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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

"Fallen" by Tim Lebbon w/Bonus Q&A

Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of the “Dusk/Dawn Duology” + “After the War

In “Dusk” and “Dawn”, Tim Lebbon’s first foray into the fantasy genre, the award-winning author (White, Face, Hellboy: Unnatural Selection) introduced readers to Noreela, a dark and twisted world populated by exotic peoples, places and creatures. Since then, Noreela has been the backdrop for a number of Tim’s stories including the Subterranean Press release “After the War” (Reviewed HERE) and now the standalone novel “Fallen”…

Set 4000 years before the “Dusk/Dawn” duology, “Fallen” takes readers back to a different Noreela, one that is still dangerous and familiar due to the inclusion of tumblers, skull ravens, the always mysterious Cantrass Angels, Ventgorian wine, fodder and other familiarities, but this version of the world is not nearly as despairing and still possesses a sense of hope, of potential. In this time period, much of Noreela remains uncharted and is a playground for the Voyagers whose vocation is to discover the undiscovered. For the Voyagers their greatest challenge, their Mt. Everest if you will, is the Great Divide in the south, a vertical cliff that rises miles into the sky and extends from east to west seemingly forever. According to legend, the Great Divide marks the end of the world and no one who has Voyaged there has ever returned. For Voyagers Ramus Rheel and Nomi Hyden—friends as well as competitors—all that changes when they meet a fellow Voyager who has not only survived the Great Divide, but has brought back evidence of an unknown civilization…and a Sleeping God

Starting out Ramus, Nomi, and a group of Serians—hired warriors from Mancoseria who attain adulthood by killing a seethe-gator—are Voyaging to the Great Divide together, but because of the complex relationship existing between Nomi & Ramus involving hidden feelings and deep betrayals, the party is quickly fractured into two groups who are now competing against each other to be the first to reach the top of the cliff. From here, each Voyager faces their own set of perils and complications as they journey to the Great Divide, but the real danger is what they discover on top of the cliff and the decisions they end up making that impacts the future of Noreela

Like the author’s previous Noreela stories, “Fallen” is all about the setting and Tim takes full advantage of the plot to let his imagination roam wild. So as the Voyagers travel from Long Marrakash, across the Pavissa Steppes, into the uncharted lands before the Great Divide, up the cliff, and into the world above the clouds, readers are introduced to all sorts of interesting wildlife and phenomena like squirm-storms that rain down lizards & insects, march wisps, Rokarian traps, gray people who feed on unhappy memories, a place where certain berries & herbs will make you high, and a forgotten race. There’s much more of course, but the joy of reading one of Tim Lebbon’s Noreela tales is discovering what new surprises the author has conjured up :)

Character-wise, “Fallen” features a really small cast—basically the two narrators Ramus & Nomi, the six Serians, and a few minor players—which is helpful because even though the novel is self-contained, Tim still has time to fully develop his characters. For instance, each Mancoserian possesses his or her own individual personality while the relationship that the two Voyagers have going on is explored in all of its strange complexity including conflicting feelings of friendship, envy, disappointment, rivalry, and even love, not to mention the lying, treachery, and a fatal disease that allows Ramus to experience Nomi’s nightmares. In short, my only complaint about the characters was one scene between the Voyagers—when the group splits into two—that felt like watching a bad soap opera…

Of the plot, “Fallen” is essentially a quest novel that takes readers from Point A to Point B. Despite this conventional setup though, the journey itself is fascinating because of Noreela, the story is excellently paced, and the ending is just mind-blowing. Specifically, when “Fallen” shifts to the top of the Great Divide, Tim really turns up the heat on his characters and forces them down a dark & bloody path toward events that are shocking, tragic, and haunting. In other words, don’t expect any happy endings… And, as a bonus to those who are familiar with Noreela, the book’s finale marks the beginning of the Kang Kang mountain range and The Blurring which is a really nice touch :)

If you’ve read my reviews of the “
Dusk/Dawn Duology” and the “After the War” novellas, then you know I’m a huge fan of Tim Lebbon’s Noreela universe. Not surprisingly, I had pretty high expectations for “Fallen” and apart from a couple of minor gripes—namely the novel’s simplistic story and certain fantasy conventions—my expectations were met quite satisfactorily. To sum up, “Fallen” is just another outstanding addition to the Noreela mythos, and every time I visit this terrifying yet fascinating world, the harder it becomes to tear myself away…

BONUS FEATURE — Tim Lebbon Author Q&A:

Q: In “Fallen” (April 29, 2008) you return to the world of Noreela that was first established in the “Dusk/Dawn” duology and has been the setting for a couple of short stories and two novellas that were found in “After the War” released by
Subterranean Press earlier this year. You also have another book called “The Island” that is coming out next year that is set in the same milieu. In short, what's so special about Noreela?

