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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

INDIE SPOTLIGHT: Conrad Williams' "The Scalding Rooms" + Scott William Foley's "Souls Triumphant"

When I used to cover music my focus was primarily on helping unsigned artists attract record labels and promoting newly signed bands. Since Fantasy Book Critic is more of a hobby than a job, I’ve mainly covered books and authors that I’m personally a fan of or thought I would enjoy. Still, I’ve never really lost that ‘A&R’ mentality and while the publishing business is obviously different from the music industry, there are still many similarities and I can’t help but have a soft spot for the more ‘indie’ side of publishing. Unfortunately, between my actual job, watching my son, family and my many other commitments, my time in running Fantasy Book Critic is very limited so there’s only so much I can do. That said, I promised myself that if I had any free time I would dedicate myself to aiding aspiring writers or authors who either self-publish or use small-press. I’ve always been a strong believer that brand name doesn’t necessarily equate to quality. In other words, just because an author isn’t signed to a major publisher, it doesn’t mean they aren’t talented or have the potential to one day become a household name.

So on that note, from time to time you may see on Fantasy Book Critic, articles that I’ve dubbed unremarkably as ‘Indie Spotlights’. The purpose of these articles is to ‘Spotlight’ books/authors that you may not normally hear about. Essentially, they are book reviews, but not reviews in the normal sense. From major publishers and even a few of the smaller ones like Pyr, Solaris, etc., I expect certain standards of quality, and thus I tend to be more critical and provide more in-depth reviews. While I’m not necessarily going to be more lenient with small-press/self-published works, I won’t be as comprehensive and may grade more on potential than I normally would. In short, I hope these ‘Spotlights’ will help out any of the authors or publishing companies that get featured and that readers will give them their support. As always, thanks for reading and much love & respect…

The Scalding Rooms” by Conrad Williams. Publication date March 2007 via
PS Publishing, an award-winning, UK-based, independent publisher of science fiction, fantasy, horror & crime novellas, novels and short fiction collections including works by such authors as Stephen King, Joe Hill, Steven Erikson, Stephen Baxter, China MiƩville, Peter F. Hamilton and many others.

Apparently Conrad Williams has been in print since 1988 with 80-some stories sold including three novels (Head Injuries, London Revenant, The Unblemished), four novellas (Nearly People, Game, The Scalding Rooms, Rain) and a variety of short stories, but I didn’t become aware of the author until last year thanks to a
Jeff Vandermeer article on “The Unblemished”. Unable to secure a copy, I jumped at the chance to review Mr. Williams’ novella “The Scalding Rooms” since I’ve been hoping to read the author for a while now. Because of an introduction by Graham Joyce that hyped just how brilliant Mr. Williams’ prose is, I was a bit skeptical at first, but wow! Mr. Williams’ writing was every bit as impressive as Ms. Joyce said it would be and then some, reminding me of a cross between early Clive Barker, Tim Lebbon and Neil Gaiman. In short, Mr. Williams is a very vivid writer blessed with a surreal imagination & razor-sharp prose, and it was a real treat reading “The Scalding Rooms”.

Of the story, readers are transported to a bleak, post-apocalyptic future where death is almost preferable to survival. I read that “The Scalding Rooms” is sort of a sequel to the novella “Nearly People” so how & why the world got this way was never explained in the story. Instead, we’re immediately introduced to Junko Cane, a father & husband who works in a slaughter house and in his free time scavenges corpses for additional income. Throwing a bit of crime noir into the pot, Junko shares a history with the gangster-like boss Krave Wheaste and is coerced to do one more job if he wants to keep his family safe. Making matters worse are injury analyst Boa Cleethe, unexpected revelations that lead back to the abattoir that Junko works at, inhuman Mowers, Tar Babies, and plenty of other nasty surprises. Basically, by the time you finish “The Scalding Rooms”—which won’t take long as it clocks in at 102 pages—you won’t know what hit you, partly because of the book’s concluding ambiguity, and partly because of its nonstop intensity. Either way, you’ll be left wanting more. I know I was…
Official Conrad Williams Website
Official PS Publishing Website
Order “The Scalding RoomsHERE + HERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read An Interview with Conrad Williams HERE via Infinity Plus
NOTE: Conrad Williams’ new novella “Rain” is now available
HERE via Gray Friar Press. Mr. Williams’ also has short stories appearing in the anthologies The Solaris Book of New Fantasy (Order HERE) and Ellen Datlow’s Inferno (Order HERE). “The Unblemished” (Preorder HERE) is also being published as a mass market release June 10, 2008 via Virgin Books.

Souls Triumphant” by Scott William Foley. Publication date June 2005 via self-publishing company
iUniverse. Author of the short story collections “The Imagination’s Provocation: Volumes I + II”, Illini grad S. William Foley made his full-length novel debut with “Souls Triumphant”, which was inspired by Christian theology and John Milton’sParadise Lost”. So it’s the classic tale of good vs. evil, God versus the devil, angels & demons, apocalypse and so on right? Not quite. Basically the book centers on Joseph Zadkiel and Alessandra Diepara who meet, instantly fall in love, and then have to save the world. Of course it’s not quite that simple. For Ned, Alessandra represents his ticket to freedom and taking over the Kingdom. For Buddy, Joe & Alessandra are a beacon of hope in a world drowning in sin. For the two lovebirds, it’s all about the affections they feel for one another, but can it stand up against the horrific trials they’ll have to face—reincarnation, Burnt Ones (Sammael, Shaitan, Lilith, Amodeas, Eblis, Ravana, Belial, Azazael), dark pasts, Celestial Knights, magic swords, et cetera? For readers, it’s a contemporary fantasy full of adventure, humor, passion, and optimism that, despite its familiar ingredients, is surprisingly unpredictable. And for Scott William Foley, even though I can’t see the book getting picked up by a major publisher, it does show a lot of promise. In conclusion, “Souls Triumphant” is a brisk (208 pages), competently written, and entertaining novel with a positive message that fans of Christian fiction will probably appreciate more, but may also appeal to readers looking for a little romance and magic…
Official Scott William Foley Website
Official Scott William Foley Myspace
Official iUniverse Website
Order “Souls TriumphantHERE


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