individual combat scenes, including one for the ages that probably best represents the author's take on the fantasy tropes he partly reinforces, partly subverts, were more memorable for me.
The intrigue - especially in Finree's machinations on behalf of her husband and in Calder's attempts to improve his status - was also on par with the author's best and the expected quips kept coming, with Bremmer's monologues maybe not quite as entertaining as Glotka's but close...
The Heroes flows well and despite its heft is a novel one finishes fast since the pages turn by themselves, so from all "check the boxes in reviewing" points of view, an outstanding novel which gets my A++ highest rating; but still, its intrinsic limitation in content left me wishing for a wider scope novel and feeling that in the grand scheme of the First Law universe this one will be just a minor side novel...
Order “Blackveil” HERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The High King’s Tomb”
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Kristen Britain is the author of the bestselling Green Rider fantasy series which includes Green Rider, First Rider’s Call, The High King’s Tomb and Blackveil.
PLOT SUMMARY: Over a millennium ago, Mornhavon the Black, heir to the Arcosian Empire, crossed the great sea hoping to replenish his depleted country by conquering the rich lands of Sacoridia. But Mornhavon underestimated the defenders of this far away land, and after years of siege, Mornhavon and his armies were vanquished—but not before Mornhavon resorted to desperate, dark magics that rendered his twisted spirit immortal. Eventually, Mornhavon was captured and imprisoned in Blackveil Forest, with Blackveil’s perimeter enclosed and protected by the magical D’Yer Wall.
For the thousand years since the end of that Long War, Blackveil Forest has been a dangerous place—corrupted by the spirit of this eternally malicious entity, its flora and fauna twisted in monstrous ways. But in the many centuries since the war’s end, knowledge of the working of magic has slowly disappeared from Sacoridia, due to the fear and prejudice of a people traumatized by the memory of the terrifying sorceries of Mornhavon’s invading army. Even the protective magic that created and maintained the D’Yer Wall has been lost.
But this once-impermeable barrier has now been breached, allowing Blackveil’s malignant influence to begin to seep into the lands beyond the wall, threatening all of Sacoridia once again.
Karigan G’ladheon is a Green Rider—a seasoned member of the elite messenger corps of King Zachary of Sacoridia. Though Karigan was recruited to the Riders seemingly by chance, she has achieved more than any Rider since the corps was founded during the Long War, and has even been made a Knight of the Realm—the first to be so honored in over two hundred years. Karigan wears the magical brooch of the First Rider, an artifact that enables her to “fade,” sometimes to the point of traversing the barriers of time and space. Because of this extraordinary ability, she was able to enter Blackveil and transport the spirit of Mornhavon into the future, buying precious time for her country. Time for the Riders to scour the land searching for lost magical documents, and for members of Clan D’Yer to study the wall, hoping to uncover the secrets of their ancestors.
But Sacoridians are not the only people interested in the fate of Blackveil. For eons before the Long War, the peninsula where the tainted forest now stands belonged to the Eletians, an immortal race. With Mornhavon temporarily absent, they plan to send a small delegation into the forest to see what has become of their long-lost city, Argenthyne. But King Zachary senses the secretive Eletians are not being completely honest with him, and insists that an equal number of Sacoridians accompany them. Karigan, because of her previous experience in Blackveil, is an obvious choice for this perilous expedition.
Though Mornhavon is gone, the forest is still a treacherous and unnatural place filled with monstrous creatures and deadly traps. Plus, no one knows how far in the future Mornhavon has been sent—a hundred years? Ten years? A few years? Maybe even less? And unbeknownst to the contingent of Eletians and Sacoridians, another small group has entered the forest—a contingent of Arcosian descendents who have kept Mornhavon’s dark magic alive in secret for centuries, and who now plan to avenge their long ago defeat by bringing Sacoridia to its knees...
