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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)



Official Author Website
Pre-order The Enchanted HERE (Amazon) & HERE (B&N)

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "What matters in prison is not who you are but what you want to become. This is the place of true imagination."

Rene Denfeld, the author of The Enchanted has the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. She has written a novel about identity, understanding, the roots of crime, the reality of prison life, the possibility for redemption, and the ability of people to use imagination to rise beyond the purely material to the transcendent. There are three primary and several very strongly written secondary characters whose stories are interwoven.

In the death row of a stone prison somewhere in America, a nameless inmate, entombed in a lightless dungeon, has constructed a fantastical appreciation for the world he inhabits, bringing a glorious light into his Stygian darkness.

 "The most wonderful enchanted things happen here—the most enchanted things you can imagine. I want to tell you while I still have time, before they close the black curtain and I take my final bow."

In reading, he has the freedom his external circumstances preclude. And he interprets his surroundings through a magical lens. The rumblings of tectonic activity become golden horses racing underground. He sees small men with hammers in the walls (a particularly Lovecraftian notion) and flibber-gibbets, beings who feed on the warmth of death itself. He visualizes his very sweat rising to join the atmosphere and raining down on China. He is also able to perceive feelings and needs in others, observing from his isolation, and offering a bit of narrator omniscience. That he is able to find enchantment in this darkest of situations is breathtaking. I was reminded, in a way, of Tolkien’s Gollum, the battle between the darkness and the light within a single being. But enchantment is not reserved for the inmate alone.


An investigator, known only as The Lady, is working on the case of a prisoner named York. After being on death row for twelve years, York had decided to abstain from any further appeals. The Lady had been hired by York’s attorneys to look into his case. We follow her as she unearths a horrific past that helps explain how York came to be where and who he is. She has a history of her own that informs her ability to relate to her clients. Once upon a time she needed a redoubt of her own.

 "What did she think about during those endless hours in the laurel hedge? As a child, she made an imaginary world so real that she could feel and taste it today. Sometimes she would imagine that she and her mom lived on a magical island where the trees dripped fruit. Other times they traveled all over the world, just the two of them, like the best of buddies. In all the stories her mom was whole and she was safe. When she left the laurel hedge, she would bend the thick green leaves back, to hide where she had been. And when she came back the next day, crawling with a sandwich she had made of stale bread with the mold cut off, and hardened peanut butter from the jar, the magic would be waiting for her."

She has enchantment in her adult life as well, while pursuing her investigation, as she is dazzled by some of the natural beauty she encounters. A fallen priest tends to the spiritual needs of the inmates, but he guards a secret that he desperately needs to confess. While he offers what comfort he can to the inmates, who can really see him? Who can forgive him?

Much of this novel is about seeing and being seen, of crime, punishment and forgiveness. The Lady’s role is to see the prisoners, see their history, see what lies beneath the awful exterior. She is respected and admired, but not much seen herself. Many of the inmates and guards get by precisely because they succeed in remaining unseen. Prison is a dangerous place in which to be seen. Those who see might use that vision for dark purposes.

Denfeld lifts a wet rock to reveal the maggot-ridden structure of unofficial prison governance, the corruption and cruelty that permeates this world, even with a fair warden nominally in charge. Corrupt guards ally with brutish alpha inmates for their mutual gain. There is considerable detail about prison life, including such things as why metal food trays are used instead of plastic, how the bodies of the deceased are handled, what events are considered disruptive and what are considered ameliorative, and even some history of the prison, including reasons for elements of its design. She also looks through the eyes of the warden and the guards, offering keen insight.

The story lines include learning what The Lady discovers as she looks into York’s past, following the travails of a new, young, white-haired prisoner, seeing how corruption in the prison operates, and accumulating bits of the nameless prisoner’s story. There are indeed monsters inside the stone walls, as there are monsters without, both drawn to the despoiling of innocence and beauty. But in this pit of ultimate despair, where all hope is lost, there is magic of another sort. Life may be harsh and death may be near, but welcoming the golden subterranean steeds, attending to the little men with hammers, imagining elements of one’s self traversing the planet, travelling along with the characters in a book, seeing, really seeing others, can lift one beyond the cares of the physical world.

Can there be redemption for the horrific crimes these condemned men have committed? Should they die for their crimes, whether they want to or not? Might it be a harsher punishment, even crueler, to keep them alive?

Rene Denfeld has a considerable history. She is an investigator for death-row inmates, and thus the model for The Lady. Her knowledge of the prison world is well applied here. She wrote a piece for the New York Times Magazine on the impact on children of being raised by cognitively impaired parents, a subject that is significant in the story. In addition, her 2007 book, All God’s Children informs her knowledge of the often violent world of street families, young criminals in particular. She is also an amateur boxer. I would not mess with her.

CONCLUSION: This is simply one of the most moving books I have ever read. Not only is the material heart-breaking, but the language Denfeld uses in her descriptions, the gentle magic of the imagination with which she imbues some of her characters is poetic and stunning.

 "I hear them, the fallen priest and the lady. Their footsteps sound like the soft hush of rain over the stone floors. They have been talking, low and soft, their voices sliding like a river current that stops outside my cell. When I hear them talk, I think of rain and water and crystal-clear rivers, and when I hear them pause, it is like a cascade of water over falls."

While there is enough darkness in The Enchanted to fill a good-size dungeon, it is the moments of light, the beauty of language and imagination, and the triumph of spirit that will cast a spell over you that will last until you shuffle off this mortal coil.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Author picture courtesy of the author.
Monday, February 24, 2014

"Traitor's Blade" by Sebastien de Castell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



"The King is dead, the Greatcoats have been disbanded, and Falcio Val Mond and his fellow magistrates Kest and Brasti have been reduced to working as bodyguards for a nobleman who refuses to pay them. Things could be worse, of course. Their employer could be lying dead on the floor while they are forced to watch the killer plant evidence framing them for the murder. Oh wait, that’s exactly what’s happening…

Now a royal conspiracy is about to unfold in the most corrupt city in the world. A carefully orchestrated series of murders that began with the overthrow of an idealistic young king will end with the death of an orphaned girl and the ruin of everything that Falcio, Kest, and Brasti have fought for. But if the trio want to foil the conspiracy, save the girl, and reunite the Greatcoats, they’ll have to do it with nothing but the tattered coats on their backs and the swords in their hands, because these days every noble is a tyrant, every knight is a thug, and the only thing you can really trust is a traitor’s blade."

