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Monday, April 30, 2007

"Deadstock" by Jeffrey Thomas

After finishing Jeffrey Thomas’Deadstock” I can see why it was one of the feature titles for the launching of new publisher Solaris Books, an imprint of BL Publishing focusing on releasing a diverse mixture of SF & fantasy. Dubbed a Punktown novel, “Deadstock” is set in the same universe that was first introduced in Jeffrey Thomas’ short stories collection “Punktown” (2000), and further established in the novels “Monstrocity” (2003) & “Everybody Scream!” (2005) as well as the recent collection “PUNKTOWN: Shades of Grey” (2006) written with brother Scott Thomas.

As a backdrop, Punktown immediately evokes shades of Philip K. Dick – think a cross between Blade Runner and Total Recall – with an interesting mélange of cyberpunk dystopia, neo-noir vibe, mutants, Japanese cultural influences and themes involving technological ethics & what’s real vs. what’s not. Toss in virtual reality, cloning and various other familiar concepts, and you might think that you’ve seen this all before. That’s when Jeffrey Thomas throws you a curveball with multiple alien races cohabitating alongside humans, alternate dimensions, bio-engineered life forms (BELFs) like the Blank People, the trendy Kawaii-dolls, deadstock – genetically manipulated livestock without unnecessary appendages like heads, tales, hooves, etc. – and Ouija phones that allow users to communicate with the dead, not to mention flavored Lovecraftian-spiced deities, cults & other horror elements, and it’s apparent that you’ve stumbled onto something a little bit different. Of course, this is only a good thing, and because Jeffrey Thomas has spent a lot of time developing the world, Punktown feels like a fully realized universe rather than a caricature of mish mashed ideas.

Story wise, “Deadstock” follows private investigator Jeremy Stake, a Blue War veteran and Caro turbida mutant who possesses the ability to assume the face of whoever he studies. Initially hired out by the Fukudas to recover a lost Kawaii-doll, Stake eventually gets caught up in a much larger plotline that involves missing girls, possible murder, competing bio-engineering companies, buried secrets, alien DNA, and a whole lot more. Along the way, we’ll get to revisit Stake’s past during the Blue War against the Ha Jinn, and how it catches up with him in unexpected ways in the present. Meanwhile, we’ll also get the perspectives of two street gangs – the Folger Street Snarlers and the Tin Town Terata – and how they and an abandoned apartment complex fit into the puzzle as well as a homeless person trying to discover his identity. As far as stories go, “Deadstock" is a fun one to experience. There’s lots of action to visualize, far-fetched futuristic concepts to think about, mysteries to try and solve, somewhat startling revelations, and enough sex, violence & profanity to appease your darker side.

Going back to the characters, Jeremy Stake is an intriguing protagonist. Because of his chameleon-like abilities, Stake immediately offers some interesting moral dilemmas regarding identity, which is explored sexually and spiritually. Yet, aside from this one distinguishing feature Stake is your prototypical, flawed hero plagued by the past. Regarding the street gangs’ narrative, instead of the strict third-person point of view that Stake offers, we get a group perspective that seemingly jumps from one character to the next with no discernible pattern. At first, I found this a bit confusing, but it gets easier to follow as the book progresses, though this type of narrating prevents character development, which is a major problem with the street gang members & supporting role players, and is what I would consider to be the primary issue with the book. As far as the rest of the writing, Jeffrey Thomas’ prose is competent enough moving the book along at a fast pace and showing fairly good command of the story, though it does suffer in certain areas like setup, thematic exploration and an anticlimactic payoff. So overall, the writing may not be spectacular, but for the most part it works.

Since I wasn’t familiar with Jeffrey Thomas’ works, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into with “Deadstock” and I was pleasantly surprised by how much fun I had with the world of Punktown. Sure, the book has its share of problems and I can’t tell you if it’s any better or worse than his previous material, but I enjoyed “Deadstock” enough that I’m interested in checking out Jeffrey Thomas’ other Punktown tales including the short story “In His Sights” (included in The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction featuring Neal Asher, Peter F Hamilton, Stephen Baxter, Jay Lake, etc.), which features Jeremy Stake as well as the forthcoming follow-up novel to “Deadstock” called “Blue War”, also starring Stake. In short, if you like your science fiction crossed with horror, full of action & demented imagination, and reads quickly, then Jeffrey Thomas’Deadstock” might just be up your alley…
Sunday, April 29, 2007

NFL Draft 07 + Tidbits

Ahhh, the NFL Draft. Always one of my favorite times of the year. For me, it marks the start of another season, and it’s always cool to see where my favorite college players go and how my team, the Kansas City Chiefs fare with their picks. So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Their first round pick Dwayne Bowe (LSU) was a long time coming. Would have loved it if Brady Quinn fell to them here, but WR has been a weak spot for years now and I think Bowe is a pretty good option. Of course, the Chiefs haven’t done so well lately with early round WRs so I just hope he breaks that trend. For the second round, the Chiefs went with defense in DT Turk McBride of Tennessee. Definitely a need area, but I think they could have done better. With their third round draft choice, they again went with a DT, this time Tank Tyler of NC State. Kind of a reach in my opinion, and I think the Chiefs would have done better addressing another need area, particularly offensive line or even corner back. All in all, it was a good, but far from great day. Hopefully they do better on day two.

As far as other prospects, just a few observations:

Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions (#2, 1st Round). I’m mixed on this one. On the one hand, Calvin is obviously a stud, and I think he’s gonna be a great one, but I think the Lions have much more pressing needs than WR. I think Joe Thomas or Brady Quinn would have been a better pick for the Lions in the long run.

Adrian Peterson – Minnesota Vikings (#7, 1st Round). RB is my favorite position – my position in H.S. – with Barry Sanders my all-time favorite player. I think Adrian could possibly be on that level, as long as he stays injury-free, but I would rather have seen Adrian go somewhere else, maybe like Houston, where he would have been the feature back. Not a fan of the two-back system just because I like seeing one RB dominate the game a la Barry, Emmitt Smith, LT, Larry Johnson, etc., but I understand the reasoning behind it, so, for Minnesota, a good pick I think.

Brady Quinn – Cleveland Browns (#22, 1st Round). To me the most underrated guy in the first round. May not be a physical specimen like Russell or others, but he just possesses that ‘it’ factor that all the great QBs have. I think he could be a special one and Cleveland was really lucky to get both Quinn & OL Joe Thomas in the first round. Of course, if Cleveland has another horrible season and end up giving a high draft pick to Dallas next year, that might haunt them. For, now, great job Cleveland!

JaMarcus Russell – Oakland Raiders (#1 overall). Really no surprise here. Don’t really like the guy though. Sure, he’s a physical freak, but I just think he’s overrated. Might go to some Pro Bowls, but he’s no Hall of Famer.

Ted Ginn Jr. – Miami Dolphins (#9, 1st Round). Another guy I think is overrated. He’s basically a younger/faster version of Dante Hall. He’ll probably contribute immediately as a returner, but I don’t think he’ll ever be a great WR. #9 is way too high in my opinion and Miami made a huge mistake passing on Brady Quinn. Bad pick.

Marshawn Lynch – Buffalo Bills (#12, 1st Round). Bills needed a RB and I think they got a pretty good one. A bit high though. They probably could have traded down and still got him.

Amobi Okoye – Houston (#10, 1st Round). Wow! 19 years old. That’s unreal. With his youth, Okoye really has the potential to become something amazing, as long as long as he doesn’t let fame & fortune get to his head, which is also a risk with said youth.

Book-to-film adaptation news: Looks like Dreamworks is ready to start shooting the movie version of “The Ruins” written by author Scott B. Smith of “A Simple Plan”, who also wrote the script, and stars Jonathan Tucker (Pulse, Texas Chainsaw Massacre).

Gold Circle Films (My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Slither, White Noise) is adapting short story “The New Daughter” from the “Nocturnes” collection by best-selling author John Connolly, probably best known for his supernatural-themed Charlie Parker series.