CLASSIFICATION: Featuring a reluctant heroine with incredible magical powers she did not know she possessed, an ancient evil bent on conquering the land, quests, a medieval-influenced feudal system, an elf-like race, and many other familiar tropes, the Green Rider series is traditional epic fantasy in the vein of Tolkien, Tad Williams, Terry Brooks, Kate Elliott, L.E. Modesitt Jr., Greg Keyes, Jennifer Roberson, and David Farland.
FORMAT/INFO: Blackveil is 663 pages long divided over many unnumbered/titled chapters. Also includes a map of Blackveil/Argenthyne. Narration is in the third person via several different point-of-views, both major characters and supporting ones as well as heroes and villains, including the main protagonist Karigan G’ladheon; Laren Mapstone, captain of the Green Riders; Xandis Pierce Amberhill; Grandmother of the Second Empire, Alton D’Yer; Lady Estora, King Zachary’s betrothed; and a few other minor players. Blackveil is the fourth volume in the Green Rider series after Green Rider, First Rider’s Call and The High King’s Tomb. Enough background information is provided for readers new to the series to jump in with Blackveil, but it’s not recommended. As far as the ending, expect a series of cliffhangers to conclude Blackveil.
February 1, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Blackveil via DAW. Cover art is once again provided by Donato. The UK version (see below) will be published on June 16, 2011 via Gollancz.
ANALYSIS: It’s hard to believe, but the first Green Rider novel was released in 1998. Since then, my taste in books has evolved considerably. Fantasy may remain my favorite genre, but I’m more willing and eager to try out different kinds of novels, while the fantasy I enjoy the most these days tends to be of the less traditional variety. That said, there will always be a special place in my heart for traditional epic fantasy, which is why I couldn’t wait to read Blackveil, the latest volume in Kristen Britain’s Green Rider series. At the same time however, I worried the book would suffer from the same issues that hindered The High King’s Tomb. Unfortunately, I was right.
First though, the good news. Fans of the series will be pleased to learn that Blackveil does not deviate much from the formula established in the first three Green Rider books. Characters are still likable and well-developed with romance a major theme; the action remains exciting and family-friendly—for the most part at least; and Kristen Britain’s writing is once again charming and accessible, while demonstrating noticeable improvement with her prose. In short, most of the ingredients that made the first three Green Rider novels so much fun to read are still present in Blackveil.
The problem with Blackveil, the same problem that plagued The High King’s Tomb, is with the story. Or more precisely, the concern that Kristen Britain is starting to follow in the footsteps of Robert Jordan and making her fantasy series longer than necessary. After all, the Green Rider series was originally promoted as a trilogy, but obviously we’re at book four now with a fifth volume already in the works, and who knows how many other volumes yet to be published. Personally, I don’t mind that the author is extending the series—I really enjoy the characters and the setting after all—but the manner in which Kristen Britain is prolonging the Green Rider saga is disheartening. Instead of focusing on the main story arc involving Mornhavon the Black, Second Empire and Sacoridia, the series has become weighted down with trivial matters like Karigan’s love life, court politics and family drama. This was a major issue in The High King’s Tomb, and sadly Blackveil suffers from the same problem.
As the title implies, the fourth book in the Green Rider series revolves around the corrupted forest Blackveil and the different factions who seek something there including Grandmother, the Eletians, and Karigan. This storyline, which features some of the most thrilling moments in the novel, is a lot of fun to read. The problem is that it’s overshadowed by such mundane matters as Karigan dealing with family secrets; the numerous romantic complications that arise concerning Karigan, Lady Estora, Alton D’Yer and Estral Andovian; court politics involving King Zachary’s marriage, assassination attempts and a power-hungry advisor; and even a masquerade ball. While these subplots are there to add depth and substance to the characters and main story arc in the series, they just take too long to develop, significantly slowing down the pace of the novel and bloating the page count. To make matters worse, a number of subplots fail to progress very far including the breach at D’Yer Wall, the pending war against Second Empire, and Xandis Pierce Amberhill’s fascination with pirates and the sea kings resulting in cliffhangers that are difficult to stomach considering the lengthy wait between volumes, while the story itself offers very few surprises due to familiar ideas and transparent plotting.