After an ok'ish start on the light side that gave a taste of the picaresque aspect of the novel, Traitor's Blade started getting darker and more interesting so it quickly pulled me in. By its end, the book turned out to be an excellent read - powerful narrative and many twists and turns of which some major ones are clear from long before, but they are still very entertaining. 

Highly imaginative world building which has a little "iffiness" factor true as some things happen too quickly and of course our heroes escape quite a few deathly situations in sometimes unlikely ways, but that doesn't really matter given the rest of the goodies of the novel. Also for once a realistic view of "knights", chivalry and a medieval like society that reads real - brutal, no illusions, no mercy, the powerful oppressing the less powerful and those oppressing the weak

Narrated in alternate present and past by Falcio val Mond, former First Cantor of the Greatcoats - both Cantor and Greatcoat have definite meanings here - who now a few years after his king's death when the high nobility rebelled against his reforms and King Paelis refused to allow a civil war and ordered Falcio to surrender his highly trained Greatcoats in return for amnesty, surrender that has the survivors now called traitors, tries to keep his last promise to the king and find the treasures the king has scattered throughout the realm and use them to restore a semblance of justice as opposed to the unending brutality of the nobility.

While a great fighter and having a highly developed sense of justice and morality, Falcio is not the sharpest intellect around, so he and his two companions, first sword Kest and first archer Brasti, kind of bumble in and out of mortal peril, are outwitted and manipulated at every turn by nefarious schemers, but in true picaresque fashion, manage to survive despite the odds.

Here is Falcio after killing a renowned knight in a quick battle:

"I looked out at the night sky and the stars that winked at us as if they were all in on some great joke. ‘Five years ago, after the Ducal Army took Castle Aramor, they killed our King and hauled his corpse up to the top of the castle. They mounted his head on a pike. Some men cheered, some men looked away.’ I took another swig of my wine. ‘And some men just laughed.’

‘So Lynniac was there, was he?’

‘Lynniac was there,’ I said. ‘Commander of a division of Knights. I didn’t recognise him at first, but when he was pointing that crossbow at me and he started laughing …’

Feltock bit the inside of his cheek. Then he said, ‘And you think you remember everyone who was there that day?’

I thought about it for a moment. ‘Not everyone,’ I replied. Feltock was looking at me intently, trying to see if I knew, if I did remember. More trouble than it will be worth, I thought, but I was a little drunk and a little tired so I said, ‘But since you’re asking, yes, General Feltock, I remember you.’

Feltock’s eyes went wide for a moment, but then he gave a bitter laugh. ‘Not “General”,’ he said. ‘Not for a few years now.’

We drank some more in silence.

‘So,’ he said, uncrossing his legs with a crack. ‘Are you gonna come for me next, boy?’
I sighed. ‘No.’

‘Why not? I was there, wasn’t I? I was one of those what took down your King, wasn’t I? So what’s the difference between me and Lynniac?’

‘You didn’t laugh.’

He just looked at me for a while and then said, ‘Huh.’ Then he stood up and started walking back to the wagons.

Why “Captain” Feltock?’ I asked when he was a few paces away. ‘Why aren’t you a general any more?’

Feltock turned and gave me a sour grin. He tossed the rest of his wineskin back to me. ‘Because, boy, when they put the King’s head on that pole, I forgot to laugh.’"
 

In the episodes taking place in the past, we see Falcio's journey from boy to young and happily married farmer, to man on a vengeance quest, to justiciar in the king's elite Greatcoats, to his last order in the name of the king and the slow revelations of that thread are added to the mix well indeed.

Magic is subtle here and nobody is necessarily as he or she seems, while the main characters - villains and heroes of both genders - are in the best fantasy tradition. A great ending which promises much more and a series that already by its first volume vaulted to the top level, so I really want more.

Overall Traitor's Blade is the first "new" fantasy of 2014 that met and even exceeded my expectations and for the reasons above takes its place in my top 25 of the year to date. 

Here is one more taste of Falcio's narration at a crucial moment when he finds a new and unknown group of "Greatcoats" - the now quite missed traveling justices that kept the nobility's abuses in check - that may or may not be what they seem:

‘He can withdraw if he wishes,’ Lorenzo said soothingly, ‘but any man or woman who runs from a fight is no Greatcoat and has no business here with us.’

I laughed. ‘“Runs from a fight?” You child. We run from fights all the time – we run from any fight we can get away from. “Judge Fair, Ride Fast, Fight Hard” – fighting is always our last resort.’

It was Lorenzo’s turn to sneer. ‘Well, perhaps that explains why you ran so quickly the last time there was a fight worth
winning! Perhaps that’s why there’s no King and no Greatcoats any more. Perhaps we –’ and here he turned and swept his arms out wide – ‘perhaps we plan on fighting, not running!’

Aline put a hand on my arm. ‘Let’s go, Falcio. I think we should go now.’
I shrugged her arm off.

‘You’re a fool, Lorenzo, and so is anyone here who listens to this tripe. You think you’re going to take forty men and women and fight an armoured division of Knights? In plate-mail? The army that came for the King had a thousand men on horseback. You think you can fight your way out of that?’ I felt the sting of irony myself, since I had tried very hard to convince the King to let me do that very thing.

‘You know, First Cantor, you look tired. Perhaps you need to rest, and dream sweet dreams of the past, while younger and better men do the fighting for you. Or perhaps –’ he turned and smiled wolfishly – ‘perhaps you’d like to show us all a thing or two about how you used to do it in the old days?’

‘Come on, Falcio,’ Aline said. ‘This isn’t your fight.’

But she was wrong: these people were calling themselves Greatcoats. I had devoted my life to this cause, and a hundred and forty-three others had done the same. We had fought and bled and died for this cause. My King had lost his head for this cause.

Lorenzo was right about one thing, though, I was tired. I was tired of Dukes and Knights, and even the common folk calling us ‘Trattari’ and ‘tatter-cloaks’ and worse. I was tired of the memory of what we had tried to do for the world being sullied. More than anything, I was tired of running and hiding. I knew I should just leave with Aline, try and find somewhere else to hide. I could practically hear Brasti shouting in my ear, telling me not to put my anger in front of my reason again. He was right.

