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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Spotlight on Two 2012 Books by Brendan Connell: "The Architect" and "Lives of Notorious Cooks" (with comments by Liviu Suciu)



"The mad and mystical Körn Society, based in Ticino, Switzerland, sets itself the task of building a grand, soul-uplifting Meeting Place for its members. An inspired architect, a visionary in stone, must be found, and one such is available: the mysterious and unpredictable Alexius Nachtman. But is he perhaps too visionary?

This is the effect of his book of sketches:

“Huge edifices, megastructures, poured from the leaves. Bridges which spanned oceans, towers which stretched into the clouds, huge fortresses which looked as if they could withstand the destructive force of an Armageddon. Vertical cities rose up from desert plains in startling anaxometrics, while spatial cities, cities built fifteen or twenty meters above their counterparts, stood forth as visions of utopian architecture, only to be outdone on subsequent pages by floating cities, vast nests of hexagonal pods resting atop lakes and oceans. Structures which straddled the earth and others which burrowed under it. Buildings which brought to mind lost civilizations or seemed to be the habitations of beings from another world . . . ”

Despite doubts, he is hired. And so, in this adventure of marble and mortar, of machines and workmen, of cult and manipulation, the most bizarre construction project since Babel commences its Cyclopean growth. Written by a contemporary master of the decadent and grotesque, The Architect is like Greek tragedy on hallucinogens—a brilliant, stylish short novel of eccentricity and decay"

Minireview (full read): The Architect is a short novel that is mesmerizing and makes you turn the pages once you open it.

While the story reveals itself soon as a pretty familiar one after a somewhat mysterious beginning where both the origins of the cult that is central to the novel and of the architect of the title are presented, the power of the book lies in the captivating style and the slowly turning up of the pressure and the stakes.
 

I would strongly recommend to at least check a sample of this short novel and see if the powerful imagery inside transfixes you too.

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"When he reached the age of 767, Peng Zu was sought after by the benevolent Emperor Yao, who wished to receive advice on ruling the nation. Peng Zu made a thick soup for the emperor out of pheasant, Job’s tear seeds and plums, well salted. Eating the dish, the emperor felt as if he were sitting on air. He was filled with a deep cosmic joy in which he saw everything clearly.

“You see,” Peng Zu said, “the gravest problems of state can be resolved over a bowl of soup. The people, seeing you live frugally will not resent you. When the ruler is calm, the nation is calm.”

Learn of the outrageous and sometimes dubious lives of Peng Zu and fifty other notorious cooks from the pages of history and legend, in a picaresque dictionary of delicious and playful story-telling"

Impressions (read about 1/3 of the stories so far): I have read some 15 of the "biographies" so far and they are invariably entertaining and strange; cooking in all ages and countries, from classical Greece and Rome to China to the modern day, weirdness and misdeeds, murder and love. While the inevitable repetition and momentum breaking that a themed collection/anthology makes this a book to savor in small chunks, so to speak, it is very entertaining and a break from the usual sff fare (!).

Make sure you read this when not hungry though!


Saturday, December 29, 2012

GUEST REVIEW: Wards of Fairie by Terry Brooks (reviewed by Ryan Lawler)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read chapter one HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Elves Of Cintra
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Dark Wraith Of Shannara

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Terry Brooks published his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, in 1977. It was a New York Times bestseller for more than five months. He has published over two dozen bestselling novels since, including the Magic Kingdom series, the Word and the Void trilogy and, further instalments in his Shannara series. A practising attorney for many years, Terry Brooks now writes full-time and lives with his wife, Judine, in Washington state.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: When the world was young, and its name was Faerie, the power of magic ruled—and the Elfstones warded the race of Elves and their lands, keeping evil at bay. But when an Elven girl fell hopelessly in love with a Darkling boy of the Void, he carried away more than her heart.

Thousands of years later, tumultuous times are upon the world now known as the Four Lands. Users of magic are in conflict with proponents of science. Elves have distanced their society from the other races. The dwindling Druid order and its teachings are threatened with extinction. A sinister politician has used treachery and murder to rise as prime minister of the mighty Federation. Meanwhile, poring through a long-forgotten diary, the young Druid Aphenglow Elessedil has stumbled upon the secret account of an Elven girl’s heartbreak and the shocking truth about the vanished Elfstones. But never has a little knowledge been so very dangerous—as Aphenglow quickly learns when she’s set upon by assassins.

Yet there can be no turning back from the road to which fate has steered her. For whoever captures the Elfstones and their untold powers will surely hold the advantage in the devastating clash to come. But Aphenglow and her allies—Druids, Elves, and humans alike—remember the monstrous history of the Demon War, and they know that the Four Lands will never survive another reign of darkness. But whether they themselves can survive the attempt to stem that tide is another question entirely.

FORMAT/INFO: Wards of Faerie is 371 pages long and is the first volume in the Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy. August 21st, 2012 marked the US Hardcover/Ebook publication of Wards of Faerie via Del Rey Books. It was also released in Hardcover/e-book format in the UK on 23rd August, 2012 by Orbit Books.


ANALYSIS: Every venture I have taken into Shannara of late has been one full of trepidation and low expectations. There have been quite a few highs and lows with Brooks over the past few years, but seemed the magic of Shannara had run out after the completion of the Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy. It's been 10 long years since the end of that trilogy, 35 years since publication of The Sword of Shannara, but Brooks has shown he still has what it takes to write an exciting Shannara novel.

Things start off according to the Shannara formula, a druid discovers some long lost magic and then goes about collecting a bunch of characters with familiar last names (Ohmsford, Leah, etc.) so that they can go on an adventure to retrieve the long lost magic for the greater good. It is a formula that has served Brooks very well over the course of thirty five years and it appears as though this venture will be no different. But then you start to notice things, little things, small subversions of his established formula. Things like an obsessive compulsive Ard Rhys whose lack of foresight borders on the incompetent. Things like brutal deaths and incapacitations, and a dynamic political world enacting machinations on multiple fronts. There is so much scope, so much more going on here compared to what we are first presented on the surface, and compared to what we have been presented with over the past ten years.

