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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Dragonseed: A Novel of the Dragon Age by James Maxey (Reviewed by Cindy Hannikman)

Visit James Maxey's Prophet and the Dragon Blog Here
Order Dragonseed Here (Us) or Here (UK)
Read FBC's review of Bitterwood Here

In 2007 when James Maxey's Bitterwood was published something grabbed my attention from the beginning. There are plenty of books about dragons out there, but Maxey takes the concept of dragons to the next level. Never before had I read a first chapter that intrigued me as much as Bitterwood did. These dragons weren't kind dragons walking around helping the world, instead they were evil creatures who enslaved humans and oppressed the human race. Two years later, the third book of the Dragon Age series, Dragonseed is being released and it's just as intriguing as the first book of the series.

Dragonseed picks up a few days after Dragonforge left off. The humans have overthrown the dragons and are in control of Dragonforge. They plan on making a stand until every last dragon is killed in the land. Ragnar continues to spread the word of the Lord throughout Dragonforge causing many new tensions and conflicts. Word is finally making way to slaves throughout the land of the humans victory, in a hope to squash this hope the dragons have decided to attack Dragonforge. Burke has worked long hours figuring out how to turn the gunpowder into useful weapons against the dragons. This discovery may have just evened the playing field between humans and dragons, or it might have tipped the scale in favor of the humans.

Meanwhile, Jandra, a young woman who recently lost her genie (a scientific device from the Athenians that uses scientific technology to do many wonderful things), finds herself being pulled to look for not only her genie but that of the defeated goddess Jazz. She undertakes this journey with many familiar faces, Bitterwood, Zeeky and the pig Poocher, and Burke along with some not so familiar faces: Shay, an escaped slave, and Anza. Janda firmly believes that by finding the genie she can change the world for the better.

With a couple of new characters introduced and even a couple of unexpected characters returning, Dragonseed is another great chapter in the Dragon Age series.

Dragonseed was a much anticipated third installment to the Dragon Age series. James Maxey certainly kept up to those expectations and even brought a new level to his books by bringing a new look to the many characters in his series.

While many of the previous books held an element of sword and sorcery, Dragonseed seems to branch away slightly from the non stop action and focus a lot more on characterization. Readers get a different view into many of the previous characters that were introduced. There is a deeper understanding as to who Anza is, and what might be going on in Bitterwood's mind. A lot of light is shed upon the mystery that cloaked a lot of the characters. This is definitely a step up from the previous novels by Maxey where the characters weren't the main focus and there felt a slight detachment from them.

Another element that is very well done is that of the combination of science and fantasy. While many previous books have tried combining the two elements and failed, Dragonseed has a natural flow to it. The science at times can be a little complex but is described in a way that makes understanding it easy. There is nothing far out there that makes readers wonder if this was even possible. Instead, every science or technology based idea appears to be natural to the environment that Maxey has created.

In an ideal world, I would have enjoyed a little bit more fighting between the dragons and humans. Considering all of the royal dragon family has been killed off, I would have loved to see the humans go wild with the fights to dragon. This wouldn't have gone along with the plot of Dragonseed as it is clear that with the death of the king, humans have settled into a distinct pattern of avoiding any conflict with the dragons. The bulk of the book is focusing on healing in the aftermath of the previous fighting and battles, and also on developing a lot of the characters so having to many fights might have been overkill.

As with the previous novels, Dragonseed can be read regardless of if you are a follower of the Dragon Age series or not. While it's recommended to read the first two novels first, a reader could pick up the book and there is just enough explained about the background information that you won't be lost. This is a great think if you haven't read the previous books in a few years.

As Solaris (the publisher for Maxey's Dragon Age series), is for sale there is a sense that if this series were to end with this book readers would have enough closure to the series. There are plenty of other story lines that can be continued and a few questions that can be explored more in other books, but if this were not the case it would be a nice way to end the book. Again this goes along with the idea that each book stands alone and has a beginning and an end with no major cliff hangers (while DragonForge does end with a slight cliff hanger, it still is very complete).

In the end, Maxey lived up to my expectations in Dragonseed. I loved the fact that readers get to learn more about the characters that they have spent 2 books learning about and even grow closer to these characters. There are definitely a number of twists and turns in Dragonseed that bring an element of surprise and action to the book. While Bitterwood brought readers into a unique world of a dragon dominated earth, Dragonseed brings a lot of closer to the many questions asked in the first book. It's a great closure to a series if it needs to be the end of the Dragon Age series. Hopefully Maxey will choose to continue on the series regardless of the hardships the publishing world is facing, and if he doesn't branch out on his current series, it would be a treat to see him branch out into another completely different series.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"The New Space Opera 2" ed. by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

Order "The New Space Opera 2" HERE(US) and HERE(UK and Overseas)
Official Jonathan Strahan Website
Gardner Dozois at Wikipedia

I like reading original sff anthologies, whether themed or not, and now is a great time for them with such titles being published like the Solaris SF/F line, Pyr’s Fast Forward books, Night Shade’s Eclipse volumes, and the indie Hadley Rille Ruins novels as well as numerous themed “standalone” books from DAW books and others.

However since New Space Opera is unquestionably my favorite sff sub-genre the two anthologies last year that stood out were Galactic Empires (ed. G. Dozois) and The New Space Opera (ed. G. Dozois and J. Strahan).

So when "The New Space Opera 2" anthology was announced it became an asap book and I have to say that it surpassed my already very high expectations with 14 stories that worked superbly out of the total 19.

ANALYSIS: As I found out from the introduction, New Space Opera has become such a popular sub-genre that the two editors managed to populate this book with 19 different authors from the 18 of the first installment. So no PH Hamilton, A. Reynolds, P. McAuley, S. Baxter, WJ Williams, D. Simmons, R. Reed and T. Daniel here which are some of my big-time favorite authors associated with it.

