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Read Suvudu article about Lord of Snow and Shadows
Sarah Ash is one of my favorite writers and when I first read her Tears of Artamon trilogy, I was amazed as to how intricately plotted it was and with great characterization along with loads of political intrigue. The series was also followed by a duology which further expanded the events of the trilogy as well focusing on other characters from the trilogy.
Things are further detailed in the article I have written about the world of Artamon, however I along with many others have been pining for a sequel series to this wonderful series. Sarah recently was able to write a small short story focusing on Lady Kiukiu and Lord Gavril of Azkhendir. It particularly focuses on what has happened after the events detailed in the books and resolves a particular question many fans had raised in regards to Kiukiu’s actions in the Children of the Serpent Gate. Sarah first published the story in the “Anniversaries” collection which was published last year to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the The Write Fantastic.
The Write Fantastic is a group of UK fantasy writers who came together since 2005 to maintain and increase fantasy readership through libraries, literary festivals, reader's circles, writers' groups and bookshop events. More information can be found about the book here.
Since then Sarah has decided to go ahead and post the story in its entirety on her website. The story is called “Song For a Naming Day”. The story has artwork provided by Marcelle Natisin who is equally a big fan of Sarah. So hopefully this will be the first of many such collaborative efforts ahead.
Just a small reminder for all readers, the story features certain spoilers for the previous books so be warned and for those who can’t wait to read the story, go over here and enjoy!
Order The Book of Transformations HERE
Read FBC Review of Nights of Villjamur
Read FBC Review of City of Ruin
Read FBC Interview with Mark Newton
INTRODUCTION: The Book of Transformations is the third novel in the four volumes Legends of the Red Sun series, following Nights of Villjamur and City of Ruin. So far the series had a tapestry like structure with new and old characters, action in multiple places and several plotlines that are clearly related but in ways that are still mysterious to some extent.
In the reviews linked above, I talked at length about the setting of the novel and the essential characteristics of the world created by the author - old, multiple disappeared civilizations, forgotten science as magic, incoming ice age, island based imperial setting so less centralization and homogeneity, several extant races including the main two: humans and the longer lived rumel, so I will assume the reader has at least a rough knowledge of what the books are about.
As with City of Ruin, I have received copies of The Book of Transformations at several stages - early final draft, "final pre publication copy" and finished copy - and I had the honor to exchange several emails with the author about the book, while being also mentioned in the acknowledgments to the novel, so the usual disclaimers apply.
While I read The Book of Transformations in the Fall of 2010 (early final draft) and then again in January or so (final pre-publication copy) and the summer of 2011 (final copy), the May-July hiatus from FBC due to my household move prevented my reviewing it for its publication in June. The Book of Transformations is also one of the few books where I sort of know the author - even if only by email - and I generally find it much harder to review such.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Nights of Villjamur introduced the world and especially Villjamur the city, the setting, several main characters and the two main plotlines, City of Ruin shifted the action to Villiren which is another important city of the Empire that stood directly into the path of the alien invaders from the first novel. Now in The Book of Transformations, we return to Villjamur and the local mostly political plotline with the new Emperor and his tenuous hold over the city and empire, the underground rebels and their rumored powerful cultist leader.
After an introductory chapter where an old acquaintance from the first novel, rumel Investigator Fulcrom appears and we realize he will be one of the main leads of the book, we are introduced to the new main character of the novel, Lan who is "different" and has suffered all her life for that. Because you see, Lan has the body of a young man, but inside she feels herself to be a woman in all that counts. So she lives a life of continuous concealment - outwardly and in all the things that define her self-image, a woman - but with the wrong physical parts. Not an easy life even in our contemporary and relatively tolerant society, while in the harsh post-technological world of Villjamur, ice and mostly primitive beliefs and tech, immeasurably harder.
However, Lan gets somewhat lucky and finds out about Ysla, an isolated "cultist" island, where there are people that can perform a gender change operation - at considerable risk to Lan of course - but she desperately accepts and later, finally more or less fully a woman, she goes to Villjamur to make a life in the big city. But the new emperor Urtica has a plan to maintain his slipping grip on power and Lan happens to fit them, whether she likes it or not...