Apart from these issues with the story and concerns about the extended length of the series, Kristen Britain’s Blackveil has everything that Green Rider fans could hope for including romance, adventure, humor, time travel, dark magic, entertaining drama, ghosts, prophetic visions, and much more. In fact, even with all of the problems the book suffers from—bloated page count, trivial subplots, cliffhangers, etc.—Blackveil is still one of the better entries in the series. Unfortunately, I can only recommend Blackveil and the series it is a part of to die-hard Green Rider fans and anyone who loves to read traditional epic fantasy and is not bothered by archetypes and tropes. As for those who want something different, it would be wise to look elsewhere...
Excerpts or links to such (Kindle, Smashwords, author's website) are very important since at least personally I would never consider an unknown book without at least a small sample, however enticing the blurb would be.
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Order “Of Blood & Honey” HERE
AUTHOR INFORMATION: Stina Leicht is a fantasy author based out of central Texas. Of Blood & Honey is her first novel.
PLOT SUMMARY: Liam Kelly never knew who his real father was and assumed he was dead. But then Liam and his family are pulled into a centuries old war between supernatural forces that seems to mirror the political divisions in Northern Ireland during the 1970s.
Now, only the direct intervention of Liam's father and a secret Catholic order dedicated to fighting "The Fallen" can save Liam from the mundane and supernatural forces around him . . . and from the darkness that lurks within...
FORMAT/INFO: Of Blood & Honey is 300 pages long divided over twenty-seven numbered chapters and an Epilogue. Narration is in the third person via Liam Kelly, his mother Kathleen, and Father Murray. Of Blood & Honey can be read as a standalone novel, but offers many opportunities for future sequels. February 2011 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of Stina Leicht’s Of Blood & Honey via Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by Min Yum.
ANALYSIS: Stina Leicht’s Of Blood & Honey is a captivating debut that seamlessly blends together historical drama with supernatural horror and dark fantasy, bringing to mind the excellent Danilov Quintet by Jasper Kent.
Like the Kent novels, Of Blood & Honey is rich with historical detail with actual places and events woven into the narrative. In this case, the setting is Northern Ireland between the years 1971 and 1977, with the backdrop centered around the civil rights struggle between Loyalists and Nationalists. To be honest, I’m not very familiar with Irish history, but the manner in which Stina Leicht portrays Northern Ireland during this tumultuous period—including conditions in the Long Kesh internment camp, the 1972 Bloody Sunday massacre, and serving as a volunteer in the Irish Republican Army (IRA)—feels undeniably authentic, and is one of the obvious highlights of the book.
As far as the novel’s supernatural elements, Of Blood & Honey features fairies, fallen angels, Celtic mythology (Fianna, Púca, etc.), and a secret order of the Roman Catholic Church devoted to hunting & destroying demons. Compared to the rest of the book however, these supernatural elements only comprise a small part of Stina Leicht’s debut, with a heavy emphasis placed on the more realistic matters in the novel like the Loyalist/Nationalist conflict.
This disparity is most evident with the story, which revolves mainly around the personal and political drama of Liam Kelly’s life, including serving time in Long Kesh and Malone Prison to marrying his true love in Mary Kate to working as a wheelman for the IRA. Traces of the supernatural are evident throughout the novel—including appearances by Liam’s Púca father Bran, the war between the Fey and the Fallen, and Liam’s shape-shifting abilities—but these elements and subplots involving the Milites Dei, factions among the Fey, and the Redcap do not possess nearly the same level of detail and substance enjoyed by the novel’s historical setting or Liam’s drama.