Talk about not doing your homework when looking for a book, but this announcement surprised me and made me a bit apprehensive since the missing names highlighted above are some of my most favorite authors.

However from the first superb RC Wilson story to the extraordinary and possibly - hard to say with so many superb ones - #1 story of the volume at the end JC Wright' s triumphant return to the "Golden Age" universe of his mind-boggling debut series in "The Far End of History", I truly enjoyed the anthology and I think it was even better than the first in some respects.

If there is one small niggle is that I would have alternated the easier, more humorous pieces a bit different against the darker, more emotional ones, but I read the anthology mostly in jumps rather than sequentially in story order, so that did not matter very much.

"Introduction" by the editors:

  • “Utriusque Cosmi”, Robert Charles Wilson

  • (LS) *****

    Excellent story in the superb RC Wilson style so familiar from his many novels and stories; as usual both mind-boggling sense of wonder - it starts with our universe shelved as a book that is read only and it goes beyond that - combined with a great character in young (and much, much older) Carlotta and her adventures.

  • “The Island”, Peter Watts

  • (LS) *****

    In this one Peter Watts is at his uncompromising view of life as a hard Darwinian struggle and not a wishy-wish fairy tale so loved by me in his famous Rifters series and later in the remarkable standalone novel Blindsight. Humanity sends sub-light ships to build wormholes for ftl to be possible; a deep time mission with safeguards to insure its imperative survives for billions of years, we follow one of the original crew who retained her humanity in the face of billions of years objective, though a regular lifetime subjective, her shipboard "son" and the AI in charge as they encounter something quite unusual. A great twist at the end just adds to the enjoyment.

  • “Events Preceding the Helvetican Renaissance”, John Kessel

  • (LS) ****

    "Brother" Adlan and Lieutenant Nahid of the Republican Guard fight the Caslonian Empire in Helvetica space; however much more is at stake than a simple rebellion. A very interesting tale of adventure, belief or lack thereof and sense of wonder; the one downside is the author style which does not quite match my tastes. If you like Mr. Kessel's fiction you will enjoy this a lot.

  • “To Go Boldly”, Cory Doctorow

  • (LS) unrated

    Sadly my literary tastes and Cory Doctorow' style are very divergent so I cannot rate this one; I fast browsed it and it seems to be a Trekkish parody but I cannot say more, it just does not hang together for me to truly make sense of it.

  • “The Lost Princess Man”, John Barnes

  • (LS) *****+

    This is one is both big time fun and has some deep undertones; In a huge galactic polity with quadrillions of humans and roughly several hundred of thousand princesses, con-man Aurigar plays the "lost princess con" only too well, bringing attention from mighty aristocrat Lord Leader Cetusa who wants to play the same game at another level.

    I just kept laughing out loud throughout the story though towards the ending it became darker and quite serious. Excellent and a big time highlight showing how effective short stories are for a tale that I am pretty sure will not work that well at novel length.

  • “Defect”, Kristine Kathryn Rusch

  • (LS) *****

    This story is not quite a space opera one but a dark sf adventure which succeeds very well mostly due to its atmosphere. A secret agent wants to quit and meet with her husband and son and offer them the chance to go with her and have new lives. But her last mission is haunting her and the cruise star-ship on which the two men vacation is savaged by a killer, only Misha the son being allowed to survive wounded in order to send a message.

  • “To Raise A Mutiny Betwixt Yourselves”, Jay Lake

  • (LS) ****

    In a post-empire humanity ftl travel needs strange paired-minds. There was something that did not quite mesh well for me in an otherwise interesting set-up, but overall a good story.

  • “Shell Game”, Neal Asher

  • (LS) *****

    Aliens who are built like mollusks with shells in the spiral Galaxy pattern believe that are on a mission from God to impose Its will. Meeting the Polity Line they cause some moderate mayhem as Polity wars go, until their expeditionary fleet is crushed. The Polity shrugs but the survivors from said mayhem want revenge. Neal Asher delivers his trademark ultra-high octane sf adventure with the usual not-so veiled attacks against superstition and obscurantism.

  • “Punctuality”, Garth Nix

  • (LS) unrated

    Another author with a very divergent style from my tastes; this one is short but again seems written in a foreign language and I could not make any sense of it; something with spaceships

  • “Inevitable”, Sean Williams

  • (LS) *****

    This is almost a 5 star plus story about the paradoxes of time travel and much more. The Interstellar Guild is building a human empire spanning thousands of worlds but the strange transcendental Structure which allows instantaneous travel within its thousands of light years span would be a big help if understood and tamed. However its inhabitants have different ideas and there is much more to them than meets the eye.

  • “Join The Navy and See the Worlds”, Bruce Sterling

  • (LS) unrated

    Same comment as with all unrated stories; unfair for me to rate them since they are so far from my taste that I cannot truly make any sense of them; this one is about a Solar System ride by a millionaire from what I glimpsed, but I may be wildly wrong.

  • “Fearless Space Pirates of the Outer Rings”, Bill Willingham

  • (LS) *****

    First time story for me from the author; it is again part pastiche, part serious. I enjoyed it thoroughly and I am quite interested in other offerings by the author. Danny Wells is the XO of the Merry Prankster raiding ship of the Outer Rings Confederacy and he is the only raider of the Confederacy belonging to a second rate race far in the boondocks of the Galaxy. Danny takes a bet from his Captain about whose Prize Crew will capture first an Oerlian merchant. The back story unfolds nicely showing among other things how having an old car that breaks down on you in the middle of nowhere can lead to riches and glory in the Galaxy(!) and the ending is just great but it would not do to spoil it. Big time fun!!

  • “From the Heart”, John Meaney

  • (LS) *****

    Pilots, mu-space and Carl Blackstone. Another triumphant return to the setting of an older favored series, this time the Nulapeiron universe of John Meaney. The story features the distinctive author style and if you love it make sure you check the original trilogy starting with the superb Paradox.