The biggest difference, but perhaps the most subtle difference, is the premise of the main quest. This is not a journey in response to a big bad guy threatening a small valley, this is a journey to retrieve an ancient magic because of a deep seated fear that it might be misused if found. "Maybe we should just leave it alone" is a phrase that gets repeated a lot throughout the book, but the druids just cannot let it go, and this single minded tunnel vision creates fractures and rifts in relationships all over the Four Lands which may not be recoverable. The druids play protagonist and antagonist in the same book. They do what they do for noble reasons, but in this book you can finally appreciate the point of view of all the other races in the Four Lands - you can understand why the secretive actions of druids only serves to fuel further distrust. It feels... authentic.

That said, despite the excellent execution, this book does not stray too far from the Brooks tried and tested formula. The characters are typically plucky and courageous, but at least you feel like they have more realistic motivations. Unfortunately, like a lot of first books in a Shannara trilogy, Wards of Faerie is a sacrificial lamb designed to set up the rest of the Trilogy. The self contained subplots were very good and well resolved, and I can see where the rest of the trilogy is going (which has me quite excited), but the setup and exposition is still just typical Brooks setup and exposition, and it makes this book seem pale compared to the promise of what is to come.

CONCLUSION: I've read every single Shannara book, and Wards of Faerie is in my top five, maybe even my top three. It's an action packed book that is very easy to read and makes me want to read the next book in the trilogy. Great job Terry, I look forward to reading Bloodfire Quest.

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GUEST REVIEWER INFO: Ryan Lawler is someone who likes keeping busy, working a full time job whilst trying to find time for completing a Master's degree, playing tennis, reading speculative fiction, romancing the missus, keeping up with his video game addiction and writing stories. Ryan was born and brought up in Australia and has worked as an avionics and software engineer. He lives with his family in the US currently and you can find more about him on his blog and follow him on twitter @RyanL1986. He also frequently reviews books on Fantasy Book Review.

 Ryan was kind enough to accept our guest review request on twitter and so many thanks to Ryan for volunteering his time and insight to Fantasy Book Critic.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Top Five Books of 2012 in a Few Categories (with comments by Liviu Suciu)

 

Top Five Overall:

1. The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
2. Sharps by KJ Parker
3. The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
4. The Hydrogen Sonata by IM Banks
5. (tie) The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks
5. (tie) Blood Song by Anthony Ryan

Comments: - the actual split is top 3 as any of those could have been my #1, then #4 and Banksian sense of wonder in an ok but not great story that is less than the sum of its occasionally outstanding parts and then the 2 fantasies where the extraordinary talent of Anthony Ryan in a traditional tale versus the exuberant, cannot put down, twists and turns style of Brent Weeks makes it hard to choose.

- coming back to 1-3, we have the stunning book of Kate Morton which is the first book in quite a while to truly surprise me and acquire a completely different meaning once you know what's what, while being otherwise her usual past-secrets fare, well written but somewhat limited as scope goes, versus the multifaceted Sharps with its own twists, versus the beautifully written The Garden of Evening Mists (2012 Booker shortlisted) which has its own share of surprises. Ultimately the lack of one dominating character in Sharps in the mode of Gignomai or Basso, and the missing 50-100 pages in The Garden of Evening Mists which would have made it a masterpiece for the ages, left me with The Secret Keeper as #1 for truly surprising me in a novel is hard and very rarely achieved, while otherwise the novel is well written too.

- since I started keeping more detailed records in 2008, this is the first year #1 is not an epic story of some kind (2008 right now #1 is By Schism Rent Asunder which is another book with a stunning surprise though it is also an epic sff, 2009 it's either The Kindly Ones (English edition - as I read the French in 2007, so it's a bit of cheating) or The Children Book, 2010 Surface Detail and 2011 Parallel Stories and its 1000 pages and many threads...)

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Top Five Fantasy:

1. Sharps (#2) by KJ Parker
2. (tie) The Blinding Knife (#5/6) by Brent Weeks
2. (tie) Blood Song (#5/6) by Anthony Ryan
4. The Air War (#8) by Adrian Tchaikovsky
5. Princeps (#11) by LE Modesitt

Comments: in addition to the top 3 discussed above, another winner from Adrian Tchaikovsky in a novel that I feared would be marred by the lack of my favorite characters who starred in Heirs of the Blade (taking place simultaneously) but actually surprised me with lots of great stuff, especially from Seda and her storyline which is outstanding, while the Imager second series and a prequel at that keeps getting better and better, and this while knowing the general outline of what will happen to boot...

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Top Five SF

1. The Hydrogen Sonata (#4) by IM Banks
2. The Sacrifice Game (#8) by Brian D'Amato
3. Jack Glass (#10) by Adam Roberts
4. In the Mouth of the Whale (#12) by Paul McAuley
5. The Eternal Flame (#13) by Greg Egan

Comments: another winner from Brian D'Amato where Jed the narrator (well it's more complicated than that but too much detail would be spoilery) makes a run of the mill thriller a huge favorite though of course the outstanding Maya storyline helps a lot; the usually superb books from Adam Roberts, Paul McAuley and Greg Egan round the top 5 sf.

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Top Five Series Debuts:

1. Blood Song (#5/6) by Anthony Ryan
2. (tie) The Red Knight (# 14/15) by Miles Cameron
3. (tie) Mage's Blood (# 14/15) by David Hair
4. The Red Knight (#23)by KT Davies
5. Dark Eden (#28) by Chris Beckett

Comments: here I will refer to the earlier post on the top 3 debuts, while adding that KT Davies' debut (titled Red Knight too while as mentioned earlier, here the knight is a lady and the love interest is a prince rather than the more usual the other way around) stayed with me much more than I expected, while Dark Eden has great style in an otherwise fairly standard sf piece - the author has just signed a contract for the sequel so the series part.