But I’d be thrice-damned before I let these fools, these arrogant sons-of-bitches, put the final death to the memory of the Greatcoats.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Honor's Knight by Rachel Bach (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website  
Order “Honor's KnightHERE 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "The Spirit Thief
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Rebellion” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit Eater” & “Spirit’s Oath” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of “The Spirit War” 
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Spirit's End"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of "Fortune's Pawn"
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Eli Monpress series completion interview with Rachel Aaron
Read Fantasy Book Critic's Interview with Rachel Bach

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Rachel Bach (Rachel Aaron) lives in Athens, Georgia with her family. She has graduated from University of Georgia with a B.A. in English Literature. She has been an avid reader since her childhood and now has an ever-growing collection to show for it. She loves gaming, Manga comics & reality TV police shows. She also blogs occasionally on the Magic Districts website.

OFFICIAL BOOK BLURB: Devi Morris has a lot of problems. And not the fun, easy-to-shoot kind either.

After a mysterious attack left her short several memories and one partner, she's determined to keep her head down, do her job, and get on with her life. But even though Devi's not actually looking for it -- trouble keeps finding her. She sees things no one else can, the black stain on her hands is growing, and she is entangled with the cook she's supposed to hate.

But when a deadly crisis exposes far more of the truth than she bargained for, Devi discovers there are worse fates than being shot, and sometimes the only people you can trust are the ones who want you dead.

CLASSIFICATION: The Paradox trilogy is an action-packed SF series with romantic elements. Think of it as “Kate Daniels in armor while fighting aliens in space” or possibly a female heroine version of the Shadow Warrior series by Chris Bunch.

FORMAT/INFO: Honor's Knight  is 384 pages long divided over fifteen numbered chapters and a prologue. Narration is in the first person solely via Deviana “Devi” Morris and in the third person for Brian Caldswell, Yasmina and her father. There's also an excerpt from Heaven’s Queen (book III of the Paradox trilogy).

February 25, 2014 marks the Trade paperback and e-book publication of Honor’s Knight via Orbit Books.

ANALYSIS: After reading Fortune’s Pawn, I realized that Rachel Bach (Aaron) wasn't going to be a one-series wonder. The book introduced readers to Devi Morris and the weird world and universe she inhabits. It was an exciting read and also gave out a lot of questions to be answered. I wanted to see how the author would develop the story and what secrets would be revealed. After reading this book, I can say it simply blew my socks off with all its twists and revelations. I've said it before and I'll say it again "Rachel Aaron really knows how to plot a story and outsmart the reader", also there will be mild spoilers for the Fortune's Pawn and the Paradox trilogy so for those who haven't read the first book, be warned.

At the end of Fortune's Pawn, Devi is left a bit shell shocked after the attack on The Glorious Fool. However she can't remember much and cannot explain her intense dislike for the ship's cook. But with Devi being who she is, she soldiers on and soon finds herself in trouble that literally spans the whole universe. The main plot deals with all the mysterious happenings of the first book. What are those things that Devi sees but no one else does? Who or what is Ren, the tiny, quiet girl that is Brian Caldswell's daughter? Who is Rupert and what is he doing masquerading as a cook? What really happened in the Xith-Cal spacecraft? All these and a lot of questions were raised in the first volume and thankfully in this sequel, we get many answers and then some.

This middle volume basically is the author's revelation book in regards to all the main plots, surprises and secrets. If you are like me and enjoy an epic storyline, then you will love Honor's Knight as Rachel Bach gives a story involving a grave threat to all sentient races, scary ginormous alien creatures that dwarf most human imagination and lastly what is the core mystery behind Ren and all the strange phenomena that Devi encountered in the first book. There's also much more about the Eyes, the strange organization that is sparsely mentioned as well as the main secrets involving Brian Caldswell and his motley crew aboard the Glorious Fool that have spawned this storyline.

The plot twists and revelation form the core of this story and this book admirably avoids the middle-book syndrome. Also I feel that with regards to the two book released so far, Honor's Knight is the better one. As to why I think so, it is due to the fantastic pace of the book, beginning with Devi in her post-traumatic state, things soon unravel at a rate that leaves Devi harried and barely able to keep up. The author admirably gives up a multitude of plot revelations that will satisfy all the reader questions that have arisen from the preceding volume and also make this read such a fantastic one. If you previously enjoyed the action and romantic aspects of the story, then be glad as the author builds on those fronts and rather goes out of her way to upstage the reader expectations.

Again with all books, there are usually some negatives to be found. With this book though, it will be very subjective, I didn't find any points that stuck in my craw. However I'm sure that this might not be the case with everyone. If you found something to nitpick about Fortune's Pawn then you will surely find something over here as well. Lastly one point though which has been not covered is the whole Terran-Paradox split and so far a spotlight hasn't been shone on Paradox the world and its society. I would really like to know more and hopefully Heaven's Queen might be the book to do so.

CONCLUSION: If you think you have it all figured out you are wrong, if you thought that this was going to be a simple love story with Devi & Rupert, you would be doubly wrong. And lastly if you thought that the author couldn't mix action with epic SF successfully then you HAVE to read this book and series. Rachel Bach simply outdoes herself with this one and whatever anticipation, I had was simply blown away by the awesomeness of this story. 
Thursday, February 20, 2014

GUESTPOST: Pride and Prejudice, War, and Dragons by Anne Leonard


For this guest blogpost, I was asked to write something about combining Pride and Prejudice and dragons with a background of war. P&P was essentially a source for characters and details of the setting, not for plot, which is why I don’t spend the whole book re-enacting the Elizabeth and Darcy story. (I also stole some dialogue directly – it’s amazing how modern Austen’s language really is.) I didn't want to write a novel in which the love story was the entire narrative arc. So I asked some “What-if?” questions about changes I could make that would lead to a more epic story.

There’s a little known secret about P&P; the whole time it’s occurring, there’s a war going on. The only real indication of this is at the very end, when Austen’s doing her wrap-up of all the characters and says about Lydia and Wickham, “Their manner of living, even when the restoration of peace dismissed them to a home, was unsettled in the extreme.” All we as readers see of the soldiers is the handsome uniforms and parades, but somewhere outside the boundaries of the story people are dying.