  • “Chameleons”, Elizabeth Moon

  • (LS) *****

    Another sf adventure rather than space opera proper and very successful too; former low-level mafia boy escapes poverty on his native "backwoods" Novice Station and becomes a highly paid trusted bodyguard of a VIP; assigned to accompany the early teens boys of the VIP on a trip, he has to stop over at Novice for a ship-change despite emphasizing to his employer who knows about his past, the utter inadvisability of that; when the connecting star ship is days late, boys will be boys so they cannot be contained in the luxurious transit hotel and they want to visit Novice. No need to say what will ensue, but a great story with twists, turns and great fun.

  • “The Tenth Muse”, Tad Williams

  • (LS) **** 1/2

    A story of an interstellar ship, a cabin boy that truly looks like a 10 year old despite being 43 and a linguist who may hold the key to the ship survival when fearsome aliens appear. A very good story overall, I found the style a bit flattish for me.

  • “Cracklegrackle”, Justina Robson

  • (LS) *****

    Another return to a space operatic favored universe of mine, this time the Forged, human based creatures gen-engineered for all kinds of environments including the cold vacuum of space. The Unity, Hyperion Greenjack, talking gryphons and more wonders populate this story which should lead the appreciating reader to Natural History and the rest of Ms. Robson tales set in this wonderful universe.

  • “The Tale of the Wicked”, John Scalzi

  • (LS) * 1/2

    I almost "unrated" this one too, but Mr. Scalzi sometimes writes SF on my taste (Old Man's War, Ghost Brigades, various short stories) so I felt qualified to comment this time; the story never clicked for me. A warship preparing to engage in an hostile pursuit may be sabotaged or at least that is what I got from it, but I really could not make too much sense.

  • “Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz”, Mike Resnick

  • (LS) **** 1/2

    Fun parody of the famous sf novel title; Catastrophe Baker is a full-time freelance hero with a weakness for mysterious women and he cannot resist when Voluptua von Climax asks for help to recover the stolen canticle of producer Saul Leibowitz; I guess this synopsis says enough about the story, but it's pure fun to read and chuckle. Though the over-dramatic acts are less successful at eliciting laughter than the subtler humor of The Lost Princess Man or the Space Pirates tale above.

  • “The Far End of History”, John C. Wright

  • (LS) *****+

    This is just awesome, especially if you are a big time fan (like me) of the author's Golden Age debut trilogy. Here there are encounters with Atkins, the Lords of the Silent Oecumene and much more, but the opening line:

    "Once there was a world who loved a forest-girl"

    should hook you; the back-story is explained well enough so no need for reading the Golden Age novels before to enjoy this story, but everyone who loves it should try those superb novels. I really hope Mr. Wright will get back to the Oecumene milieu and write more novels about it!!
    Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Overlooked Masterpiece of Dark Fantasy: "Monument" by Ian Graham (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

    Official Ian Graham Website
    Order "Monument" HERE

    Browsing around the internet one day, I came across a fantasy novel I had never heard of before: Ian Graham’s “Monument”.

    Originally released in 2002/2004 (UK/US), “Monument” is the self-contained tale of Anhaga Ballas, a vagrant who, through a series of unfortunate events, finds himself the most wanted man in all of Druine and condemned to death by the Church.

    Left with few options, Ballas embarks on a quest to find Belthirran, a mythical land free of the Church’s grasp . . . a land that could offer Ballas sanctuary...

    Plot-wise, the book is fairly straightforward throughout with the main character Ballas basically moving from point A to point B, but what the story lacks in complexity is more than compensated for by superb pacing and constant unpredictable twists, especially a few major revelations towards the end.

    Aside from the impressive plotting/pacing, the prose is dynamic, the characters convincingly rendered, the dialogue a major strength, and the world-building—though shallow compared to most epic fantasy—is intriguing, most notably the Pilgrim’s Church and the magical race of the Lectivin. In fact, the book as a whole is so well-written that it’s hard to imagine that “Monument” is just a debut.

    But what I loved most about the novel was Ballas. Not just a vagrant, Ballas is also a drunkard, incredibly ugly, and willing to do anything immoral—lying, cheating, stealing, killing—as long as it benefits him. In short, Ballas is the ultimate ‘anti-hero’, and one of the most loathsome characters I’ve ever read in a book. . . but also one of the most compelling.

    Overall, Ian Graham’s “Monument” is a fantasy novel that captures the grit, darkness and trope-bending of Joe Abercrombie, Richard K. Morgan’s “The Steel Remains”, Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn trilogy and David Keck, but executed much better. An instant favorite...
    Saturday, June 27, 2009

    2009 Locus Award Winners

    From Locus Magazine website:

    Winners of the 2009 Locus Awards were announced at a ceremony and banquet June 27, 2009 in Seattle WA during the Science Fiction Awards Weekend.

    Science Fiction Novel: Anathem, Neal Stephenson (Atlantic UK, Morrow)
    (FBC Review HERE; Liviu's top 2008 SF)

    Fantasy Novel: Lavinia, Ursula K. Le Guin (Harcourt

    First Novel: Singularity's Ring, Paul Melko (Tor)
    (FBC Review HERE)

    Young-Adult Book: The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, Bloomsbury)
    (FBC Review HERE and HERE)

    Novella: "Pretty Monsters", Kelly Link (Pretty Monsters)

    Novelette: "Pump Six", Paolo Bacigalupi (Pump Six and Other Stories)

    Short Story: "Exhalation", Ted Chiang (Eclipse Two)
    (FBC Review HERE)

    Anthology: The Year's Best Science Fiction: Twenty-Fifth Annual Collection, Gardner Dozois, ed. (St. Martin's)

    Collection: Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi (Night Shade Books)

    Non-Fiction/Art Book: P. Craig Russell, Coraline: The Graphic Novel, Neil Gaiman, adapted and illustrated by P. Craig Russell (HarperCollins)

    Editor: Ellen Datlow

    Artist: Michael Whelan

    Magazine: F&SF

    Publisher: Tor

    The Fantasy Book Critic team congratulates the winners!