Admittedly, the noticeable disparity between the novel’s realistic and supernatural elements was disappointing at times, like when the story drags during the middle of the book or the Redcap’s endgame, which lacked execution. Fortunately, these shortcomings are easy to forgive in light of how compelling the rest of Stina Leicht’s debut is, not just the novel’s vivid historical setting, but also the powerful, gut-wrenching drama Liam Kelly has to deal with, which includes everything from lost love, father issues and political beliefs to darker themes like rape, abortion, drug addiction, revenge, and fighting with the monster inside him for control:
“You don’t deserve to live. You’re weak. Nothing. Threaten me, will you? I’ll bury you so far, so deep in the dark you’ll fade into memory. Then I’ll see to them. I’ll do for them all. And I’ll be forever free of you.”
Of course, what makes Of Blood & Honey so compelling is Stina Leicht’s writing. Specifically, the obvious amount of time and research that was spent making the novel’s historical setting as authentic as possible; sympathetic—and tragic—characters that radiate with sincerity; believable dialogue and banter; and emotionally driven storytelling.
CONCLUSION: While I wish Stina Leicht had dedicated the same amount of time, research and attention to detail to the supernatural elements in Of Blood & Honey as she did the historical setting and the dramatic events in Liam’s life, it’s hard to complain. Sure, the book can be difficult to read at times because of the horrific ordeals that Liam has to endure, but that’s part of the novel’s charm. A fearlessness to explore the darker side of humanity. Combine that with Stina Leicht’s impressive writing, a story and characters that bleed with emotion, and history & politics that are still relevant today, and what you have is a dazzling debut that will hopefully receive the attention and praise that it deserves...
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A big thank you goes out to K.A. Stwart for taking the time to stop by Fantasy Book Critic.
Thank you for taking the time to interview with us, you made your fiction debut with "A Devil in the Details: A Jesse James Dawson" this year and will be following it up with two more titles in the same series. Before we talk about the books though, can you tell us a bit more about yourself including why you chose to be a wordsmith & what do you do currently besides writing.
I like to think that writing chose me. I have been writing as long as I can remember, and I don't think I could stop if I tried. If I'd never been published, I'd still be writing, and one day they'd have found these boxes and boxes of unpublished stuff in my attic or something.
Aside from writing, I'm a fanatic reader (I don't know any writer who isn't). I also play video games, mostly World of Warcraft. (For the Horde!) Most of my other free time is spent with my daughter, hauling her to various karate functions that she participates in.
What was the precise spark of inspiration which lead to the creation of Jesse & the J.J. Dawson series?
I lay this solely at my husband's feet, and I can tell you the exact moment that the whole thing was born. On May 20th, 2007 (our wedding anniversary), we were having a rare lunch sans kiddo, and my husband was lamenting the fact that so much urban fantasy was straying into the paranormal romance area with the kick-ass heroines and the romance sub-plots, which really didn't interest him.
So I asked him, "What kind of hero would you like to see?" And we spent the next two hours hashing out Jesse and his world, the mechanics, the characters, everything. It was probably the best two hours of my writing life. About two months after that, I'd finished the first draft and it all kinda went from there.
Who are your literary idols and while growing up what books did you read which made you such an avid reader?
Idols…wow… Well, I always say that I want to be Jim Butcher when I grow up. I'm envious of his ability to walk easily through both the urban fantasy and fantasy genres, which is what I've always wanted to do. I think I could also put Anne Bishop in there, and Stacia Kane, for their exquisite world-building abilities. (Stacia's gonna be so embarrassed when she finds out I said that)
Growing up, I know that my love of fantasy started when I read The Hobbit when I was in the first grade. That pretty much set my feet on the road of all things unreal. The other thing that really influenced me as a child was a comic book, of all things. ElfQuest was and still is one of the things that really shaped how I looked at fiction. The world building was always amazing, the characters, even the supporting ones, were always so well fleshed out. For a very lonely child, to have these fictional characters as my "friends" made me want to be able to deliver the same experience for other people.
Your book has small nuggets of information in regards to Samurai culture, swords & other minutiae, which are authentic and make for fascinating reading. How do you go about your research & what makes you decide what to keep and what to not.