Since this was pointed out to me years ago, I've thought about it every time I reread the book. So when I decided that I was going to rip off P&P for my fantasy romance, I decided that I would foreground the war more than Austen does. I didn't want to write a lot of battle scenes or soldiers in camp, first because military SFF is just not that interesting to me, and second because that wouldn't allow the kind of social interactions between my characters that I wanted to play with. However, I also wanted war or the threat of war to be a fact of people’s lives, putting urgency into decisions that otherwise might be delayed. That dictated some of my character choices; I needed people in positions of power and responsibility, not men of leisure like Darcy.

Additionally, the war element is also in part a personal response to September 11. I will never forget the feeling in my gut as I realized that the plane crashes were an attack, as I watched the Twin Towers fall. The war that started then hasn't ended yet. I don’t think I could write a story now that isn't in some way shaped by that terror and by the subsequent steady pulse of violence. It’s like the universe’s background radiation; I can go long times without thinking about it, but it’s always there. A lot of fantasy novels have a war or some sort of armed conflict going on, sometimes up front and sometimes in the background, so including one was playing within the tropes. But it was also an expression of my own awareness that things are not all well with the world.


OK, on to a much cheerier subject: dragons. With dragons, the trick was really figuring out how they entered the story. I knew at the outset of writing that there were going to be dragons, and I had this vague idea that they would somehow be important to the war, but it wasn't until I’d been writing for several months that I realized they were an integral part of the plot.

My original notion came from thinking about what would be the most un-Austen like element of fantasy, and large, flying, fire-breathing, destructive creatures fit the bill. I had vaguely imagined them as more or less filling the niche held by luxury barouches, but that changed almost immediately. Obviously if dangerous creatures like dragons could be controlled by humans, they would first and foremost be used for military purposes. But dragons as glorified cavalry horses or fighter jets weren't very interesting in the long term either. The dragons needed to have some sort of agency.

It was when I tied this need for agency to the presence of magic that my storyline really fell into place. I don’t want to go into too much detail here, because that gets into spoiler territory, so suffice to say that the dragons are the driving force behind a lot of the events. They’re strange, distant creatures that humans can’t understand, with motives people don’t know. They aren't gods – they’re vulnerable and mortal and can be killed or captured – but they are also mysterious and unexplained. Because that’s what magic is.


AUTHOR INFORMATION: Anne Leonard was born in Chicago, Illinois and after staying in a whole bunch of states, finally settled in California. She has done her BA from St. John’s College and then gotten an MFA at the University of Pittsburgh. After those two came a Ph.D. in English as well as Law school. She loves Pride And Prejudice and is a Chicago Cubs fan. She lives with her family on the west coast and this is her debut.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of Judith Love Pietromartire and the author. Dragon art courtesy of HDScreen.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Inferno by Dan Brown (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)


Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
WSJ on how Dan Brown kept the wraps on Inferno's plot details
Read NY Times Q&A with Dan Brown 
Read a discussion on Dante's magnum opus
The Daily Beast fact checks Dan Brown's Inferno

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate" or "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here".

The heat is on. There is, of course, a deadline. A mad scientist of a Dante super-fan, who takes theatrical delight in referring to himself as The Shade, would like to bring about a great renaissance for humanity, a reawakening similar to the one that occurred following the Black Plague. As with that earlier event, The Shade, a Batman villain if ever there was one, would like to cull the world’s population by, oh, say, a third. Malthus lives, and has spawned a group of die-hard Transhumanists who think we and our planet would be a lot better off were there significantly fewer of us using up space, air, water, et al, and hogging the remotes. Robert Langdon, returned to duty after sundry life-threatening adventures in Angels and Demons, The Da Vinci Code, and The Lost Symbol, has been called in to decipher the clues to where and how Mister Zobrist, (we can’t call him The Shade for 463 pages, can we?) conveniently dead in the opening, has set his viral bomb to go off. Or was he?

Langdon wakes up in an ER, with a head wound, a distinctly fuzzy recollection of the recent past and thinks he is back in Massachusetts. Brunelleschi didn’t design any buildings in New England. That large dome you see out the window means you are in Florence. Oops. And, by the way, there is a well armed, nicely leather-clad biker person heading down the hall, weapons blazing. Check please. He and Doc McSmokin’, a 208 IQ, blonde, pony-tailed physician, named Sienna Brooks, dash out ahead of the ordnance and the game is afoot. This offers an example of something that is entirely depressing. Had that been an American hospital there is no way he could have gotten out without having to sign insurance forms or promissory notes, guns blazing or not. (Mister Langdon. We need you to sign here, here, here, and initial here, here and here. You, with the gun, take a number and have a seat.)

Woodward and Bernstein, in All the Presidents Men, report on G. Gordon Liddy holding his hand over a flame at a dinner party to impress someone or other. He held it long enough to singe himself, and cause alarm in those present. When he was asked “What’s the trick?” he answered, “The trick is not minding.” Reading a book of Dan Brown’s is a far cry from holding one’s hand over an open flame. But there are elements to reading his work that are certainly painful. There are benefits to be had, things to be learned, issues to be raised, but there are clich├ęs to be endured, characterizations to be tolerated, dei ex machina to be ignored. I suppose one might think of it as a form of Purgatory. You can certainly enjoy the good while putting up with the bad. The trick is not minding the latter.

One does not descend into reading Dan Brown’s infernal novel expecting literary power. There are certain formulae at work, and if you are not prepared to be led along, keeping the blinders firmly affixed for the duration, you might do better to read something else with the several hours it takes to work your way through the levels in Inferno. (Yes, there are some) We do not expect to find work similar to that of, say, Louise Erdrich, or Ron Rash, and it would be unfair, not to say unkind, to apply to Brown the metrics applied to writers of more serious fiction. But then, what standards should we apply?

There are two general qualities that merit our attention here, and more specific elements within each. Is it entertaining? Is it informative?

Entertaining:
 - Does the story engage out attention? Or do we find ourselves wandering off?
- Is it fast-paced?
 - Do we care about the characters?
- Is it fun?
- In short, does this make a good beach read?

Informative: 
 - Does it teach us something new?
- Is the information interesting?
- Does it address some larger issue, one of actual significance?
- Does it make sense?

ENTERTAINMENT 

Does the story engage our attention?

Sure. While not, for me at least, as engaging as The Da Vinci Code, I kept turning all 463 pages, eager to find out what there was to be found, info and plot-wise. But I was not exactly panting to get back to the book at every free moment.

Is it fast-paced?