If you haven’t heard yet, New Line Cinema is releasing “The Golden Compass” starring Nicole Kidman & Daniel Craig (Casino Royale) on December 7, 2007. The film is based on the first book in the great YA trilogy His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. Anyways, if you go to the website HERE, they have an interesting feature where you can ‘meet your daemon’. Basically, you answer 20 questions and then the feature creates the daemon that best matches your personality.

Apparently I’m ‘spontaneous, modest, solitary, shy & humble’, so my daemon is a Hare named ‘Valthera’, one of 2113 hare daemons. Not exactly accurate, but after the website determines your daemon, it gives you an option where you can either send your daemon for friends to verify its accuracy, or you can save it as is. Once saved, you’ll get an email and code where you can embed your daemon on your Myspace page or blog. You can also download it as wallpaper, an AIM icon or to your Ipod or PSP. Overall, pretty cool, so if you have the time, I’d check it out. Also, if you haven’t read His Dark Materials yet, then I highly suggest that you remedy that problem :).
Friday, April 27, 2007

"Acacia" by David Anthony Durham

Preorder "Acacia" via Doubleday Books HERE
"Acacia's" Release Date: June 12, 2007 for North America

With his first three novels, the multiple award-winning “Gabriel’s Story” (2001), 2002’s “Walk Through Darkness” and the acclaimed “Pride of Carthage”, which brings to life Hannibal’s famous victory over the Romans in Northern Italy, writer David Anthony Durham has established himself as a powerful voice in the world of historical fiction. With “Acacia – Book One: The War With the Mein”, David Anthony Durham tries his hand at speculative fiction and delivers a marvelous new offering that could do the same for him in the world of epic fantasy.

First off, I just want to address the issue of spoilers that has become sort of a hot topic with what is revealed on the book’s cover and the various advance reviews now out. Myself, I try to avoid any reviews of books that I plan on reviewing, and rarely, if ever, read the synopsis on a cover, since I like to go into a novel with as little information or preconceptions as possible. So it was with “Acacia”. Now that I’ve seen what’s written on the cover, I can see why there might be complaints since certain plot details are out in the open. If you don’t want to hear about these developments, then I suggest you skip this paragraph and continue on with the rest of the review, which I will try to keep as spoiler-free as possible. So, final warning… In short, an exiled race of people known as the Mein are planning to wage war against the Acacian Empire, and the catalyst for this war, and essentially the entire book, is the death of the Akaran king. I’ll be honest, even without knowing this beforehand, the tone of the book suggested that something tragic was going to happen early on, and it seemed inevitable, at least to me, that the king would die. So I personally feel that if the reader is aware of these developments beforehand, it shouldn’t affect their overall enjoyment of the book since there is a lot more story left to be told after this event occurs. Of course, if you can avoid any and all spoilers before reading the book, then that would definitely be the best approach.

So what kind of fantasy is “Acacia”? Well, as promised, I’ll try to be as spoiler-free as possible, while providing enough information that you’ll know and be interested in the kind of book that you’ll be getting into. First off, the book is set in the Known World, which is populated by several distinct provinces, the heart of which lies the island of Acacia. This aspect of the book reminds me somewhat of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series, as both worlds are a sort of mishmash of varying historical-based cultures, locales and eras with “Acacia” possessing not just a European flavor, but also elements of Africa and Norsemen/Vikings. As far as the actual world building, David Anthony Durham does a convincing job of creating a unique, yet realistic & believable Known World, complete with its own races, customs, geography, climates, and mythology. It’s a world that may seem familiar at first, but possesses some major differences that really separate “Acacia” from other fantasy, namely its rich, ethnic diversity, (reminiscent somewhat of the racial miscellany that exists in Steven Erikson’s Malazan books), which plays an important part in the story as does the roles of slavery and the drug known as the Mist. Other features I found interesting were the Forms, a method of swordplay that the Acacian soldiers are trained in, the enigmatic traders known as the League of Vessels and of course magic. After all, what kind of fantasy novel would it be without some form of magic? Like George R. R. Martin’sA Song of Ice & Fire” series, the magic in “Acacia” is understated, but is an integral piece of the overall puzzle. While the magic system may not be the most original concept I’ve seen, it does have its moments and I’m curious to see how events progress with it in future volumes. Staying on the subject of world building, another notable difference with “Acacia” is that religion, while present & relevant, doesn’t have nearly the dominating presence that a lot of fantasy does these days, and I for one found that refreshing. Finally, the best part of the Known World is that it’s only a small piece of a much larger and unexplored universe that we really only get tiny glimpses of in the book and I’m very excited to discover what is out there beyond the Known World, especially if David Anthony Durham can bring the same level of detail & realism to it as he did with “Acacia”.

Moving on, let’s focus on what I feel are the heart & soul of “Acacia”. As fascinating as the Known World is, it wouldn’t be half as interesting without a compelling story and sympathetic characters to bring that story to life. Concentrating on the former, “Acacia” is not about a band of heroes trying to save their world from a great evil. Instead, “Acacia” is about people fighting to make their world a better place to live in while staying true to their ideals. So while there are those who can be defined as protagonists and antagonists in the book, each side passionately believes that what they are fighting for is right, and truthfully, both parties are somewhat justified in their thinking, and yet, their causes are also flawed in many ways. In fact, the line between those we would consider good or evil is actually very thin and can change in a heartbeat due to a single decision made because of a particular emotional response. That’s what I like about “Acacia”. Events are not driven by prophecy or fate toward some preordained final battle. On the contrary, every major occurrence in “Acacia” is instigated by human emotion, be it vengeance, greed, remorse, fear or love. That’s not to say that larger forces aren’t involved in the story, because they are – gods who have turned their back on humanity, banished sorcerers, lost magic, cursed spirits, etc. – yet it is the human element that decides how these forces might affect them. Through it all though, what really humanizes “Acacia” is the actual characters and the manner in which the story is told.

Character-wise, “Acacia” features multiple point-of-views including the King of Acacia, his four children, the king’s chancellor, the chieftain of the Mein tribes, his two brothers, a general of the Northern Guard, and the governor of Cathgergen. Personally, I felt that the characterization by David Anthony Durham was skillfully done and reminded me a lot of George R. R. Martin’s characterization in “A Song of Ice & Fire”, sans the Arthurian setting and not on that ambitious scale of course, nor up to the standards set by one of the series more memorable characters, Tyrion. Basically, like GRRM, all of the characters in “Acacia” are realistically crafted, with distinctive personalities, strengths & weaknesses, and as the book progresses, we get to see these characters develop, sometimes with very surprising results. Additionally, we get to see the perspectives of both the heroes and the villains, once again accentuating that human element, and don’t be surprised if somewhere along the way, someone decides to change sides. Also, like GRRM, no character is safe from biting the big one, and because we are able to know how they think & feel, and understand the reasons behind their actions, we really care what happens to them, so the finality of death can be a very emotional event in the book. This brings me to my final point regarding the story and its very human characters…the style in which “Acacia” is told. In short, “Acacia’s” narrative is very Homeric, or in plainer terms, dramatic. So, when an emotionally-charged event occurs, be it a tragic death, heroic feat, or a passion gained then lost, it is done so in a manner that is both stylish & powerful, amplifying what is already a compelling tale.