For the JJD series, with the bushido and swords in particular, all of the research materials were things we already had. My husband is the bushido expert in the family, and I really just raided his collection of texts to find the information that I needed. Any time I wasn't sure what Jesse's reaction to a certain situation should be, I'd reference those books, trying to find any advice on the subject. (And trust me; the samurai had advice for EVERYthing.)
As for the swords I describe, those are all actual blades that we own, made by a couple of local guys. I went to them to ask the particulars about how the swords are made, what stresses they can take, things like that.
Mostly, research on any new subject is a combination of what I can find in books (currently researching alchemy for a future project), the internet, and people I happen to know. My best friend is a doctor, she double checks all my medical stuff. My webmaster vets my computer stuff. The internet, while not always reliable, can usually point you in the right direction.
And deciding what to keep, that's a rough one. Sometimes, I have to rely on my editor to let me know when I've slipped from "neat addition to the story" into "lecture on Japanese culture" mode. It happens. Ultimately, I have to remind myself that folks aren't reading the JJD series to become well-versed in bushido and samurai culture. They're reading it to watch Jesse kick some demon butt.
Could you elaborate on the journey you underwent from first when the idea for the book germinated to ultimately finding a publisher for it, what were your initial thoughts when Roc signed you for writing it and what do you think the publisher saw in your book proposal?
Well, my journey started in May of '07, like I said. I think I really finished the first draft of Devil (then called Third Strike) around October of that year, and then I revised it multiple times until February of '08. That's when I started sending out queries. I actually got really good responses to my query, had a lot of requests for fulls and partials. In…late August of '08, I sent a query to Chris Lotts of the Ralph Vicinanza Agency, and within a week he'd asked for a full. We emailed back and forth several times after that, and by September 5th, I'd signed with him.
Chris had some great revision ideas for the book, and I did another two passes of edits for him. At the end of February of '09, we went out on submission, and on March 16th I got the call that we'd sold to Roc.
At that point, part of me was still afraid this was some elaborate practical joke. I am still amazed that people are interested in reading my "little story". I told my husband that I'd been prepared for rejection and the long hard road… I had no idea what to do with success.
I think what caught my editor's eye was precisely the thing that my husband was asking for when he told me all about the kind of hero he wanted to see. First off, it's a male protagonist, doing guy stuff, and kicking butt. Second, Jesse is unique in that he is happily married, a father, and he's trying to make his domestic life as normal as possible, all the while doing these extraordinary things. I think that's what makes these books stand out in the boom genre of urban fantasy.
When you first began writing "A Devil in the Details" did you plan it to be the first book in the series or was it a standalone in which you saw further possibilities?
Devil was always supposed to be the first in a series, in my mind. From that first brainstorming session with my husband, we had an entire series arc laid out. There are events that need to happen to Jesse, changes he needs to go through, and it's going to take multiple books for that to play out.
Speaking of this series, you are contracted for 3 books. How many volumes do you think will be required for Jesse's saga? how far along are you in the next book, and is there anything you can tell us about book two and/or three?
The second book is currently with my editor (currently titled A SHOT IN THE DARK), and I'm waiting on my edit notes for that. Book 3, still untitled, exists in outline form at the moment, and I'm still tweaking that.
Theoretically, I could finish the series in six books. The first four books will stand as I have them in my head. The last two books will always be the last two books. However, between four and what is currently five, I think I have some wiggle room to add more stories, if they're willing to let me.
And things to tell you… Well, I can tell you that in book 2, we'll see zombies and paintball. And in book 3, we'll get "Jesse goes to Hollywood".
What was the reason/s for you choosing Kansas City as the primary setting for the books?
Two reasons, actually. One, I live in Kansas City, so describing a city I know well is simply easier. Two, it's an obscure homage to Jim Butcher, who wanted to set the Dresden Files in KC, but wasn't allowed to.
What do you do when you aren't writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you & could you enumerate them?