Is the Pope Argentinian? This is what Brown does. Aside from the sort of occasional interruptions that might give the wearer of a pace-maker the sweats, (noted in more detail below) he keeps things moving along. I was reminded of an old (1912) adventure tale, A Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs. That book was also a series. Battle, capture, rescue, escape, repeat, with bits of information about some underlying subject in the book tossed in to grease the narrative wheels. Ditto here.

Speaking of greasing, you will need to have some eye drops handy to avoid chafing from frequent eye-rolling. It seems that every time there is a need to gain access to some large institution, Brown trots out what seems almost a running joke of Robert Langdon having some relationship with the person in charge. I bet if Langdon needed 3 AM access to the UFO museum in Roswell, we would learn that he had tracked aliens with the museum director and had contributed a live specimen from the Crab Nebula at some time in the not too distant past. The Sulabh International Museum of Toilets? It wasn't Washington who poohed there, or presented a monograph at the esteemed institution that resulted in such a large inflow of contributions that the institution was flush for a considerable period.

In a related matter, I was reminded of two cinematic clich├ęs in particular. In one, the hero and heroine pause as the world collapses around them to engage in a lengthy soulful smooch. (Pay no attention to that incoming missile. Enjoy.) In the second, a child dashes back to the burning-building or alien-infested-spaceship to retrieve her (choose one – favorite stuffy, kitten, puppy, photo of long dead (but really only missing) mother or father). Brown spares us kittens and overlong liplocks, for the most part, but while Langdon and this volume’s Bond girl are dashing from persistent threats like a Florida race track rabbit, (who are those dogs?) Brown pauses the action every so often, inserts himself and his research into the narrative (Bob, Si, relax. We’ll pick this up again after lunch), and offers up the occasional art history lesson. I’m not saying that these are not informative and sometimes fun (as in the case of a particularly organ-rich Plaza della Signoria)

(The Fountain of Neptune from The Museums of Florence)

but it does alter the flow in a breathlessly paced novel to…um…take a breather. All right guys, up and at ‘em. Ready, set, flee.

Do we care about the characters?

Truthfully, it is tough not to care about a character that has the face of Tom Hanks ironed onto it, but yeah, I guess, although a lot less than a whole lot of other fictional people. It is fun to see Langdon attempting to recover his memory and figure out who that mysterious woman he keeps seeing in vision-flashes might be. Sienna Galore has a pretty interesting back-story, a large brain, and the usual physical assets required for Brown’s kicked-up Bond-girl roles. So sure, why not. Aside from those two, only a little here and there. Character is not the thing in Dan Brown books.

Is it fun?

As a straight up read, forgetting for the moment one’s analytical inclinations, yes. Brown does revel in puzzles and there are more secrets embedded in Inferno than there are candied items in a fruit cake. And some are quite delicious. (OK, I hereby out myself as a weirdo who likes fruit cake). Unlike one’s experience with fruit cake, however, you will miss out on that weighty feeling of having ingested a brick. Literally, Inferno is a lot more like chiffon cake than its denser cousin. Also there are enough twists to keep the cap machines at the Nogara Coke bottling factory busy for a long time.

Does it make a good beach read?

Assolutamente

INFORMATION

Does it teach us something new?

Si! We learn of a mysterious transnational entity, that Brown swears is based on a real organization, that smoothes out the curves so that people of questionable motives, but certain resources, can go about their business unimpeded. The head of this group might have been well served with a fluffy white kitty and a pinky ring. Brown offers some nifty tour guides to this and that location in several cities, and a fair bit of history on Dante and his most famous bit of writing. He offers some illuminating details on this or that building, painting and sculpture, including where it might have travelled over the centuries (well, not the buildings, of course) and whether the version we see today is a fully original specimen. He also gives us a very good reason to take a tour of the secret passageways in Old World cities.

(The Vasari Corridor from Wiki commons)

Is the information interesting?

Leaving aside prophets and their like, before there were mononymous sorts like Liberace, Elvis and Madonna, even earlier than sorts like that English playwright, there was Durante degli Aligheri, known to a certain childhood acquaintance, Beatrice, as that boy who wouldn't stop staring at her, known to certain priors in Florence as the guy who refused to pay his fine and was thus banned for life, and known to us in the 21st century as Dante.

(Dante and His Poem by Michelino from Wikimedia)

If you find Dante and his best-known work of interest, and really, you should, this book is a lot of fun. Of course what constitutes interesting is almost always in the eye of the beholder. If your thing is video games, well then not so much. (on the other hand, there actually is a lot here that does remind one of video game action, so I take that back) But if you are fascinated with old world history, art and architecture, Dante, the Black Death, Malthusian concerns, and the potential impact of a large human die-off, then Si, molto.

Does it address some larger issue, one of actual significance?

Sicuramente. Two in fact. One of the major elements in the story is the determination by our psycho-scientist billionaire sort that human population is about to reach a dangerous level, one which is likely to trigger all sorts of catastrophes. There are various ways one can address this concern, but the underlying concern is quite real. Brown does us all a service by bringing it to the attention of millions of readers. Another element here is the notion of “Transhumanism.” Basically this entails humans taking charge of our own evolution and using all the technology available to us to ensure maximization of our physical and intellectual capacities. Whether one sees this as a Satanic plot, yet another opportunity for the haves to have even more, or the beginning of a new human renaissance, the subject is worth checking out.

Does it make sense?

In some ways yes and in some ways no. There is validity to the underlying science. But would the baddie really leave a breadcrumb trail for potential foilers to his big bang? That said, it can be fun to descend into the bowels of the earth, or the watery substructures of ancient architectural marvels, however many levels down you care to go.

CONCLUSION: Whether you think that Dan Brown belongs in literary heaven, Hades or somewhere in between, he makes a wonderful Virgil, leading us on an interesting journey, and showing us some things we might not have ever imagined. It may not qualify as a divine book, but Inferno is one hell of a read.

P.S. – One must note that the end of all three parts of Dante’s Commedia (the Divine was added later) end with the word “stars.” Brown does not disappoint on that score.

P.P.S. – And I am sure there is significance to the fact that there are 104 chapters in the book, (plus a prologue and an epilogue, so 106) but I have not been able to suss out exactly what. There are 99 cantos in the Commedia, maybe a couple more with this or that added, but I do not know how one can fluff that up to 106. Yet, I am sure there is an explanation. When (if) I find it I will include it here!