Truthfully, I could probably keep going on and on about the different aspects that “Acacia” has to offer, but since this review is starting to run a bit long, I figure that I better just cut to the chase. As a reader and a fantasy enthusiast, I absolutely loved “Acacia”. For me, if a book can evoke comparisons to such acclaimed greats as GRRM, Steven Erikson, Jacqueline Carey and to some extent Guy Gavriel Kay & Stephen R. Donaldson without aping their style and while offering a fresh perspective in the fantasy genre as David Anthony Durham’sAcacia” accomplishes, then there is something special about that novel. Of course, as a critic, I did have a few issues with the book. For instance, as good as the characterization is, secondary players get the short end of the stick, and I felt were underutilized & underdeveloped. Also, at times, main characters would act out of nature with their actions or dialogue, though fortunately this is a rare occurrence. Furthermore, the book can be an overly serious affair with little humor injected and I could see this being an issue with some readers. Finally, as epic and as lengthy as “Acacia” is, I thought that it could have been even longer. Certain major events in the book, like the war between the Mein and the Acacians, were skimmed over or rushed, and I thought would have benefited from a more detailed description. I also would have loved to have seen more backstory, not just with certain characters, but also with Acacia’s history, which seems to have a lot more to offer. All in all though, these are really just minor complaints, because when it comes right down to it, “Acacia” is an excellent new offering in the fantasy genre that I would rank right up there alongside Scott Lynch or Patrick Rothfuss’ debuts, and which, in some ways even surpasses them. Give it a few more years and a couple more book releases, and perhaps David Anthony Durham is a name that will be mentioned next to heavyweights such as GRRM, Steven Erikson, Robert Jordan, etc. Speaking of David Anthony Durham, the author is obviously an accomplished & experienced writer blessed with superior prose, so that even though “Acacia” may show its rawness at times as an author's first attempt at penning a fantasy epic, the writing overcomes these deficits, and I feel will only get better as the series progresses. So, in the end, I highly recommend “Acacia”, which is the start to a major new fantasy series that possesses the potential for greatness…

PostScript: For a different perspective on "Acacia - Book One: The War With the Mein", I'd recommend checking out Jay Tomio's review at Fantasybookspot. Jay is also working on an interview with David Anthony Durham as am I, so if you're not familiar with the author, no worries since I think you'll be hearing a lot more of David in the next few months. As to the two covers, the one on the left is the US edition, while the one on the right is the German edition. Which do you prefer?
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Interview with the Dabel Brothers

Buy Dabel Brothers comics at the DB Store

As a child I grew up with comic books, namely Spider-Man, Batman, Fantastic Four, Silver Surfer, The Incredible Hulk, Captain America and so on. As I grew older, I became more of a collector, especially during the early years of the Image Comics era. Then, I just kind of got burnt out and stopped reading/collecting comic books altogether. Having turned my attentions mainly to fantasy novels, such as the enthralling world of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire” series, I was immediately intrigued by an adaptation of GRRM’s short story “The Hedge Knight”, which was coming out via a little known company called Dabel Brothers Productions. Not only did that comic book blow me away, but it rekindled my love for comics, which, in my opinion, has vastly changed for the better. Since then, I have diligently followed the Dabel Brothers who have done a tremendous job of bringing to life the works of such notable authors as Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Robert Silverberg, Tad Williams, Orson Scott Card, Laurell K. Hamilton and more. So, it was quite a thrill that the Dabel Brothers agreed to answer some questions for me, and I sincerely thank Ernst & Les for taking the time to do this interview and Sean J. Jordan for helping to set everything up. For readers, whether you’re a fan of comic books or not, I hope you enjoy the following Q&A and urge you to check out the Dabel Brothers adaptations if you haven’t done so yet…

Q: Dabel Brothers Productions was founded by four brothers – Ernst, Les, Pascal, and David. Can you tell us what job each brother does for the company and what qualities each of you bring to the table?

Ernst – President of the Company. Oversees all aspects of production and business.
Les – Vice President of the Company. Oversees all aspects of business and production. Les is also the person responsible for obtaining and managing licenses.
David – Marketing Manager. David works with Sean J. Jordan to handle marketing-related tasks and advertising.
Pascal – Advisory Board. Pascal is a medical doctor and thus is not able to be involved in the business as much as he used to be, so he sits on an advisory board and offers input.

Q: In 2002, you originally launched as a developer studio publishing through Image Comics. What events led to the creation of Roaring Studios in the first place? What were your initial goals as a company?

LD (Les Dabel): Originally, my brother Ernst and I wanted to start an entertainment company (which we called “Dabel Brothers Productions”), and we set up Roaring Studios to be the first arm of our business. I draw, and he writes, so we were hoping to put out some comics that we’d created. But as time went by, we found ourselves more interested in the business aspects of the company, and we also found that people had no idea who Roaring Studios was, but they did know about “those Dabel Brothers.” So, we switched the name!

Q: As Dabel Bros. you’ve made a name for your selves in the science fiction & fantasy communities by adapting works by such beloved authors as Robert Jordan, Raymond E. Feist, Tad Williams, Robert Silverberg and most recently Laurell K. Hamilton. Of course, this all started with George R. R. Martin’s short story “The Hedge Knight.” Whose idea was it to pursue Mr. Martin’s work, why, and what finally convinced him to agree to the adaptation?

Ernst Dabel: We were both big fans of Mr. Martin’s novels, but it was Les who was determined to get the rights to his books. So, Les approached Mr. Martin with a proposal, and Mr. Martin didn’t reply. So Les kept trying. Finally, after over a year, Mr. Martin replied telling Les that he was willing to give us a chance, but that he wanted to see what we could do before he’d commit his whole series to us. So, he let us license “The Hedge Knight,” a novella he’d written that’s a prequel to his novel series, which is called “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

Q: A lot of readers seemed to really enjoy “The Hedge Knight” series, myself included :). Considering that it was one of your earlier productions (published in 2003), what are your thoughts on the finished product now that you’re looking back through more experienced eyes? Would you do anything different if you had the chance?

LD: Until we put out the Anita Blake books, The Hedge Knight was the book people knew us for. It’s still a favorite of mine today, and we’re thrilled that it’s in its third printing. There is nothing I would change about the book; Ben Avery, Mike Miller, Mike Crowell, Lynx Studios and Bill Tortolini did a fantastic job on the book, and we were also appreciative of Mr. Martin for his support and advice and Robert Silverberg for his superb job as the book’s editor.

Q: “The Sworn Sword”, the sequel to “The Hedge Knight” series is slated to start shipping this June. Can you give us any details on the series?

LD: The Sworn Sword is under production by most of the same people who worked on The Hedge Knight (including Mike M., Ben and Bill), and it should look and feel very similar. The story is very different, though; instead of focusing on knights and jousting, The Sworn Sword focuses on Dunk’s growth in the feudal system of Mr. Martin’s world, and both Dunk and Egg are much more seasoned this time around. The series will run six issues, remain faithful to the novella, and arrive on shelves this summer!

Q: Once “The Sworn Sword” series is completed, will we get to see any future adaptations of GRRM’s “Song Of Ice & Fire” novels or his other works?

LD: We certainly hope so! We’re thrilled about the news that “A Song of Ice and Fire” is being developed into a television series for HBO!

Q: One of your most anticipated adaptations was of Robert Jordan’s “New Spring.” I for one was eagerly collecting the series, but after the first few issues it stopped shipping. What happened?

LD: It’s a long and complicated story that, sadly, I can’t go into due to the legal matters surrounding the situation. Suffice it to say that there was a conflict of interest between ourselves and the publisher that has delayed the title indefinitely, and we apologize to the fans who enjoyed the title. We certainly hope that we can remedy the situation in the future by collecting the entire run into a graphic novel!

Q: Recently, there’s been some concept art floating around on message boards depicting characters from the popular Malazan fantasy series by Steven Erikson. Is there anything you can share with us about this?

LD: Unfortunately, I’m not able to comment on this at this time. I will say that we have approached many well-known fantasy writers about adapting their novels, and often, that means we create concept art to demonstrate what we’d like to accomplish in the adaptation if we acquire the license. But until we formally announce a project, conceptual art is all that it is.

Q: Also on the way are adaptations of Orson Scott Card’s “Wyrms”, R.A. Salvatore’s “The Highwayman” and Kinley MacGregor’s “Lords Of Avalon.” Who else (authors) are you approaching about potential projects?

LD: We’ve talked to a lot of people, and we just signed a major writer who’s going to surprise a lot of people when we finish tidying up the details and make the announcement!

Q: I’m just curious, but what kind of process do you guys follow when approaching an author about an adaptation? How much input does the author have with the comic?

LD: Our basic aim in approaching an author is to show them some of the work we’ve done and then to offer them a vision of what we can do to adapt their story into comic books. We always make a point of allowing our authors to work as closely with the project as they like. Some, like George R. R. Martin or Laurell K. Hamilton, have been very hands on. Others, like Raymond E. Feist or Tad Williams, have simply overseen the process.

Ultimately, we’re fans of the authors we approach, and we want to make the best possible adaptations of their work that we can produce!