    Three Capsule Reviews 3 - "Little Stranger, Hand of Isis and Far North" (by Liviu Suciu)

    After the first Three Capsule Review post in which I showcased three great novels that missed my full FBC review list more for timing reasons than anything else, I planned to do two more such posts discussing books that I enjoyed a lot but have something that stopped them being great for me. The pure genre books post is HERE, while now I am presenting three mainstream fantastic novels, "The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters, "Hand of Isis" by Jo Graham and "Far North" by Marcel Theroux.

    "The Little Stranger" by Sarah Waters

    The author of the superb novel "Fingersmith" turns her hand to the destruction of the
    English gentry through debt after WW2. Great literature but very depressing book that left me empty at the end. The main failing of the book was the heavy dependence of its structure on lots of class stuff that meant nothing for me.

    All the way throughout the novel I wanted to shake
    the two main gentry characters and tell them to sell the manor and get out of there, make a life in the modern world and it boggled my mind they would not. But I did not grew up steeped in that class system so I cannot get it...

    This is a novel that needs the reader's empathy for its characters for full enjoyment and it did not get it from me. So a four star though as literature the novel is very well written; but a soulless book is just squiggles on paper however accomplished technically it may be.

    Of all the three novels here this one had the greatest potential but it did not quite fulfill it so it was the most disappointing, though still pretty good.


    "Hand of Isis" by Jo Graham

    After the extraordinary debut "Black Ships" who made my top five mainstream fantastic list for 2008 (FBC Review HERE - though done by Robert who did not like the book as much as I did), I was a bit weary about "Hand of Isis" since I read way too many tales about Cleopatra and her times, which had her a main or a secondary but important character, both fiction and non-fiction.

    Overall "Hand of Isis" is a very good retelling of Cleopatra's tale through the narration of her handmaiden Charmion with a twist of the fantastic. The novel featured the same great style as in "Black Ships".

    My main problem with the book is that it did not transcend its subject sticking to the "known" story with a modern sensibility and a little bit of the fantastic so it was too "true and tried" for me to give it five stars.

    Of the three novels here, this one was exactly what I expected. A more interesting subject for me - not that Cleopatra is not very interesting in general, but it's hard to add to her "canon" for someone who read a lot about her - and it would have been a superb book.


    "Far North" by Marcel Theroux

    This was my first novel from Marcel Theroux and I liked his style so I would read anything by him that would be interesting for me. However, "Far North" was a bit pointless though it was compelling enough to keep my attention to the end

    The narrator, Makepeace is a tough heroine in a hard and nasty post apocalyptic world inhabited by brutal people and in which kindness is paid in blood. Her life takes an even more unpleasant turn when she leaves her home where she was acting as a sort of local constable.

    The highlight of the novel was the exploration of a Siberian radioactive city, but where the Strugatsky brothers wrote a masterpiece in a similar context, here the book just misses a great opportunity to transcend its setting.

    If you are a fan of post-apocalyptic novels in a broken down society reduced to subsistence levels and scavenging the remains of our current civilization, this novel should be for you since it's well written.

    Of all the three books featured here I liked this one the most; it was imaginative and interesting though it could have been much more. This way it remained a pure genre novel - post-apocalyptic literary fiction and that genre is not in my top favorites though I read the occasional book that piques my interest.
    Friday, June 26, 2009

    Pyr strikes again!! Super steampunk author Tim Akers is writing The Horns of Ruin for Lou Anders and all of us

    From the Pyr Blog via SfScope more great news! Tim Akers sold second novel and first in a new series to Lou Anders at Pyr and he is working hard at it for a mid/late 2010 publication date.

    I have heard of Mr. Akers a while ago when I read a short story that impressed me and found out about his steampunk universe of Veridon, the Church of the Algorithm (!) and much more (how can you not love this last name if you are into steampunk?).

    There are several Veridon stories offered free online by Mr. Akers HERE and I devoured all available at the time. When "Solaris SF 3" (FBC Review Here) came with another such superb one earlier this year and I found out about the novel I was very excited.

    I was lucky to get a pdf arc from the great folks at Solaris and I have read "Heart of Veridon" several months ago and I was truly impressed; the praise that Lou heaps on it in the link above is well deserved. A full review will be forthcoming here in mid/late July closer to the publication date.

    So even if "The Horns of Ruin" starts a brand new series I am very, very excited since it promises the same goodies as the Veridon universe and of course I strongly hope we will see more Veridon, publishing vagaries allowing.

    Eva Forge is the last paladin of a dead god."

    In the meantime check the short stories above that feature Valentine the kingpin crime boss and other "Heart of Veridon" characters, check the superb novelette in Solaris SF 3 and get the novel when published! It is this good.

    "Lord of Silence" by Mark Chadbourn (Reviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

    Official Mark Chadbourn Website

    Order "Lord of Silence" HERE

    Read FBC's Interview with Mark Chadbourn HERE

    INTRODUCTION: Mark Chadbourn is a British author who has published 12 books, including one non-fiction volume and also one set in the famous "Dr. Who" universe. He will have two different new trilogies starting to be published in the US beginning this year: one of which will focus on an Elizabethan fantasy sequence called "Swords of Albion" and the other "The Ghost Warrior", which could be described as a traditional epic fantasy, with a slight twist in the narrative that makes it more intriguing.

    The first book of the Elizabethan fantasy sequence is "The Silver Skull" which will be out later this year, while the first book of the latter series is "Lord of Silence". Also Pyr has been bringing to the US readers the "Age of Misrule" series (FBC Review of Book 1 HERE) originally published in the UK some years ago.