NOTE: This review originally appeared on Will's blog. Fountain of Neptune picture courtesy of Wikipedia.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014

“Cruel Beauty” by Rosamund Hodge (Reviewed by Casey Blair)


Order “Cruel BeautyHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE

ABOUT CRUEL BEAUTY: Since birth, Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom—all because of a reckless bargain her father struck. And since birth, she has been training to kill him.

Betrayed by her family yet bound to obey, Nyx rails against her fate. Still, on her seventeenth birthday, she abandons everything she’s ever known to marry the all-powerful, immortal Ignifex. Her plan? Seduce him, disarm him, and break the nine-hundred-year-old curse he put on her people.

But Ignifex is not at all what Nyx expected. The strangely charming lord beguiles her, and his castle—a shifting maze of magical rooms—enthralls her. As Nyx searches for a way to free her homeland by uncovering Ignifex’s secrets, she finds herself unwillingly drawn to him. But even if she can bring herself to love her sworn enemy, how can she refuse her duty to kill him?

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast, Cruel Beauty is a dazzling love story about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

FORMAT/INFO: Cruel Beauty is 352 pages long and was published in Hardcover on January 28, 2014 via Balzer + Bray.

ANALYSIS: Rosamund Hodge's debut, Cruel Beauty, is a gorgeous YA high fantasy romance. The book is stand-alone, but I can't wait to see what the author does next.

I've said before that I weary of Greek mythology, but, proving to me that no idea is tired by itself if you're doing something sufficiently cool, Rosamund Hodge has adapted and twisted the mythology in fascinating ways. She's also pulled bits of mythology outside of Greek mythology as well as weaving her own inventions through it all, and the structure of this world is cunning and enthralling.

I loved how aware and frank and honest the protagonist Nyx was. But what really drew me to her was her anger. I loved the conflict of reading her try so hard to fit herself both inwardly and outwardly to be “good,” her intellectual determination at odds with her conviction, and that when the anger erupts out of her and she stands unashamedly as herself, she is not reviled. She is beautiful with her anger.

In Cruel Beauty people have “darkness” in them and are still not wastes of humanity. They do horrible things to each other, and yet a little bit of compassion can make all the difference. Not excusing the horrible, but allowing that there is space for both, and that matters.
Saturday, February 15, 2014

"The Fell Sword" by Miles (Christian) Cameron (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)



Now that it's been officially revealed that Miles Cameron is the fantasy name of the historical fiction writer Christian Cameron - whose Tyrant, Long War, Tom Swan and The Ill Made Knight series are such huge favorites - I can state here that I really wish he would write fantasy as well as historical fiction, but sadly after The Red Knight (FBC Rv) - some flaws but ambitious, intense, mysterious and offering immense promise as my blurbed quote on the UK cover of The Fell Sword states - this last novel came as a huge letdown.

Personally I believe the main reason is that Mr. Cameron bought into the idea of a long running fantasy series consisting of door-stopper novels, idea that, when it works well, it really works well so to speak, but it always stands the danger of just becoming bloat and it needs the characters, intensity and epic canvas to work. Here the canvas is present but the other two ingredients are sorely missing, so The Fell Sword reads like a forced attempt of marking time and push the page count and number of novels high, while in his historical fiction, the author lets the events flow naturally and it shows in books that are superb, while they seem to get even better as time passes...

Before getting to the novel proper and a few specifics, I would like to mention that I got The Great King and The Fell Sword at about the same time in January - both UK releases at the time - and despite being in many ways in the mood for something different, when I opened The Great King, I simply could not put it down and had to read it, but when I opened The Fell Sword, I kind of yawned the first time, read a little more and tried to make myself interested the second time but still couldn't muster the will, and only now when I really wanted to read some interesting fantasy, I decided to get seriously into it, became very interested for the first 100-200 pages, only for the book to start becoming so boring and dull that I just started flipping and scanning pages and hoping the final one will come as quickly as possible...

Here is the blurb:

"THE RED KNIGHT was one of the most acclaimed fantasy debuts of 2012 - and now he rides again. Prepare for one epic battle...

In The Fell Sword the Red Knight and his company go across the mountains to the Morea and Thrake - those are the kingdoms to the east of Alba - to put down what appears to be a local rebellion and proves to be larger. In the process, the readers will get to see a little more of the meta-plot.

The Red Knight will meet a beautiful princess. Jean de Vrailly will grow in power and worldly glory. Amicia will develop her own power while getting into a quarrel with the church that will have long term effects for everyone. Readers will meet the Faery Knight and the irks are developed as people and not ‘enemies’. The sides shift, and the stakes grow."

The short description for The Fell Sword is "fantasy as bloat": messy, disjointed, with some great moments, sorely lacking focus but also the intensity and to some extent the mystery that made the first volume a much better book despite its "bloatiness" aspects.

Yes, here we are spared a lot of the unnecessary details and gory massacres of the waves of monsters from the first book, but instead we are treated with marking time for the third volume and that is just dull.


The Red Knight - Mega Duke, ser Gabriel etc - and his company became almost a joke after a while with the same habits, same in-jokes - something else that quickly gets old - same dialogue, overall almost a parody of the earlier appearances, with only Harmodius' presence and inside voice being really interesting. 


In the other - considerably more than in the series debut - locations, there are interesting moments especially in the interludes at the Galle court, but Ser Vrailly's constant "I am the knight incarnate and I can and will kill you for not kissing my bottom" becomes just annoying repetition - ok we get it, seriously we get it, please stop - while Thorn the all powerful mage - as he believes itself, while we know better of course - is similarly boring after a while: flick the wand, next disobedient underling is dead or absorbed becomes as dull as Ser Vrailly's postures quickly - both of the villains here were much more interesting in "The Red Knight" when at least there was a limit to their specific power.

Some of the more interesting characters like Princess Irene of the blurb and her supreme adviser Maria get way too little screen time and the  city of Liviapolis fails to come to life. 

On the good side there was universe expansion and a larger canvas, but as mentioned above the lack of intensity - excepting very occasional moments like the dwarf king of Galle attempting to forcefully seduce his favorite 15 year old singer, the initial moments of the Moreean rebellion which form the best scene in the novel and are as superb as any such in all of the author's writing, Arimnestos facing Xerxes at Susa included, or the interview of Gabriel with the Patriarch - just killed the book.