While The Book of Transformations is mostly about Lan, Fulcrom and their adventures and discoveries in Villjamur, there are strong connections with the rest of the series and we also continue an earlier thread dealing with an immortality obsessed cultist and his gone badly wrong search for eternal life. By the end of the novel many things fall into place, the tapestry's outlines are becoming clearer, while the last series novel is a huge one as it promises the convergence of all that came before.
As discussed above, I consider that the main strength of the Legends of the Red Sun series is the superb worldbuilding and extreme inventiveness of the author. While he created some strong personalities in the earlier volumes, I think that with Lan and Fulcrom, Mr. Newton hit on a perfect combination and they are the best characters of the series at least for me.
The writing in the novel flows very well and the pages turn by themselves with vivid description of everything from the squalor of middle of nowhere provinces of the empire, to the lush Ysla and finally to the teeming, unsettled, grim but also luxurious Villjamur itself. There is action galore, the magic - or very advanced technology - intensifies even more and the tension raises continually.
Overall The Book of Transformations (A++) continues the trend of the Legends of the Red Sun novels to date - superb books that fit very well with my tastes in style, while bringing the extreme inventiveness that made speculative fiction the overwhelming choice for my reading.
From the other five shortlisted books, I browsed four enough to know I have not the least interest in wasting my time further with them - actually one of these, Snowdrops by AD Miller seemed to me actually so bad, or if you want such a conventional thriller, that I even flipped through the pages to the end to understand how in the world did such mediocre at best novel got on the shortlist and I still did not get it. Though noting that the chairman of the jury was a former UK Intelligence bigwig, she may have wanted to remember the "good old days" of the Cold War when Russia mattered so the choice of this pale imitation of the best Cold War thrillers set in today's corrupt but otherwise unremarkable Russia.
The only other shortlisted novel that I plan to fully read sometime - Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch - which many considered the best of the bunch - starts in a very boring way and while I heard it gets much better towards the middle, I never could get there on several tries so far, when other more interesting books beckoned. But I will get there and see if indeed I will read it or not.
Looking at this and other lists of books I realized how lucky I have been to live in places with great library systems and I am well aware that many other people are not so lucky. So when Bradley Wirtz, the founder of the new philanthropic organization, Gone Reading International, sent FBC an email about it, I took a look and decided it is a good idea to spread the news.
"In Need of Gifts for Readers?
GoneReading makes unique gifts for readers and book lovers. Whether you need gifts for the readers in your life, or a bookish treat for yourself, you’ll love what GoneReading has to offer!
Gone Reading International, founded in 2011, has pledged 100% of company profits in perpetuity to fund reading libraries and other literacy projects in the developing world. Read more about our philanthropic mission here."
And to get back a little to sff-nal stuff, I want to note that a while ago I got my first advanced reading copy of a 2012 novel and it turned out to be In the Lion's Mouth by Michael Flynn the third installment in his "Celtic based Space Opera". I utterly loved the series' debut, The January Dancer (FBC Rv), but was a little mixed on the followup Up Jim River (FBC Rv) in which the combination of archaic language and strange Vancian places did not quite mesh.
Hoping that In the Lion's Mouth will recreate the sense of wonder of The January Dancer without clogging the storyline with unnecessary lingo, look for a review here sometime in late December, early January.
Order 1Q84 HERE
Watch Clips Related to 1Q84 at NYT
Watch The English language book trailer for 1Q84
INTRODUCTION: "The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo. A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.
As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.
A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet."
While I have owned pretty much all the major works of the famous contemporary Japanese author Haruki Murakami for some time now, I have to confess I only browsed several of them along the years, always with an "I plan to read them some day" thought. So when I read about 1Q84 and the considerable hype surrounding it, I thought, well I will take a look and maybe get it for later, but to my considerable surprise, once I opened the book I just could not put it down until I absolutely had to. Some 900+ pages later I have to say that for once hype (masterpiece, Nobel book, genius, etc) is utterly warranted.
1Q84 has been translated by Jay Rubin (books 1 and 2) and Philip Gabriel (book 3).
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: I will talk here about 1Q84 from a sff reader's perspective, while if you want a more "mainstream" discussion, you can check this NYT article. I am making this distinction because when reading 1Q84 I was struck by how much some elements mentioned in the above article - and in a few other similar places - as strange or outlandish seemed to me just regular sffnal stuff, as did a lot of the plot twists and turns, all quite typical of the better secondary world fantasies or space operas out there.