I woud also want to add that Blood Song with its mainstream hc Ace release in July 2013 (though of course you still can buy the ebook today) is one of the debuts that has the chance to be remembered the way The Lies of Locke Lamora or The Name of the Wind are, namely as a book that automatically catapults the author to the first rank of today's fantasists.

And just in - on a post on his website, Anthony Ryan has just announced that the success of Blood Song allowed him to quit his day job and dedicate himself to full time writing!

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Honorable Mentions (sff):

1. The Night of the Swarm by Robert Redick
2. A Rising Thunder by David Weber
3. The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham
4. Midst Toil and Tribulation by David Weber
5. Red Country by Joe Abercrombie
6. Blue Remembered Earth by Alastair Reynolds

All top 25's of mine and simply the fact that in the top 5 there have to be 5 books so to speak prevented them from being there. 

The Night of the Swarm has what I consider the perfect ending for a sff series and I would love to see something like this more often; this ending made the rather boxed-in first 500 pages - with some interesting stuff and twists but way too predictable and with the feel of "gotta cover this" as opposed to the exuberance of the first 3 volumes - acceptable and raised the novel to my top 25.

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Major unread/unfinished 2012 books:

The Rise of Ransom City by Felix Gilman
The Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi
Celebrant by Michael Cisco
Empty Space by MJ Harrison
The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Opened all and read some pages from them, but I put them down for various reasons and will come back to them eventually as these are books I do not want to rush just to check a box.


Wednesday, December 26, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Win a Paperback copy of The Book Of Thomas: Heaven by Robert Boyczuk


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE

In support of the November 20, 2012 publication of Robert Boyczuk’s release “Book Of Thomas: Heaven”— Fantasy Book Critic is giving away two paperback copies “Book Of Thomas: Heaven” courtesy of Chizine Publications and the author!!!

To enter, please send an email to fbcgiveaway@gmail.com with your Name, Mailing Address, and the subject: HEAVEN. Giveaway has ended. Thank you for entering and Good Luck!

GIVEAWAY RULES:
1) Open to Anyone in Canada and the United States of America.
2) Only One Entry Per Household (Multiple entries will be disqualified).
3) Must Enter Valid Email Address, Mailing Address + Name.
4) No Purchase Necessary.
5) Giveaway has ended.
6) Winner Will Be Randomly Selected and Notified By Email.
7) Personal Information Will Only Be Used In Mailing Out the book To the Winner.
Monday, December 24, 2012

SPECIAL EXCERPT: The Book Of Thomas: Heaven by Robert Boyczuk


My father is dead, I thought, shivering in the thin nightshirt I still wore, the one I’d been in when they’d seized me. And I am to blame.

Yesterday, I’d turned ten. At least I thought it was yesterday. But it was hard to tell how much time had passed in the dank, windowless cells beneath the monastery. Four days? Five?

I will never see him again—not in this life.

Or in the one after, if the Bishop was to be believed. Heretics, the Bishop had told me, were condemned to eternal damnation. But if I were to confirm my father’s sins, my father could no longer deny them. He would be allowed to confess and repent—and to live. So I had nodded numb affirmation to all the Bishop’s strange questions. Muttered the answers I thought the Bishop wanted to hear even when the questions baffled me. But I was, and still am, a bad liar. The Bishop didn’t believe me, so my father had died unrepentant, while I bore witness. After, the Bishop had made me confess my lies. The ones the Bishop had forced me to make. My penance was light—two days of prayer and fasting chained in darkness. Improbably, the Bishop believed my soul could still be saved. But I knew better.

I killed my father.

After my penance, a silent Friar had unlocked my shackles and, with a crooked walking stick, prodded me up and through a small kitchen into open air. When I had been brought to the monastery it had been the dead of night. And now, as we emerged, it was night again. Or perhaps it had remained night the whole time. For all I knew, this might be a Sphere of perpetual night where the suns never kindled. I’d heard of such things. Perhaps that’s why the Black Friars had built their monastery down here, because the darkness suited their work.

We followed a footpath through rocky fields and denuded trees, the Friar whacking me smartly across the back of my legs whenever I slowed. I lost a slipper—but it didn’t matter, really, because my slippers were falling apart. A short while later I kicked o" the other one. Once, we paused and I was allowed to go to my knees to scoop water from a small spring that crossed our path. My stomach rumbled; it had been two days since I’d last gnawed on a mouldy hind of bread.

At some point the path had become a rutted waggon track, and we walked past cultivated fields, the shapes of farmhouses and barns in the distance. Which meant people. And where there were people and fields, there were regular cycles of day and night. The kind that would allow those people to work and their crops to grow. There would be a dawn.

This knowledge failed to hearten me.

The path widened, became hard-packed dirt. We crossed a stone bridge over a fetid river that seemed nothing more than an enormous open sewer, and immediately trod a broad street paved with crumbling bricks. On either side of the bridge I saw that earthworks had recently been erected and that a crude tower was being raised, as if to defend the crossing. But the tower was only half-finished and seemed unoccupied—at least no one came out to challenge us. Even so, I took it as a sign of a bad place expecting worse.

As we walked, bits of crumbled brick bit into my soles. Houses stood shoulder to shoulder now, their porticoes set back a dozen paces from the thoroughfare. Here and there light leaked out around the edges of a shuttered window. The street narrowed, and the Friar and I turned, and turned again. The houses became taller and shabbier, pressing in on the street. None had porticoes, only doors and barred windows overhanging the lanes. There was no river here to carry away excrement, and the foul smell of fresh night soil in the gutters made me gag. Narrower back streets branched o" ours, from which emanated the sounds of furtive movements. If the Friar heard anything, he ignored it, herding me impatiently through the labyrinthine alleys and finally down this last claustrophobic lane, no wider than my outstretched arms.