Overall
The Fell Sword was disappointing and I am in two minds about the next volume - maybe it will get better and more focused as action converges back together, maybe the point of no return as my interest goes has passed, so will see. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

“Touch” by Michelle Sagara (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

Order “TouchHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE (PDF)
Read FBC’s Review of “Silence

I loved Michelle Sagara's Silence, the first of her YA urban fantasy series Queen of the Damned, and I've been eagerly awaiting the sequel since. Touch had some great moments and dealt with some heart-rending situations — to name a few: child abandonment from both the parental and child perspectives; parents beginning to date again from the perspectives of both the teen child and the dead husband; and most to the point, given the cliffhanger of Silence, how you cope when the love of your life comes back to you as a ghost, from the ghost and the protagonist's perspectives. All tricky balances to walk, and the author manages them beautifully.

One of the things I love in this series is how Sagara deals with the ideas of “coping” with death, and the nuances of grief. What “moving on” even means, and whether it's possible.

I also continue to love the supporting characters Amy and Michael, in part because Sagara makes these characters that could easily be stereotypes, so very much more. A lot of how she does that is by having both of them make strong choices: agency combined with competency is always a win for me.

That said, Touch did feel kind of middle-book-ish to me. There was a lot of character and issue exploration, but not a whole lot of plot movement. The author did clarify some of my questions from the first book, and the ending once again presented a very interesting dilemma, but there was some lag getting there.

I'm also a little unsatisfied with Alison's character arc — namely that it doesn't seem to really arc at all. It's more an exploration of who she is, but she doesn't change. One of the central conflicts of this book is the value of friendship when that friendship is actively dangerous to each involved party. And likewise what an average human can do when faced with supernatural forces targeting them. Now, Sagara did set up the possibility of training average humans, but so far, the average human is dead weight that causes complications for their friends. I suspect being valued precisely for her ordinariness might be part of the point, but it didn't work for me.

I would have liked a little more movement on both plot and character fronts in Touch, but Michelle Sagara has set up a lot to work with in the next installment and I look forward to reading it.
Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Neil Gaiman (Reviewed by Will Byrnes)



Official Author Website
Order the book HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of The Graveyard Book
Read The New Yorker's profile on Neil Gaiman

OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: "Monsters come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them are things people are scared of. Some of them are things that look like things people used to be scared of a long time ago. Sometimes monsters are things people should be scared of, but aren't."

I turned 7 early in third grade. It was a memorable school year because I had for a teacher a nun with a reputation. Sister Evangelista was about 5 foot nuthin’, and symmetrical. If the "what’s black and white, black and white, black and white – a nun rolling down a hill" joke were applied to her you would have needed a lot more black-and-whites, as her spherical shape would have kept her rolling a long time. It earned her the nickname Cannonball. She was notorious, not only for her distinctive dimensions, but for having a particularly foul temper. Her starched garb also pinched her face into a state of permanent floridity and pursed her lips into a particularly fish-like shape. It was not a happy year for me at school. There would be more than one instance of raised voices, and more than one rap across the hands with yardsticks. I was even banned from the classroom for a spell, to wander the halls for hours, unaccompanied. But I somehow knew that eventually I would be a third grader no longer and would escape the sharpened claws and flapping habit of this creature. She was unpleasant, for sure, but she did not present an existential threat.

When the unnamed narrator of Neil Gaiman’s book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, turns 7, he has troubles of his own. It begins with zero attendance at his birthday party. The family comes on some hard times and must take in boarders. The boy is given a kitten, Fluffy, to ease the loss of his room, but the pet falls victim to a cab, arriving with a South African opal miner, the latest paying resident. Not long after, the miner takes the family car. It is found soon after, at the end of a nearby lane, with a body in the back seat, and a hose running from the tail pipe to the driver’s window. At the scene, the boy meets an eleven-year-old girl, Lettie Hempstock, who takes charge of him, and brings him to her family’s farm, which borders the lane. And so begins a beautiful friendship. (Members of the extended Hempstock family, btw, turn up in several other Gaiman books).

Lettie lives with her mother and grandmother. When strange events begin to erupt in the area–the boy’s sister is assaulted by flung coins, the boy wakes up choking on a coin, and other strangeness afflicts neighbors – Lettie seems to know what is causing them. She is sent to take care of it and brings the boy, her little friend, along. They travel across the Hempstock property and into what seems another world, (mentions of Narnia and Alice in Wonderland, among others, let us know that lines will be crossed) a place that has some threatening inhabitants. Lettie confronts the troublemaker, but the boy reacts to an event instead of thinking and disobeys her lone order, to keep hold of her hand. That is when the real trouble begins.

The boy is far too young for this to be a coming of age tale, but a central element of horror, whether of the Freddie Krueger, Nurse Ratched (or Sister Evangelista) variety, or the flapping beast central to Gaiman’s tale, is one’s helplessness before a greater, and ill-intentioned power. Although he doesn't characterize his intentions as horror-mongering, Gaiman has laid out what he was up to in writing the book:

 "It was meant to be just about looking out at the world through the kind of eyes that I had when I was 7, from the kind of landscape that I lived in when I was 7. And then it just didn’t quite stop. I kept writing it, and it wasn’t until I got to the end that I realized I’d actually written a novel. … I thought — it’s really not a kids’ story — and one of the biggest reasons it’s not a kids’ story is, I feel that good kids’ stories are all about hope. In the case of Ocean at the End of the Lane, it’s a book about helplessness. It’s a book about family, it’s a book about being 7 in a world of people who are bigger than you, and more dangerous, and stepping into territory that you don’t entirely understand."

Gaiman was aware that his work might appeal to young readers for which is it not intended. He said that he deliberately made the first few chapters of the book dull as a way to dissuade younger readers, who would be put off by that and disinclined to continue on to the juicy bits. The world the young boy faces may not be understandable. There is just too much to take in and the author captures that element of childhood quite well.

Changes for the boy at home include the antithesis of Mary Poppins, in the form of one Ursula Monkton, who seems to have arrived on an ill wind, with the added bonus of her having designs on the boy’s father. Adults overall seem pretty careless. But there is some balance in this universe. Lettie’s family seems beyond time itself, a bright light in the darkness, welcoming, comforting, nurturing. And then there’s the ocean. Looks like a pond to you or me, but it has qualities quite unlike other bodies of water. As in his earlier American Gods, there are things that have been brought to this newer world from the place its residents once occupied. You may not be able to go home again, but what if you could take it with you? (Also a theme in American Gods).