Conversely, 1Q84 brings a very adult attitude to its main characters, attitude which is most of the time missing from sff which either shies away from the topic or goes to the other extreme essentially for shock's value.
The content of 1Q84 is well summarized in the blurb above, so I will refer to it when discussing the structure and highlights next. The novel is divided into three books that each cover three months from 1984 starting in April, when Aomame starts her adventure in the parallel universe with two moons, magic and "the little people" that she calls 1Q84.
In the other thread, former "boy wonder" Tengo, now living an obscure but fulfilling life as a math teacher at an elite school and aspiring novelist, is so compelled by the fantasy story in a manuscript written by a 17 year old girl, that he accepts a dodgy proposition from his editor, which starts his adventure as the "fantasy story" soon starts looking like it could be real...
The first two books were published simultaneously in Japan and alternate chapters from Aomame and Tengo, each with a subheading that is both appropriate and subtle. These two books are very tightly woven and they twist, turn, amplify and scale down the story perfectly, while ending in a way that would have been maddening were not the third book available immediately.
The last book that is both a prologue and an epilogue, introduces a third viewpoint which at first seems out of place, but it soon integrates well with Tengo and Aomame's. This third pov is crucial to the structure of this part as it provides both the back story and most of the narrative tension, while Tengo and Aomame take a detour so to speak.
As noted above, while the story twists and turns a lot, the experienced sff reader will most likely figure it out well ahead of time with motifs like the destined ones, parallel universes and portals, magical links and prophecies, though here all happens in Tokyo 1984, so we have the mundane world of subways, cars, bars, news, a secretive cult etc. And it works perfectly, while the magic is slowly introduced, first in the "fantasy novel" of Fuka Eri that Tengo ghost rewrites into a masterpiece - though in a nice touch that should resonate, it is snubbed by the main Japanese literary prize as bestselling and genre - and later in revelation after revelation.
Another thing I really appreciated about 1Q84 was that it kept away from the pitfalls of solipsism. Parallel universes, portals and the existence of those special few who know/use them always invite this immediate breaking of the suspension of disbelief by un-substantiating the "real world" but the author is clearly aware of this and discusses it quite a few times:
"Komatsu considered this for a long time, wrinkles forming on either side of his nose. Finally he sighed and glanced around. “What a strange world. With each passing day, it’s getting harder to know how much is just hypothetical and how much is real. Tell me, Tengo, as a novelist, what is your definition of reality?”
“When you prick a person with a needle, red blood comes out—that’s the real world,” Tengo replied."
The novel also keeps things ambiguous enough to allow us to speculate, while the ending adds one extra twist which for once I did not quite see and which deepened my appreciation of Haruki Murakami's genius.
1Q84 contains so much that even enumerating things that are of note in the book would take quite a lot of space and while I think that the novel is one than can be read many times and still fully enjoyed, I will mention only the "levitating clock" that startled quite a few early (mainstream readers) as it marked in a way the clear dividing line where the novel fully moves into the sff-nal space so no one can deny it is a work of speculative fiction anymore, two moons or not...
Overall 1Q84 (A++) is simply the best novel released in 2011 so far.
Order "The Immorality Engine" HERE
Read FBC's Review of "The Affinity Bridge"
Read FBC's Review of "The Osiris Ritual"
INTRODUCTION: “The Affinity Bridge” was a personal favorite of mine in 2008 and the next series installment "The Osiris Ritual" was a top 20 novel for 2009. In consequence I have been pestering Mr. Mann for a review copy of The Immorality Engine for a long time and I was absolutely delighted when I got a pdf sometime in the spring. While I read the book on receiving it, the May-July hiatus from FBC due to my household move prevented my reviewing it for its UK publication in June; in addition, as a third series novel after reviewing the first two, The Immorality Engine was one of the harder reviews to do as I wanted to balance meaningful information with avoidance of both spoilers and repetition of what I have said earlier, so it took a while longer than I wished.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Immorality Engine is the third Newbury and Hobbes adventure and the action takes place some months from the end of The Osiris Ritual. In somewhat of a gamble, the author does not start the novel chronologically, but dramatically with a funeral of a favorite character and then goes back in time to recount the events that have led to said funeral.