Rough hands shoved me; I stumbled over broken bricks and into a wooden wall that loomed out of the darkness. A dead end. I stood completely still, felt the wood damp against my cheek and under my fingers. Not sure what to do. I stiffened at a touch on my arm, but it was only a frayed hempen rope, suspended from something in the darkness above. For a time I waited, for a wordless kick or a blow, for whatever might come. When nothing did, I turned, but the nameless Black Friar who’d brought me here had already faded away into the barrio. Without ever saying a word.

I had no idea where I was, nor why I’d been brought here. Until this moment I’d been stumbling through the night, not thinking. Numb. My father was dead. What point was there to anything beyond that fact?

A shuffling sound from the impenetrable darkness.

It occurred to me, then, that perhaps the Friar hadn’t abandoned me. Perhaps he’d gone around the corner to relieve himself. . . . But then I heard a retch and the sound of gobbing. A small, gaunt shadow congealed at the foot of the alley, ambled forward. “Yer a pretty one, ain’t you?” A drunken voice, the kind that promised pain. And instantly, sickeningly, I knew why the Friar had left me here: to die. Not by the Friar’s own hand—that would have been a mortal sin—but at another’s.

A man reeled forward, emerging from the shadows—an indigent in ragged clothes, his face pocked, his left eye socket empty and scabbed. I snatched up a chunk of brick. The indigent took stock of the brick with his good eye. “Now, now, boy. No need fer that.” He o"ered a gap-toothed smile. “As God is me witness, I intend you no harm. I was just thinking, you being so young an pretty, and me knowing them what like that, there was a brass deacon or two to be made between us. . . .” As he spoke, the man patted his own clothing, absentmindedly, feeling for something.

A knife!

I retreated a step, felt something between my back and the wooden wall. The rope. In one motion I whipped the brick at the indigent and spun around, grabbing the rope with both hands. I heard feet pound behind me as I hauled myself up with all my might—the rope gave way and I landed hard on my arse, a bell tolling once, loud enough to wake the dead.
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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Robert Boyczuk has published short stories in various magazines and anthologies. He also has two books out: a collection of his short work,  Horror Story and Other Horror Stories, and a novel, Nexus: Ascension.
Order the book HERE

Official Book Blurb: "The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven." - John Milton, Paradise Lost.

In the beginning, the Church ruled all the Spheres of the Apostles. But that was millennia ago, before the origins of this massive, artificial realm were forgotten. Now, drought, plague and war afflict the Spheres that make up the world of Man, fragmenting society into antagonistic sects that carry out ruthless pogroms. A young orphan, Thomas, is thrust into the midst of this upheaval and embarks on a journey to the highest of all Spheres, Heaven.

As he struggles through his chaotic, crumbling world, Thomas witnesses cruelty and violence beyond measure-and chances upon unexpected moments of courage and self-sacrifice. In this turmoil, his belief becomes doubt as he is forced to make soul-rending choices between what his faith tells him he should do, and what he must do to survive.

The Book of Thomas: Heaven is the unflinching, deeply affecting tale of the battle that reason and religion wage for a boy's soul.

Friday, December 21, 2012

In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns by Elizabeth Bear (thoughts by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Read In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns in its entirety 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Dust 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of A Companion To Wolves 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Elizabeth Bear posted about this novella on her twitter feed a couple of days and that is how I came to read “In the House of Aryaman, A Lonely Signal Burns”. It was originally published in Asimov's January 2012 edition and now is featured for free on the author's site. It is a novella that consists of a procedural mystery that is mixed with SF and also deals with the exploration of a foreign culture, in this case India. It is a quintessential Elizabeth Bear story that mixes different genre aspects with some terrific characterization as well a unique-ish setting that confounds partly and yet is completely alluring to those looking for a different world setting.

The story begins in the city of Bengaluru (Banglore) in India of the future with police sub-inspector Ferron (aka Tamanna), and her partner of seven years, senior constable Indrapramit, who are investigating the very perplexing murder of a brilliant but aloof physicist named Dexter Coffin. Coffin's remains are found in his apartment but in a very weird state; his body has been turned inside out—with the end result featuring a pink slimy mess. Their troubles are compounded by the fact that all data related to Coffin’s last few hours has been wiped out and the only witness might be a talking parrot-cat hybrid that was also the physicist’s pet and whose memories have also been tampered with.

In this futuristic version of India, people have developed newer ways of telecommunications and web surfing. Almost everyone is glued into the intenet by means of "feeds" and "skins" that help in instant communication as well as in filtering data about the surroundings as per the person’s requirement. The author has very convincingly built a futuristic society with most of the hi-tech gadgetry that we have come to expect however her unique touch is that she has seamlessly interspersed it with Indian culture and mythology thereby creating a uniquely captivating Indo-SF storyline. As an Indian I was simply stunned at the thoroughness of her research and the depth of the background detail, be it with the Indian police hierarchy or the mythological names and details or with even the names and Indian vocabulary. Elizabeth Bear’s world-building skills and her research has to be applauded thoroughly if not awarded.

Next up is the characterization and it is here that why I fell in love with this story as it’s the characters and the main protagonist that made my read such a captivating one. Ferron is a person who is at odds with her mother and yet she strives to do her “kartavya” towards her mother and her fellow citizens. Her friendship with constable Indrapramit is shown to be a deep one and there are hints at some background troubles faced by Indrapramit however that would be a tale for another time. The procedural aspect of the story is fueled intensely by Ferron’s diligent search for the truth while dealing with her personal issues. This detective duo pairing is entirely fascinating to read about and I hope the author does write more in this milieu and explore what happens beyond the confines of this story.

As a reader and world-building geek, I want to read more about this new age India and see the author explore Bengaluru and other corners of this futuristic Indian subcontinent. Elizabeth Bear’s prose skills are often lauded in her other works but since I’ve not read much of her work, I hadn’t had the pleasure of seeing why others had been in love with it. After reading this novella I can see that I will need to catch up on her remaining bibliography. The story is told with such skill that for a moment one forgets the settings and foreignness of the land and gets drawn into the primary character voice and the world as she views it. Her strengths, her weakness, her inner thoughts, etc. are laid bare with poetic precision and it’s no wonder that the story is stronger because of the author’s skill.