    OVERVIEW: The book is 537 pages long and is divided into seventeen chapters with no prologue or epilogue. The narrative is set in the third person with primary focus on the title character Vidar known as "Lord of Silence" and three other characters, Asgar, Cheyne & Rhiannon, that help Vidar with his investigation.

    ANALYSIS: "Lord of Silence" begins with the murder of the greatest warrior of its universe, namely the White Warrior Mellias of the august city of Idriss. This important city is surrounded by a great forest. To locate the murderer, the king of Idriss has appointed Vidar as the head of the Crimson Guard, the elite force which protects the city walls. But Vidar has many problems of his own.

    His continual surviving comes at the cost of others' lives. Embedded in his chest there is a jewel that sustains his life but needs to be replenished with other people's souls. To add to the suspense, Vidar is an amnesiac who has appeared three years ago in Idriss and since then has made his name here so the prestigious appointment. To solve the murder mystery, Vidar will have to do more than fight his way: he will be required to remember his past, find out the whys of the jewel in his chest and also solve a 3000 year old religious puzzle.

    The setting of the novel has captured the interest of many since the Solaris press release several months ago. It is "Village-esque" with a lonely city set in a dark, vast forest. Idriss seems to be constructed a long time ago but surprisingly none of the city inhabitants can remember any details. They can, however, count how long their families have resided in Idriss by counting their previous generations.

    The mystery surrounding Idriss and the murder in the opening pages of the book grabs the readers' attention, after which the author introduces the characters with a regular pace.

    The main focus of the novel is Vidar, his enigmatic origins and the reasons for the presence of the jewel in his chest. The secondary mystery of the novel is the vast but vague history of the city of Idriss and the phobia of its inhabitants regarding the surrounding forest. These unanswered questions, along with the rapid pace of the story, keep the reader engrossed in the story. The latter half of the novel explains some of these mysteries. Though the story starts out as a traditional fantasy, Mark Chadbourn has inserted a few surprises that will surprise even jaded fantasy readers.

    The secondary characters, introduced within the first several chapters are given enough page presence and background to let the readers see them as individuals and not just pawns of the story. Asgar and Cheyne, members of the Crimson guard, are quite the misfits; Asgar is a half animalistic being while Cheyne is a borderline sociopath. They are fiercely loyal to Vidar. The third character, Rhiannon, is an inquisitor who has being assigned the case. Though she remains a formidable character, her background is less well developed.

    The novel can also be classified as a murder mystery since Rhiannon & Asgar are on the trail of the "Red Man". It is also a quest book as Vidar & Cheyne decide to track Vidar's origins to solve all the puzzles encountered so far. The author deftly handles all the threads and makes them come together in the end with spectacular revelations regarding the world and the beings in it. This ties all story threads quite satisfyingly.

    Instead of leaving the readers to imagine at will about the surroundings, Mark Chadbourn could have worked a bit more to make this world more credible by adding and explaining layers to the complexity of the world. This is the major flaw of this novel. Additionally, as an avid fantasy reader, I prefer when the author provides maps as it adds to my overall sense of the story and there was no map provided in this book.

    Lastly, the forest and its history are never explored. If a city like Idriss is surrounded by such a huge entity for so long, there must be people who would want to do something about it and the lack of interest in the forest is not really explained properly by the fear factor propagated throughout the population.

    In the end I would rate this as a very good novel which will intrigue the readers with its premise and will be an excellent read because of the author' style and its plot twists.

    Note: "Lord of Silence" will most likely be a solo book as due to Solaris books being put up for sale. It remains to be seen whether the series might be picked up by another publisher to be continued further. The author has expressed considerable interest to unfold the story in this milieu and I believe readers who pick up this book will definitely like Mark to continue their journeys into the world of Idriss.

    Thursday, June 25, 2009

    "Jasmyn" by Alex Bell (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

    Official Alex Bell Website
    Order "Jasmyn" HERE

    INTRODUCTION: One the best debuts from last year was Alex Bell's The Ninth Circle (FBC Review HERE) which made my top five mainstream fantastic novels list and was a personal favorite too. Without knowing more than the title, Ms. Bell' second novel "Jasmyn" became one of my most expected books of 2009 since I really, really loved the style of her debut and I thought that she will only improve as a novelist as time passes.

    After reading the novel twice in two days I have to say that the very high expectations I had of "Jasmyn" were not only met but surpassed and this one will be most likely a #1 or co-#1 mainstream fantastic for 2009. It is just a magical book, another fairy tale for adults in the vein of my top 08 book "Memoirs of a Master Forger", but this time with real princesses, knights and faeries.

    OVERVIEW: In contemporary England, Jasmyn Gracey, 27 years old is burying her husband Liam. They were childhood friends since age 4, when the albino Jasmyn sent to kindergarten for the first time could not understand why her classmates were shunning her ("Is that girl a ghost, Mummy?"). But then a boy rolled a ball to her and asked "Are you a snow princess?"

    Later they were engaged for several years and after a 10 month marriage, Liam died of a sudden cerebral aneurysm. And then at the funeral five black swans fell dead from the sky...

    Jasmyn is a a passionate violinist and works as music teacher, while Liam is a writer about supernatural phenomena.

    Ben is Liam's older brother. Quiet and reserved to Liam's brashness and daredevil pastimes, and an architect as opposed to Liam's more flamboyant though much less lucrative career, Ben had a bad falling out with Liam around the time of the marriage and he has been living in Germany since.

    Jaxon Thorpe is an American photographer and business partner of Liam who has trouble believing in Liam's death, while Lucas is a strange man who seems to follow Jasmyn with ease.

    The novel stands at about 300 pages and is narrated by Jasmyn. Taking us on a tour of real-world superb vistas from England to California, to the mountains and castles of Bavaria and several other places that I will leave the reader to discover, "Jasmyn" has a superb ending too.