Q: Moving on, in September of 2006, Dabel Brothers joined forces with Marvel Comics. Can you further explain the roles that each company has in this alliance?

LD: Dabel Brothers Productions is officially a partner of Marvel Comics – we are still an independent company that makes its own business decisions, but Marvel acts as our publisher and our advisor, helping us to grow in presence in the industry. So, when you read a book produced by Dabel Brothers Productions and published by Marvel Comics, you’re getting the best of both worlds!

We are very grateful to Dan Buckley, David Gabriel, and the rest of the staff at Marvel for their support and their enthusiasm for what we’re doing, and we’re thrilled to be a part of their team!

Q: “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” was the first series to be released under the new Dabel Bros./Marvel partnership, and has since become a tremendous success. What have been some of the benefits of working with Marvel as opposed to when you were working independently? How about drawbacks?

LD: It’s very hard to argue with the success that the Anita Blake books have enjoyed under our partnership with Marvel – the first four issues all sold out quickly and received second printings, and the debut issue is currently in its third. Marvel was extremely helpful in getting retailers to treat this book like it was a big deal, and from what we’ve been hearing, it’s been instrumental in bringing waves of women into comic book stores.

I can’t think of any drawbacks in working with Marvel – they understand what we want to accomplish, and they help it to happen!

Q: Speaking of “Anita Blake”, what do you have in store for her in the future?

LD: Anita Blake will take a month-long break between issues #6 and #7 as we launch the collected edition in bookstores, which will also include an original 8-page story by Laurell K. Hamilton. We’ve also announced a summer special called Anita Blake: The First Death, which is another original story by Laurell K. Hamilton that serves as a prequel to the series!

Q: Back to Marvel, are we ever going to see Dabel Bros. working with any of their staple characters like Spider-Man, Captain America, The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, etc?

LD: That’s entirely up to our authors, though I’m sure some of them would love to see their favorite superheroes interact with their own characters. For the time being, we’re focused on adapting existing material, so those sorts of stories will have to wait until we’ve built our library up a little bit more.

Q: What about original material? Any plans for the future?

LD: We just released the original graphic novel Half Dead by Barb Lien Cooper, Park Cooper and James Bott. We’re also about to release the original graphic novel Prey: Origin of the Species by Michael Lent, a Hollywood producer and screenwriter.

Beyond that, we have several titles on the back burner that we’re hoping to launch in the near future:

Age of Darkness (by Ernst Dabel), a story about a bunch of evil warlords who band together to snuff each other out.
Marshal (by Bill Tortolini), a sci-fi western that takes place on a space colony that’s lost contact with Earth.
Minus World (by Sean J. Jordan), a video game-themed fantasy story about several game characters who get knocked into each others’ worlds… but who don’t realize they’re in a game.
Dog Eaters (by Malcolm Wong), winner of the Screenwriter’s Expo 5 award we offer each year to turn one unproduced screenplay into a comic book. This one’s a great story, a post apocalyptic tale about a tribe of nomads who are making their final run through the desert before they settle down and start a city.
Imperial Dragons (created by myself and Ernst, written by Sean J. Jordan), a spy/intrigue story set in an Asian-themed fantasy world.

Q: Are there any plans of the company branching out into another medium?

LD: Yes, we’re certainly looking into other avenues of entertainment… we’d love to see some of our projects cross over into other media!

Q: You’re obviously fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror literature as well as comics, but what other interests or hobbies do you pursue?

LD: My brothers and I spend so much time working, it’s hard to have many hobbies. But we’re all big fans of the NBA, and we’re also big fans of our youngest brother, Jonathan, who’s an incredibly talented high school basketball player. We’re hoping he’ll go far!

We’re also proud of our sister Myrna, who’s working on an album, and our mother, who just opened a salon here in our hometown, and who’s seeing a lot of business already!

Q: What are some of your favorite books or authors? What about comic writers or artists?

LD: We’re huge fans of George R. R. Martin, of course, as well as the other authors we’ve sought out to work with – Raymond E. Feist, R.A. Salvatore, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kinley MacGregory, Jane Lindskold, Robert Jordan, Tad Williams, Orson Scott Card, and others! We also love J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Weis, and Tracy Hickman.

As for comic book writers and artists, we’re good friends with Pat Lee, and we loved the work he did at Dreamwave!

Q: What advice would you give someone who’s interested in working in the comic book business?

LD: Listen to the retailers, and do everything you can to keep them happy, because they’re the people who will decide if your book will sink or swim!

Q: Just based on the interactions that I’ve had with you and from what I’ve gleaned around the online community, Dabel Bros. seems to have a very strong relationship with its fans. How important a role do the fans play in what you do as a company?

LD: We love our fans. They make all of this worthwhile, and we’ve just set up two great programs to help reward them – the “DB Revolution,” where we send fans free stuff to give to retailers, friends, and convention organizers, and the “DB Giveaway,” which we’ll be starting in May to give away some awesome free stuff to people who sign up for our newsletter.

Q: Any last thoughts or comments for your readers?

LD: Thanks for your continued support, and please let us know what you think of our books.
Monday, April 23, 2007

"Bloodmind" by Liz Williams

Buy "Bloodmind" HERE via PanMacmillan

Looking back at “Darkland” by author Liz Williams, one major detail that the cover fails to mention is that the book is NOT a standalone story, and instead continues uninterrupted with its direct sequel “Bloodmind”. So, if you’re planning on reading “Darkland”, then please be aware of this before starting, and also please note that “Darkland” SPOILERS will be present in the following review of “Bloodmind” since the novels are so closely related.

When we last left Vali Hallsdottir at the end of “Darkland”, she had just returned from a successful operation on the planet Mondhile to find that her friend, mentor and Skald leader had been assassinated. “Bloodmind” picks up immediately from this tragic event and soon introduces the Morrighanu, harbingers of war between the continents of Reach and Darkland, which was foreshadowed at the end of “Darkland” along with the women of Nhem, the Selk, and a mysterious woman briefly glimpsed in the Darkland forests who all play a role in “Bloodmind”. From here, Vali gets caught up in a relentless mission that will reacquaint her with a familiar face, vitki Thorn Eld, forge unlikely alliances with the likes of Morrighanu commander Rhi Glyn Apt & the Selk, take her deeper into Darkland as well as a return to the planet Mondhile, and force Vali to face her greatest challenge yet.

Obviously Vali remains a central character in “Bloodmind” with new first-person perspectives provided by Mondhaith Sedra whose narrative follows her journey in search of Eresthahan (the afterlife), and Hunan of the planet Nhem, where we get to learn more about the breeding programs designed to create non-sentient females, those women who were able to regain their self-awareness and start a new life, and the resistance who hopes to liberate all of Nhem. And lastly, but definitely not least, is Skadi, or Skinning Knife, a living weapon who possesses ties to all three planets (Muspell, Nhem & Mondhile) and is the key to the entire story. Not surprisingly, at some point in “Bloodmind” all of the storylines come together and that’s when the real fireworks begin.

Story-wise, “Bloodmind” revisits themes and concepts that were introduced in “Darkland”, and expands upon them, specifically issues dealing with sentience and women’s roles. Regarding the latter, there is a definite pronounced feministic vibe throughout “Bloodmind”, reinforced not only by the cast of characters who are mainly female, with the exception of Thorn Eld, but also the different womens' societies that play an important part in the plot, including the Skald, the Morrighanu and the valkyrie, who are all variations of one another, as well as the Nhemish women and the Mondhaiths. From here, genetic manipulation is a prevailing aspect, as all of the females seem to have been altered in some way – the technologically enhanced Morrighanu, valkyrie who are the female version of the vikti, the Mondhaiths and their hereditary ability of ‘bloodmind’, etc. This then leads to sentience, which essentially ties everything together since it seems like the whole purpose of the Darkland sects (vitki, Morrighanu, valkyrie) is to create a weapon with the ability to turn on/off a creature’s self-awareness, with the Selk, the Nhemish and the Mondhaiths all part of their research & experimentation. How Skadi, Vali, Sedra, Hunan, Thorn Eld and Glyn Apt fit into this picture is part of what makes “Bloodmind” such a compelling read since Ms. Williams does an excellent job of managing the various plotlines and tying everything neatly together, including threads leftover from “Darkland”. Ms. Williams also does an admirable job of infusing each of the narratives with the character’s own distinctive voice, despite them all being from a first-person point-of-view. In fact, the writing as a whole is once again riveting and accomplished, and the book would not work nearly as well if the prose was anything less.