While on first read I was a little bit surprised by this narrative choice which seemed to unbalance the feel as the book starts emotional and then flatlines somewhat for a while and then accelerates to the dramatic climax, in the end I thought the change was effective in mixing things around and avoiding the same dynamic from the first two books.
As storyline goes, The Immorality Engine has the same structure as the previous installments - seemingly unrelated mysteries, this time the murder of a high-class jewel thief and an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria - which bring Maurice Newbury out from his opium descent after the events and especially the denouement of The Osiris Ritual which made him question everything about his life and job.
His steadfast friend Inspector Bainbridge and Newbury's assistant Veronica Hobbes - who intuits that she is at least partly the reason for his descent into full addiction, though unlike us, she does not know exactly why, though things are even trickier than we know - try desperately to "bring him back" and finally the case of the jewel-thief and later the deeper mysteries involved do so.
The Immorality Engine flows well and you cannot stop turning the pages until the final resolution, while the combination of great character interaction and inventiveness that has characterized the series to date is present in full. Adding to this, The Immorality Engine features several villains that top everything up to now, while the earlier moral ambiguities get even more pronounced here. The story-lines of the three volumes come full circle in some ways here and bring a sense of closure to the first half of the series, while promising much for the next planned three volumes, though the way the characters have grown on me I would be happy to read six more at the least.
Overall, The Immorality Engine (A+) is a great culmination of the series so far ending its first arc on a superb note and I strongly recommend everyone that loves sff adventure with a steampunk/mystery/thriller tinge to give it a try!
Order The Cold Commands HERE
Read FBC's Review of “The Steel Remains”
Read FBC's Review of Thirteen aka Black Man HERE
Read FBCs 2007 Interview with Richard Morgan
In 2008, Mr. Morgan turned his hand to fantasy in “The Steel Remains” which was so hyped including by the author who was a bit ignorant that fantasy had moved from Tolkien for a good while before 2008, that it simply could not live up to expectations; it made though a valiant try not by its very traditional subject, but by Mr. Morgan's original take with modern and very dark and explicit language in a pre-modern context that had sfnal elements too.
My opinion of The Steel Remains varied quite wildly over time - loved it on first read, then later thought more and saw its many weaknesses, then almost completely forgot it. I even expected to open its direct sequel, The Cold Commands, and put it down since recently I have moved away from traditional fantasy, but the author's extremely vigorous style hooked me. However I had a problem: I had forgotten what was what except for the strong beginning and the author's trademark twist at the end that appears in all his novels.
So I went back to re-reading The Steel Remains before continuing with The Cold Commands and today after the hype has vanished and enough time has passed, I would say that it is a novel with great parts, superb lines and well done and interesting characters, but it fails to fully cohere and it is considerably less than the sum of its parts. For convenience I will present FBC's 2008 take on the plot of The Steel Remains:
PLOT SUMMARY FOR The Steel Remains: Ringil Eskiath, the hero of the bloody slaughter at Gallows Gap, is a legend to all who don't know him and a twisted degenerate to those that do. A veteran of the wars against the Scaled Folk, he makes a living from telling credulous travelers of his exploits. Until one day he is pulled away from his life and into the depths of the Empire's slave trade, where he will discover a secret infinitely more frightening than the trade in lives...
Egar Dragonbane, a Majak steppe-nomad and one-time fighter for the Empire, is now the Skaranak clanmaster. Pining for the past, Egar finds himself entangled in a small-town battle between common sense and religious fervor. But perhaps there is some truth behind the tribe’s gods, the Sky Dwellers…
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Cold Commands starts almost a year later after the end of The Steel Remains though later we find out what happened in the meantime too. While Archeth and Egar star immediately, Ringil takes a while to make his appearance, but when he does, it is a with quite a bang and from then on he really takes over the book and makes it a much more memorable experience than The Steel Remains.
The Cold Commands also mixes sfnal tropes - directly as in the technologically advanced Kiriath and their AI-like Helmsmen, as well as in echoes of the Takeshi Kovacs series that made the author's name starting from his explosive debut Altered Carbon - Takavach and Dakovash - and indirectly in attitude and language with fantasy tropes like magic swords, empires, slavery, pre-modern civilization, ancient evil, etc...
The sfnal part works wonderfully and there are a ton of quotable lines and moments in the book, while the fantasy part is ok'ish, a bit boring as in very canned stuff I've seen a million times and with some of the least unsubtle and moronic but powerful villains around.