    ANALYSIS: First and foremost "Jasmyn" is another tale of clouded identities, though our narrator is convinced of who she is and has the house, the documents, the pictures and the relatives to prove it as opposed to Gabriel from "The Ninth Circle" whose true identity was a mystery almost to the end. There are some niggling details that do not quite add up, some whispers from her in-laws and from her friends, but they also can be the normal embarrassment of people encountering a truly bereaved widow like her, who cannot imagine how she will live without her life-partner.

    Of course that is until the weirdness starts with the swans at the funeral and deepens continually so that she is finally forced to start looking for answers.

    Another major difference with "The Ninth Circle" is in the nature of the fantastic which here comes from the fantasy spectrum (swan princesses and knights, faeries) rather than the religious one (St. Michael, Satan and the like). As it behooves that, "Jasmyn" is not as dark as "The Ninth Circle", and while the tension ratchets up and the twists and turns keep changing our understanding of what's what, the ominous foreboding of the author's debut is replaced here with a tale of adventure and discovery. Of course there is tragedy and heartbreak too, but "Jasmyn" is a truly enjoyable and entertaining novel and our heroine is a superbly done character who grows on the reader.

    As the other major character of the bookl, Ben's role is only slowly revealed though for the experienced reader it will become clear by mid-novel, clue by clue. But even so there were some twists that managed to surprise me.

    As villains we have one that's clearly marked as such from his first encounter with Jasmyn, but the true main villain is also only slowly revealed, though again by mid-book the identity is not in doubt anymore.

    The writing style is absolutely great making the book a pleasure to read and a page turner end to end that I could not put down, while the descriptions of the various novel locations are excellent.

    Overall "Jasmyn" is a magical novel which is highly, highly recommended, a fairy tale for adults that will enchant and cheer you up in the end. Also in its expanded descriptive range and very smoothly flowing prose, the book shows Ms. Bell's growth as an author and any new book by her is a read asap for me.
    Wednesday, June 24, 2009

    "Naamah's Kiss" by Jacqueline Carey (Reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

    Official Jacqueline Carey Website
    Order "Naamah's Kiss" HERE(US) and HERE(Europe/Overseas)
    Read the first chapter from "Naamah's Kiss" HERE

    Jacqueline Carey is the New York Times bestselling author of the critically-acclaimed Kushiel's Legacy series, The Sundering epic fantasy duology, and her Imriel Trilogy that follows the first three Kushiel novels. Recently she has published a different type novel, the present day fantasy Santa Olivia.

    Fantasy Book Critic's reviewers Robert and Liviu are big fans of Ms. Carey's work and we have reviews of "Kushiel's Justice"(Imriel #2 or #5 overall) HERE, "Kushiel's Mercy" (Imriel #3 or #6 overall and the ending of the Phedre/Imriel series) HERE with a Bonus Q/A too which makes instructive reading as to how plans adjust as time goes, as well as a full 2007 interview with the author HERE.

    As usual, the above means that "Naamah's Kiss" came with huge expectations and I am happy to say that it delivered in spades becoming Liviu's top fantasy for 2009 so far and likely to stay there.

    OVERVIEW: The popular series of which "Naamah's Kiss" is the seventh installment though set four generations later is featuring the descendants of Elua and his Companions. The first six books divided into 2 trilogies set several years apart, deal with the legacy of Kushiel, the God of Pain and Justice, while this one introduces a descendant of Naamah who is the Goddess of Desire. The are set in alternate Earth cca 15th century for the first 6 and cca 16th century for this one. The countries/geography are pretty much the same with names that are quite clear for the "real Earth" analogs as well as a history that is both similar and different form the "real one", so for example there is a Carthaginian state now.

    The series has been so popular that there is a detailed Wiki about its setting with lots and lots of information about anything you want to know. There are spoilers for the first six novels of course so beware if you have not read them, but I will refer anyone to the Wiki for more detailed information.

    As with all the novels so far, "Naamah's Kiss" is narrated by the main character, in this case Moirin a "bear witch" of Alba, ie a druid with some magical powers from "alt-England", that is half-Angeline (ie "half-French"), her father being a priest of Naamah.

    The Goddesses - Naamah and the Maghuin Dhonn druid goddess - took a hand in her conception at a festival where her father and mother met for the first and only time so far. Moirin is also descended from Alais de la Courcel in a direct maternal line so she is a distant cousin of the Angeline royal family.

    Other main characters are Queen Jehanne, former top Night Court "adept" (ie former top courtesan of Terre Ange) and second wife of King Daniel Courcel, her lover and dabbler in magical arts Raphael de Mereliot, elderly Ch'in wizard Lo Feng and his factotum disciple and martial arts expert Bao who are honored guests of the Angeline court, as well as quite a few others that you will encounter in the fullness of time.

    "Naamah's Kiss" stands at 645 pages divided into 89 chapters with a map of the "Old World" at the beginning. In keeping to the 16th century analogy there is talk of the Aragonian (ie Iberian) discovery of the "New World" and its strange inhabitants - in European eyes of course.

    ANALYSIS: I could do a one liner here: just superb, the "Naamah's Kiss" has everything you want in a fantasy - great characters, wonderful world building and prose that flows smoothly and sensuously, as well as being a page turner end to end.

    But let us take each claim from the above. You cannot get a more compelling fantasy heroine than Moirin. She is "claimed" by two Goddesses as their own, though her first allegiance is to the Maghuin Dhonn who sends her to find her destiny. She is a woman of her world with no psychological hang-ups about sex or friendship and she follows the precepts of Elua with glee.