Overall, I have to say that “Bloodmind” is a much more cerebral read than its predecessor. That’s not to say there’s no action or excitement in “Bloodmind”, just that it’s done on a more emotional & intellectual level. Also, it doesn’t mean that the book is any less enjoyable. On the contrary, I enjoyed “Bloodmind” just as much, if not more than “Darkland”, but for very different reasons. As far as the ending, this time around events are satisfactorily concluded with enough interesting threads like the Nhemish resistance and Vali’s future left unresolved that Ms. Williams would be justified in returning to this universe if she so chose. Finally, I must reiterate my recommendation in checking out Ms. Williams’ work if you haven’t yet already, since I feel that she’s one of the more talented and underrated SF authors that I’ve had the pleasure of being introduced to recently…
Saturday, April 21, 2007

Updates & Tidbits

Being that I’m such a huge fan of Jacqueline Carey, I’m plugging anything worthy that is related to her or her upcoming novel “Kushiel’s Justice”, so be sure to check out the great interview that Pat & Jake did over at Pat’s Fantasy Hotlist, which you can read HERE. Pat will also be running a giveaway for “Kushiel’s Justice” in the near future, so keep an eye out for that. If you want more Jacqueline, I’ve also completed an interview with the author, which, due to the publicist’s request, won’t be posted until closer to the book’s release date (June 14, 2007). So, look for it in mid-to-late May along with my review of “Kushiel’s Justice”, and, if we’re lucky, a giveaway.

In other Fantasy Book Critic news, I’m currently finishing up “Acacia” by David Anthony Durham, and I have to say that it’s one of the strongest fantasy novels that I’ve read in a long time. Perhaps, even on the level of George R. R. Martin? Well, you’ll have to wait and see about that :) For interview junkies, I have one with the Dabel Brothers coming out next week, and I’m working on getting interviews done with Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, the aforementioned David Anthony Durham, Tim Lebbon, Christopher Golden, and a number of others.

As far as reviews, besides “Kushiel’s Justice” and “Acacia”, you can expect Steven Erikson’sReaper’s Gale”, Richard K. Morgan’sThirteen”, “The Devil You Know” by Mike Carey, Jennifer Roberson’sDeepwood”, David Bilsborough’s debut “The Wanderer’s Tale”, James Rollins’The Judas Strain”, Stephen Hunt’sThe Court of the Air”, Joel Shepherd’sBreakaway”, “The Orphan's Tales: In the Night Garden” by Catherynne M. Valente, a host of books from Solaris, and a bunch of others if I can find the time. Now, if someone would just hook me up with Scott Lynch’sRed Seas Under Red Skies” all would be perfect ;)

In book news, Liz Williams, whose book “Darkland” I just reviewed, recently sold a new novel to publisher Macmillan titled “Winterstrike”, which will be set in the same universe as her Arthur C. Clarke-shortlisted “Banner of Souls”, and is scheduled for release in August 2008. Drew C. Bowling, whose book I also just reviewed, told me his next novel is tentatively titled “The Sea of Dreams” and “will be considerably darker than the first”.

Meanwhile, author Lian Hearn, another personal favorite of mine, will see “Heaven’s Net Is Wide”, the fifth and final book in the Tales of Otori series, published in September 2007. According to her website, “It goes back in time to relate the life of Lord Shigeru from the age of 12 (the year in which Takeo is born). Many of the subjects that are only hinted at in Across the Nightingale Floor - Shigeru's training with Matsuda Shingen, his first encounter with Iida Sadamu, the battle of Yaegahara, the role of Muto Shizuka, the meeting with Lady Maruyama - are narrated in full here, as well as a few other unexpected events.” For me, I love the Otori books, so if you haven’t had a chance to check them out, I would definitely recommend them.

Finally, yet another children’s fantasy series is set to make it to the big screen, this time Rick Riordan’sThe Lightning Thief”, which will be directed/produced by Chris Columbus of Harry Potter fame.
Friday, April 20, 2007

“This Witch For Hire” omnibus by Kim Harrison

(Disclaimer: Image given permission by & copyrighted © Chris McGrath)

A guilty pleasure of mine, pardon the pun, was reading the Anita Blake series by author Laurell K. Hamilton. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was turned off by the direction that the series was heading with later novels, and eventually stopped reading the books altogether with 2003’s “Cerulean Sins”. A few years later, and I find myself missing the fun little adventures that I spent with Anita Blake, and in search of a somewhat similar series, I discover not one, but several including such veterans as Glen Cook’s well-known Garrett P.I. adventures, Tanya Huff’sBlood” books and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum as well as a number of newer, post-2000 series consisting of The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan escapades, The Sookie Stackhouse (Southern Vampire) books by Charlaine Harris, Carrie Vaughn’s Kitty Norville novels, Sherrilyn Kenyon’sHunter-Legends, Keri Arthur's Riley Jensen and the Mercedes Thompson series by Patricia Briggs, just to name a few. After much debate, and since the Science Fiction Book Club conveniently provides the first four Rachel Morgan novels in a couple of 2-in-1 omnibuses, I decided to try out Kim Harrison.

Since the Anita Blake novels are the only similarly-themed books that I’ve read relative to Rachel Morgan, there will be a lot of comparisons between the two series. So, let’s look at the similarities. First off, both series could be described as urban/contemporary fantasy, set in an alternate present-day world where supernatural creatures such as vampires, weres and witches, not only exist, but are part of society, with the main difference being that in Rachel’s world, “Inderlanders” had lived in secret, until a virus caused by genetically modified tomatoes nearly wiped out humankind in what is known as the Turn. Secondly, both series are led by strong female protagonists, who possess paranormal abilities, become involved in crime investigations, and whose narratives are told from the first-person point-of-view. In the case of Rachel, Ms. Morgan is a former Inderland Security (I.S.) runner who quits, branching out as an independent bounty hunter and who also happens to be a witch. Finally, both series not only deal with matters of the occult and police procedures, but also possess familiar elements of horror, mystery and romance.

Still, despite the likenesses, there are enough variations between the two series that Kim Harrison’s Rachel Morgan novels do stand on their own. The best way that I can describe the differences, is that if there were ratings Anita Blake would be rated-R and Rachel Morgan PG-13. So, where Anita is a more angst-ridden, gothic character living in a darker, more violent world, Rachel is the more charming, down-on-her luck, do-gooder, whose adventures are lighter and much more playful in tone. Looking specifically at “Dead Witch Walking”, the first in the series, what we basically have is a set-up piece, where not only are we introduced to Rachel Morgan, but also the living pure-blood vampire Ivy and the pixie Jenks, who both quit the I.S. to join forces with Rachel in starting their own private firm. Other supporting characters include potential boyfriend Nick Sparagmos, Captain Edden of the Federal Inderland Bureau (FIB) – the human equivalent of the I.S. – and antagonist Trent Kalamack who is shrouded in mystery. As far as the actual story, it’s fairly simple stuff…you have werewolf/fairy/demon assassins, the difficulties of starting your own company when being broke, adjusting to living with a vampire who has sworn off blood, shapechanging, and investigating a potentially corrupt, though prominent businessman. Overall, “Dead Witch Walking” is a solid start to the series, which does a good job of establishing Rachel Morgan and the world she lives in, while providing a reasonably entertaining story.

From a personal standpoint, I’ll be truthful and admit that I didn’t like the book nearly as much as I liked the early Anita Blake novels. This was due more to personal preference rather than any glaring faults with the opening Rachel Morgan chapter, since I tend to favor darker, more graphic reading material opposed to the more humorous, accessible fare that is “Dead Witch Walking”. I will say however, that Ms. Morgan’s personality can be annoying at times, accentuated by weak dialogue/insights and the author’s inclination to over-use generic pop culture references. Also, the book suffers somewhat from the same weaknesses that Anita Blake does, namely lack of plot advancement at certain moments, and a tendency to spend too much time on mundane issues. In fact, the second book in the series, “The Good, The Bad, and The Undead”, is plagued by some of the same problems, but, after a slow start, thankfully turns out to be a much better novel than its predecessor.