Gaiman says he usually writes for himself. One thing that was different about this book was that he was writing for someone else. His wife, musician Amanda Palmer, was off in Australia making an album. Where you or I might send along daily, or weekly notes of what was going on, Gaiman sent something else:

 "I will tell my wife, by making stuff up, kind of what it was like to be me when I was seven, from the inside of my head, not in the real world, then put it in the actual landscape that I grew up in."

There really had been a boarder who killed himself in the family ride. Like his young hero, Gaiman climbed drainpipes. There really was a farm down the lane that had been recorded in the DomesDay Book. And as with such enterprises he did not have a large frame work constructed. It was “like driving at night through the fog” – he knew “three or five pages ahead what would happen”, but no further.


There is some material here that rankled a bit. The substitute parent trope had been used to good effect in Coraline and manifests in many of the Disney animated classics, evil stepmothers in Cinderella, Snow White and the like. Ditto here. Maybe going to that well one time too many? And is dad really that dim? But there is also a nice diversity of conceptual toys at work. The flapping baddie was fun. The magical ocean and ageless Hemplocks are also very engaging. The nothingness created by the creatures referred to, among other things, as hunger birds, reminded me of Stephen King’s Langoliers, also the Nothing of the Never-Ending Story and the Dark Thing of a Wrinkle in Time. Might the three Hemplocks serve as a sort of feminine Holy Trinity? There is a wormhole that involves an actual…you know…worm, which made me smile for a long time. And any time there is a dip into water, one must ponder things baptismal, rebirth, either literal or spiritual.

Letting go is what so much of growing up is about. It is the very thing that must be done in order to be able to grow, to live one’s own life. But sometimes letting go has the opposite effect, and can place you in peril, particularly when you are only seven and not ready for the consequences.

CONCLUSION: There is a lot in this short book on holding on, and letting go, and the price of both. There is a lot on doing what is right, on personal sacrifice, on permanence and the ephemeral, on remembering and forgetting. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a short novel. But do not let go of the notion that this is a book for adults. The ocean in question may look to be a pond, but do not be deceived. Jump in. The water’s fine, and deep.

NOTE: This review was originally posted on Will's blog. Neil On A Drainpipe and author pic courtesy of Neil Gaiman. The Ocean at the End of the Lane illustration courtesy of Dave McKean and Tor.com.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014

GUESTPOST: What Rivers Flow Into A Darkling Sea? by James Cambias


What books, movies, or stories served as inspiration for A Darkling Sea? That's a tough question. There aren't a lot of works of "undersea" science fiction on my shelves. I've always loved Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and I'm a big fan of David Brin's Startide Rising. But other SF ocean classics like Under Pressure by Frank Herbert, or The Deep Range by Clarke left me cold. During the golden age of crappy sci-fi TV reruns I was always more of a Star Trek guy than a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea fan. The fact that I wound up writing a novel set under the ocean would have been a big surprise to my younger SF fan self.

One novel which did feed into A Darkling Sea was H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness. It's probably the best thing he ever wrote, a combination horror story and 1920s techno-thriller set in Antarctica, where explorers encounter strange alien beings who are just as curious about the humans as the humans are about the aliens. The chief difference is that it's the humans who are the weird aliens in A Darkling Sea, and the two groups manage to overcome their reflexive suspicion.

I'd say nonfiction had a much greater influence on A Darkling Sea than any works of fiction. One particularly strong one was a blog; Big Dead Place, by Nicholas Johnson. It was all about the gritty realities of living and working in Antarctica — including the political backdrop of the U.S. Antarctic Program, the practical jokes, and the huge popularity of John Carpenter's The Thing among Antarctic personnel. I read that blog religiously while writing A Darkling Sea, trying to give Hitode Station on the planet Ilmatar the same feel.

There were some less obvious influences. Byron Farwell's book The Great War in Africa is about fighting in Africa during World War I. Not much to do with giant alien lobsters — except that it is about tiny forces of Europeans fighting each other over vast distances in an often hostile environment, while the Africans watched them with a mostly bemused attitude about the whole thing.

Another unconventional wellspring was Jenny Uglow's book The Lunar Men, about the circle of 18th-century British scientific amateurs that included Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, James Watt, Matthew Boulton, James Keir, and Joseph Priestley. That collection of landed gentlemen and early industrialists served as inspiration for my Ilmataran hero Broadtail and his scientific acquaintances.

As to films, I expect James Cameron's The Abyss did have some influence on me, particularly regarding the design of the seabottom station. Another one, very unlikely on the face of it, was John Huston's classic The African Queen, with Bogart and Hepburn. That's another take on World War I in Africa, and you get the same sense of people waging a senseless conflict against a hostile and uncaring landscape. It's also one of the best movies ever made, so if you haven't seen it, go rent a copy at once.

Star Trek did have an influence, but it was a negative one. A primary goal of mine in writing A Darkling Sea was an all-out assault on the notion of a "Prime Directive" forbidding contact between humans and aliens until they're "ready" for it. I've never thought that was a sensible idea, and the main conflict in the story is cause by a more advanced civilization trying to enforce their notion of the Prime Directive on a group of human explorers.

Finally, a big source of inspiration was simply my own experiences. I took up SCUBA diving in the early 1990s, so I've been underwater a few times (not as many as I'd like). The fear of getting isolated and disoriented deep underwater are very real, as are the feelings of wonder and delight at seeing reef life. I married a scientist, so I've spent a lot of time hanging around with researchers and professors, hearing their gripes and anecdotes.

All novels have a very tangled and complicated family tree, and often some surprising antecedents. The DNA can be hard to trace. It's quite likely that the strongest influences on A Darkling Sea are books or films that even I don't know had an effect on me.


Official Author Website
Order A Darkling Sea HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION: James Cambias was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, he received a degree in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine from the University of Chicago. His stories have been nominated for the Nebula Award and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award. Cambias was a nominee for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer in 2001.  He currently lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and two children. His early writing focused on role-playing games, particularly adventures and support material for Space 1889. He is one of the founders of Zygote Games, and the co-designer of the game Bone Wars: The Game of Ruthless Paleontology, based on the Bone Wars of the late 19th century.

NOTE: Author picture courtesy of the author. Abyss movie still courtesy of John Kenneth Muir.

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