I am absolutely in love with this story and I hope more readers read it as its currently featured free on the author’s website. Discover for yourself why Elizabeth Bear has been nominated in almost every category by all awards under the sun. She has legions of fans and now I count myself one among this rising tide.

NOTE: Image art is of Pegasus fresco from Pompeii by xueexueg on Photoree. Taken from the author's site and used under Creative Commons.
Thursday, December 20, 2012

Three Mini-reviews: Pale Kings, Between Two Fires and Soulrazor (reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of The Written 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Pale Kings continues the story that began in The Written and is the second part on the Emaneska series. The book begins events in a Malazan like fashion by focusing on events nearly two and half millennia ago. The readers get to witness a birth which seems inconsequential however later on as they learn was of much consequence. Things then begin only a few weeks after the events of the first book.

Unlike the first book wherein the action was centered around Farden, in this book the story’s focus is extended to certain intriguing characters of the story. We get to see Farden again and he is trying to find out more of his past which apparently holds the key to his problems in a desert land called Paraia. The other characters who get a spotlight are Durnus, Farden’s vampyre mentor-cum-friend, Modren, another Written mage who is introduced in this story, and Towerdawn, Old Dragon and lord of the Sirens who we got to meet in the preceding volume. There are a lot more characters especially older ones who return from their previous roles and further intrigue the readers. There’s a lot more backstory that is revealed in this story and we finally get a clue to the amount of world building that has been developed for this series.

The best part about this book can be said that it is the LOTR to the preceding book, while some history and character background was hinted at. This book lays bare the screen on almost all spectrums of the story beginning with his history that is now forgotten mythology, to its characters as newer facets and older secrets are revealed. There’s also the multi-character POV approach that gives the story a wider panoramic feel. The characterization done is much better than its predecessor and while it’s still not the best but we do get to see Farden in a much more stronger and dangerous image as fostered in book one.

There’s also the action which is amped up insanely, be it with Farden or the sirens or the other parts of the book, the action sequences become a particular highlight of the story as the readers is constantly harried from one sequence to another with some rather startlingly plot twists and revelations in between. The reader hardly gets any time to breathe and there’s also the issue of character deaths which is rather surprising as the author keeps the story on an even keel by surprising us by dealing death cards at unexpected moments. Lastly I felt that this book had a much better ending than that of The Written, as compared to the first book there are various plot threads in this story however the author competently handles them to bring the story to a resounding and a bit tragic climax.

I was very much impressed by the difference between books one & two. Author Ben Galley showcased talent in his debut effort, in his sophomore offering he builds on that promise and gives the readers an action-packed epic fantasy tale that surprised me nicely. Count me in for this series and I look forward to the books three and four that promise an epic if not proper conclusion to this surprising series.


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Between Two Fires by Christopher Buehlman is his second book and it’s a sum of many parts. Part parable, part historical fantasy, part horror and part literary story, these parts combine to make a tragic story that is haunting and horrific. The story begins with a fallen knight called Thomas who is truly on hard times and now sees himself as a worthless individual that is barely managing to scrap by. An orphaned girl who seems to be much more than Thomas can presume and lastly a priest who is perhaps theologically and sexually confused, soon join him. They journey upon to Paris and further destinations as per the girl’s wishes for the final war is coming and strange things walk the face of the Earth which is perhaps breathing its last gasping breaths.

These individuals will make a journey that will not change their lives but potentially change the lives of the thousands of folk in and around the world. These characters face evil that is deceptive, horrific and perhaps cunning in a way that they rarely expect. They do not know what awaits them but to not chance the journey means to fall further into despair and that’s something Thomas cannot afford. The story then takes some twisted turns as the characters are trying to reach an ultimate destination however none know the sacrifices that they will have to make.

The overall plot follows a linear structure however has a very meandering storyline. The twists are inserted into the story and they make the story very difficult to predict. I as a reader had no idea as to where the story was headed and what type of ending the story would have, so kudos to the author for writing such an unpredictable storyline. The plot has a very emotional side to it as we are shown how far humanity and Thomas have fallen and the author does not hesitate to show some truly horrific imagery. The writing is elegant, as the author never dwells in gore but more of a bleak atmospheric horror. There’s a lot of symbolism prevalent to the story and often it gives a clue to the trials ahead for the characters.

The trials faced by the characters are of all kinds and of course help in strengthening the plot and character relationships. Redemption, faith, free will and love are among the key themes of the story. The characters often grapple with these themes and the author often showcases these themes by means of plot twists as well detours from the main story however all of it feels completely in line with the overall author plan. The battle between good and evil, free will and subjugation is the main focus and we get to see many battles about these issues littered through out the story.

The storyline is epic in scope, emotionally draining for the characters and definitely exhilarating. I would recommend Between Two Fires for readers who are curious about Christopher Beuhlman’s writing style and prose skills. It is a maelstrom of surprises however not all are the kind that the reader and characters might enjoy.


Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Blood Skies 
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s review of Black Scars 
Read Steven Montano’s Guest Post on Cross genre writing

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: Soulrazor is the third book in the Blood Skies series and after reading the first two books in the series, I was very excited to see where the author was taking the story as in the ending of Black Scars, the protagonist had come at a crossroads of sorts and found new company. His struggles have not lessened though but he has more shoulders to share the burdens.

The book story begins twenty-five years after the events of the Black and Eric Cross now has his own mercenary team to handle. They are going after certain targets and getting good at their work when they unwittingly discover something more horrifying than the vampire overlords. Eric manages to save his team however learns that he might have over-extended his abilities. Things take a topsy-turvy turn as he’s forced to search for the answers on his own. This gives rise to another POV character and Danica Black gets a chance to showcase her leadership skills and the readers get to know her thoughts while she lead the team into a maelstrom unlike they have ever faced in their lives.