Well, like I said, I play video games, namely World of Warcraft. I'm part of a heavy RP (role-playing) guild there, and I do a lot of writing for them, just as a fun way for me to relax from my "professional" writing.
I read a lot. Mostly urban fantasy and fantasy, but occasionally I stray out of my comfort genres, usually because a friend has recommended something.
I have a weird obsession with obscure musical instruments, so you'll often hear me playing a fife, or a dulcimer around the house. My most recent acquisition was an Irish tin whistle, and I can't wait to start working on learning that.
I also attend our local Ren Fest pretty religiously when it's in season. I have a thing for costumes, I admit. (man, I am such a girl!) Once upon a time, I was a very good archer, a recurve bow being my weapon of choice. I also practice with thrown weapons (knives and hatchets) but I'm very out of practice.
And sometimes, I just decide to learn a new foreign language, for giggles. I speak Spanish, Swedish, some Gaelic and a smattering of other things.
I'm kind of a dork, when you lay it all out like this.
You by your admission are a huge Jim Butcher fan, could you tell us more about your fascination with his writing & the effect he's had on yours as well, also how was it to meet him?
A big part of my fascination with Jim's writing is how fleshed out he makes his characters, even the ones who are theoretically not that important. He's nearly killed a couple supporting characters in recent books, and one of them almost had me in tears.
And what I love is that he makes the transition from urban fantasy and a first-person writing style, to a fantasy with a third-person writing style, so easily. This is everything I ever wanted to do. I have a zillion worlds in my head, a zillion characters, and I want to be able to get them all on paper someday.
Meeting him… First off, Jim is a great guy. He's funny, he's smart, and he truly takes the time to pay attention to every single rabid fan that he can. That said, I'm pretty sure he just knows me as "that girl who keeps showing up with the "I stalk Jim Butcher" button" at his signings. But really, he's also showed me the kind of author I want to be, as he relates to his fans. He's approachable, he's always smiling, he never gets impatient. He answers the same questions every single signing with the same smile, even though he's heard it eleventy-billion times, and everybody comes away feeling like he's kinda their friend. That's the kind of person I want to be.
While you have been contracted for a trilogy, I feel there is much potential for further installments in this series. Do you have any ideas you'd like to explore if the publisher becomes interested in more titles? If so, could you discuss them?
In my head, at least, the first four books are set. The ending of book four, however, is going to largely depend on how many books they want to see me write in the series. I can't say much about that one without giving away too much of Book 3, but I can say that things will get much worse for Jesse before they get better, both in his real life, and his demon-hunting life. There's only so much stress people can take before they break.
This is a general phenomenon I have noted in Urban Fantasy, that mostly female authors write about Female protagonists,, there are a few Male protagonists however they are still in the minority, what made you decide to go along this route?
Precisely for that reason. My husband was lamenting the lack of male protagonists, and so I wrote one for him. And that's not to say that there aren't any male protagonists out there. The Dresden Files series being the one most people mention. Rob Thurman's Cal Leandros series, Simon R Green's Nightside series, Anton Strout's Simon Canderous series… All great series with males in the lead. Harry Connolly's Twenty Palaces series… Mario Acevedo's Felix Gomez series… I could go on. But I thought there was room for one more, and Jesse seems to be fitting in well with the rest of the guys.
On your blog you mention a couple of other books [Muse, Avarice] which you seem to be writing currently as well, could you tell us about them & if they are close to publication as well??
Ah, Avarice… My poor little abandoned pirate princess epic fantasy. Right now, this one is trunked. Someday, I want to go back to it, and fix the fatal flaws. I think what it boiled down to was that I simply wasn't a good enough writer to do what I wanted to, with that one. Maybe in a few years, I'll be good enough to try again.