While “The Good, The Bad, and The Undead” opens with a pretty silly premise where Rachel is trying to recover a stolen fish mascot, it’s not long before things get interesting with a serial killer on the loose murdering ley line witches, the reappearance of the demon who marked both Rachel & Nick in “Dead Witch Walking” and the havoc that it’ll play in their lives, the introduction of a master vampire, and of course the return of Trent Kalamack and the secrets that he harbors. Additionally, we’ll get to revisit the love/hate/fear friendship between Rachel & Ivy, who wants Rachel to become her scion, as well as the burgeoning relationship with Nick, where we’ll get to see more romance, or in plainer terms, more sex. On top of that, we get to learn more about ley lines, demonology & familiars; see Rachel try to work with the FIB, specifically Captain Edden’s son; deal with more pixie humor; and discover some startling revelations about Rachel’s past, family, Trent Kalamack and so on. In short, there’s a LOT more going on with “The Good, The Bad, and The Undead”, and while the book is still light-hearted in nature, the stakes have been considerably raised with the end result being a much more interesting, action-packed and dramatic novel that may resolve several questions, but also wonderfully sets the stage for some compelling future developments including unexpected romantic interests, vampire politics, and a host of other supernatural-themed issues.

My final verdict? The Rachel Morgan series is definitely comparable to Laurell K. Hamilton’s books, though they may not necessarily appeal to Anita Blake fans since it is friendlier reading material. Still, if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, then I would definitely check it out, but be aware that “Dead Witch Walking” is a weaker book, and may not impress some readers. So, I’d recommend picking up the “This Witch For Hire” omnibus from SFBC, which features the first two novels in the series, and is an excellent way to familiarize your self with Rachel Morgan & company, especially if you can finish “Dead Witch Walking” and move on to the much superior “The Good, The Bad, and The Undead”. Plus, two books for the price of one hardcover…who can beat that? For me, I’m looking forward to continuing Rachel’s adventures in the “Dead Witches Tell No Tales” omnibus, which includes “Every Which Way But Dead” and “A Fistful of Charms” – notice a trend there…Clint Eastwood anyone – as well as Kim Harrison’s most recent novel, “For A Few Demons More”…
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

"Darkland" by Liz Williams

Buy "Darkland" HERE via PanMacmillan

Being the daughter of a Gothic novelist and part-time conjuror, not to mention having a background in History and Philosophy of Science, has obviously blessed British SF/fantasy author Liz Williams with a tremendous imagination and talented writing abilities. While “Darkland” is my first exposure to the author, Liz Williams has also written “The Ghost Sister” and “Empire Of Bones”, both of which were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award, the Inspector Chen series, which I hope to check out at some point, the Arthur C. Clarke-shortlisted “Banner of Souls”, and various other novels & short stories.

Marketed mainly as science fiction, “Darkland” is an interesting combination of various themes, concepts and genres. For starters, the story is set in a “far-distant future”, where mankind has long left Earth to colonize numerous other planets with the narrative divided between two characters: a first-person view of Vali Hallsdottir, Skald assassin/operative, and the third-person view of Ruan. With Vali’s accounting we’re briefly introduced to the Muslim-influenced planet Nhem, where women are treated as nothing more than animals or property, as well as her home world of Muspell where we get to visit the Skald's base of operations and get a taste of the treacherous continent Darkland. For Ruan, readers are taken back to the planet of Mondhile, or Monde D’Isle, which was first introduced in Ms. Williams’ debut “The Ghost Sister” and is a much more archaic world where genetically altered humans live in harmony with their primal sides. Through events that I won’t detail, the two characters converge on Mondhile and mayhem, revenge and awakening ensues.

As mentioned above, there’s a lot of intriguing elements in play throughout “Darkland”. For instance, while set in a futuristic timeline, technological advancements are noticeably restrained. Sure, you have space ships, pulse guns, map implants, tabulas that translate languages and various other little gizmos, but for the most part, it’s nothing on the scale of most SF that I’ve read. In contrast, Mondhile could almost be described as a fantasy setting, with clan villages, people using bows & arrows, and just an overall medieval vibe. Still, while outlandish scientific principles may be lacking, Ms. Williams more than makes up for it by creating imaginative & terrifying ecosytems like the one found on Mondhile, a trait that I would liken to the estimable Neal Asher. In addition, a host of other fascinating concepts comprise “Darklands” including the Seith (a sort of psychic awareness or sixth sense that the Skald use), the ability to turn on/off a creature’s self-awareness, and the Vitki, a genetically altered race of enigmatic beings who consider them selves superior to humans and utilize their own form of seith. As far as themes, sex is prominently depicted, in a much harsher light though, as well as women’s roles, which range wildly from the restricted Nhemish and female-dominated Skald, to Vitki who see women as nothing more than breeders and the Mondhaiths who exist on more equal terms with their men as hunters & warriors.

Of course, having all the best ideas in the world wouldn’t matter if the author is unable to piece everything together into a coherent and entertaining story. Fortunately, Liz Williams accomplishes this with flying colors. Not only does she deftly manage the contrasting point of views with excellent command, her prose as a whole is lush and refined. Characterization is solid for the most part with the tougher-than-she-looks, haunted-by-demons Vali getting the bulk of the development including relevant flashbacks, though I would have liked to see further exploration of such interesting secondary players as Frey or Gemaley, and I also thought that certain relationships between characters felt rushed. Overall though, Ms. Williams’ writing is polished and kept me engaged through out the book, and should appeal to fans of Jack Vance & Ursula K. Le Guin, a couple of the author’s notable influences.

In short, I greatly enjoyed “Darkland”. I thought it was an intelligent, well-crafted work of fiction containing elements of science fiction and fantasy that is as much about entertaining the reader with pulse-pounding action and thrills as it is about challenging the reader’s perceptions with provocative concepts. About the only thing I didn’t like was that the book concluded with an obvious cliffhanger ending that will be picked up in a future novel. Fortunately, I have that said novel in hand, and look forward to continuing Vali’s adventures in “Bloodmind”, which I hope to review shortly. In the meantime, I’d recommend picking up “Darkland” and any other Liz Williams novel that you can find. While I haven’t read any of her other works, from the research that I’ve done, it seems like Ms. Williams does a great job of exploring different ideas/themes with each of her books, and for the most part is positively reviewed…
Tuesday, April 17, 2007


First off, I just want to say how sickened I am with the horrific events that occurred yesterday at the Virginia Tech University (click HERE for more info). For a place of learning and self-discovery, supposedly some of the best years of your life, this is a tragedy that will scar many young men & women for who knows how long. Plus, with my youngest sister and two sister-in-laws currently going to college, it is worrying. My thoughts and prayers go out to all those who were impacted and I only hope that there will be a way found to prevent something like this from happening again…

Moving on to lighter subjects, I just wanted to share some recent news that I’ve come across. I know that not all of it may be book-related, but I’m a fan of all mediums, so here goes:

Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan of The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi and Raiders of the Lost Ark fame, has been hired to write the screenplay for the remake of 1981’s Clash of the Titans. Could be interesting depending on the director and whoever does the special effects.

There’s a rumor that director Michael Bay of the underrated The Island and the upcoming Transformers movie, might be reteaming with producer Jerry Bruckheimer (Pirates of the Caribbean) on the Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time film adaptation through Warner Bros. As a fan of the game, both the original NES version and the next-gen ones, I’m hoping they can pull this off as long as it’s not like the effects-driven Mummy debacles. Also, I can’t wait for the Transformers movie!...yes, call me a geek ;)

Other rumors suggest that both director Ron Howard and actor Tom Hanks are set to return for another Dan Brown adaptation, this time for the prequel Angels & Demons. Personally, I thought Angels & Demons was the superior book over The Da Vinci Code, and would make the better movie, so let’s hope that if the rumors are true, that they’ll do a much better job this time around.