Tim: It’s a whole new world, and it’s mine. I have so enjoyed writing novels and stories set in Noreela, a world where I make many of the rules. Some writers say writing fantasy is extremely difficult because of the detailed world building you have to undertake, but I’ve actually found it quite liberating, and I always love sitting down to visit Noreela once again. So that’s part of it – the fact that I can create many of my own rules, places, civilizations, religions and mysterious tattooed women. But part of it is also the sense of exploration and discovery I feel every time I start a new Noreela book. The stuff you read in “Fallen” was all new to me when I wrote it as well, and that’s really quite thrilling. These stories are set nowhere I recognize, and whereas if I did that with my contemporary, Earth-bound fiction, it would be an obvious fault in the book . . . with fantasy, it’s a distinct advantage.

I also like to think that Noreela is rich in history. Everything I write there plants seed for other stories. The more I write about it, the more I start to think of it as a whole, distinct world . . . and how may novels have there been set on Earth?

Q: Good point :) “Fallen” actually comes with a nice preview from “The Island”. What more can you tell us about the book?

Tim:The Island” is a book I’m very pleased with. It was also perhaps the most difficult Noreela novel to write. For a start it’s almost entirely in one coastal village (apart from a series of flashbacks), whereas the first three novels have all spanned Noreela in their settings. That in itself was an enjoyable test – I really had to try and bring this strange fishing village to life, at a time when it’s challenged by its greatest threat – but I also had to make sure the action of the story flowed well within the confines of that place. Actually there is one extended scene that takes place on the island of the title . . . but I can’t reveal anything about that. Oh, no, I can’t.

The novel opens with the village of Pavmouth Breaks being hit by a tidal wave, and when the survivors emerge at dawn, there’s a new island several miles out to sea. And between them and the island . . . boats.

Q: Do you have any other projects lined up for the Noreela setting? Personally I would love to see the Bajuman starring in his own series :) Also, for readers new to Tim Lebbon, should they start with a certain Noreela book or can they start anywhere?

Tim: I’ll definitely be writing more stories set in Noreela, whether they be novellas or novels. Actually I have several ideas for future novels, all of them stand-alone stories staggered at various points through Noreela’s history. “Dusk” and “Dawn” is essentially one story split into two books, but I’ve enjoyed writing “Fallen” and “The Island” much more . . . the landscape is recognizable, some of the places, people and religions will be identifiable from other Noreela stories . . . but the tales themselves are contained. I like that. I think of Noreela as a big wide world, and the stories I’m wanting to tell are now more and more confined in space and time. I think that’s a sign that I’m becoming more comfortable with the world. You mentioned the Bajuman, Korrin, and he’s a fascinating character, a real anti-hero who I’d definitely like to write about some more. In fact, you might have just given me an idea…

As to where to start for new readers, I don’t think there’s any right or wrong place. The only order you’d have to follow is to read “Dawn” after “Dusk”, but other than that, just jump in!

Q: Because of your horror background, your fantasy novels have a darker, grittier vibe to them which seems to be a growing trend if you look at authors like Steven Erikson, Joe Abercrombie, Richard K. Morgan (The Steel Remains), David Keck, Alan Campbell, et cetera. What are your thoughts on this movement and the audience's response to such books?

Tim: Some would say (and many have said), that such fiction is becoming more popular because of the dangerous times we find ourselves in right now. Me, I just think people like reading good stories, well told. As far as I’m concerned, the best, most gripping stories are where the darkest, grimmest histories are occurring. Noreela doubtless has many stories to tell of princess weddings, court politics and royal shenanigans, but they won’t be told by me. I enjoy writing about normal people – or normal alternate-world people – facing huge challenges. Sometimes they rise to the occasion, sometimes they’re corrupted by it; sometimes they win, sometimes they lose. That’s life. And for me, the important thing about writing fantasy is to make the characters, and their reactions to situations, believable. This may be fantasy, but all good fantasy is about being human.

The reaction I’ve had to these books has been mixed, and that’s fine. For “Dusk”, some readers said it redefined the genre, others said it was clich├ęd-ridden. I’d rather have reaction like that, than mere apathy.

I’m very excited to see what people think of “Fallen”. I definitely think it’s several steps onward and upward from “Dusk” and “Dawn” . . . I guess they were my initial foray into fantasy, and with “Fallen” I feel as if I’m settling in a bit. Hopefully, for a long run!

Q: Speaking of horror, why doesn't the genre get the same kind of love in literature that fantasy and science fiction does? What can be done to correct the problem?

Tim: Blimey, if I could answer this question… Really, I don’t know. Horror exists in any and every genre (many people have called my Noreela novels horror novels set in an alternate world, and I see their point). Defining horror, what people want from it, why it doesn’t sell as well as fantasy or science fiction (if that’s indeed the case), all these questions are raised time and again. I have no easy answers.