Soulrazor is the book I was waiting to read since a long time as it deals primarily with the reason the world is the way it is now. It gives us the raison d'être for the occurrence of the event known as the Black. The author has hinted at certain things in the past two books however the revelations in this book come entirely out of the left field. Previously we had Eric Cross as the sole narrative driver however this time around he shares the focus of the story with Danica who’s as different from Cross as chalk is to cheese. I very much enjoyed this change of POV as Cross can be thought of a goody two-shoes but Danica is an anti-hero and one whose cruelty can only off set by her bravery. This was a sharp move by the author and does create an interesting dynamic to the plot. On reading the book it becomes very clear as to why this move was precipitated by the author, which bring me to the main plot thread of the story.

The book deals with a lot of the why of the occurrence of the Black and I can’t say I’m thoroughly elated with all that was revealed. I think that it might work for certain readers but many might be disappointed by the happenings in the story. I’ll clarify that the story is not different from its predecessors in regards to the action, pace and plot twists however the revelation and the main twist of the story is something that didn’t work for me because I’m not a fan of deus ex machina resolutions and this twist has a partial DEM feel to it. The ending then further sets up the story that is to come but at this point one of the biggest mysteries of this series has been revealed and that kinda takes precedence over the end twist of the story. The book however is still evenly paced and in regards to the action sequences continues on from the preceding titles. The character cast is also suitably widened as we get to know newer members of the team however I must warn the readers that the author is a ruthless one and so be prepared for unexpected character deaths.

It was a book that I anticipated a lot from but it didn’t exactly deliver on the promise. I think that was more due to personal reasons and I’m still excited for this series though. I will review the fourth book soon to find out what Steven Montano has planned next with Cross, Black and his darkly alluring and dangerous world.
Tuesday, December 18, 2012

GUEST POST: The Sentients of Orion by Marianne de Pierres


The Sentients of Orion series grew largely out of the appearance in my mind of the character Tekton - a self-proclaimed Godhead. The first few pages I wrote sprang straight from his POV and it was a strange experience to be plunged into the skin of an arrogant, intellectual elitist with a rampant libido and grandiose notions. From the outset, I knew he couldn’t be my main character because he was so unlikeable – yet he was too fascinating to banish.

Close on the heels of Tekton, followed the character of Jo-Jo Rasterovich, a perfect rat-bag and self-centred vagabond with a great sense of humour. Jo-Jo was both lovable and frustrating at once, and I felt like I’d known him all my life. I also understood instantly that he’d be there right at the end when the s… hit the fan. Jo-Jo was my anti-hero and I fell for him hard.

Having been introduced to these two challenging men, who’d escaped the dark recesses of my brain and taken over my writing life, I went in search of my true protagonist. After all, neither Tekton nor Jo-Jo were the kind of people you’d invite home to meet the family.

Mira Fedor was a bit hazy at first and it took one full draft of Dark Space to sort out her character. I think that was because I’d come straight from writing a cyberpunk trilogy narrated by a physically powerful woman – ie I still had a Parrish Plessis hangover. It took a full draft to excise Ms Plessis and let Mira find her feet. But when she did I learned she was actually much stronger than Parrish, much more resilient, much more determined.

As I wrote book one, I very much had in mind to start off with a tight focus; one woman, one problem, one planet. My idea was to mirror a ripple effect in the narrative – ie the flutter of a butterfly’s wings eventually causes the destruction of worlds (this is reflected in the book trailer made back in 2004 by Joffre Street Productions).  But of course this is Space Opera, and I had to also give hints in book one that the wider story would be there in time. Tekton and Jo-Jo and the presence of the mysterious ENTITY all contribute to that – but they are only teasers at first.

The wider story unfolds in the subsequent novels; Chaos Space, Mirror Space and Transformation Space. One reviewer described the series in this way:

[The Sentients of Orion is] set across an entire galaxy populated by ‘humanesques’ and other, more alien beings; the action veers from intense family drama to planet-wrecking destruction. It considers genetic engineering, religion, politics, personal responsibility and the different forms love can take. It’s both character and plot-driven, and the conclusion totally astounded me. This is a series that has changed my way of thinking about space opera, and the characters that populate it.

The series is ideas heavy, but those ideas are not spelled out. Look and you will find post-humanism, chaos theory, the nature of God, the relevance and politics of philosophy and Bifurcation theory all disseminated to the reader through the characters. You just have to invest in them before you get the pay off.


**The Sentients of Orion will be available in December 2012 for the first time in the USA in e-book format from E-Reads. The UK and Commonwealth Edition is currently available in paperback and e-book from Amazon UK and good booksellers. Read more about the series at Marianne’s website and the series website.



Read FBC Review of Chaos Space (II)
Read FBC Review of Mirror Space (III)
Read Impressions about Transformation Space (IV)

(Liviu) Overall, The Sentients of Orion is an excellent fast space opera series and hopefully the upcoming US release will raise its profile
 
Monday, December 17, 2012

The Dead Of Winter by Lee Collins (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Book HERE
Read the first three chapters HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Lee Collins is a pseudonym and the author was born and brought up near to the Rocky Mountains. He has studied creative writing at Colorado State University. Upon graduation, he worked as an editorial intern for a local magazine before securing a desk job with his alma mater. Lee’s short fiction has appeared in Ensorcelled and Morpheus Tales, the latter of which awarded him second place in a flash fiction contest. In 2009, a friend challenged him to participate in National Novel Writing Month, and the resulting manuscript became his debut novel, The Dead of Winter. In his spare minutes between writing and shepherding graduate students at his day job, Lee still indulges in his oldest passions: books and video games. He and his girlfriend currently live in Colorado.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Cora and her husband Ben hunt things – things that shouldn’t exist.

When the marshal of Leadville, Colorado, comes across a pair of mysterious deaths, he turns to Cora to find the creature responsible. But if Cora is to overcome the unnatural tide threatening to consume the small town, she must first confront her own tragic past as well as her present.