Also, there’s gossip about Sam Raimi of the recent Spider-Man films helming J.R.R. Tolkien’sThe Hobbit”. Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, has been banned from the possibility of making “The Hobbit”, so if this were to occur, I think Sam Raimi would be a worthy successor. On a related note, there is apparently a lot of interest in buying the film rights to Tolkien’sChildren of Hurin”, which was released today and put together by Tolkien’s son Christopher. Buy it!!!

And apparently, there’s an HBO drama pilot in the works based on the “Southern Vampire” series by author Charlaine Harris with Anna Paquin (X-men, The Piana, Amistad) cast as the lead character Sookie Stackhouse. Maybe I should check out this series.

Also, be sure to check out The Wert Zone, which has a very nice REVIEW of the SF movie Sunshine, which was directed by Danny Boyle of Trainspotting/28 Days Later fame, and stars Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins), Chris Evans (Fantastic Four) and Michelle Yeoh (Tomorrow Never Dies, Memoirs of a Geisha) among others. This is one of my most anticipated films of 2007, and the review has me even more excited to see it now.

Finally, what about Edward Norton playing Bruce Banner in the next Incredible Hulk movie? Great casting, but to be honest, I thought the first Hulk movie had a very strong cast and we know how that turned out. In the end, it all comes down to the story and how the effects turn out.
Monday, April 16, 2007

"Worldweavers" by Alma Alexander

Official Alma Alexander Website

When it comes to reading fantasy, I enjoy all types from your standard sword & sorcery epics to the darker, grittier variety as well as those aimed toward younger readers or YA (young adult) as the sub-genre has been coined. Obviously, when talking about YA, the Harry Potter books by J. K. Rowling come to mind as does The Chronicles of Narnia, but I’ve enjoyed a number of other noteworthy works including His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain Chronicles, the Abhorsen books by Garth Nix and the Bartimaeus series by Jonathan Stroud. “Worldweavers: Gift of the Unmage” is my latest YA venture, written by Alma Alexander (pen name) who has a very interesting background – born in Yugoslavia, raised throughout Africa, educated in the UK/South Africa, lived/worked in New Zealand, etc. – and is the author of the “Changer of Days” fantasy duology, “The Secrets Of Jin-Shei” and “The Embers of Heaven”.

To start with, let’s get any Harry Potter comparisons out of the way, since those are unavoidable with a book of this nature, and more so, because the author reveals in an interview that her idea for “Worldweavers” somewhat stems from the Harry Potter books. Before we get into that, let’s look at the similarities between the two, which include the setting, a present-day Earth where magic is real, the only difference being that in “Worldweavers” there aren’t any Muggles (non-magical humans) since everyone is born with magic. On top of that you have a school and a teenage protagonist, among other minor resemblances. Really though, apart from a few obvious likenesses, “Worldweavers” and the Harry Potter books are worlds apart.

First off, the concept for “Worldweavers” was conceived out of a comment that Ms. Alexander heard at a World Fantasy Convention about “the way Harry Potter books treated girls.” In short, Alma Alexander wanted to remedy that and thus came up with Galathea “Thea” Georgiana Winthrop, the main character of “Worldweavers”. Thea, like Harry Potter, is surrounded by fame and expectation, though for her, she was born with it, being a Double Seventh – the seventh child of two seventh child parents. Unfortunately for Thea, she’s the exact opposite of a Double Seventh, exhibiting basically no magical talents whatsoever and is looking at a life of constant disappointment. Before all hope is given up on her, Thea’s parents make one last attempt to awaken her powers, and its here that Thea’s adventures truly begin. From this point, expect anything and everything including time-travel, multiple worlds, shape-changers, gods/goddesses, and a quest to save humankind, among other things.

Aside from a cover that doesn’t grab my attention, there’s a lot to like in “Worldweavers”. Ms. Alexander’s writing for the most part, is rich and poised. The story, while containing familiar elements, has enough unique ingredients to keep the book fresh and engaging. Specifically, I’m talking about the Native American folklore/mythology that is utilized throughout “Worldweavers”, the different polities of fantasy-influenced races (Alphiri, Faele, Dwarrowim) that we get a glimpse of, the otherworldly evil known as the Nothing, spiritual exploration, and of course the Academy or “Last Ditch School for the Incurably Incompetent”, which is for people who CAN’T do magic, and where a new form of enchantment is born through modern technology. As far as characters, Thea as the heroine is charming enough that you care about what happens to her and the author does a good job of developing her as the story unfolds. I will say though, that ironically the book suffers somewhat from the same problem that the Harry Potter series is accused of…a skewed gender view. In the case of “Worldweavers” it’s the males who seem to get the short end of the stick, as the female characters dominate with the exception of Thea’s mentor Cheveyo. Additionally, I’ll say the secondary characters as a whole are mere skeletons in the development department, but do enough to support Thea and her story.

While I feel that “Worldweavers” lacks the universal appeal of the Harry Potter books or the imaginative intelligence His Dark Materials offered, the YA novel does, despite the inevitable comparisons, possess enough individual traits to stand apart from its competition. So, in the end, not only did I enjoy “Worldweavers” enough to want to see what happens in future volumes of the trilogy, but I would recommend it to my son, friends and anyone who likes to read fantasy…

Friday, April 13, 2007

Pre-order autographed copies of Richard K. Morgan's "Black Man/Thirteen" at The Signed Page

Signed copies of Richard K. Morgan’s forthcoming novel, “Black Man” for the UK, and “Thirteen” for the U.S. are now available for pre-order over at The Signed Page. Pre-order "Black Man" HERE and "Thirteen" HERE. If you'd like, you can check out the interview that I did with Richard K. Morgan HERE and keep an eye out for my review of "Thirteen", which I'll probably post closer to the book's U.S. release date of June 26, 2007.

"The Tower of Shadows" by Drew C. Bowling

Buy "The Tower of Shadows" HERE

Last time I read a much-hyped fantasy debut by a promising up-and-coming talent it was the highly disappointing and, at least to me, overrated “Eragon” by teenager Christopher Paolini. So, even though it came with much less fanfare, I was admittedly skeptical about trying out “The Tower of Shadows”, another fantasy debut by a young wunderkind. Fortunately college student Drew C. Bowling, who started his novel in high school, is a much more accomplished writer than Paolini was, and delivers an impressive first offering.

For fantasy aficionados, I doubt that “The Tower of Shadows” is high on your reading list because at a glance, everything about the book screams GENERIC, and with characters that include a world-weary mercenary, an apprentice wizard, assassins, a knight, evil sorcerers and adolescents who hunger for adventure from their mundane lives, not to mention a plot for revenge that features a magical dagger, dragons, pirates and resurrecting demons, there’s really little to dispel that notion. Yet, there’s just something about “The Tower of Shadows” that I couldn’t help but like. Perhaps it’s the writing, which may show its inexperience with shallow characterization, lack of world-building/mythos and the occasional inconsistency, but for the most part Drew reminds me of a young Terry Brooks with exhilarating pacing, nonstop thrills and prose that may seem sparse, yet is descriptive & graceful. Or it could be the heroes/heroine who may be as formulaic as they come, nevertheless are likeable and you can’t help but root for them. Then again, it could be the overall tone of the book, which evokes an undeniable childlike wonder of a fairy tale world where good triumphs over evil no matter the odds. More likely, it’s a combination of all these things and the fact that “The Tower of Shadows” doesn’t try to be anything than what it is, an uncomplicated, unpretentious, action-packed, fun-filled fantasy romp that reads quickly (running around 300 pages) and should appeal to readers young and old.

Ultimately, “The Tower of Shadows” is a flawed, yet promising start by a talented young writer in Drew C. Bowling who should only improve with time and experience. So keep an eye out for the sequel, which Drew is currently writing while finishing up college and give the 'youngster' a chance if you haven't yet already...
Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman sign book deal with Tor

"Tom Doherty Associates, LLC is proud to announce that they have acquired rights in a seven-figure deal to a six-book series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, New York Times bestselling authors of the classic Dragonlance series. Published under the Tor Books imprint, Dragonships of the Vindras is an epic fantasy series that conjures a rich new world of dragon-powered ships and Viking-like warriors who are on a quest that will determine the fate of all mortals—and their gods. The first new book, tentatively titled "Bones of the Dragon", is scheduled for hardcover publication in August 2008, with a new book in the series to follow every nine months after that. The acquiring editor is Brian Thomsen."