Muse, on the other hand… Oh, this one I'm excited about. Steampunk, Greek gods, a city of eternal night… It's awesome. Right now, this one's on hold because my agent has read through it and given me some REALLY great revision ideas for it. It's going to involve a pretty massive rewrite, but when it's done, it's just…there are no words for the awesomeness. (I can say that about my own stuff, right?) Since my winter/spring will be spent writing Book 3, I think the Muse rewrite will probably be next summer/fall's project.
You had a very nice and detailed take on writing a series of books & the what and what-not to do in it, how much of that have you utilized in writing your own series & which series currently/past(in your opinion) best encapsulates what you have posted?
Well, I try to utilize it all in my own series, of course. Especially when I start dreaming up new ones. (I've got two on a back burner that I'd like to get to, someday.) I try very hard to think the entire series out ahead of time, or at least the first three books. If I can't make a coherent plot out of that much, then I start to think maybe it would be better as a one-shot stand-alone. (The alchemy project I'm currently researching will be like that.) I don't think anything's worse than trying to stretch something out that just shouldn't be.
There are a lot of great series out there (Dresden Files, Mercy Thompson, Codex Alera, Downside Ghosts, just to name a few) that I think encompass what I'm talking about. In fact, it would almost be easier to point out the series that I think fail at it, then to detail all the ones that get it right. (I won't, by the way. That's just mean, and would really just be my own opinion) But all of those series take some of the things I talked about and put them to good use, despite the fact that they're all very different.
What I'd really like people to take away from that blog series that I wrote is that there is no right way to do it, but there is a way to do your own personal series to the best of your ability.
You have this very concise essay about having a normal "everyman" as the hero of you book, you have written a very compelling character as well so what basically propels you to do such horrid things to him ;) and in the end what do you think makes Jesse J. Dawson do the things which most of us wouldn't?
Well, I do what I do to Jesse because at heart, all writers are sadists. True story! I think part of it is that we wonder what we would do in those amazingly bizarre situations, and so it's easier (and safer) to throw that at a fictional character than to run out and be super-heroes ourselves.
One of my beta readers wrote an essay a few years ago about Jesse Dawson, the Five-Minute Man, that I think addresses some of this phenomenon very well.
I think Jesse does what he does for the same reason that firefighters run toward a fire, and police officers run toward the man with the guy. Because someone has to!
What other ideas/books would you like to write about in the future & lastly any other comment you would like to leave us with?
Well, we've already talked about Muse. Avarice will come about someday, in some incarnation or other.
I've got the first draft of a fantasy western sitting on my hard drive right now. It's got a plot hole the size of the Grand Canyon in it, but if I can fix that, it'll be a great start to a new series. And hey, there's a jackalope! How can you go wrong with a jackalope?
I also have another urban fantasy series sitting there, where the main character is a supernatural firefighter. I'm really excited about that one and the world I've built there. It's got a lot more magic and supernatural stuff than the JJD series. Hopefully, I can polish it up and send it to the agent soon.
For Nanowrimo this year, I'll be working on a one-shot that I'm tentatively titling "The Pugilist and the Alchemist". Not quite sure if it'll develop into something that I'll actually try to get published someday, but I have hopes.
Strangely, I do Nanowrimo in order to relax. It's my month away from my "real" writing, but when December starts, I'll be diving into Book 3.
Order “Never Knew Another” HERE
AUTHOR INFORMATION: J.M. McDermott is the author of numerous short fiction and the critically-acclaimed debut novel, Last Dragon, which was shortlisted for an IAFA William Crawford Award and included on Amazon.com’s list for Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2008. Last Dragon will be reprinted in early 2011 by Apex Publications who will also publish McDermott’s next novel, Maze, in Spring 2011.
PLOT SUMMARY: When Walkers discover the corpse of a demon’s child—a city guard of noble blood named Jona—the memories of the deceased lead the Walkers to the city they call Dogsland. There, the Walkers use Corporal Jona’s memories to learn about how he kept his demon heritage a secret, the places he frequented, and the people he associated with including Rachel Nolander, a newcomer to the city who lives in constant fear that someone will one day discover that she is the child of a demon. Unfortunately, the Walkers also learn of another demon’s child on the loose—one who cannot be found—and the Night King who may pose an even greater threat than the spawn of demons...