CLASSIFICATION: The Cora Oglesby series is a historical fantasy series that combines the Wild West settings with a nice slice of atmospheric horror.

FORMAT/INFO: The Dead Of Winter is 379 pages long divided over eighteen chapters, an epilogue and an Acknowledgments page. Narration is in the third-person via Cora Oglesby, Matt Duggan, Jack Evans, Washington Jones, Boots the bartender and Fodor Glava.

November 27, 2012 marked the paperback and e-book publication of The Dead of Winter via Angry Robot Books. The cover art is by Chris McGrath.

ANALYSIS: Lee Collins’ debut was one that I almost missed out on. I had gotten hold of an e-copy earlier however due to work and my TBR pile, kept on passing it over. But I kept seeing praise about it on twitter and with me being in a recent book slump of sorts, I decided to take a look at it. It began a bit slowly but I’m glad I took a chance on it as I think I’ve discovered another debut that might make the year-end lists.

The book begins in 1883 in Colorado and features Cora and Ben Oglesby. They both are bounty hunters who hunt vampires and have been successfully doing so for more than a decade. As they are passing through the small settlement of Leadville in Colorado, they are beseeched to save the settlement from a mysterious animal that has been killing the poor folk. With their fees being settled, Cora and Ben get down to their job only to find out that the creature they are hunting might not be their usual supernatural quarry. Things get even hairier as they find out what they might be against. The plot then has them dealing with further problems as they make the acquaintance of a British vampire hunting academic who tells them of a problem infesting his lord’s mines. Its up to Cora and Ben to make light amid all the problems and save themselves as well as all the people around them.

This debut is one that stands out because of its settings and mixing of genres in the main storyline. On one hand it’s a historical fantasy but it also has some elements of horror to it and lastly it also has some very potent characterization to it in regards to the main characters. Lets get to the meat of it then, kudos to the author for writing this story and placing it in the western setting as the tagline suggests, “True Grit meets True Blood”. This tagline is pitch perfect and sums up the book with near perfection. The story’s pace is also something that isn’t the fastest but never slackens and does its best to keep the reader hooked. Also the plot twists as well as the author’s descriptive prose help in enriching the read and making sure that it does not seem as a run-of-mill debut. The main character of Cora Oglesby is absolutely a treat to read about. Being a tough no-nonsense woman in a male-dominated field has earned her a reputation as “Mad Madam”. She strives to do her best and truly is a wonder to behold when she’s doing what she does best. While Ben acts as the smooth glove to her iron fisted approach, their team has acquired a legendary name of sorts within the western towns. The author has given birth to a very fascinating character and the grit she showcases is simply brilliant to read.

Next there is one wild twist that occurs near the middle of the story for which the author has to be applauded. While it’s not completely easy to anticipate, the reader will probably notice some irregularities for them to give it a thought. Though the end result might not be the same, kudos to the author adding this to the story to make that much more interesting. Lastly the setting and pace of the story is such that the readers are constantly kept on the edge and this book is one that will have the readers coming back for seconds, thirds and much more. There are also various nods to history and several small factoids that are smartly incorporated in the story. I particularly enjoyed this debut and feel that this would make a truly fun cinematic experience be it in the form of a movie or even a TV series.

Not that that this debut is flawless, firstly it takes a while to get things in place and the first 50 odd pages, the readers might feel a little lost with all the happenings. Be assured that its done on purpose and I would recommend that readers pay particular attention to the happenings as otherwise you’ll be scrambling back to these pages when the twist is revealed. Lastly the plot has two main threads to it and while the first one ends in the middle before leading on to the second, the transition doesn’t go as smoothly as the author envisions.

CONCLUSION: Lee Collins marks himself out with his debut that has an eclectic mix of genres and some pretty terrific prose and characterization to dazzle readers with. I was pleasantly surprised by this book and for those readers who are on the fence about this book, my advice is to get off it as quickly as you can and read this one, as its ingenuity will mark itself out among the year end lists and the minds of readers.
Friday, December 14, 2012

Spotlight on The SFF/Fantasy Novel to Beat in 2013 - "The Daylight War" by Peter Brett (with comments by Liviu Suciu)


A few days ago I did a post about the books of 2013 and mentioned how I already have read the "2013 book to beat" in Jean Marie Blas de Robles' masterpiece "Where Tigers Are at Home"

Well, now I have finished another novel that catapulted to the "sff/fantasy novel to beat" in 2013, namely The Daylight War by Peter Brett.

I posted some partly coherent thoughts with no real spoilers on Goodreads as I want to reread the novel at leisure in the next few days, while of course a full coherent review will come closer to publication day and these are the highlights:

"The Daylight War on the other hand just smoothly continues the action from The Desert Spear and carries it to a great though quite abrupt ending point that begs the next book asap - I would not say it is really a cliffhanger as, well that would be telling but there is a literal cliff involved, and the author has options regarding the ending, but there is no real closure here as it was to a large extent in TDS...

Anyway, all the favorite characters from TDS return and have a lot of pages , while here the back story of Inevera is told (which of course should not be a surprise considering the cover) as the extra in addition to the push ahead; the real nasty corelings start making an appearance as "the stock" - the way they call humans - got again smart a bit too fast by their reckoning in only 300 hundred of years from the last cull as they see it, though the largest part of the book is about Jardir and Arlen directly as finally Arlen accepts his destiny, and indirectly through all the supporting characters and the mixing of cultures through alliance, trade and marriage.


...........

I want to emphasize that in this book all the promise of the earlier volumes gets fulfilled as the author delivers the "real deal", with the only downside being that we want and need the next book asap... "



Note: to make sure the title of the post is not confusing, I would note that I tend to look at the top books of the year from a few perspectives - top all around novel, top mainstream vs top sff and then top fantasy vs top sf, though of course there are only 3 books involved.