The Cold Commands coheres much better than The Steel Remains. For once, it is longer by 100 pages or so and that helps - let us remember that in The Steel Remains the main three characters stayed well apart from one another for like 90% of the book with the convergence in a pretty rushed climax - while here the characters come together and separate much more often, so there is more unity. I also think that The Cold Commands being Ringil's novel in a definite way is very important in ensuring this unity.
I quite liked Archeth's thread a lot too as it is both the most political and the most sfnal one, while Egar's deeds are more picaresque and while they add a piece of the puzzle to the storyline, this thread is less important, even tangential to a large extent. The secondary characters are better developed here too than in the first novel - again I think that having more than 500 pages and not having to introduce the world and characters helped a lot, showing again that there is a reason epic fantasy novels must go towards the higher page count and come as series if they are to be very good.
Most notable of all, the Emperor, Jhiral Khimran II, lights up each page he appears on. "The degenerate apostate" as the fanatics of the main imperial religion call him - and which Ringil gleefully enjoys as usually those epithets have been applied to him - is on a roll in this volume, but there are a few more others that add color and depth. Even the usual Morgan twist, while present as expected, is done in a subtler way and we find out about it later as back story. Only the villains are really cartoonish and one dimensional, but that is in many ways a traditional fantasy requirement since how could otherwise so powerful personages be defeated by the rag-tag heroes...
As highlights that show the brutality of the book and of the heroes, early on there is Ringil capturing one of his nasty enemies and giving her to his motley mercenary crew to be gang raped and then when he got tired of listening to her screams, personally cutting her throat, or Jhiral Khimran II also personally water boarding his enemies - though in a pool with the analogues of sharks/piranhas - and they are the good guys; what the bad guys do, well, you can imagine...
Overall The Cold Commands (A++) is a superior effort to The Steel Remains and an excellent novel, though one that's definitely not for everyone; a little more imagination on the fantasy plot and full coherence would make it one for the ages, but even so, the author's powerful writing style, the memorable characters, superb one liners and many other goodies made it one of my top 25 novels of the year.
I noticed that except for the Saladin Ahmed title HERE, I have not included any debuts, so I will research the subject and come back soon with a list of intriguing debuts for 2012 also.
In this post I present a list of both the announced titles that have already some relevant links and of the presumed ones that for now have no clear information.
For the full schedule as known to us at a given time, you can visit the Upcoming Releases page. As usually schedules change unexpectedly, wrong dates spread fast online, so while we try to be as accurate as possible, let us know of any mistakes.
The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks (sequel to The Black Prism, Orbit, Fall 2012)
The Eternal Flame by Greg Egan (sequel to The Clockwork Rocket, Night Shade, Summer 2012)
Black Opera by Mary Gentle (standalone sff, Gollancz, Summer 2012)
Jack Glass by Adam Roberts (standalone sf, Gollancz, Summer 2012)
The Coldest War by Ian Tregilis (sequel to Bitter Seeds, Tor, Summer 2012)
The Air War by Adrian Tchaikovsky (the 8th Shadows of the Apt novel, after 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, Macmillan)
The 6th Safehold Novel by David Weber (after OAR, BSRA, BHD, AMF, HFAF, Tor)
Cold Steel by Kate Elliott (after Cold Magic and Cold Fire, Orbit)
The 3rd Thomas Cale Novel by Paul Hoffman (after The Left Hand of God and The Last Four Things, Dutton)
The 4th Red Sun Novel by Mark Newton (after Nights of Villjamur, City of Ruin, The Book of Transformations (FBC Rv soon), Macmillan)
Queen's Hunt by Beth Bernobich (sequel to Passion Play, Tor)
Black Bottle by Anthony Huso (sequel to The Last Page, Tor)
Great North Road by Peter Hamilton (standalone sf, Macmillan)
Added Oct 24 as per comment below:
The Complete Sea Beggars Series by Paul Kearney (see this post on dropped series, Solaris)
Two very speculative but of the highest priority titles for 2012:
Adjacent by Christopher Priest (standalone sf, Gollancz)
English Translation of El Prisionero del Cielo by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Spanish Release, Nov 17 2011 and I will report on it since I plan to get it asap)