FORMAT/INFO: Never Knew Another is 240 pages long divided over eighteen Roman-numbered chapters. Narration alternates between the first-person POV of a nameless female Walker and the third-person POVs of Corporal Jona and Rachel Nolander. Never Knew Another is the first volume in the Dogsland Trilogy, with the book coming to an abrupt ending that leaves many matters unresolved.
February 2011 marks the North American Trade Paperback publication of J. M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another via Night Shade Books. Cover art is provided by Julien Alday.
ANALYSIS: J.M. McDermott first came to my attention through the short-lived Wizards of the Coast Discoveries imprint, which published the author’s debut, Last Dragon, in 2008. While I never did get around to reading Last Dragon, I was impressed by what other people had to say about the novel. So when I heard Night Shade Books was publishing a new fantasy trilogy by the author, I was immediately intrigued...
The concept behind Never Knew Another, the opening volume in the Dogsland Trilogy, is a fairly simple one, but incredibly fascinating. Basically, Walkers—wolves that can shed their skin to become human—are servants of the goddess Erin dedicated to hunting and eradicating the seed of the demon Elishta. Demon children, though now uncommon, are considered extremely dangerous, their very blood, saliva and tears capable of polluting whatever it touches—the land, clothing, flesh, life itself. To combat these abominations, Walkers are blessed with many gifts including the ability to smell a man’s life—and sometimes death—in his skin, smelling the secrets of the land, and being able to “merge into the mind of a dead man.” It is this last ability that the majority of Never Knew Another is centered around, with a Walker using Corporal Jona’s memories to search for answers:
“His mind was mine now. I could sift through his memories, if I knew what to seek; I could reach into the lives of the people around him, as they were known to him.”
“What is it like, to hold a million moments from another’s life inside your mind? It’s like living on an island, with two oceans beneath you; the ocean you see when your eyes are open is yours; the ocean you see when your eyes are closed is not. I had to swim in someone else’s waters, and I did.”
“I see with my eyes, my senses, deep enough into Jona’s memories. I can see more than he ever did. His memories lead where they lead, and there is never too much information for hunters to know their prey.”
What makes this concept so fascinating is the wonderful contrast between the Walker’s intimate first-person viewpoint and the more straightforward third-person POVs of Corporal Jona and Rachel Nolander, resulting in an unconventional—and somewhat non-linear—narrative that borders on the surreal. A narrative that could have been dreamed up by someone like Charlie Kaufman or Christopher Nolan. Of course there’s more to Never Knew Another than a cool concept, like the way recognizable fantasy elements are integrated into the unconventional narrative to create something that seems familiar—and therefore accessible—but is actually refreshingly different. Or how the title of the book actually pertains to a central theme in the novel. Or, best of all, the author’s thoughtful examination on the definition of evil. After all, Corporal Jona and Rachel Nolander are considered evil creatures because of their demon blood—“Polluter of flesh, seducer of innocents, betrayer and destroyer of life!”—but are they really?
Unfortunately, Never Knew Another suffers from some serious flaws. World-building for example, is practically non-existent with very little information provided about the Walkers, the goddess Erin, the Church of Imam, the demon Elishta, Senta and other magic in the world, the kingdom’s history and politics, the Night King and so on. For a secondary world, this lack of information is inexcusable, especially when the book only contains 240 pages. Character depth was also an issue, particularly for the two nameless Walkers, while the novel’s sudden ending was largely unsatisfying.
Despite these obvious and frustrating deficiencies, J.M. McDermott’s Never Knew Another was still more of a positive reading experience than a negative one. As a result, I remain intrigued by the forthcoming volumes in the Dogsland Trilogy, which I believe will only get better thanks to the many questions yet to be answered, a fantasy setting ripe with untapped potential, and J.M. McDermott’s creative guidance...