For example in 2012, my top all around and top mainstream is The Secret Keeper, top sff and top fantasy is Sharps and top sf is The Hydrogen Sonata in 2011, top all around and top mainstream was Parallel Stories, top sff and top sf was The Clockwork Rocket and top fantasy was ADWD, while in 2010, top all around, top sff and top sf was Surface Detail, top mainstream was The Invisible Bridge and top fantasy was The Scarab Path.

And for the interested, for 2013 the top sf so far is Best of All Possible Worlds but I do not expect it to stay there as books by Adam Roberts, Paul McAuley, Christopher Priest, Greg Egan and Alastair Reynolds are the current candidates, in fantasy, Warmaster's Gate and maybe Cold Steel are the main competition for The Daylight War, though of course if KJ Parker, IM Banks, Brent Weeks have books out next year that would change.

As mainstream goes, I have no clue what will really appeal to me in 2013 beyond the known novels from Christian Cameron. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

“Malice” by John Gwynne (Reviewed by Sabine Gueneret)

Order “MaliceHERE (UK)
Read An Extract HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. Malice is his first novel.

FORMAT/INFO: Malice is 672 pages long and is the first volume in The Faithful and the Fallen epic fantasy series. December 6, 2012 marked the UK Hardcover/Ebook publication of Malice via Tor UK.

OVERVIEW:  “Even the brave will fall…

Young Corban watches enviously as boys become warriors, learning the art of war. He yearns to wield his sword and spear to protect his King’s realm. But that day will come all too soon.

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see the threat of a war to end all wars.

The High King Aquilus summons his fellow kings to council, seeking an alliance in this time of need. Prophesy indicates darkness and light will demand two champions, the Black Sun and the Bright Star. They would be wise to seek out both, for if the Black Sun gains ascendancy, mankind’s hopes and dreams will fall to dust.”

Malice, the first book in The Faithful and the Fallen fantasy series, takes place in the Banished Lands, a territory of giants where humans fled after the God War while opposing Asroth, Elyon, and his Ben-Elim. The Banished Lands are composed of several kingdoms, overseen by High King Aquilus, although his authority over the other Kings is only for show. The storyline is straightforward and narrated chronologically through the point of views of the main characters living in different parts of the Banished Lands, with the different storylines crossing and sometimes joining together.

The main character is Corban—roughly half of the novel is told through his point of view. Fourteen years old and the son of a blacksmith, Corban is shy and a coward (or so he seems to think). Yet it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the blacksmith’s son than meets the eye. Other characters include Corban’s sister Cywen whose storyline is used as a complementary piece to her brother’s narrative. Then there’s Veradis, a young, unconfident man who has just finished his war training and been appointed to Nathair’s personal guard. Meanwhile Kastell, the nephew of King Romar, is set on a path that will take him far from home while giving him a chance to prove himself. Finally, there is Evnis, a middle-aged counselor to King Brenin living in the same kingdom as Corban, who has secretly sold his soul to Asroth for power and is waiting patiently for his time to come.

After the High King Aquilus reveals the prophecy and the signs announcing another God War, Kings become divided, and while some rally to Aquilus’ cause and start preparing, others are not so eager to follow. All the while, Asroth’s shadow becomes more apparent as nations tear each other apart—will they be able to tell good from evil before it is too late?

ANALYSIS: Upon first seeing the cover and blurb to John Gwynne’s debut novel Malice, my initial reaction was that the book looked pretty generic. A young, innocent man with a destiny; a war between Gods and forces of good & evil; a mysterious prophecy . . . sound familiar? If you read fantasy, even occasionally, you probably recognize more than a few of these elements just as I did.

However, when reading fantasy I try not to get caught up in a book’s similarities to other fantasy novels and instead focus more on my personal enjoyment of the book. Was the story gripping? Are the characters interesting? And if there happen to be giants and dragons in the novel, so what? After all, isn’t that why we love reading fantasy in the first place?

So that’s the approach I took with John Gwynne’s Malice, and to be honest, the book was difficult to get into at first—world-building was slightly confusing and the story was slow. Thankfully, I kept at it and was eventually rewarded with a great reading experience. How so?

First off, even though Malice is not presented as a YA novel, I think the book is a great example of what YA fiction is all about—a coming of age story. With all of the main characters at that difficult age where they are trying to find their place in life, often in opposition to their family—Prince Nathair who is desperate to better his father High King Aquilus, Veradis who always felt his father refused to see his worth because of his mother’s death during childbirth, Kastell’s fight with his cousin Jael for King Romar’s favor, Evnis’ deal with Asroth because of his father’s lack of recognition—Malice is a familiar tale, but one that readers can sympathize with and enjoy.

Secondly, John Gwynne’s world of the Banished Lands became real to me. Granted, much of the novel’s mythology is clearly adapted from Christian religion, not to mention the classic medieval setting with the addition of such recognizable tropes as giants and wyrms as well as the perceptible influence of Welsh folklore—all familiar trappings for a fantasy novel—but it is for these very same reasons that it is so easy to wrap your head around the world of Malice.

Lastly, there is a clever subtlety to John Gwynne’s debut novel. Main characters for instance, all start out in a similar situation at the beginning of Malice, but as the novel progresses, each character evolves in very different ways. Even better, it is not clear whose side each character is on (except for Evnis), which leads to some exciting developments once the evil is revealed! Then there is the story which starts out simple at first (a God War, a King trying to ally kingdoms in the fight against evil, etc.), but as the plot thickens, it became harder and harder for me to put the book down thanks to rising tension and chaos, unexpected twists and a gripping rhythm.

CONCLUSION: With three-dimensional characters, a gripping plot, and a world that became real to me, John Gwynne’s Malice is a great debut. In short, this is the kind of fantasy I love to read and I truly can’t wait for the next volume in The Faithful and the Fallen!

NOTEWORTHY RELEASES

Click here to find out more about “Blood & Royalty”
Order HERE

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Review HERE

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Review HERE

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Review HERE

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Review HERE