    In Alba the customs are slightly different so when the local lord' son, childhood friend, companion and later lover wants to marry her, Moirin is frightened since she definitely does not want to be tied to one man for now, but she is also young and naive so she hesitates to make the required clean break. The Alban inheritance being matrillineal, and Moirin's line being royal the marriage would have been an unexpected and not quite welcome favor for the lord's family but destiny not family awaits our heroine.

    he has magical powers, small by historical Alban standards but not negligible in the present in which the Maghuin Dhonn took away most magic from her people after the events chronicled in Kushiel's Justice and alluded here. And she can shoot the bow well too, so saving the lives of royal or imperial heirs may be in the cards with both magical and mundane means.

    Moirin also gets to take many lovers of both sex as befits a Naamah descendant even though she refuses formal "adepthood" keeping her druidic roots. As in the first six volumes the many sensual scenes are very explicit but very tastefully done, no crudity or sexploitation here.

    The rest of the main characters from Jehanne and Raphael to Master Lo and Bao and several more to be discovered later, are very memorable, larger than life true, but that is the intent and it succeeds magnificently. No forgettable characters here.

    The world building - well check the detailed Wiki linked above and you will get the flavor of it. The only thing I would add that Terre Ange and the rest of Ms. Carey's alt-Earth forms the best fantasy world I've ever read about and the one I would like the most to live in.

    For the prose, I linked to an excerpt above and I am sure there are tons of excerpts online from the first 6 novels too so I will leave you to decide, no need for quotes.

    And there is action, magical acts and creatures, while the novel rolls from page 1 to its end which though it came 640 odd pages later, it came way too early for me!! The ending is excellent tying many threads and the book is almost a standalone though the ending is a clear beginning too.

    If there is one small criticism I had about the first Kushiel book, it was that the setup took a while so the novel had about 200 slower pages at the beginning until it truly got going, but here the action starts immediately when 10 year old Moirin slices Cillian's peach offering with an arrow.

    As an additional bonus, you can start reading the series here without reading the first six books, and you will be most likely compelled to read them after you will love this one.

    Highly, highly recommended and top 09 fantasy for me.
    Tuesday, June 23, 2009

    Alastair Reynolds will write ten novels in ten years for Gollancz and a record core-sf author contract

    From The Guardian via sffworld (and agreeing wholeheartedly with the comment included in Rob's coincise announcement there) .

    SF is far from dead however much some would wish it so; anyway we live in a sf-nal world as the whole online experience shows, but that's a different story...

    Alastair Reynolds is one of the greatest sf writers of our generation and the sense of wonder in his novels is almost unparalleled, while he also wrote some of the most astounding recent sf short stories like "Understanding Space and Time" or "Tiger, Burning". Find a complete biography and more in the Wiki dedicated to him.

    I plan to do a overview of his whole work sometime closer to the publication date of his next novel "Terminal World" which is of course a get and read/review asap.

    I have reviewed "House of Suns" HERE and it was my first
    posted FBC review, though not the first written.

    Sebastien Doubinsky offers magazine "Le Zaporogue #6" free online with option to buy a print copy

    The author of the astounding "The Babylonian Trilogy" which has been reviewed HERE and will likely be Liviu's number one mainstream fantastic book for 2009 has edited a bilingual French/English magazine "Le Zaporogue 6".

    The freely available pdf edition of the magazine is packed with 301 pages of fiction and poetry in French and English with a sprinkle of Danish too, while
    some superb artwork complements the words. For anyone who so wishes, a print copy of "Le Zaporogue 6" is available to purchase HERE.

    After publishing "The Babylonian Trilogy" in 2009, PS Publishing will also offer
    Sebastien Doubinsky's next two "modern fantastic cities" novels, "Absinth" and "The Potemkin Overture" in 2010/12.

    Monday, June 22, 2009

    FBC co-editor Fabio Fernandes to edit Indian SFF magazine

    Kalkion an online Indian SFF magazine has invited our co-editor Fabio Fernandes to work as Fiction Editor!!

    In Fabio's own words as he was thrilled by the offer:

    "I was invited to work as Fiction Editor for a SF and Fantasy web magazine... in India!! Some of the creators of the site read my story Ganesh, in the Afternoon, and apparently they liked my approach to things Indian. So, starting from tomorrow, I will be posting on PWT (Liviu's note: Fabio's personal English language blog Post-Weird Thoughts) and on Twitter a call for submissions."

    FBC would like to remind our readers that our Indian connections run deeper with FBC's team member Mihir Wanchoo who has recently done an excellent essay on Indian Speculative Fiction in addition to his regular interviews and reviews.

    We congratulate Fabio and we are looking forward to reading great sff from Kalkion!!

    "Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America" by Robert Charles Wilson (reviewed by Liviu Suciu)

    Official Robert Charles Wilson Website
    Read the novella Julian: A Christmas Story as a PDF file; the novella forms the basis of the novel and has been incorporated as the roughly first 50 pages in it; it was originally published by PS Publishing in 2006
    Order "Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America" HERE

    Robert Charles Wilson is a US born Canadian writer of speculative fiction who built over the years an amazing body of work, winning many sff awards, including the 2006 Hugo award for the extraordinary novel Spin.

    I have actually followed Mr. Wilson's career across the years, but Spin was such an astounding book that it became an instant classic for me and put R.C. Wilson on the list of authors I buy and read everything on publication as noted in the Fantasy Book Critic list of favorite authors on the front page.

    I also love his short fiction and have quite a few favorites short stories written by him, including The Cartesian Theater in Futureshocks, ed. L. Anders, The Inner, Inner City collected in the author's The Perseids and Other Stories, and of course the novella Julian:The Christmas Story that forms the basis of this novel.

    Most recently I loved Mr. Wilson's story
    This Peaceable Land, or, The Unbearable Vision of Harriet Beecher Stowe in the Other Earths Anthology, ed N. Gevers and J. Lake and reviewed by me HERE.

    OVERVIEW: Julian Comstock is just a superb book written in a very quiet and understated manner, as well as being a page turner since once you start it, you cannot put it down. Actually it was so compelling that
    I *had* to reread it twice since I could not leave its characters and universe very easily and I expect to reread it more across the years.