"Season of the Witch" by Natasha Mostert

Buy “Season of the WitchHERE, which is available now in the UK and will be released April 19, 2007 for the U.S.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with the old adage, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Well, it’s easy to do that with “Season of the Witch”, the fourth novel by writer Natasha Mostert. Just looking at the mysteriously sensual cover (U.S. version), the title of the book and blurbs that describe “Season of the Witch” as “erotic” and “gothic”, you might think of the novel as some sort of supernatural romance. Then, if you open the book to read the inside synopsis you’ll see comparisons to “The Matrix”, “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Historian”, all of which I feel are a little bit misleading. So, let me help you in dispelling any misconceptions that you might have about “Season of the Witch.”

First and foremost, “Season of the Witch” is a modern-day suspense thriller that utilizes elements of romance, murder mystery and supernatural concepts that are grounded in reality. At the center of this tale is protagonist Gabriel Blackstone, a suave, confident, James Bond-like thief that steals information. As a main character, I’ll admit that Gabriel at first seemed like your typical hero haunted by familiar demons and regrets. However, Ms. Mostert does a great job of bringing Gabriel to life and evoking the various emotions that he’s feeling, so as the story progresses, so does he, evolving from the charmingly arrogant thief that he’s introduced as to a man fallen deeply in love, to one torn between his heart & mind, to despair, resigned determination and so forth. Providing an additional layer to his persona is Gabriel’s unique ability of remote viewing, a real-life theory that we’ve seen explored in film (Suspect Zero), TV, videogames and other literature.

Since “Season of the Witch” moves along at a fast clip, it’s not long before Gabriel’s ex-lover comes into the picture and convinces Gabriel to covertly investigate the disappearance of Frankie’s husband’s son Robert. Gabriel’s subject: the Monk sisters Morrighan & Minnaloushe. This is where the story takes on some romantic elements as the trio embarks on a courtship of sorts, but in no way are we dealing with cheesy Harlequin clichés or explicit sex. Instead, the courting scenes between the three are some of the most compelling moments in the book, mainly because the characters of Morrighan & Minnaloushe Monk are such fascinating creations. Representing the antagonists of the book – at least one of them – the Monk sisters are white witches, a far cry from broomsticks, black cauldrons and warts as their ‘magic’ deals with alchemy, information & enlightenment. Each possessing their own unique personality, and elegantly written by Ms. Mostert, it’s not long before the alluring sisters ensnare Gabriel in their grasp. Inevitably, love blossoms and mystery, murder and mysticism unfold.

Plot-wise, I felt that “Season of the Witch” was well done for the most part, particularly the first two-thirds of the book with the character introductions, the interactions between Gabriel, Morrighan & Minnaloushe, and the mysteries that we’re drawn into. From there, the story seems to lose its momentum as secrets are revealed without any major surprise, explanations are too easily provided and the climax felt a bit underwhelming. Plus, the concept of the Art of Memory that was introduced in the book and one of the more interesting aspects in the “Season of the Witch” was, I felt, underutilized. As far as possessing elements of “The Matrix”, “Interview with the Vampire” and “The Historian”, I can kind of see that if you look really closely. For instance the Art of Memory shares some resemblance to the Matrix in the movies, and the sympathetic view of witches and seductive sensuality of the book is akin to Anne Rice’s vampire novels, but lacks their depth & complexity. Also, don’t expect any kind of high-flying guns/martial arts action, epic plots or detailed historical background info.

My advice with “Season of the Witch” is to forget the comparisons, avoid any preconceptions and try to go into this book with an open mind and just enjoy “Season of the Witch” for what it is – an intriguing amalgam of ideas and genres (suspense, thriller, romance, supernatural) that shines a whole new light on witches, remote viewing and the Art of Memory, all wrapped up in an entertaining and stylishly written tale of love, loss and transcendence…
Monday, April 9, 2007

"Dusk" & "Dawn" by Tim Lebbon

For Tim Lebbon, multiple award-winning (Bram Stoker, Tombstone, Shocker, British Fantasy) author of numerous horror/supernatural-themed novels (“Beserk”, “Desolation”, “Face”) and short stories (“White”), the “Dusk” and “Dawn” duology marks the writer’s first attempt at a fully realized fantasy world with mixed results.

Before we get into the positives/negatives of the novels, it must be noted that “Dawn” is a direct sequel to “Dusk”, so it’s necessary to have read the one before the other, because basically we’re talking about a single story split into two volumes. As to this review, I’ll be mainly looking at the duology as a whole…

First, the good: Far and away the most fascinating feature of the “Dusk/Dawn” duology is the world of Noreela that Mr. Lebbon has fashioned. Rife with strange peoples (Red Monks, Shantasi, fledge miners, Breakers, Cantrass Angels) and even stranger creatures (the Nax, Tumblers, Mimics), Noreela is a character unto itself, defined by its bloody history, unique cultures/locales and a ton of little details (rotwine, rhellin, fodder) that give the world depth & personality. As far as fantasy worlds go, Noreela is among the most imaginative & absorbing that I’ve had the pleasure to explore, so it’s no surprise that I found those parts of the books that focused on Noreela the most interesting. Of course, Noreela is merely the setting for “Dusk/Dawn” and there is an actual story involved :).

In “Dusk”, Noreela has been absent of magic for 300 years since the end of the Cataclysmic War and the banishment of the Mages. Into this dark and despairing time period, hope enters in the form of an ordinary farm boy named Rafe Baburn. Not surprisingly, there is much more to Rafe than there first seems, and the boy soon becomes caught up in a deadly adventure across Noreela that attracts an unlikely cast of misfits to his cause in saving the world. In other words, your standard fantasy tale right? Well, that’s where Tim Lebbon comes into play as he makes it an effort to challenge such conventions, as evidenced by the shocking events at the end of “Dusk”. With “Dawn”, Mr. Lebbon continues to try and avoid various fantasy pitfalls, and for the most part does just that, though certain events that play out are still fairly predictable. Still, despite a little unevenness, the story that comprises “Dusk/Dawn” is an exciting one, driven by fast-paced action, inventive sorcery, interesting characters and explosive convergences.

As far as the actual characters of “Dusk/Dawn”, this is where the results are a bit varied. On the one hand, I loved the eclectic & vast cast of heroes and villains that we’re introduced to, especially since Tim Lebbon does such a magnificent job of establishing the various players, which include a thief (Kosar), a librarian (Alishia), the Shantasi warrior A’Meer Pott, a witch/whore (Hope), a fledge miner (Trey Barossa), a Red Monk (Lucien Malini) and their founder Jossua Elmantoz, and Lenora, a survivor from the Cataclysmic War and lieutenant of the Mages (Angel & S’Hivez). Unfortunately, despite possessing unique backgrounds, the characters' personalities are mostly formulaic with decisions made throughout the books that are never that uncharacteristic. Additionally, with so many different viewpoints involved, their development as the story progresses is stunted, and for the most part I was never emotionally attached to any of the characters, and did not really care what happened to them, no matter how tragic or unexpected the events. Apart from these weaknesses though, the characters are mostly enjoyable to follow, most notably with such personal favorites as Trey or Alishia, while I felt that Lenora’s narrative was the weakest, especially since she was the link to the Mages (main antagonists) who were the most one-dimensional & stereotypical characters in the book.

As a whole the “Dusk/Dawn” duology was a series that I was more than happy to pick up. Sure, it’s rough around the edges with characters that are difficult to relate to and a story that can be predictable at times, but for anyone who likes their fantasy made of darker and more imaginative material, tinged with horror elements and aimed at adults, then this is it. Best of all, Mr. Lebbon concludes the “Dusk/Dawn” duology with an ending that leaves room for future exploration and already plans on returning to the spellbinding world of Noreela with a couple of standalone prequels and a short story. Personally, I can’t wait to see what Mr. Lebbon comes up with next for the denizens of Noreela…

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