Q: In a recent interview
HERE, Christopher Golden talks a bit about "Mind the Gap: A Novel of the Hidden Cities" which comes out May 20, 2008 and is a co-authored by you and Chris. Is there anything else you'd like to say about "Mind the Gap", its sequel "The Map of Moments", and the young adult novels that Chris mentioned?

Tim: I’ve had a fantastic time writing these books with Chris. He’s a fine writer, a huge imagination, and a great storyteller. We’re both immensely proud of these books, and we’re hoping the Novels of the Hidden Cities will continue long into the future. There’s certainly no shortage of cities for us to write about! We collaborate well, we see many things from the same point of view, and I really believe we’ve come up with something in these books that neither of us would have written otherwise. There’s a website at where there’s more information.

As for the YA novels, yes, we’ll be writing two novels under the title The Secret Journeys of Jack London for
Atheneum. You heard it here first! Very excited about these books, and there’ll be more information released about them pretty soon.

Q: Could you also tell us more about the British Invasion anthology (
Cemetery Dance-May 28, 2008) that you edited with Christopher Golden + James A. Moore, and any other writing projects?

Tim:British Invasion” was a huge amount of fun. Myself, Chris and Jim were sitting in the bar at a convention a few years back, discussing the differences (if any…) between British and US genre writing. One of us said ‘You know, we should edit an anthology for publication in the USA and call it British Invasion. Brit-only stories!’ I think it was Chris who decided to try and sell it there and then. The three of us finished our drinks and marched down to the dealers’ room, cornered Rich Chizmar, and fifteen minutes after the anthology was imagined, it was sold. I think it’s a very strong anthology, containing original stories from the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Phil Nutman, Mark Chadbourn, Paul Meloy, and many more. I’ll be excited to see the reaction when it’s released.

As for other stuff, I have a lot of work due out this year. As well as “Fallen” and the forthcoming “Mind the Gap”, I’m delighted that my new horror novel “Bar None” will be published by
Night Shade Books this year. “A Whisper of Southern Lights” has just been released by Necessary Evil Press, and in September Humdrumming will publish my new novella “The Reach of Children”. There’s a huge collection of short fiction due soon, and I’ve also written the first novel in a young adult trilogy which my agent is sending out right now. Very excited about that. There are a couple of other projects I can’t mention yet. All in all, it’s shaping up to be a busy year.

Q: Definitely sounds like it! Finally, could you give us an update on how the movie versions of your books including "White" are progressing, and if anything else has been optioned since the last time we

Tim:White” is still ticking along. I’ve read a screenplay from
The Mob Film Co. who’ve optioned “Until She Sleeps”, and it’s excellent. Expecting big things of that. A couple of other options are crawling along at snail’s pace, and it looks like “Face” will be optioned again soon (for the third time). I think “Fallen” would make a superb, dark fantasy movie, but I think a lot of studios are still nervous about this sort of property because of the Tolkien/Jackson comparisons.


Harry Markov said...

"Fallen" sounds delightful. Dark, grittier stories tend to cause more adrenaline and that is what the reader wants judging by my needs for battle scenes.

Worldbuilding key to all the books I would want to read I would say that this is top runner. I just wonder whether any magic system has been though of as well.

Thank you for the extra Q&A with Tim Lebbon.

Mihai A. said...

"Dusk" and "Dawn" should arrive soon in my order from Amazon. I will certainly read them and add "Fallen" on my next order too.

Robert said...

Harry, the magic system is not as creative as the world itself, but what I like about Noreela is that it mixes technology with magic. Even better, there's much of the world that we still don't know about, so there's an air of mystery surrounding the land. It's definitely worth checking out...

Harry, hope you enjoy the "Dusk/Dawn" duology :) If you do, then you'll love "Fallen"!

Harry Markov said...

At least there is a magic system present and active. There have been times I have been disappointed with fantasy that barely had a hint of mythology and nothing more. Mixing magic with technology sounds interesting as well, a very recent trend, most noted in anime and manga, but thank god it's coming to fiction as well. "Whitechapel Gods" certainly still lurks somewhere with its title, even though I haven't read it.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I love the reviews with bonus Q&A -- and I read this one particularly carefully as Tim was kind enough to contact me a while back about the forthcoming release of his UK books. I'll be waiting for them more eagerly now! :)

Robert said...

Well, to be honest, there is little technology/magic in "Fallen", but there's a reason for that ;) The "Dusk/Dawn" duology though has some great concepts :) Also, I would definitely check out "Whitechapel Gods". Still one of my favorites this year...

Tim is a great guy so that's cool he got in touch with you. I hope you enjoy his work!


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