    Set in the late 22nd century USA, essentially from 2172 to 2176 , with glimpses from the past and an epilogue some years later, we visit an America that is very familiar from the history books of the 19th century with some twists.

    After the "age of Oil and Atheism" ended in catastrophe, with the "Fall of the Cities", the rise of "estates" worked by indentured labor and of the Dominion "of Jesus Christ on Earth", a unifying religious umbrella governing the "approved" - all Christian of course - churches, and having a powerful influence on secular life consolidated in the time of the "Pious Presidents" and headquartered in Colorado Springs, America has both a lot of continuity with the country of today while regressing with the whole world at a 19th century technology level, but also is quite different in essential ways.

    The power resides in the President whose imposing fortified palace occupies the grounds of today's Central Park in Manhattan, Washington having been abandoned a long time ago, the Senate, the Army - there are two of them, of the East, "Laurentian", and of the West, of the "Californias" and of course the Dominion; the Supreme Court has been dissolved by the 52nd Constitutional Amendment, election by inheritance has been allowed by the 53rd, and the Comstock family has been occupying the Presidency for 30 years now. So both continuity and change, with the 22nd century USA resembling to some extent both Tsarist Russia and the late Roman Empire in structure, though change is in the air. The four national holidays are Easter, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Of course the Comstocks do not form a happy family, with Deklan "Conqueror" the current President and former commander of the Laurentian Army having sent younger and more popular brother Bryce and the army of the Californias on a dangerous expedition in Panama to occupy the Canal against Brazilian "provocations"; when that succeeded only too well, Deklan had Bryce recalled and hanged for treason.

    Bryce's only son and Deklan's only "heir", Julian has been spared being a child as well due to his mother Emily's powerful aristocratic connections, but he was sent far away in Athabasca to a small estate-town for protection by his worried mother.

    There is an ongoing decades long war in Labrador against the "Dutch" settlers, actually the German - Deutsche - speaking forces of "MittelEuropa", though Netherlands being under water due to the increasing sea levels, many Labrador settlers are indeed of "Dutch" origins; the important city of Montreal, currently American held is close to the front lines.

    The repopulated cities are much smaller, the technology is at a roughly 19th century level, most people outside the aristocracy - Eupatrids - and the clergy are illiterate, the 20/early 21st century are both a myth and a warning for "the sins of free inquiry and prosperity", the Moon Landing is considered a legend though there are preserved books with actual pictures of it and Charles Darwin is the ultimate "apostate" in popular "culture".

    Adam Hazzard is an 18 year old "lease-boy" in Athabasca - belonging to what passes for middle class in the rural estates, the skilled workers straddling between the masses of indentured laborers not better than slaves and the Eupatridians - and the similar aged Julian befriends him on a hunt, while Julian's tutor/surrogate father, retired officer Sam Goodwin, who is secretly Jewish, Judaism being sort of tolerated by the Dominion, but beyond the pale socially, arranges that Adam becomes Julian's companion, by essentially "purchasing" his skills from his parents who were understandably afraid of his association with an aristocratic semi-outcast.

    The book stands at 416 pages divided in five named parts.
    The novel is told through the eyes of Adam as his later recounting of the times of Julian the "Apostate" and "Conqueror", in a clear homage to the later Roman Emperor of the same name that battled the rise of Christianity and died young in battle; there are lots of notes "inserted" by Adam that illuminate the back-story and add a lot to the depth of the novel and our understanding of its context.

    ANALYSIS: First and foremost and whatever the title says, this *is* Adam's novel. Julian is of course an important character and the pivotal figure in our hero's life, but Adam starts and remains throughout a personal friend and later military companion to Julian, while pursuing his interests from just staying alive in the middle of murderous intrigue and brutal war, to his budding war correspondent skills and later adventure novel author, as well as his love for a mysterious Montreal girl met by chance in a church and much more...

    Adam matures quickly from a naive country-boy to a seasoned soldier and writer, and his endearing voice stayed with me long after finishing the book.

    Julian Comstock himself is not particularly soldierly while being a lover of philosophy, arts and culture; his one dream is to make a "movie" - which is not quite what we understand today, but something part silent film, part opera - called "The Life and Times of Charles Darwin" and of course take Deklan's head if ever having a chance.

    Sam Goodwin as the experienced grizzled officer and tutor/father figure to Julian is the third main character and the trio's story forms the basis of most of the novel ; though the relationship between the two is quite complicated by various factors including Julian' stubborn and even ruthless on occasion Comstock streak, as well as the difference between their relative social standing and Sam's not so secret love for Emily.

    Later we meet the irrepressible Calyxa Blake, the French speaking singer and revolutionary of Montreal with a murderous family of her own and she forms a great counterpart feminine character to Adam.

    The villains mostly hover in the background, from Deklan to various representants of the Dominion that Julian cannot help but confront, humiliate and belittle throughout his career and they are less memorable than the four main characters.

    As is Mr. Wilson's customary style exhibited in his great novels like Spin, the action focuses on the day to day vagaries of life, whether in the trenches or in the familiar as well as strange Montreal and later Manhattan of the novel, so we have less high level politics and such, as is customary in alternate or pseudo-alternate histories like this one, but a lot of glimpses in the life of the regular soldiers, battles that would be familiar to Civil War buffs, an unforgettable shootout on Montreal's rooftops, love, marriage, childbirths, deaths of relatives and all the stuff that "life" is made from.

    Another career defining novel like Spin, this novel consolidates the psoition of R.C. Wilson as a leading writer of speculative fiction as well as one of my favorite authors.

    Highly, highly recommended, an early candidate for next year sff's awards and just superb!!!


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE


     Click Here To Order “Barnaby The Wanderer” by Raymond St. Elmo
    Order HERE